Sri Lanka up for Universal Periodic Review today (1) at UNHRC

Sri Lanka’s National Report under the 4th Cycle of the Universal Periodic Review (UPR) comes up for consideration by the UN Working Group on UPR on Wednesday 1st February 2023 during its 42nd Session in Geneva.

The Universal Periodic Review (UPR) was established by the General Assembly of the United Nations (UNGA) in 2006, as a State-driven voluntary peer-review process which provides the opportunity for each State to declare the steps taken at the national level to improve the human rights situation in that State and to fulfill their human rights obligations.

At the UPR, all 193 Member States of the UN are reviewed without any selectivity or discrimination. It is periodic and is repeated every four-and half years. 3 sessions are held each year and 14 countries are reviewed in one session. As such, each Member State of the UN is reviewed every 4 years.

All UN member States, including Sri Lanka, have participated in 3 cycles of the UPR namely, in 2008 (first), 2012 (second) and 2017 (third).

The 4th Cycle of the UPR commenced in November 2022 and Sri Lanka’s Fourth UPR is scheduled for 01 February 2023 during the 42nd session of the UPR Working Group, in Geneva.

The following countries will also be reviewed under the UPR’s 4th cycle at the 42nd Working Group, during the period 23 January to 3 February 2023: Argentina, Benin, Czechia, Gabon, Ghana, Guatemala, Japan, Pakistan, Peru, Republic of Korea, Switzerland, and Zambia.

Sri Lanka’s National Report under the 4th Cycle of the UPR was submitted on 22 December 2022 and provides a self-assessment on the steps taken since the last UPR in November 2017, to fulfill our voluntarily undertaken human rights obligations. The process of preparation of the National Report was undertaken under the guidance of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

Broad consultations were held with stakeholders from government and non-governmental organizations as well as the Human Rights Commission of Sri Lanka. Sri Lanka’s National Report is available at https://www.ohchr.org/en/hr-bodies/upr/lk-index

This year’s Review will take place in a hybrid format. Due to the 75th Anniversary of Independence celebrations falling during the same period, Sri Lanka’s delegation to the Review will be led by Minister of Foreign Affairs Ali Sabry by means of a pre-recorded video statement.

The in-person delegation will be led by Sri Lanka’s Permanent Representative to the United Nations in Geneva Himalee Arunatilaka and comprise senior officials from the Presidential Secretariat, the Attorney-General’s Department, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, and the Permanent Mission of Sri Lanka to the UN in Geneva.

Dalai Lama incident spoils China’s image in Sri Lanka

China’s efforts to gain the space it lost in Sri Lanka to India have hit yet another stumbling block after it vehemently opposed the invitation to Tibetan Buddhist spiritual guru Dalai Lama.

Sri Lanka is a Buddhist-majority country and China’s record of treatment of religious minorities especially Tibetan Buddhists has not been good. China’s image has received a dent among Sri Lankan people after Chinese projects turned inviable and are perceived to be the major reason for the current financial crisis. In such a scenario, China’s intervention in Sri Lanka’s personal matters, specifically sensitive religious issues, can spoil its image among people of Sri Lanka. Many people have vented their anger on social media.

Sri Lanka is crucial for China in terms of growing its influence in the Indian Ocean region and keeping its Asian rival India in check. China made considerable gains when Sri Lanka became a part of its Belt Road Initiative (BRI). However, the same project was seen as the major reason for the ongoing financial crisis in Sri Lanka. Chinese-built Mattala Rajapaksa International Airport has received the tag of the world’s emptiest airport while Sri Lanka lost sovereignty over Hambantota Port for failure in paying loans extended by Beijing. Sri Lankan had earlier protested against their country becoming a “Chinese colony.”[1]

Sri Lanka is going through the worst-ever economic crisis and many have blamed China’s “debt-trap” diplomacy for the situation, though Beijing refused the allegations.Interestingly, top Sri Lankan Buddhist monks had extended an invitation to Dalai Lama as they believed his blessings would help their country overcome the financial mess. “If he goes to Sri Lanka, many thousands of tourists will come to Sri Lanka which will boost the economy because we are in a crisis situation. We will be blessed and the economy will also be boosted,” said Waskaduwa Mahindananda Mahanayaka Thero, one of these monks.[2]

