Event remembers 31 Tamil civilians murdered 32 years ago

A remembrance event has taken place for 31 Tamil civilians who were murdered 32 years ago in Batticaloa blamed on the military.

On the morning of September 20 1990, Sri Lankan soldiers entered the Savukkadi village and opened fire on civilians. 26 villagers, including 10 children and an infant, were burnt to death and buried in two ditches. Soldiers also shot at fishermen in the waters off the village, killing 7.

Relatives and other villagers paid floral tributes and a mass by Batticaloa bishop Rev. Nocholas Jude held in front of a memorial at Saukadi on September 20.

According to eyewitnesses, a group in military uniforms stormed the village around 8.30 am on September 20, 1990.

They shot and hacked infants, women and men and burnt their bodies, and also killed seven fishermen.

Villagers demand justice for the victims and punishment for the killers.

Sri Lanka assures China will continue excellent cooperation

Chinese State Councilor and Foreign Minister Wang Yi met with Sri Lankan Minister of Foreign Affairs Ali Sabry on the sidelines of the general debate of the UNGA 77 in New York on September 23.

Wang Yi said that China and Sri Lanka established the relations of strategic partnership of cooperation, and the two countries have always shared weal and woe and treated each other with all sincerity. This year marks the 65th anniversary of the establishment of China-Sri Lanka diplomatic relations and the 70th anniversary of the signing of the Rubber-Rice Pact, which is of great significance to inherit the past and usher in the future.

China is willing to work with Sri Lanka to carry forward traditional friendship, consolidate strategic mutual trust, and deepen and expand practical cooperation. China has provided Sri Lanka with emergency humanitarian assistance such as medicines, rice and fuel, and will continue to provide Sri Lanka with assistance within its capacity to overcome temporary difficulties.

Sabry said that Sri Lanka-China friendship has a solid foundation. China has provided strong support to Sri Lanka’s economic and social development for a long time, especially when Sri Lanka encountered difficulties, which Sri Lanka will bear in mind. China is an important development partner of Sri Lanka, and Chinese enterprises have made positive contributions to the accelerated development of Sri Lanka. The so-called “Chinese debt trap” argument is a completely untenable rumor.

Sri Lanka welcomes and will make efforts to ensure investment safety and reasonable returns from countries including China. Sabry thanks to China for providing assistance to Sri Lankan students returning to China for study.

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GOSL asks US court to dismiss case filed by Hamilton Reserve Bank over default

The Sri Lankan government has asked a US judge to dismiss the case filed by Hamilton Reserve Bank for defaulting on bonds, the financial news agency Bloomberg reported.

The government had requested that the case in New York be dismissed over the country reaching debt default, stating that the case brought by one bank is an “apparent attempt to gain leverage over a nation in crisis and jump ahead of other foreign creditors.”

Hamilton Reserve Bank, based in the Caribbean islands of St. Kitts & Nevis, filed legal action citing the country’s default on a $1 billion sovereign bond.

The 5.875% interest International Sovereign Bonds were due for payment two months ago on July 25, 2022.

When contacted by News 1st, the Finance Ministry confirmed that arguments were presented with regard to the relevant case.

According to court documents seen by News 1st, Hamilton Reserve Bank has charged that under the terms of the Bonds, Sri Lanka owes it a total of US$257,539,331.25. This is comprised of US$250,190,000 in principal and US$7,349,331.25 in interest.

Hamilton Reserve Bank previously alleged that Sri Lanka’s default was being orchestrated by officials at the highest levels of its Government, and also charged that the Rajapaksa family was responsible.

Gnanasara thero attends Saudi National Day event

A one-time critic of the Muslim community, the Venerable Galagodathe Gnanasara thero, was seen at the Saudi National Day event in Colombo last night.

The General Secretary of the Bodu Bala Sena (BBS), was seen seated with Muslim diplomats and having discussions with them and others at the event.

BBS official Dilanthe Withanage was also among those who attended the event held at the Shangri-la Hotel in Colombo last night (Friday).

The BBS said that the the Venerable Gnanasara thero was invited to attend the event as a special guest.

Gnanasara thero has in the past made comments which had hurt the Muslim community.

He had been accused of instigating attacks on the Muslim community in Sri Lanka.

