Commissioner to initiate a powerful new accountability process to collect, analyse and preserve evidence of war crimes for future prosecution Council will also discuss Special Rapporteur’s report prepared after his visit to Sri Lanka Foreign Minister Peiris reassures civil society groups that national issues will be dealt with in a collective manner Central Bank’s new [...]


Crucial time for Govt. as UNHRC sessions begin tomorrow


  • Commissioner to initiate a powerful new accountability process to collect, analyse and preserve evidence of war crimes for future prosecution
  • Council will also discuss Special Rapporteur’s report prepared after his visit to Sri Lanka
  • Foreign Minister Peiris reassures civil society groups that national issues will be dealt with in a collective manner
  • Central Bank’s new ruling a body blow to importers and people, as dollar crisis continues


Tomorrow, United Nations Human Rights Commissioner Michele Bachelet will tell the Human Rights Council in Geneva about issues, which in the world body’s opinion, are not being implemented by the Sri Lanka government.

In February, the Council adopted a resolution with several serious strictures over alleged violations of human rights and international humanitarian laws in Sri Lanka. The objective is to ensure which provisions of the Resolutions have been or not been implemented.

For President Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s ruling coalition Government, there seems a little difference this time. Ahead of tomorrow’s sessions, the Government circulated among all countries a 14-page document titled “Progress made by the Government of Sri Lanka (GoSL) on human rights and reconciliation”. It catalogued the ‘achievements’ made on the human rights front. The idea appears to be two-fold. One is to pour cold water on any strong criticism.  The other is to place on ‘record’ that contrary to belief in sections of the international community, action indeed is being taken on provisions of last year’s resolution.

That is not all. The Government’s approach, for the forthcoming session, appears to be more conciliatory compared to that in March this year.  The Government wants to respond next week with an invitation for UN Human Rights High Commissioner Bachelet to visit Sri Lanka any time before March next year and see for herself the developments. Diplomatic sources said that the chances of her accepting the invite were slim and that the Council would want the Government to first implement the resolution’s provisions which it has identified. The charm offensive stemmed at the civil society engagement which President Rajapaksa had a few weeks earlier.

UN Human Rights Commissioner Michelle Bachelet will present an oral update on Sri Lanka’s progress or the lack of it in addressing human rights concerns.

Notwithstanding the Government’s statement, diplomats in Geneva say strong criticism could be expected in Geneva beginning tomorrow. UN Human Rights High Commissioner Bachelet is slated to make an oral statement with much of the contents of her last report being reflected in the Resolution on Sri Lanka adopted in March this year.

A confusing feature of the 48th sessions is that a report by Fabian Savioli, Special Rapporteur on the promotion of truth, justice, reparation, and guarantee of non-recurrence, has been included for discussion in the agenda. It was prepared following his visit to Sri Lanka in 2017.

As revealed last week, the UNHRC’s 48th sessions will begin tomorrow, and end on October 6. It will be held virtually, through remote access and with limited physical presence at the Council Chambers in Geneva. The sessions will begin at 10am tomorrow with an oral update by High Commissioner Bachelet, under ITEM 2 — report on Venezuela, oral updates on Nicaragua and Sri Lanka. This oral update on Sri Lanka was mandated by the country specific Resolution A/HRC/RES/46/1 that was adopted in February this year.

The Human Rights High Commissioner in her oral update will reinforce her conclusions in her report in February 21 and further validate that from March to August the situation in Sri Lanka in terms of human rights, rule of law, freedom and democracy has been sliding on the wrong trajectory. The Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) apparently is very concerned about the significant increase in reported deaths in police custody. The OHCHR is also very concerned that there has been zero progress in its view on accountability for the alleged breaches of international human rights and humanitarian laws during the end of the war.

