Sinhalese diaspora protest in New York City demanding justice for Easter Sunday attack victims

A protest was held in New York yesterday (22) demanding justice for the victims of the Easter attack, as Sri Lankan President Gotabaya Rajapaksa was set to address the United Nations General Assembly.

The protest was organised by the Sinhalese diaspora in the United States in front of the United Nations Headquarters in New York. Carrying placards, the group demanded that the Sri Lankan government deliver justice to the victims of the Easter Sunday attack that took place in April 2019.

Addressing the United Nations General Assembly yesterday (22), President Rajapaksa assured that his Government is committed to ensuring that such violence never takes place in Sri Lanka again.

However, a growing trend of protests by Sri Lankans in countries or regions visited by Sri Lankan leaders has been observed in recent times. Similar protests by Sri Lankans were held in both Italy and France recently.

PM briefs SLPP on decision to sign controversial deal

Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa has briefed Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna (SLPP) alliance members on the decision to go ahead with a controversial Liquefied natural gas (LNG) deal.

The Prime Minister met the leaders of the political parties in the SLPP at Temple Trees today and had talks with them for approximately two hours.

The Prime Minister’s Office said that the advantage of the Yugadanavi Power Plant in Kerawalapitiya was noted at the talks.

The Covid-19 situation, the budget and other matters were also discussed at the meeting.

Former President Maithripala Sirisena and Finance Minister Basil Rajapaksa were among those who attended the meeting.

US based New Fortress Energy yesterday announced that it had signed the LNG deal with Sri Lanka.

New Fortress Energy said that they have executed a definitive agreement for New Fortress’ investment in West Coast Power Limited (“WCP”), the owner of the 310 MW Yugadanavi Power Plant based in Kerawalapitiya, along with the rights to develop a new LNG Terminal off the coast of Colombo.

Some Government Ministers had earlier raised concerns over the proposed deal.

TNPF MP Selvarasa Gajendran released on police bail

Tamil National People’s Front MP Selvarasa Gajendran and two others who were arrested in Jaffna by holding a remembrance event for Thileepan, have been released on police bail, says the Police Spokesman.

Sri Lankan police stepped up their presence in Jaffna today, after filing a court injunction at Jaffna Magistrate Court, to ban any commemorative events organised to remember Thileepan’s sacrifice.

During the arrest, the Police manhandled Kajendran and forcefully pushed him into the van. Later, the MP has been released on bail.

Police said they were arrested for violating quarantine laws by holding a commemoration event in remembrance of ‘Thileepan’, a political wing leader of the LTTE who died while on hunger strike.

MP was arrested near the ‘Thileepan’ monument located at Nallur in Jaffna and that police are expected to record his statement.

Several representatives of the All Ceylon Tamil Congress had also reportedly attended the commemoration event.

Similar events commemorating ‘Thileepan’ had been held since September 15 organised by various Tamil political parties and political representatives, the reporter said.

Dinesh says select committee’s opinion is to hold PC polls expeditiously

It is the general opinion of the Parliamentary Select Committee on election reforms that the Provincial Council Elections should be held expeditiously, said the committee’s chairman and Leader of the House, Minister Dinesh Gunawardena.

He also said that a request has already been made to obtain the recommendations of the Attorney General’s Department regarding the steps to be taken to hold the election expeditiously.

He made these observations during yesterday’s meeting of the Select Committee of Parliament to Identify Appropriate Reforms of the Election Laws and the Electoral System and to Recommend Necessary Amendments.

Member of Parliament Ven. Athuraliye Rathana Thero who testified on behalf of the ‘Our Power of People Party’ (Ape Janabala Pakshaya) said that it would be appropriate to abolish the existing preferential electoral system completely.

Ven. Rathana Thero also pointed out the need to have a Member of Parliament responsible for a division. Ven. Rathana Thero further stated that the representation of minority parties should be ensured and a culture of ideological politics should be created in the country.

Ven. Thero further stated that criteria should be formulated regarding the control of election expenses and that democratic principles should be introduced to political parties.

Speaking at the committee on behalf of the Samagi Jana Balawegaya (SJB), the party’s chief executive, former minister Ajith. P. Perera, said that the 20th amendment to the constitution had given power to other parties. He also pointed out that a policy of checks and balances should be implemented between the executive, the legislature and the judiciary.