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BASL slams declaration of high-security zones, vows legal actions

The Bar Association of Sri Lanka (BASL) has expressed deep concerns at President Ranil Wickremesinghe’s move to declare certain areas in Colombo District as high-security zones.

President Wickremesinghe, in his capacity as the Minister of Defence, declared parts of Colombo District as high-security zones in a Gazette Extraordinary published on Friday (Sep. 23) under Section 2 of the Official Secrets Act, No. 32 of 1955.

As per the gazette notification, Parliament Complex, Supreme Court Complex, High Court Complex in Colombo, Magistrate Court Complex in Colombo and Attorney General’s Department, Presidential Secretariat, President’s House, Sri Lanka Navy Headquarters and Police Headquarters, Defence Ministry and Sri Lanka Army Headquarters in Akuregoda, Sri Lanka Air Force Headquarters in Slave Island and Prime Minister’s Office at Flower Road are now high-security zones.

In its statement, the BASL noted that this order appears to cover several areas in Colombo District including the areas in Colombo ordinarily used by the members of the public. It also covers several areas in Hulftsdorp in the vicinity of the court premises, it added.

The BASL accused that this order issued by the President “purports to prohibit public gatherings or processions whatsoever on a road, ground, shore, or other area situation within such high-security zones without the permission of the Inspector-General of Police (IGP) or a Senior DIG.

“The objective of making an order under Section 2 of the Official Secrets Act is to better safeguard information relating to the defences of Sri Lanka and to the equipment, establishments, organizations and institutions intended to be or capable of being used for the purpose of defence. Orders under Section 2 cannot be made for any other purpose.

The BASL said it is concerned that the purported order of the President also seeks to create offences under the said order which are not found in the Principal Act.

“It is also of utmost concern that the purported order imposes stringent provisions in respect of bail by stating that a person taken into custody in connection with an offence under the said orders shall not be granted bail except by a High Court. The Official Secrets Act contains no such provisions, and in fact, Section 22 of the Act empowers a Magistrate to release a suspect on Bail. As such the purported order seeks to significantly curtail the liberty of the citizen, without any reasonable or legal basis,” the statement continued.

The association said it is deeply concerned that under the cover of the purported order under Section 2 of the Official Secrets Act that there is the imposition of draconian provisions for the detention of persons who violate such orders thus violating the freedom of expression, the freedom of peaceful assembly and the freedom of movement all of which are important aspects of the right of the people to dissent in Sri Lanka.

Further, the BASL said it would carefully study the provisions of the said Order and take appropriate legal action to ensure that the fundamental rights of the people are secured.

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UK to provide £3 million urgent food and farming support to Sri Lanka

UK Minister of State for the Middle East, South Asia, and the UN, Lord Tariq Ahmad of Wimbledon Friday announced that the UK is providing urgent food and farming support to Sri Lankans hit hardest by the economic crisis.

More than one third of people are struggling to eat and are suffering shortages of fuel, power, and medicines, the UK government said. Sri Lanka has the fifth largest food price inflation in the world, up 93.7% last month, with rice costing 150% more than this time last year.

In a meeting with Sri Lankan Foreign Minister Ali Sabry at the UN General Assembly on Friday, Lord Ahmad set out the UK’s package of £3 million lifesaving support.

The funding will be delivered through Red Cross and UN partners. It will provide access to food, seeds, and tools to help grow crops as well as mental health care, including for survivors of sexual and gender-based violence.

“The UK stands by the people of Sri Lanka who are facing such a challenging time. The ongoing crisis is deeply concerning with so many in dire need of help,” UK Minister of State for the Middle East, South Asia, and the UN, Lord Tariq Ahmad of Wimbledon said.

“We are providing £3 million of lifesaving support to the most vulnerable and will continue to work with international partners to help Sri Lanka.”

“Pleasure to meet Minister of State Lord Tariq Ahmad of the UK. He informed me of the £3m of UK assistance to Sri Lanka. Thanking the UK Government, I briefed him on steps being taken towards reconciliation and accountability in Sri Lanka,” Sri Lankan Foreign Minister Ali Sabry said following the meeting.

This new funding is just part of the UK’s ongoing support to Sri Lanka. The UK is already providing support through the UN Central Emergency Response Fund (CERF), the World Bank, and the Asian Development Bank.