Around six months ago, Dalai Lama too offered prayers for Sri Lanka to fight its economic crisis successfully.[3] He had extended his good wishes to Buddhist monks in Sri Lanka as well. Against this backdrop, China’s threats to Sri Lankan government over the invitation to Dalai Lama have not gone well with Sri Lankans. Chinese Embassy blamed Dalai Lama for not being a “simple monk” but a “separatist.” People in Sri Lanka called China’s interference a violation of their constitution and religious freedom.[4] “Careful when you play with Buddhist sentiments of Sri Lanka. It will backfire,” said Sri Lankan Kapilan Sachchithananthan.[5]

Sri Lankan newspaper Sunday Times slammed China for its “audacity” to tell Sri Lanka what to do. It also took a dig at China saying the Dalai Lama’s visit “resurrects China’s invasion and occupation of the once free mountainous Buddhist Kingdom on the ‘roof of the world’”.[6]Sri Lankan named Ashan Mendis said on Twitter “Great soon the Chinese will dictate our entire foreign policy. So what if the Dalai Lama is a simple monk.”[7]Another Sri Lankan Mohamed Aashsd said “China always destroys other countries, now it is administering to SriLanka. How can China pressure Sri Lanka to cancel the Dalai Lama’s visit when Sri Lanka badly needs tourism?”[8]

While the government of Sri Lanka has made any official comment on the Dalai Lama episode, public sentiment has grown against China. There have been allegations of China interfering in the succession of the Dalai Lama and carrying out suppressive policies in Tibet. A year ago, top Tibetan monk Ling Rinpoche had during a press event criticised China for “inhuman and bestial atrocities” on Tibetans and the destruction of Buddhist culture and literature.[9]China’s image as anti-Buddhist is only going to further dent its prospects in Sri Lanka. Pro-India sentiments are on the rise in the island country as New Delhi helped Sri Lanka amid the financial crisis.Sri Lanka has thanked India for the “generous support” that helped the country “to regain some measure of economic and financial stability.”[10][11]In such a situation, China ruffling feathers on religious issues would only hamper its image and prospects in Sri Lanka.

[1]https://www.forbes.com/sites/wadeshepard/2017/01/08/violent-protests-against-chinese-colony-in-hambantota-sri-lanka-rage-on/?sh=4118bc1b13dd

[2]https://english.newsfirst.lk/2023/1/2/sri-lankan-monks-seek-dalai-lama-s-visit-blessings-to-overcome-economic-crisis

[3]https://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/world/south-asia/dalai-lama-offers-prayers-for-Seriswift-end-to-sri-lanka-crisis/articleshow/92994345.cms

[4]https://twitter.com/azeemsalam/status/1615312498294497282

[5]https://twitter.com/iamkapilan/status/1615616561339076608

[6]https://www.sundaytimes.lk/230122/columns/dalai-lama-bombshell-with-love-from-china-to-malwatte-monks-509056.html

[7]https://twitter.com/AshanMendis6/status/1615268751758491651

[8]https://twitter.com/Mohammed_Aashsd/status/1617754518208540672

[9]https://english.khabarhub.com/2022/11/236784/

[10]https://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/world/south-asia/sri-lanka-thanks-india-for-its-generous-support-assurances-given-to-the-imf-to-restructure-its-debt/articleshow/97160677.cms

[11]https://newindian.in/jaishankar-doubles-down-on-commitment-to-help-sri-lanka-out-of-financial-crisis/
Source:colombogazette

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Full implementation of 13A: NFF vows to torpedo Ranil’s move, asks Dinesh, Mahinda to disclose their stance

The National Freedom Front (NFF), a constituent member of Nidahas Janatha Sandhanaya (NJS), has declared that it would oppose President Ranil Wickremesinghe’s bid to fully implement the 13th Amendment to the Constitution. The patriotic people were ready to defeat such plans, even at the expense of their lives, the party has vowed.

The breakaway JVP faction consists of six MPs, including former minister Wimal Weerawansa. The NJS is contesting the Local Government polls, scheduled for March 09, under the ‘Helicopter’ symbol.

NFF spokesperson, MP Jayantha Samaraweera, on Monday (30), told the media that his party was ready to lead a campaign against the UNP leader’s move to do away with constitutional safeguards meant to ensure Sri Lanka’s unitary status. The Lawmaker addressed the media at the NFF main office, at Pitakotte.

Having declared his intention to fully implement the controversial constitutional amendment at the Thai Pongal celebrations, in Jaffna, on January 15, President Wickremesinghe reiterated his commitment to the Eelam project during the party leaders’ meeting at the Presidential Secretariat, the former State Minister said.

