UN Human Rights Council 46: UK statement for the Interactive Dialogue with the with the Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Religion and Belief

The UK’s International Ambassador for Human Rights, Rita French, delivered this statement during the Interactive Dialogue with the with the Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Religion and Belief.

Thank you, Madam President,

We remain deeply concerned about the scale of abuses and violations of the right to freedom of religion or belief: no one should suffer because of their conscience.

We thank the Special Rapporteur for his work over the past five years, and look forward to engaging with him on his report on combatting anti-Muslim hatred, as well as on Christian persecution and other forms of discrimination.

The United Kingdom is home to many thriving religions and beliefs. We reject all forms of intolerance and hate. Internationally, we are concerned by the societal impacts of the pandemic including rising hate speech, misinformation and conspiracy theories which target minority faith communities in different countries.

We are also concerned about actions of governments such as Sri Lanka, where the government’s mandatory cremation policy for those deceased due to Covid-19 has impacted Muslim and Christian minorities in particular. We hope this practice will soon cease and we are ready to provide technical support and evidence to counter misinformation.

This year, we will continue to assess the pandemic’s impact on human rights.

What steps can we, the international community, take to ensure it does not fuel further global intolerance towards religious and belief minorities?

Thank you.

Published 4 March 2021

Archaeology: latest ploy for grabbing Tamil lands in north Sri Lanka

War affected Tamils in Mullaitivu are facing an existential threat as fertile lands and rich fishing resources are allegedly being grabbed under the pretext of archaeological excavations by right wing Buddhists.

An elderly Tamil landowner who was clearing his land-in the Thannimurippu District Secretary division-which was abandoned during the war time was stopped from doing so and tilling his ‘own land’ by a team of archaeological department officials led by a Buddhist monk.

Also, two local Tamil journalists covering the ongoing land grabbing and other issues affecting the Tamils were threatened by the forest officials when they went there for newsgathering.

‘No private land’

The forest officials who forcefully stopped the landowner K. Peranantham from clearing his fields were caught on camera by these journalists retaliated immediately attempting to stop them from carrying out their duty, and demanded to see their media identity cards. Pictures also show the media identity card of the one of the journalists being inspected by those officials.

“We were on the road leading to the land filming the incident and the forest officials wanted to check our identity cards-which they are not entitled to” one of the journalists told JDS. The journalists told the forest officials they cannot be stopped from reporting what’s happening in their region.

Locals allege the police and the forest department officials were acting under instructions of the Buddhist monk.

Eyewitness told JDS that the monk accompanied by officials told the land owner in an intimidating way that he cannot enter his land and the 500 acres of land in Kurunthurmalai area is archaeologically historic and a sacred – ‘nobody has got any private land here’ and ‘none could enter the area and do any clearing operation’.

The landowner apart from being banned from entering his land has also been summoned to the local police station.

The fertile land with fruit bearing trees including mango, jackfruit and coconut is close to the Arumugathankulam – a water body in the Thannimurippu DS division-which was also occupied by the Sri Lanka military recently.

Subsequently they stopped local Tamil fishermen engaging in sustainable fishing for generations using hook and bait, while allowing non residents to do so using banned nets, seriously affecting the livelihood of the Tamils.

“If the military can fish in this tank using nets, why can’t we living in the same village do the same?” locals question.

Make-shift Buddhist temple

Recently under the guise of archaeology and Buddhist culture, Tamils worshipping in the Athi Aiyanar temple Kovil in Kurunthurmalai for hundreds of years were stopped from entering the area saying it’s a place of ‘Buddhist importance’ and further exploration is needed.

A local military camp has also been set up along with a make-shift Buddha Vihara at the Kurunthurmalai foothills. Tamil lawmakers too were earlier barred from visiting the place but were allowed subsequently while the journalists travelling with them were stopped.

Sri Lankan state minister for National Heritage Vidura Wickramanayaka recently visited the Kurunthurmalai area to inaugurate the archaeological exploration and prayed at the vihara put up by the army there.