Mr. Perera stated that there is a code of conduct for Members of Parliament and it should be implemented in practice. He also raised the need to formulate a Code of Conduct for Members of Provincial Councils and Local Government Bodies.

He also said that in all electoral reforms, the right to vote should be guaranteed as a part of the sovereignty of the people and the principles of democracy should be upheld there.

Mr. Perera further stated that it was very important that all elections be held freely and fairly. He also emphasized in the Committee that Parliamentary, Provincial Council and Local Government elections should be held under the Proportional Representation System.

He pointed out that new laws should be enacted to regulate the financial expenditure of the election campaign and to ensure the representation of youth and women.

Mr. Ajith P. Perera suggested in the Committee that dual citizenship should be a disqualification to contest elections and that a system should be set up for the proper registration of all eligible voters.

The “Samagi Jana Balawegaya” also stressed the need for equal distribution of state and private media airtime between the parties contesting the elections. Member of Parliament Kabir Hashim stated that there should be an election schedule in the country to ensure the right of the people to vote.

Ministers Nimal Siripala de Silva, Douglas Devananda, Wimal Weerawansa, M.U.M Ali Sabry, Members of Parliament Anura Dissanayake, Ranjith Madduma Bandara, M.A Sumanthiran, Rauf Hakeem, Mano Ganeshan, Madura Vithanage and Sagara Kariyawasam were also present at the meeting.

Officials from the Delimitation Commission and the Attorney General’s Department also participated in the committee meeting. The next meeting of the Parliamentary Select Committee is scheduled to be held on the 29th of September, said the Secretary to the Select Committee, Deputy Secretary General & Chief of Staff of Parliament Ms. Kushani Rohanadheera.

Sri Lanka: Rights Abuses Jeopardize EU Trade Benefits -HRW

(Brussels) – The European Union should publicly set out a clear framework with short timelines for Sri Lanka to comply with its human rights commitments and retain tariff-free access to the EU market, Human Rights Watch said in a letter to the European Commission this week.

EU pressure over a sharply deteriorating human rights situation has led the Sri Lankan government in recent weeks to promise reforms, but these gestures have been superficial and unreliable. The EU should be clear during the forthcoming GSP+ assessment that concrete improvements, not mere pledges, are urgently needed for Sri Lanka to maintain its trading privileges.

“Under President Gotabaya Rajapaksa, the Sri Lankan government has suppressed civil society, silenced protesters, targeted vulnerable minorities, further misused the abusive Prevention of Terrorism Act, and reversed any progress on accountability for war crimes,” said Lotte Leicht, EU director at Human Rights Watch. “The EU should call out these blatant violations of Sri Lanka’s obligations under the GSP+ rules and be clear about the consequences if human rights violations and impunity for war crimes persist.”

In 2017, Sri Lanka rejoined the EU’s GSP+ program, which grants Sri Lankan exporters tariff-free access to the EU market in exchange for ratifying and complying with 27 international conventions, including human rights conventions. At the time of the EU’s previous assessment two years ago, Sri Lanka was already violating those obligations. The government’s rights record under President Rajapaksa has only worsened since then, leading the European Parliament to adopt a resolution in June calling for GSP+ to be withdrawn unless there is sufficient improvement.

A key commitment Sri Lanka made to the EU was to repeal the Prevention of Terrorism Act (PTA), which has enabled torture and lengthy periods of arbitrary detention since it was introduced as a “temporary” measure in 1979. Hundreds of prisoners, most from minority communities, have been held for years under the PTA without trial or judicial oversight, or are serving long sentences following convictions based on evidence obtained under torture.

In June, following the adoption of the European Parliament resolution, Rajapaksa pardoned 16 PTA prisoners who were nearing or had passed the end of their sentences. He has also appointed an “advisory board” that may recommend releasing other prisoners, but such ad hoc measures provide no credible legal protection against ongoing abuses, Human Rights Watch said. The Rajapaksa administration is also reportedly preparing to present EU officials with proposed PTA reforms. But after many years, repeated pledges to take action lack any credibility and would fall short of the need to repeal a law that contravenes fundamental human rights standards, Human Rights watch said.

The Rajapaksa government has rejected United Nations resolutions to promote accountability for past violations, including the EU-backed Human Rights Council resolution 46/1 adopted in March to collect and analyze evidence of international crimes. The authorities have suppressed peaceful protests and the activities of civil society groups. Victims of past abuses and their families, human rights activists, journalists, lawyers, and others are routinely harassed, threatened, and in some cases arbitrarily arrested and detained.