Lawmaker Samaraweera asked Prime Minister Dinesh Gunawardena, and twice President Mahinda Rajapaksa, who had flanked President Wickremesinghe, at the party leaders’ meeting, to disclose their stand on 13th Amendment.

The Nidahas Janatha Sandhanaya, consisting of NFF, Democratic Left Front, Communist Party, Lanka Samasamaja Pakshaya, Pivuthuru Hela Urumaya, Vijayadharani Jathika Sabhawa, Yuthukama, Sri Lanka Freedom Party, Nidahasa Janatha Sabhawa, Jana Jaya Peramuna, Sri Lanka Mahajana Pakshaya and Nidahas Janatha Peramuna, has yet to disclose its position on this issue.

MP Samaraweera attacked the President, close on the heels of NFF leader Wimal Weerawansa, who is also the Chairman of the Uththara Lanka Sabhagaya (ULS), questioning the legitimacy of the move. Lawmaker Weerawansa addressed this issue at a meeting held at the BMICH, on January 26, to discuss ways and means to thwart the move to privatize the CEB.

The ULS consisting of seven political parties, and groups, is aligned with the NJS.

Referring to the circumstances UNP leader Wickremesinghe re-entered Parliament, through the National List, nearly a year after the last General Election, former Minister Weerawansa emphasized the President didn’t have a mandate to fully implement the 13th Amendment. How could the UNP leader abolish Sri Lanka’s unitary status, having received an opportunity to complete Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s remainder of five-year term, won at the Nov. 2019 Presidential Election.

The MP challenged their erstwhile comrades, in the JVP, to state their position on the 13th Amendment. Alleging that the JVP had been conveniently silent on the issue at hand, MP Samaraweera asked whether the current leadership would take up Wickremesinghe’s challenge.

In addition to Weerawansa and Samaraweera, Yuthukama leader Gevindu Cumaratunga, MP, has declared opposition to the President’s move, at the party leaders’ meeting.

Of the SLPP parliamentary group, retired Rear Admiral Sarath Weerasekera is the only MP to publicly oppose Wickremesinghe’s proposal.

Political sources said that the NJS, as a group contesting the forthcoming LG polls, was yet to deliberate this issue and take a stand. They said that consensus was required without further delay as the President’s proposal would be a major issue at the forthcoming election.

Govt. still hoping for Q1 bailout as US says process has sped-up

State Minister of Finance Shehan Semasinghe told The Daily Morning yesterday (31 January) that the Government is confident and optimistic that it would receive the International Monetary Fund’s (IMF) Board-level approval for the desperately needed Extended Fund Facility (EFF) within the first quarter of this year, shortly after US Ambassador to Sri Lanka Julie Chung assured Semasinghe that assistance due from the IMF to Sri Lanka is likely to speed up with the co-operation of all countries.

The US is by far the largest contributor to the IMF and is its most influential member.

Speaking to The Daily Morning, the State Finance Minister said: “It is vital for us at this moment for the stability of the economy and to build up confidence among the diplomatic and international communities as well as investors.”

When queried as to whether the two-year debt moratorium promised by the Export-Import Bank of China (EXIM) to Sri Lanka is sufficient, he said: “It is a very complex programme and a complex affair. The letter has to be accepted by the IMF. It will have to fulfil the conditions that they require; however, none of the assurances, negotiations, or discussions can be done the way we want.”

He also said that it has to be a joint and collaborative effort from all sides. “There has to be an understanding between us and the creditors as well as the IMF. We are waiting for positive news from the Paris Club. India has already given assurances. There will be a couple of more important dialogues taking place at the highest level with the Chinese authorities also. We need this approval as fast as possible in order to ensure stability in the economy. It is about going through the IMF regulations. The IMF also has supported us to the fullest so far and they have engaged with us. We are trying our best to make sure that we comply with their requirements,” he added.

China’s EXIM Bank offered Sri Lanka a two-year moratorium on its debt and said that it would support the country’s efforts to secure the $ 2.9 billion loan from the IMF. India wrote to the IMF earlier this month, saying that it would commit to supporting Sri Lanka with financing and debt relief.

Earlier yesterday, US Ambassador to Sri Lanka Julie Chung had assured Semasinghe during a meeting that assistance due from the IMF to Sri Lanka is likely to speed up.