The UK is the largest donor to the CERF, contributing more than $1.7 billion to the fund since its inception in 2006 and it has already provided $5 million to Sri Lanka. The Asian Development Bank and World Bank are providing emergency assistance under a joint action plan to help reduce the impact of economic crisis on the people of Sri Lanka.

This new package is in addition to the UK’s £11.3 million Conflict, Stability and Security Fund (CSSF) program (2022 to 2025) for Sri Lanka which focusses on addressing the legacy of conflict in the country.

The people of the UK and Sri Lanka share close ties, with a large diaspora community in the UK, and 65,000 British visitors to the island since January 2022

Economic crimes: the term that frightened the government By M.S.M Ayub

The United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights in her report on Sri Lanka attributes the economic crisis the country is currently engulfed in to what she called “economic crimes” committed by those responsible for running the country’s economy. Sri Lanka has protested against the use of this term at the ongoing 51st regular session of the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC).

Addressing the council on September 13 – the same day the Acting UN Human Rights High Commissioner Nada Al-Nashif presented the High Commissioner’s report on Sri Lanka, Foreign Affairs Minister Ali Sabry said that the reference made to “economic crimes” in the report is vague and exceeds the mandate of the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR).

It is vital to recognize and assist Sri Lanka to address the underlying factors, which have contributed to this crisis, including embedded impunity for past and present human rights abuses, economic crimes and corruption

The reference has been made in so many places in the report including the summary of it. In its summary, the report says “The High Commissioner encourages the international community to support Sri Lanka in its recovery, but also in addressing the underlying causes of the crisis, including impunity for human rights violations and economic crimes.” While explaining impunity prevailing in Sri Lanka, the report again refers to the term claiming “a number of corruption and other related economic crimes cases between 2020 and 2022 were discontinued, following withdrawal of charges or indictments on various technical grounds.”

Under the subheading Further “Options for Advancing Accountability,” the High Commissioner hopes “that the new administration will respond to the popular demand for accountability for economic crimes, including corruption, and abuse of power with a renewed commitment to end impunity.” When bringing the report to a conclusion, the High Commissioner reiterates it is vital to recognize and assist Sri Lanka to address the underlying factors, which have contributed to this crisis, including embedded impunity for past and present human rights abuses, economic crimes and corruption.

Sri Lanka is in a dire situation. Various UN agencies have pointed out that malnutrition is widespread among children. A recent study by the World Food Program (WFP) had found that 73 percent of participating households had reduced their diet and food intake

Foreign Minister Sabry’s contention about vagueness of the term had some validity as the report in some places refers to “economic crimes including corruption” while citing in another place “economic crimes and corruption.” A clear definition to the term had not been given in the report. However, the High Commissioner had somewhat negated his second argument about exceeding the mandate of the OHCHR, through her recommendations to the UNHRC. The report recommends to “support Sri Lanka in the investigation of economic crimes that impact on human rights and the tracing and recovery of stolen assets.” If something impacts on human rights it comes under her purview.

Sri Lanka is in a dire situation. Various UN agencies have pointed out that malnutrition is widespread among children. A recent study by the World Food Program (WFP) had found that 73 percent of participating households had reduced their diet and food intake. UNICEF last month said “severe malnutrition in crisis-wracked Sri Lanka was already among the highest in the region.” Although, the government rejected this claim arguing that the UN Children’s Fund had come to this conclusion based on 2016 statistics, the very argument on the other hand indicates a bleaker picture.

The COVID 19 pandemic and the bankruptcy of the country have impacted heavily on the people by way of increased poverty. Officials of the education sector point out that poverty impacted heavily on the school children. Many schools have organised their own arrangements to feed the children who attend to schools without food. In some schools the attendance of the children has halved due to lack of food. Hence, it is obvious that the current situation is far worse than what prevailed in 2016.

The health sector is collapsing for want of funds, especially foreign exchange. Many hospitals have run out of life saving medicines and equipment, threatening the lives of patients. Prices of medicines and medical equipment has increased threefold or fourfold during the past one year. Doctors are leaving the country. Foreign training for medical professionals has been suspended. Thus, all sectors have been hit by the economic crisis, infringing the rights of the people to education, healthcare, employment and most importantly the right to life.