War affected Tamils in the north fear of forced Sinhala colonisation plans taken forward under the guise of archaeological exploration.


India says Sri Lanka claims on WCT deal factually incorrect

The Sri Lankan Government’s claim that a proposal on the Colombo Port West Container Terminal (WCT) has been approved by the Indian High Commission is ‘factually incorrect’, said the Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) on Friday, the IANS news service reported.

Colombo on Tuesday approved a joint venture with the Adani group to build and operate Colombo Port’s WCT for 35 years. The Sri Lankan Government press release stated that the cabinet-appointed negotiation committee had requested the Indian high commission and Japanese embassy to nominate investors for the WCT project.

“The proposal presented by Adani Ports and Special Economic Zone Limited (APSEZ Consortium) has been approved by the Indian High Commission,” Sri Lanka’s Government Information Department said in an official communique.

During a weekly briefing today, MEA spokesperson Anurag Srivastava said the Sri Lankan Government has engaged directly with investors on this project.

“Our High Commission in Colombo has conveyed to Sri Lanka Government that their media release in so far as the reference to approval of High Commission was concerned, is factually incorrect,” Srivastava said.

“We understand that the Government of Sri Lanka has engaged directly with investors on this project,” he added.

The new joint venture was approved by the Sri Lankan Government weeks after it unilaterally cancelled Indian and Japanese participation in the development of the East Container Terminal at Colombo.

India and Sri Lanka signed a memorandum of understanding for “co-operation on economic projects” in 2019. The development and operation of the container terminal was one of the projects in the MoU and it was a joint venture.

Succumbing to strong opposition from trade unions across the country, Sri Lanka has unilaterally pulled out of the 2019 agreement with India and Japan for developing the strategic East Container Terminal (ECT) at the Colombo Port.

Media denied entry to Iranaitheevu Island

A group of journalists including The Morning reporter who went from Colombo to report on proposed Covid-19 burial related developments in the Iranaitheevu Island have been prevented from entering the Island today (05) morning.

Human rights activist Ruki Fernando who is also at the location said that Navy personnel have blocked him and the journalists at Iranaimathanagar from visiting the Iranaitheevu Island.

A group of locals and a priest had requested the group to visit the Island. Fernando said that no rational reason was given by the authorities as to why they are prevented from entering.

“When contacted, Cabinet Spokesman and Mass Media Minister Keheliya Rambukwella said that he was not aware of the situation and would look into it. The District Secretary of Kilinochchi said that she was at a meeting and will get back to us. I already complained to the Human Rights Commission of Sri Lanka’s office in Jaffna and Colombo,” he told The Morning.

He said that if there is a law or regulation that prevents entry, they will abide by the law. “But we haven’t been given any reason yet,” he said.

Meanwhile, Navy Media Spokesperson Captain Indika De Silva said that only the residents are allowed entry to the Island.

Chinese loan and currency swap arrangement on the way

China will endorse a US $ 500 million loan and a currency swap arrangement of two billion Yuan (around US $ 600 million) within the next couple of weeks, informed sources said.

Sri Lankan ambassador to China Dr. Palitha Kohona held talks with Chinese Vice Foreign Minister Luo Zhaohui on Wednesday and discussed bilateral cooperation covering a wide range of areas. Sri Lanka has sought financial cooperation from China.

Mr. Luo oversees China’s relations in the Asian region. According to a sources, the US $ 500 million is to be approved by the Bank of China within the next two weeks. Besides, the currency swap facility will be approved by People’s Bank of China which is the central bank of that country.

China also asserted once again that it would stand by Sri Lanka at the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC).

Also, Dr, Kohona and the Vice Minister discussed the expedition of the Free Trade Agreement (FTA) between the two countries. The FTA negotiations were launched during the 2010/2015 government led by Mahinda Rajapaksa as the then president.

The previous Yahapalana government also made arrangements to proceed with the talks.