Chung had stated that foreign countries are now in the process of further confirming their credibility regarding the Sri Lankan Government’s debt restructuring programme, a statement issued by the Ministry of Finance revealed.

Meanwhile, speaking on the efforts taken by the Government to maintain financial stability, Ambassador Chung noted that despite the unpopular reforms taken in this regard, the unity shown by working together as a country must be appreciated.

Thus, the diplomat assured that Sri Lanka will obtain favourable decisions from their international creditor, and will be able to achieve a more stable economy soon, towards which the US Government will also continue to extend their fullest support.

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Gazette notification on holding LG polls issued

The gazette notification pertaining to the holding of the Local Government election on 09 March 2023 has been published.

The Local Government notifications have been issued by the respective District Returning Officers for the LG bodies of each district, under Sub-section 38(1)(c) of the Local Authorities Elections Ordinance.

They state that the poll for those local authorities will be taken on March 09, 2023 from 7.00 a.m. to 4.00 p.m.

The Chairman of the Election Commission on Monday said that all relevant documents received from District Returning Officers to hold the Local Government Election on March 09, were sent to the Government Printer to be gazetted.

The Department of Government Information (DGI) had stated recently that the Gazette notification to commence the Local Government (LG) Election process, with the signatures of the Chairman and other members of the Election Commission, has still not been sent to the Government Printer for publication.

However, when inquired by Ada Derana, a spokesperson from the Election Commission had stated that there is no such requirement for the members of the Election Commission to send a Gazette notification to be published regarding the LG election process.

Furthermore, the Election Commission stated that the relevant documents will be issued by the District Returning Officers and that it will be issued within the couple of days.

More than 80,700 candidates will be contesting for 339 local government bodies at the election.

According to the Election Commission, these candidates belong to 58 registered political parties and 329 independent groups.

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Milinda Moragoda holds talks with Indian External Affairs Minister

Sri Lankan High Commissioner to India Milinda Moragoda today (31) called on Indian External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar to review bilateral relations.

The meeting comes after Minister Jaishankar’s recent visit to Sri Lanka to express solidarity with the island nation which is battling a financial crisis.

Jaishankar tweeted “A useful meeting with @MilindaMoragoda, High Commissioner of Sri Lanka. Reviewed my recent visit to Sri Lanka and taking the understandings forward”.

Jaishankar’s visit to Sri Lanka was focused on India’s role in supporting the country mitigate economic woes.

Sri Lanka systematically violated human rights – FIDH

The International Federation for Human Rights in a new report detailing the relentless repression of a peaceful protest movement noted that the Sri Lankan authorities systematically violated international human rights law and standards with complete impunity in their crackdown on the Aragalaya.

The protest movement, called aragalaya [“struggle” in Sinhala], was triggered by the government’s protracted economic mismanagement and the growing public discontent over corruption and nepotism.

The protests, which initially started in the country’s capital, Colombo, quickly spread across all nine provinces of Sri Lanka. Some protests continued in Colombo in 2023.

FIDH Secretary-General Adilur Rahman Khan said that President Wickremesinghe’s recent pledge to use the military and emergency powers to prevent the resurgence of a protest movement should sound alarm bells.

He added that it is imperative the international community remains vigilant and presses the government to respect and protect the rights of protesters.

The 62-page report, titled, Anatomy of a crackdown – The repression of Sri Lanka’s aragalaya protest movement,” provides a comprehensive record of the serious and systematic human rights violations committed by the military, police, and pro-government elements against the overwhelmingly peaceful protesters.

Authorities also targeted protest observers, including journalists, lawyers, and bystanders.

On Journalists it noted that on 9th July 2022, during a protest in front of then-Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe’s private residence, eight reporters from the privately-owned national TV channel News First were attacked by police.

The report said that all four reporters wore recognizable News First t-shirts and were carrying journalist accreditation cards on them when the attack took place, and that four other News First journalists who attempted to aid their injured colleagues were also assaulted by the police.

The most disturbing pattern of violations of the right to freedom of peaceful assembly was the authorities’ frequent use of unnecessary and/or disproportionate force – including live ammunition, tear gas, and water cannons – to disperse peaceful assemblies.

In addition, police routinely and arbitrarily arrested aragalaya protest organizers and participants and subjected many of them to a systematic campaign of harassment, including judicial harassment, intimidation, and surveillance.