And since the current economic crisis is clearly the outcome of the corrupt practices and mismanagement of politicians and officialdom, the term economic crimes indisputably gains validity. The International Monetary Fund Managing Director Kristalina Georgieva had told NDTV in May that the economic crisis in Sri Lanka is a result of mismanagement. In a recent interview former President Mahinda Rajapaksa also had acknowledged that all past governments and leaders including him have to be held responsible for the current economic downturn.

The main Opposition Samagi Jana Balawegaya (SJB) on Tuesday had requested Speaker Mahinda Yapa Abeywardena to appoint a Parliamentary Select Committee (PSC) to investigate into the “economic crimes” committed since 2019 which have brought in the current socioeconomic mess. They in a letter urges the Speaker to appoint 12 members to the PSC, with a three months term. The SJB seems to have borrowed the term economic crimes from the Human Rights High Commissioner’s report as the party had used it immediately after the report was presented in the UNHRC. And the UN human rights body in turn might have picked up the idea from the recent people’s uprising or the Aragalaya where penalizing those who destroyed the economy and tracing the stolen money had been major demands.

The SJB seem to have decided the period to be probed with a view to take political mileage against the ruling Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna (SLPP). However, the country has been plundered by the politicians and the high ranking officials for the past several decades, not only after 2019. The Mahinda Rajapaksa government’s mega projects which later turned out to be white elephants and the Central Bank bond scam during the last government led by the United National Party (UNP) also contributed to the current economic downturn. The leaders of the SJB know where they were during the Yahapalanaya government. Nevertheless, it was the Gotabaya Rajapaksa administration that decisively ruined the economy with its irrational decisions such as huge unsolicited tax cuts, banning chemical fertilizer imports and fixing the dollar exchange rate which clearly amount to economic crimes.
The international organizations such as the World Bank, International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the UNHRC also attribute the Sri Lanka’s economic crisis to these decisions. However, it was the Rajapaksa family that has been mainly held responsible in the Senate resolution introduced this month by U.S. Senator Bob Menendez (D-N.J.), Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and two others calling for a comprehensive international approach to address Sri Lanka’s current political and economic crisis and in the plaint filed by the Hamilton Reserve Bank in a New York court against the Sri Lankan government over the country’s decision to default on its $1 billion sovereign bond.

However, the recommendation by the Human Rights High Commissioner made to Sri Lanka for an “investigation of economic crimes that impact on human rights and the tracing and recovery of stolen assets” seems to be unrealistic given the fate of the other recommendations made by the UNHRC for the past thirteen years, since the end of the war.

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India supersedes China as Lanka’s largest bi-lateral creditor

In the last 8-9 months Sri Lanka has been backed into a cul-de-sac; a blind alley that has made it imperative to depend on bi-lateral and multi-lateral lenders. Sri Lanka’s economy has also been challenged with mountains of external debt that remains unrepayable due to decimating foreign reserves. This has sebsequently impeded the country’s capacity to import fuel, essential consumer goods (such as medicine) and food items, in addition to hindering payments for power and gas imports.

The last few years has made it explicitly apparent that China has held the most reigns on the Sri Lankan economy, however, in the last few months India has supplanted China as Sri Lanka’s largest bi-lateral lender, having loaned a total of $968 million USD between April and August. In a bid to fulfill their ‘neighbourhood first’ policy, India has pursued assistance to all their neighbouring countries through financial aid for economic recovery, advancement of science and technology and general development.

Between 2017 and 2021, China and the Asian Development Bank have been Sri Lanka’s most sizeable bi-lateral and multi-lateral donors respectively. However, in a bid to supersede their regional competitor (China), India escalated their loan schemes to provide financial and food security to Sri Lanka. On August 22, India handed over 21,000 tonnes of fertilizer which will contribute to food security. India’s permanent representative to the UN, R. Kamboj stated at the UN General Assembly that India had donated $4 billion USD in food and financial aid.

What does this mean for Sri Lanka? In the arena of Asian politics, the ‘neighbourhood first’ policy has enhanced the regional influence of India and entitled its territorial neighbours to be indebted to India. To the vexation of the Asian hegemon China, India has made it a foreign policy objective to extend its infleunce over the economics and politics of their neighbours. This provokes an intense schism regarding Sri Lanka as India and China remain the island’s largest external creditors.