Govt.slams Ahimsa for trying to ’’destroy’’ Sri Lanka

Foreign Secretary Admiral Jayanath Colombage firmly rebuked a widely distributed article by Ahimsa Wickrematunge published yesterday in the Washington Post criticising President Gotabaya Rajapaksa and the present government for denying justice for the murder of her father, founding editor of The Sunday Leader Lasantha Wickrematunge, who was killed in 2009.

While stating that he had not personally read the article, the foreign secretary said that it was an attempt to “destroy Sri Lanka and see its downfall” by rallying the international community to impose travel restrictions and embargoes on Sri Lankan leaders.“not only her, many are there to try and destroy Sri Lanka,” Colombage continued.

Government Spokesman Minister Keheliya Rambukwella lamented that “the public feels that she is tied to a string and is being controlled by certain parties,” including opposition politicians and Diaspora groups. Both Admiral Colombage and Minister Rambukwella praised Wickrematunge’s efforts and rights to seek justice for her father’s killing but said it was unfortunate that she chose to do so during the challenges the country is facing at the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC).

“I encourage her to stay stern and brave,” Rambukwella said,“but I feel sorry for her as all her efforts will be diluted as the timing is not good.” The Minister wished Wickrematunge luck in having the perpetrators of her father’s killing punished someday in a court of law.“i have seen how hard Ahimsa was struggling to bring the perpetrators to book.”

Four more die of COVID-19: Death toll increases to 493

Four new COVID-related deaths have been confirmed by the Director-General of Health Services today (March 05).

The new development has pushed the total lives claimed by the pandemic outbreak to 493.

1. A 39-year-old man from Atala area – He had been transferred to Kandy National Hospital after testing positive for the virus while at Kegalle District Hospital. He passed away today due to severe kidney damages and COVID pneumonia.

2. A 67-year-old man from Colombo 08 area – He was initially under medical care at a private hospital in Colombo and was moved to Homagama Base Hospital after testing positive for the virus. He succumbed to COVID pneumonia, acute diabetes and kidney disease today.

3. An 81-year-old man from Colombo 10 – He was transferred to Homagama Base Hospital after testing positive for the virus at the Colombo National Hospital. He had been suffering from COVID pneumonia, high blood pressure, acute diabetes and heart disease at the time of his death today.

4. An 84-year-old woman from Rajagiriya area – Upon testing positive for novel coronavirus, she was moved from Colombo National Hospital to Mulleriyawa Base Hospital where she died today. The cause of death was recorded as COVID- infection, acute kidney infection, high blood pressure and heart disease.

The End of an Era of Extremism in Sri Lanka – Victor Ivan

Professor Sirima Kiribamuna, making a lengthy review of the Mahavamsa, the great chronicle of Sri Lanka has extolled it as “the culmination of the historical thinking of the ancient Sinhalese”.

Contrary to what professor Kiribamuna has said, the Mahavamsa cannot be considered as a book of history written for the purpose of recording the history of the Sinhalese race. It is more an account of the history of the Theravada Buddhism of Sri Lanka. However, the author of the Mahavamsa has recorded the history of Theravada Buddhism as something in which the Sinhala race and Buddhism have been inextricably linked.

On the other hand, Amaradasa Liyanagamage, who can be considered a better and more courageous historian, has pointed out that according to the Mahavamsa, the Lord Buddha by his clairvoyance, had foreseen that, after his Parinirvana, the passing away, the Buddhism (the doctrine) will finally be established and preserved in Sri Lanka.

On the same day, Prince Vijaya, a member of the Sakya clan, the clan to which the Buddha also belonged to, with the blessings of the Buddha set out from Sinhapura of Lata Rata accompanied by seven hundred followers lands on the shores of Thambapanni, a location in the island of Lanka; the Buddha spoke to the God Sakka, the Lord of gods, and entrusted him with the task of carefully protecting prince Vijaya with his followers, the new settlers arriving in Sri Lanka.