UN rights experts and the UN high commissioner for human rights, Michelle Bachelet, have repeatedly expressed alarm over rights developments in Sri Lanka. They include the removal of constitutional safeguards; restrictions on the rights to freedom of assembly, association, and expression; discrimination and incitement of hatred and violence against minorities; torture and abusive detention conditions; failure to investigate enforced disappearances; increasing militarization; systemic impunity for grave violations; and lack of progress on transitional justice.

The EU should set clear benchmarks for compliance and action, with short timelines for implementation, and send a strong message that Sri Lanka is in breach of its human rights obligations and needs to take concrete, urgent, and meaningful action to keep its GSP+ benefits.

The EU should appropriately use GSP+ to address the deepening human rights crisis in Sri Lanka, Human Rights Watch said. The EU should also consider UN High Commissioner Bachelet’s recommendation to impose targeted sanctions against individuals implicated in grave violations in Sri Lanka, as provided for by the EU’s Global Human Rights Sanctions Regime.

“The EU should insist that the blatantly abusive Prevention of Terrorism Act be repealed immediately, and make it clear that it has had enough of empty pledges from Sri Lanka’s unreliable government,” Leicht said. “The forthcoming GSP+ review is the right time to secure meaningful reforms across the full range of pressing human rights concerns in Sri Lanka.”

What did President Gotabaya Rajapaksa say at 76th UN General Assembly ?

Speaking at the 76th Session of United Nations General Assembly in New York on September 22, President Gotabaya Rajapaksa said although still a developing nation, Sri Lanka has been very successful in its vaccination programme. “We have already fully vaccinated nearly all those above the age of 30. Everyone over the age of 20 will be fully vaccinated by the end of October. We will start vaccinating children over 15 years of age in the near future. The rapid progress of vaccinations was enabled by coordinated efforts between healthcare workers, Armed Forces and Police personnel, Government servants, and elected officials,” he said.

Sri Lanka also benefitted greatly from financial and material support provided by bilateral and multilateral donors to manage the pandemic, he said and thanked those nations and institutions for their generosity.

He added that the increased global cooperation visibleduring this ongoing crisis is greatly encouraging. The President stressed that economic impact of the pandemic has been especially severe on developing countries. This has placed the implementation of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development Goals at considerable risk.

“It is vital that more initiatives including development financing and debt relief be adopted through international mechanisms to support developing nations and help them emerge from this uncertain situation.” As devastating as the consequences of the pandemic have been to humanity, the world faces the even greater challenge of climate change in the decades to come, President Rajapaksa said.

As a climate-vulnerable country, Sri Lanka is deeply aware of the dangers of climate change. The President said Sri Lanka’s philosophical heritage, deeply rooted in the Buddha’s teachings, also emphasises the vitality of preserving environmental integrity. (PMDNEWS)

Speech of President Gotabaya Rajapaksa at 76th UN General Assembly –

New York, September 22, 2021

Mr. President,

Secretary General,

Excellencies,

Ladies and Gentlemen,

Ayubowan.

I am honoured to represent Sri Lanka at this august gathering today.

Let me first congratulate His Excellency Abdulla Shahid on being elected President of the 76th session of the General Assembly.

Mr. President, you have long been a friend of Sri Lanka. We look forward to working closely with you in the year ahead.

I also take this opportunity to convey our appreciation of His Excellency Volkan Bozkir’s stewardship of the previous session of the General Assembly, and to commend Secretary-General Antonio Guterres for his leadership in these difficult times.

Mr. President, The COVID19 pandemic has had a devastating impact on humanity.

I sympathise deeply with all who have lost their loved ones during the pandemic.

I thank frontline healthcare and essential workers around the world for their dedication and commend the World Health Organisation for its crisis response. I also greatly appreciate the rapid advances made by the scientific and medical communities in devising vaccines and treatment protocols to combat the virus.

At the same time, we must recognise that the challenges surrounding production, distribution, deployment and acceptance of vaccines must be overcome urgently if the spread of dangerous new virus strains is to be prevented. Ensuring that everyone, everywhere, is vaccinated is the best way out of the pandemic.

Although still a developing nation, Sri Lanka has been very successful in its vaccination programme.