What of Lanka’s worsening financial crisis?

Sri Lanka is currently in the midst of negotiations with the IMF to secure an Extended Fund Facility, a long-term financial aid package to assist economic recovery in the island. The loan can only be secured on the condition that all of Sri Lanka’s multi-lateral and bi-lateral creditors come to a consensus that debt repayments can be defaulted on until the debt is sustainably restructured.

World’s largest broadcasting union condemns police assault on Sri Lankan journalists

The World Broadcasting Unions – WBU, which is the co-ordinating body of broadcasting unions around the world, has condemned the vicious attack on journalists of MTV Channel (Pvt) Ltd by Sri Lanka Police and security personnel on the 9th of July.

The World Broadcasting Unions has among its membership the largest and most influential unions of broadcast journalists around the world. They include the Asia-Pacific Broadcasting Union, the Arab States Broadcasting Union, the African Union of Broadcasting, the Caribbean Broadcasting Union, the European Broadcasting Union, and International Association of Broadcasting, and the North American Broadcasters Association. The WBU was founded in 1922 and has its headquarters in Toronto, Canada.

The WBU, in an official statement, said that it is closely monitoring the Sri Lankan government’s response to attacks on journalists and attempts to intimidate media organizations.

The WBU called on the government to appoint an impartial body to investigate the incident on 9th July and to ensure that police and security personnel do not intimidate, harass or assault any journalists, or anyone associated with the companies which employ them.

The WBU noted that the Human Rights Commission of Sri Lanka has formally acknowledged the unjustified assault on media personnel by police and security personnel and confirmed that the journalists posed no threat to police and that the assault represented a gross violation of the rights of a free media.

It noted that several members of the senior management of MTV Channel (Pvt) Ltd were arbitrarily summoned by police for questioning with regard to the news report on that day and on the arson attack on the Prime Minister’s residence which took place shortly afterwards.

The WBU said that it is speaking out on these events in direct support of MTV’s parent company, the Capital Maharaja Group, which is a member of the Asia-Pacific Broadcasting Union.

Approx. 1,200 Northern children still with war shrapnel

Former Eelam People’s Revolutionary Liberation Front (EPRLF) MP Sivasakthy Ananthan yesterday (20) said that around 1,200 war-affected children in the Northern Province are still bearing shrapnel in their bodies and are yet to receive adequate healthcare to cope with their conditions.

Back in 2016, when Ananthan was a MP, during the Budget debates, he pointed out to then-Prime Minister and incumbent President Ranil Wickremesinghe about the difficulties faced by these children and the lack of healthcare facilities for the children and adults bearing pieces of shrapnel. In response, Wickremesinghe had requested Ananthan to initiate a dialogue with the Minister of Health at the time and to submit a report of the numbers affected. Speaking to The Morning, Ananthan said that he had submitted a report including the details of 750 children out of 1,200 in 2016 as requested by Wickremesinghe, but that there was no action taken.

The affected persons had complained to Ananthan that the hospitals in the North were lacking facilities to treat their conditions.

“This situation remains the same. Some children who can obtain financial support have removed the shrapnel from their bodies with the help of Indian doctors, while most are still bearing the shards,” he added.

Ananthan noted that there are children with shrapnel in their heads and spinal areas. To some of them, the doctors have advised that removing such could be a threat to their lives, and therefore, they continue to live with the condition.

“I appeal to President Wickremesinghe to provide assistance to these children. Not everyone is financially stable enough to get the shrapnel removed; thus the Government should help them to survive,” he added.

He also noted that he would reach out to President Wickremesinghe through former Northern Province Chief Minister and incumbent Tamil Makkal Thesiya Kuttani (TMTK) MP C.V. Wigneswaran to highlight this matter.

Meanwhile, Northern Province Governor Jeevan Thiyagarajah, speaking to The Morning, said that the presence of shrapnel does not always translate to the need for removal.

“It is subject to medical advice on the necessity. However, the principal cost must not be a reason not to attend to any removal, particularly for those less resourced. We will revisit this subject and inquire from every healthcare facility on the needs of those they attended to previously,” he added.

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