Authorities also imposed unnecessary and disproportionate restrictions on assemblies through the use of emergency powers and the abuse of laws, including the draconian
Prevention of Terrorism Act (PTA).

Amid these violations, members of law enforcement agencies have not been held accountable for abuses they committed against aragalaya protesters.

The report is released ahead of Sri Lanka’s fourth Universal Periodic Review (UPR), which will take place on 1 February 2023 in Geneva, Switzerland.

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Catholic Church rejects Maithripala’s apology

The Catholic Church in Sri Lanka will not accept the apology tendered by former President Maithripala Sirisena on the shortcomings in preventing the Easter Sunday bomb attacks, National Director Communications Archdiocese of Colombo Fr. Jude Chryshantha Fernando said today.

Speaking to the media Fr. Fernando said the Former President will have to go to jail for failing to prevent the attack.

“Former President Sirisena has said there were bomb explosions all over the nation during the war and no probe has been carried out on those terror attacks. He should remember that prior warnings have been issued on the Easter Sunday bombings. Places, where the attacks would take place, were also known. Therefore, President Sirisena cannot get away from the responsibility,” Fr. Fernando said.

“Former President Sirisena has also said Catholics of Sri Lanka will forgive him and welcome him. We therefore, request him to go among the Catholics in Kochcikade and Negombo and prove that he is welcomed. Also he has said he pleads for forgiveness on behalf of God. Is he God’s representative to make such a statement?” he added.

Court to rule on bail for Wasantha on Tuesday (31); ISUF engages in silent protest

The Colombo Chief Magistrate’s Court is expected to deliver its ruling on bail for Wasantha Mudalige, the convener of the Inter-University Student’s Federation.

Wasantha Mudalige, the convener of the Inter-University Student’s Federation, was escorted to the Colombo Chief Magistrate’ Court on Tuesday (31) morning.

Mudalige was arrested under the provisions of the Prevention of Terorrism Act, and remains in remand custody pending advice from the Attorney General.

Activists from the Inter-University Student’s Federation engaged in a silent protest opposite the Colombo Chief Magistrate’ Court when IUSF Convener Wasantha Mudalige was escorted to the court.

The Keselwatte Police had sought an order from court to prevent the silent protest from continuing, citing that it inconvenienced the public.

However, Colombo Chief Magistrate Prasanna Alwis rejected the request and advised the police to act as per the powers vested with Sri Lanka Police if the protest was in fact an inconvenience to the public. The Colombo Chief Magistrate pointed out that court orders were not necessary for it.

Sri Lanka more corrupt in 2022 than in 2021

Sri Lanka was found to be more corrupt in 2022 than it was in the year 2021, according to the 2022 Corruption Perceptions Index (CPI).

The 2022 Corruption Perceptions Index (CPI) released by Transparency International saw Sri Lanka’s rankings drop by 1 point in 2022 from the year 2021.

The CPI has ranked Sri Lanka at 101 among 180 countries with a score of 36.

The Corruption Perceptions Index is the most widely used global corruption ranking in the world. It measures how corrupt each country’s public sector is perceived to be, according to experts and businesspeople.

Transparency International noted that while anti-government protests were not uncommon in Sri Lanka before 2022, they gathered significant momentum last year because of the country’s ever-worsening economic situation.

Sri Lanka took out massive international loans to finance its economic growth for decades, including infrastructure development projects.

“This worked at first, but mismanagement and rampant corruption, combined with a sharp decline in tourism due to the COVID-19 pandemic, finally sent the country’s economy into a complete meltdown,” Transparency International said.

With inflation skyrocketing, the island nation has been unable to import sufficient food, fuel or medicine for its 22 million citizens, plunging them into the worst crisis the country has seen in decades. Recognising the link between their situation and the pervasive corruption among the country’s leadership, protesters demanded reforms and refused to leave the streets despite brutal police crackdowns.

Transparency International in Sri Lanka, together with other civil society organizations, kept up the pressure on the Government to heed the call of the people and enact genuine anti-corruption reforms.

Seeking accountability from those responsible for state bankruptcy, Transparency International Sri Lanka also filed a petition with the Supreme Court and obtained a travel ban against the former President, Prime Minister, Finance Minister, Central Bank Governor and two others.

Transparency International said that while the country remains in crisis with no resolution of the widespread unrest in 2022, civil society and activists continue working to demand better legislative frameworks, governance standards, transparency and accountability for the people of Sri Lanka.

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