We have already fully vaccinated nearly all those above the age of 30. Everyone over the age of 20 will be fully vaccinated by the end of October. We will start vaccinating children over 15 years of age in the near future.

The rapid progress of vaccinations was enabled by coordinated efforts between healthcare workers, Armed Forces and Police personnel, Government servants, and elected officials.

In collaboration with the WHO, Sri Lanka is establishing a Regional Knowledge Hub to facilitate exchange of lessons learnt from COVID 19 and support countries to recover back better.

Sri Lanka also benefitted greatly from financial and material support provided by bilateral and multilateral donors to manage the pandemic. I thank these nations and institutions for their generosity. The increased global cooperation visible during this ongoing crisis is greatly encouraging. However, there is still more to be done.

Mr. President, The economic impact of the pandemic has been especially severe on developing countries. This has placed the implementation of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development Goals at considerable risk.

It is vital that more initiatives including development financing and debt relief be adopted through international mechanisms to support developing nations and help them emerge from this uncertain situation.

Sri Lanka too has suffered greatly due to the pandemic. In addition to the tragic loss of life, our economy has been deeply affected. The lockdowns, together with general movement restrictions, reduced international travel, and slower global growth have affected nearly all sectors of our economy. Tourism, one of Sri Lanka’s highest foreign exchange earners and a sector that supports nearly 14% of the population, has been devastated.

This industry, together with small and medium businesses in many other sectors, received Government support through interest moratoriums and other financial sector interventions.

Daily wage earners and low-income groups were also supported through grants of cash and dry rations during lockdowns, adding significantly to state expenditure.

In addition to their immediate impact, these economic repercussions of the pandemic have limited the fiscal space available to implement our development programmes.

Mr. President, As devastating as the consequences of the pandemic have been to humanity, the world faces the even greater challenge of climate change in the decades to come.

As emphasised in the recent report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, the unprecedented effect of human activity on the health of the planet is deeply worrying.

Addressing the grave threats posed by climate change and the loss of biodiversity requires decisive and urgent multilateral action.

As a climate-vulnerable country, Sri Lanka is deeply aware of the dangers of climate change.

Sri Lanka’s philosophical heritage, deeply rooted in Lord Buddha’s teachings, also emphasises the vitality of preserving environmental integrity.

It is in these contexts that Sri Lanka is a Commonwealth Blue Charter Champion and leads the Action Group on Mangrove Restoration.

Through the adoption of the Colombo Declaration on Sustainable Nitrogen Management, which seeks to halve nitrogen waste by 2030, Sri Lanka has also contributed to global efforts to reduce environmental pollution.

Having participated virtually in the Pre-Summit held in April, I trust that the United Nations Food Summit later this month will result in actionable outcomes to promote healthier, more sustainable, and equitable food systems globally.

Such outcomes will be crucial to human health as well as to the health of our planet.

Sustainability is a cornerstone of Sri Lanka’s national policy framework.

Because of its impact on soil fertility, biodiversity, waterways and health, my Government completely banned the use of chemical fertilisers, pesticides, and weedicides earlier this year.

Production and adoption of organic fertiliser, as well as investments into organic agriculture, are being incentivised.

I appreciate the encouragement received from many global institutions and nations for our efforts to create a more sustainable agriculture in Sri Lanka.

The conservation of our environment is one of our key national priorities.

We aim to increase forest cover significantly in the coming decades.

We are also working to clean and restore over 100 rivers countrywide, and to combat river and maritime pollution.

We have also banned single use plastics to support ecological conservation.

Sri Lanka recognises the urgent need to reduce use of fossil fuels and support decarbonisation.

Our energy policy seeks to increase the contribution of renewable sources such as solar, wind and hydropower to 70% of our national energy needs by 2030.

Mr. President, Sri Lanka welcomes the support of the international community as it engages in the task of reviving its economy and carrying out its national development programme.

We intend to make full use of geostrategic location and our robust institutions, strong social infrastructure, and skilled workforce, to attract investment and broaden trade relationships.

My Government is focusing on extensive legal, regulatory, administrative and educational reforms to facilitate this, and to deliver prosperity to all our people.

Sri Lanka has enjoyed universal adult franchise since pre-Independence.

The democratic tradition is an integral part of our way of life.

My election in 2019 and the Parliamentary election in 2020 saw Sri Lankan voters grant an emphatic mandate to my Government to build a prosperous and stable country, and uphold national security and sovereignty.