The link the author of the Mahavamsa has made between the origin of the Sinhala race and Buddhism with this narrative is not only unauthentic but also will not augur well for the Sinhala race or Buddhism.

In the pre-modern era, the Mahavamsa remained in the form of an Ola script written in the Pali language. So, it can not be considered to have made a great impact on the people of that era.

The Mahavamsa became a book that affected the psychology of Sinhala Buddhists in Ceylon only after it was translated into Sinhala and published as a book during the British rule as a part of their project on the history of the country.

Anagarika Dharmapala

In the pre-modern era, race and religion except caste did not constitute a dividing line. It was only during the modern era that ethnicity and religion became a dividing line between the peoples of Sri Lanka. According to Bryce Ryan, the bitterest conflicts in Sri Lanka which erupted from the end of the nineteenth century until about 1925 had been among different castes and not among ethnic groups.

Anagarika Dharamapala was the theorist who had made use of the alleged connection between the Sinhala race and Buddhism as illustrated in the Mahavamsa, and developed a simple theory of militant racism for Sinhala Buddhists at the beginning of the modern era.

Anagarika Dharmapala was the most recognized figure by the Sinhala Buddhists among the leaders who emerged in the aftermath of Sri Lanka moving into a modern era. As Kumari Jayewardene has rightly put it, he was “the only aristocrat who walked with his head held high in the midst of a crowd of humble Sri Lankans who were cowardly shrinking and crawling on their bellies.”

Dharmapala was the staunch proponent of a policy that treated all non-Sinhala Buddhists living in Sri Lanka as Pariahs or outcasts and maintained that only the Sinhala Buddhists have the right to claim for Sri Lanka.

He blamed not only the Europeans who conquered Sri Lanka but also the minorities living in the country for the decadence of the Sihala nation and Buddhism. He referred to all those who consumed beef (he called beef Gerimas) as Vasalayas or social outcasts. The militant and racist ideas spread by Dharmapala among Sinhala Buddhist people affected the Muslims and Burghers devastatingly while he was alive.

’56 Revolution

The Sinhala-Buddhist militant racism introduced by Anagarika Dharmapala continued to act as a cancer pervading the post-independence Sinhala Buddhist community. There was a growing discontent and unrest among the community of the Buddhist Sangha over not restoring Buddhism, to the level it enjoyed during the reign of ancient Sinhala kings despite a considerable time having lapsed after independence.

In view of the prevailing unrest among the Buddhist priests, Venerable Henpitagedara Gnanaseeha Thero, Gunapala Malalasekera and NQ Dias launched a strategic program to enlighten the Buddhist priests and the Buddhist people of the circumstances and win a Sinhala Buddhist government. The movement of the Buddhist Commission constituted the strongest component of this program.

The change of government in 1956 was arguably the greatest revolution that took place in the sphere of Buddhism since the Buddhist revival movement that emerged during the colonial period. The Buddhist monks acting as the driving force has been the most important feature of the ’56 revolution.

Prime Minister Bandaranaike abolished the prominence accorded to English and made Sinhala the only official language, contrary to the agreement reached between the political parties to grant the status of an official language for both Sinhala and Tamil languages.

At the same time, the UNP too appeared for a Sinhala-only policy discarding its old language policy. Only the two leftist parties (the LSSP and CP ) appeared for the language rights of both Sinhala and Tamil communities.

After Bandaranaike

The Sinhala-only policy of Bandaranaike did not stop at pushing the Tamil people of Sri Lanka into a fierce struggle for their language rights, it also led to removing the Sinhala youth from bilingual education and restricting their medium of instruction only to the Sinhala language. Prime Minister Bandaranaike was eventually assassinated as a result of a conspiracy of Buddhist monks.

But none of these developments led to weaken the Sinhala-Buddhist supremacy but to strengthen it.

The only capacity it possessed was to bulldoze the rights of minority ethnic groups by employing the majority power it had; so it played a destructive role rather than serving as a progressive force.

Before long, the LSSP and the Communist Party, the only leftist political parties that worked among the Sinhalese people that did not endorse or recognize the domination of this movement, formed a coalition with the SLFP and pushed themselves also into a point of repulsive politics in which they opted to hold political protest rallies shouting slogans tinged with communal flavor like “dudlige baday masalawade “(Dudley’s belly is full of masalawade).

Thereafter, the new left that emerged in the form of the JVP also proved to be a political party that worked accepting the Sinhala-Buddhist supremacy, since its inception. Although the UNP formed a coalition government with the Federal Party in 1965, it also collapsed during the latter part of its term as it feared to transcend the boundaries set by the Sinhala Buddhist supremacy.

The next coalition government formed by the SLFP, LSSP and the Communist Party adopted laws that led to oppress the Tamil people while maximizing the supremacy of the Sinhala Buddhist chauvinism. These ruthless laws eventually pushed the Tamil people to launch a fight for a separate state.

Defeating Prabhakaran

Prabhakaran’s Eelam War caused to further strengthen the dominance of Sinhala Buddhist supremacy in the Sinhala society.

As the ideology of Anagarika Dharmapala was no longer adequate to overcome the new challenges, there emerged new ideologies such as those promulgated by Gunadasa Amarasekara, Nalin de Silva and Champika Ranawaka. All of them added to intensify the stupidity of the followers of their philosophy rather than improving their intellect.

The Sinhala-Buddhist supremacy was raised to its maximum carrying it to a greater height by the successful program of anti-Eelam war launched by President Mahinda Rajapaksa to defeat Prabhakaran and his persistent Eelam war. The victory of the internal war had led to conceal the decline and decay of the State. The victory of the war resulted in President Mahinda Rajapaksa being acknowledged as the crown prince of the Sinhala Buddhist people.

Another change that took place in the face of the complete defeat of the Tamil enemy was that the fight against the Muslims became the next major war of the Sinhala Buddhist nation.

The defeat of Mahinda Rajapaksa at the presidential election 2015 was a source of anger and surprise for the Sinhala Buddhist forces which they perceived as an outcome of a conspiracy hatched by the minorities against the majority of the country; as usurpation of the political power which they possessed and was entitled to.

The best way they saw to overcome this situation has been to win the next presidential election only with the support of the Sinhala Buddhist votes. As in 1956, the Buddhist monks undertook the responsibility of organizing the people for that purpose.Gotabhaya Rajapaksa was assigned the onerous task of rescuing the Sinhala Buddhist people.

The Passage to Hell, instead of Heaven

As expected, this force was able to win both the Presidential and Parliamentary elections solely on the strength of Sinhala Buddhist votes. But the victory they have achieved has brought them to the abyss of hell rather than the kingdom of heaven which they hoped for. In any case, it would have been the ultimate logical outcome of this journey.

Every leader commencing from Anagarika Dharmapala up to Gotabaya who had led the country along this path have disrupted the country and carried not only the minorities but also the majority of the Sinhala Buddhists to destruction rather than leading them to liberation.

In the context of this end result, the political movement dominated by extremist Sinhala-Buddhists is now destined to come to a historic end.

The leaders, as well as the actors of this political movement, will lose their recognition soon. Inevitably, all of them will end up in being a source of anger and contempt of the majority Sinhala Buddhists. It is important that we understand that one ugly and gloomy era is coming to an end and it is time to herald a new era that is beautiful and fair.


US Pacific Air Forces Commander holds bilateral talks in Sri Lanka

A US delegation led by the Commander of the US Pacific Air Forces, General Kenneth S. Wilsbach had talks in Colombo today.

General Wilsbach paid a courtesy call on Defence Secretary General Kamal Gunaratne (Retd) at the Defence Ministry, today (Mar 4).

The Defence Secretary held a cordial discussion with General Wilsbach on matters of bilateral importance and mutual interest during the meeting.

The meeting was held on the sidelines of events organized to celebrate the 70th Anniversary of Sri Lanka Air Force (SLAF).