In 2019, Sri Lanka experienced the devastation wrought by extremist religious terrorists in the Easter Sunday attacks.

Before that, until 2009, it had suffered from a separatist terrorist war for 30 years.

Terrorism is a global challenge that requires international cooperation, especially on matters such as intelligence sharing, if it is to be overcome.

Violence robbed Sri Lanka of thousands of lives and decades of prosperity in the past half century. My Government is committed to ensuring that such violence never takes place in Sri Lanka again. We are therefore acting to address the core issues behind it.

Fostering greater accountability, restorative justice, and meaningful reconciliation through domestic institutions is essential to achieve lasting peace.

So too is ensuring more equitable participation in the fruits of economic development.

It is my Government’s firm intention to build a prosperous, stable and secure future for all Sri Lankans, regardless of ethnicity, religion, or gender.

We are ready to engage with all domestic stakeholders, and to obtain the support of our international partners and the United Nations, in this process.

However, history has shown that lasting results can only be achieved through home-grown institutions reflecting the aspirations of the people.

Sri Lanka’s Parliament, Judiciary and its range of independent statutory bodies should have unrestricted scope to exercise their functions and responsibilities.

Mr. President, Excellencies, Distinguished Delegates.

If, in keeping with the theme of our General Debate today, we are to truly build resilience through hope, we must all strive towards the common good.

It is the role of the United Nations to facilitate this by treating all sovereign states, irrespective of size or strength, equitably, and with due respect for their institutions and their heritage.

I request the United Nations and the international community to ensure the protection of the Buddhist heritage of Afghanistan.

I call on the member states of this august Assembly to work together in a spirit of true cooperation, generosity, goodwill, and mutual respect to foster a better and more sustainable future for all humanity.

Thank you.

OIC tells Sri Lanka it stands against extremism

Foreign Minister Prof. G.L. Peiris and the Secretary-General of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) Yousef Al-Othaimeen reiterated the positive outcomes of integration among communities with the preservation of identity during a meeting on the eve of the high-level segment of the 76th Session of the United Nations General Assembly, in New York.

Minister Peiris recalled the telephone conversation between President Gotabaya Rajapaksa and the OIC Secretary-General earlier this year and noted the long-standing association and close ties between Sri Lanka and the Muslim world. Sri Lanka was among the first to recognize the State of Palestine and former President and current Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa had founded the Sri Lanka Palestinian Friendship society, as a young member of Parliament and had served as its Chairman for the past 25 years.

The Minister also stated that Sri Lanka had continuously supported the Palestinian cause and in recognition a road had been named after former President Rajapaksa in Ramallah. The Foreign Minister appreciated the support that the OIC had extended to Sri Lanka in the multilateral arena, including at the Human Rights Council, where they had opposed countries being singled out for political purposes and urged that countries be allowed to solve their national issues.

Secretary-General Al-Othaimeen appreciated the close and long standing relations between Sri Lanka and the OIC and its member countries. He noted that the OIC was concerned about the welfare of Muslims globally and had always urged members of the Muslim community to respect local cultures and the law of the land. He noted the dangers of communities living in isolation and amongst themselves and not interacting with other communities – that was a recipe for division and disaster, thus paving the way for extremism. He appreciated the dialogue with the Government of Sri Lanka and the measures put in place to allow members of the Muslim community that had passed away from COVID-19, to be allowed to be buried according to the Muslim traditions. He underscored that the OIC stood against extremism, violence and hatred and noted the rise in misinformation with social media and other tools, where false information around the world was causing friction among communities.

The Minister said that Sri Lanka is a country where all are allowed to practise their traditions and cultures equally and without any discrimination or hindrance. The Minister also highlighted that the systems in place in the country have resulted in a number of prominent positions in government, the public sector and private sector being occupied by members of the Muslim community.

Foreign Minister Peiris extended an invitation for the Secretary-General to lead a delegation to Sri Lanka to see developments on the ground, first hand, given that a scheduled visit had to be postponed due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Sri Lanka reports 92 Covid-19 deaths on Wednesday, toll rises to 12,376

Sri Lanka Wednesday reported 92 deaths due to COVID-19 after the figures were confirmed by the Director General of Health Services on Tuesday, September 21.

Among the deaths reported today, 51 are of males and 41 of females. The majority of deaths – 71- are of elderly people in the 60 years and above age group. A male and a female below 30 years of age also succumbed to the disease.