Commander of the Sri Lanka Air Force, Air Marshal Sudarshana Pathirana also was present at the meeting.

The visiting General is the Commander of the US Pacific Air Forces; Air Component Commander of the U.S. Indo-Pacific Command; and Executive Director of the Pacific Air Combat Operations Staff, Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam, Hawaii.

Mementos were also exchanged between General Wilsbach and the Sri Lanka Defence Secretary to mark the occasion.

SL responds to Bachelet report: rejects proposal “to advance accountability options at int’l level”

The Government of Sri Lanka (GoSL) responded to the annual report of UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet and rejected the proposal to advance accountability options at the international level in relation to Sri Lanka.

On Monday, the Advance Edited Version of the comments made by the Permanent Mission of Sri Lanka in Geneva on the OHCHR report was released.

In its observations, the GoSL said it was unfortunate that the OHCHR has decided to omit the majority of the information provided by the GoSL in writing as well as at the meeting between GoSL officials and the OHCHR ahead of the preparation of the report.

“The Office however appears to have taken a wealth of misinformation to produce a report that puts its credibility and integrity at risk. Moreover, the OHCHR reports have been highly selective, preconceived, politicized and prejudicial in levelling allegations against the GoSL in terms of the six selected ‘trends’, calling them as ‘early warning indicators that require the Human Right Council’s urgent attention,” the report by Sri Lanka said.

It defended the decision taken by Sri Lanka to appoint former military officials to the posts in the government and commented on the crimes committed by the LTTE, the PTA, communal violence in the aftermath of the Easter attacks, covid-19 cremation issue as well as the imprisonment of lawyer Hejaaz Hizbullah.

Sri Lanka further said it regretted that that OHCHR has submitted itself to the preconceived, politicized and prejudicial agenda which certain elements have relentlessly pursued to trigger such disproportionate and unwarranted measures against Sri Lanka, and cautions that any options at the international level would tantamount to an unwarranted interference in the internal affairs of a sovereign State in contravention of the UN Charter.

“The GoSL reminds that calling for targeted sanctions and travel bans against individuals, in the absence of credible findings by a competent court/body on violations committed them, itself constitutes nothing less than a political agenda against a sovereign nation, aimed at destabilizing and a violation of their rights and contravention of the principles of natural justice.

“The 20th amendment to the Constitution has not taken away the institutional checks and balances including the judicial checks that were in existence under the 19th amendment to the Constitution.

“It is maintained that the Government is able, willing and committed to pursuing meaningful mechanisms of accountability and reconciliation, in accordance with its constitutional framework.

“It is regretted that references to investigations targeted sanctions, assets freezes and travel bans against state officials and other actors, based on ‘credibly alleged’ is unfounded, unsubstantiated and totally misconceived.

“It is important to point out that the tone and substance of the report, going far beyond the legitimate scope of OHCHR, seek to establish a dangerous precedent which has grave repercussions for all sovereign States.

“The call for asset freezes, travel bans and the reference to the ICC and the exercise of universal jurisdiction by individual States, without a semblance of evidence in support, particularly in relation to a country like Sri Lanka which has consistently being compliant and engaged with the United Nation and its mechanisms, points to a distinct and eminent danger which the international community as a whole need to take note of.

“As a responsible member of the United Nations, Sri Lanka has remained open and committed to constructively engage with the UN system including the Human Rights Council on national as well as global matters of importance.

“Sri Lanka’s commitment in this regard has been amply demonstrated by, among others, its accession and implementation of all 9 core human rights conventions, the unprecedented number of special procedure mandate holders of the HRC and treaty bodies that it has received (10) particularly in recent years, and the constructive engagement that Sri Lanka has had with UN treaty bodies.

“We look forward to continuing our engagement with the OHCHR, UN Human Rights mechanisms and procedures, and to continue to work in close cooperation with the international community through capacity building and technical assistance in mutually agreed areas, in keeping with domestic priorities and policies.”