According to the data reported by the Government Information Department, the total deaths due to Covid-19 since the pandemic began last year has now risen to 12,376.

20A weakened domestic mechanisms, says Civil Society Platform

The Civil Society Platform (CSP) says President Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s call for a dialogue between his government and the expatriate Tamils is not realistic. President Rajapaksa made the declaration in talks with UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres. CSP says an environment conducive for such an initiative is not available at the moment.

Dr. Ms. Nimalka Fernando was a member of the Office on the Missing Persons (OMP) from 2018-2021 and Brito Fernando, Chairperson of Families of the Disappeared in Sri Lanka issued the following statement in response to The Island query:

“When Sri Lanka co-sponsored the UNHRC Resolution 30/1 in Oct 1, 2015, the then Foreign Minister the late Mangala Samaraweera, informed the Human Rights Council that the Government would initiate a domestic mechanism after consulting the victims and survivors.

The Government established a Secretariat to Coordinate Reconciliation Mechanisms (SCRM) to coordinate the domestic mechanisms. After a lengthy public consultation process,conducted by Consultation Task Force on Reconciliation Mechanisms, chaired by the late Ms. Manouri Muttetuwegama, a comprehensive report was published.

Based on the recommendations of the Task Force, domestic or internal mechanisms were established. Office on Missing Persons (OMP) was established for truth seeking, while Office for Reparations (OR) was created to address the issue of Reparations. The independence of these institutions had been guaranteed as appointments to these mechanisms were done by the President, based on the recommendations of the Constitutional Council created by the 19th Amendment to the Constitution.

Those were the steps taken to establish credible domestic mechanisms.

The present government distanced itself from the UNHRC Resolution 30/1 in March 2020. It dissolved the Secretariat to Coordinate Reconciliation Mechanisms. The government continues to maintain two domestic mechanisms created under the UNHRC resolution 30/1. However, the enactment of the 20th Amendment to the Constitution has impacted on the very nature of the independence of the two existing domestic mechanisms with the Constitutional Council being replaced by the Parliamentary Council.

The appointment of members to these mechanisms are now vested in the President in his discretion. The Parliamentary Council can only direct observations related to the nominees given by the President. Thus the independence of the two mechanisms are seriously compromised and the confidence of victims and survivors, which is of paramount importance for the success of any mechanism, has eroded.

According to the statement by the PMD, the President has said that the internal issues of Sri Lanka should be resolved through an internal mechanism of the country and he has further said that the Tamil Diaspora would be invited for discussions in this regard. The previous government has engaged with the Tamil diaspora groups as stakeholders of the domestic reconciliation process. However, in February 2021, Secretary to the Ministry of Defence has proscribed seven prominent organisations of Tamil diaspora including the Global Tamil Forum, British Tamil Forum and Canadian Tamil Congress, and hundreds of individuals, by listing them under the United Nations Act No. 45 of 1968.

Some of the individuals and organisations have been actively engaged in building the domestic reconciliation mechanisms in Sri Lanka during the previous government. While appreciating the President for extending an invitation for dialogue to the Tamil diaspora organisations, we note that continuation of the proscription of organizations and individuals is counterproductive to achieve this goal. Wouldn’t it be necessary to take steps to delisting these individuals and organisations in order to facilitate the genuine engagements and dialogue?

Civil Society Platform has noted the President’s assurance of continued engagement with civil society organisations to bring about development and reconciliation in the country. However, this policy has to be reflected at the grass-root level. We have credible reports where civil society organisations working at community level with victims and survivors are subjected to surveillance and harassment. It is important that the Government and the civil society agree on issues of common concern in order to have a meaningful dialogue with an aim to achieve deliverable targets in achieving reconciliation and development.

We note with concern the statement of the President referring to issuing death certificates to the families of the missing and the disappeared. Prior to providing them with the death certificates it is important that circumstances related to the disappearances be investigated based on the information provided by families. Further information is also available in the previously appointed Presidential Commissions of Inquiry including the Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission (LLRC) and Paranagama Commission. It is the responsibility of the State to account for each individual who has disappeared. The basic principle of accountability is linked to ascertaining the truth related to the disappearance. The issuance of death certificates is a complex issue. Even families in the south whose loved ones disappeared in the 1989 era are contesting the death certificates they have received. It is a grieving community that requires an honest and credible process. If we are honest about what happened, then healing becomes easier. If we hide information the scars will remain forever, festering.

The government has failed to even facilitate the granting of the interim-relief of Rs 6000/- approved in October 2019 by the previous government as recommended by the interim recommendations of the OMP. No doubt the government is presently developing a compensation package. But the families need the interim relief very badly. They too have been affected by the Covid-19 pandemic. Requests made to the authorities to include the families of the disappeared too under the Covid-19 relief package have gone unanswered. Letters sent to the Ministry of Justice, which is the line ministry responsible for the payment of Rs 6000/- remains unanswered.

We believe that the Civil Society Organisations and NGOs can be partners in development and reconciliation. Historically, we have been engaged with every government and we are willing to engage with this government too. But, we need to do so, maintaining our independence and remaining as a critical mass affirming the principles of Freedom of Expression, Freedom of Assembly and Freedom of Association.”

Prisoners’ rights group writes to UN chief

With the United Nations (UN) General Assembly (GA) ongoing in New York, the Committee for Protecting the Rights of Prisoners (CPRP) yesterday (22) has written to the UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres urging him to pay attention to the needs of prisoners in Sri Lanka.

“A total of 78%-82% of those admitted to prisons between 2015-2019 were suspects who were remand prisoners. Some are remanded due to their inability to make deposits for bail while others are remanded due to the Police and Magistrates choosing remanding as the norm and bail as the exception. A total of 58.9% of the daily average number of prisoners in 2019 were remand prisoners, with the figures for the same during 2011-2018 being between 45-56%. Delays in waiting for and completing trials were another reason for overcrowded prisons in Sri Lanka. As of 31 December 2019, 1,809 (12.3%) were awaiting trial for more than a year and 680 (4.6%) were awaiting trial for more than two years,” the CPRP claimed in a letter to Guterres and UN General Assembly (GA) President Abdulla Shahid.

The CPRP has noted that as President Gotabaya Rajapaksa addressed the 76th UNGA session yesterday, some prisoners at the Welikada Prison complex were engaged in a protest, demanding that the four years review of prisoners behaviour and conduct, as per the provisions of the Prisons Ordinance, be carried out.

Accordingly, the CPRP has brought attention to the food and nutrition related issues of prisoners, prolonged detention under the Prevention of Terrorism (Temporary Provisions) Act, No. 48 of 1979 as amended (PTA), the overcrowding inside prisons, and the importance of Prisons Department authorities exercising restraint in their interactions with prisoners.

In particular, the organization has highlighted the recent actions of the former Prisons Management and Prisoners Rehabilitation State Minister Lohan Ratwatte who had broken into the Anuradhapura and Welikada Prisons complexes during the last two weeks and allegedly threatened political prisoners held under the PTA at the Anuradhapura Prison, using his firearm.

“Last year (2020), 16 prisoners were reported to have been killed in four prisons, in five incidents. In one incident, 11 prisoners were killed. Around 12 suicides have been reported last year in prisons, with most appearing to be suspects who are alleged to have used and/or traded drugs and/or illicit liquor and have been denied professional support and care,” claimed the letter.

Although Sri Lankan prisons have a capacity of housing only 11,000 prisoners, the CPRP said that sometimes they have held up to 32,000 prisoners, where some prisoners have been forced to sleep on stairways as a result of overcrowding.

The organization added that in 2019, the average cost of food for a prisoner per day was Rs. 151 (approximately $ 0.75) which is insufficient to provide daily nutritious meals for a person.

“As a result, many remand prisoners depended on food brought by visiting family members and friends (remand prisoners are allowed visitors, six days of the week). This had reduced drastically due to the suspension of prison visits citing Covid-19.”

Commenting on the PTA, the CPRP recorded the cases of a male PTA detainee who was released after 13 years in prison this year, citing a lack of evidence, and a female PTA detainee who was found not guilty after 15 years in prison.

“We would also like to stress the importance of prisoner releases (including Presidential pardons) being based on transparent criteria and procedures that are in line with Constitutional provisions and that priority be given to the most vulnerable. Prisoners over 70 years of age, those with serious illnesses, those who have received minor punishments and those who have been unable to pay small fines, should be prioritised over politicians, soldiers and monks, which pardons are based on political considerations,” said the CPRP.

President Gotabaya Rajapaksa addressed the UNGA, in New York, United States, yesterday (22). He met Guterres on 20 September.