The High Commissioner is also expected to announce the initiation of a new team of experts hired specifically to address the remit mandated by the Resolution 46/1, adopted on March 23, 2021, thus paving the way for a powerful new accountability process to collect, analyse, and preserve evidence of international crimes committed in Sri Lanka for use in future prosecutions. This work is due to begin formally on October 1. As reported previously, the 2021 budget for this work was approved in full by the 5th Committee of the UN General Assembly without challenge a few months ago, contrary to what the then Foreign Minister Dinesh Gunawardena believed or hoped. The Fifth Committee is one of six main committees of the UN General Assembly. It deals with internal UN administrative and budgetary matters.

Civil society concerns

Another matter of importance is the reconciliation. Foreign Minister G.L. Peiris gave a clear indication of the Government’s intention to adopt a new approach to reconciliation when he met several civil society members of the Sri Lanka Collective for Consensus (SLCC).  The minister said the Government intended to deal with national issues in a collective manner and invited civil society to be a partner in this endeavour.  He said he appreciated the wide outreach of the NGOs present and the expertise they had gathered from long years of community level work which could be utilised in the Government’s dialogue with the international community.  The NGO Secretariat’s Director General, Raja Gunaratne, was also present on the occasion.

The UNHRC’s 48th sessions which will begin tomorrow in Geneva will end on October 6, with most delegates attending it virtually and with limited physical presence at the Council Chambers in Geneva.

The Government wants to prepare a National Action Plan under the Office of National Unity and Reconciliation (ONUR) as part of its reconciliation efforts. The ONUR’s first research conference will be conducted on September 30 and 31 on the theme “Eliminating differences through understanding Sustainable peace, security and reconciliation in modern society”.

The members present handed over a memorandum to the minister which, among other things, stated that “our group did not claim to represent the larger civil society and see ourselves as a group of individuals drawn from multiple sectors of society, religion, academia and non-governmental organisations who are committed to a Sri Lanka that is founded on ideals of pluralistic coexistence, human rights and justice.”

In its memorandum, the SLCC said, “We brought the following issues to the attention of the Hon Minister of Foreign Affairs.

“Change on the ground:  The changes on the ground that our previous meetings and proposals have called for need to be actualised sooner rather than later in order to strengthen the bonds of trust that we seek to build with the Government and with the larger civil society.  The promulgation of a state of emergency and the approval by the cabinet of NGO legislation to be drafted by the Legal Draftsman soon after our meetings are contrary to our expectations in this regard.

“NGO legislation:  The sudden presentation of a concept note on NGO regulation a week after our meeting with HE the President and three weeks after the meeting with the Hon Foreign Minister and Hon Minister of Justice, was approved by the Cabinet for submission to the Legal Draftsman despite being neither transparent nor consultative with civil society. We have been informed unofficially that this process will not be rushed and NGOs will be consulted and ask for an official statement in this regard.

“Ill treatment of NGOs:  Surveillance and questioning of NGO workers, the unannounced entry into their office premises by government officials to conduct spot checks and the location of the NGO Secretariat within the Ministry of Defence create a negative psychology amongst state officials and civil society that they are threats to one another. NGOs are a part and parcel of democratic governance and contribute to the people’s wellbeing especially in this time of Covid-19 pandemic in providing community health education, food relief and protective equipment to needy sections of the population.

“Prevention of Terrorism Act:  Until the promised amendment of the Prevention of Terrorism Act, to cease using this law to detain people and to expedite the release of those taken into custody under its draconian provisions either on bail or totally where there is no legally valid evidence to justify their continued detention especially when they have not even been charged.  This applies to both long-term LTTE prisoners and more recent Muslim prisoners with only a peripheral relation to the Easter Sunday bombings.

“Provincial Councils:  Improve the implementation of the 13th Amendment and expedite the holding of provincial council elections so that the ethnic minorities may enjoy a measure of self-governance in the areas where they predominate.

“Dispossession of land:  The continuing dispossession of land of Tamil and Muslim farmer in the North and East by the members of the ethnic majority despite the fact that cases are pending in the Court of Appeal and the High Court of Batticaloa.  The continuing use of archaeology, even by teams led by the Governor of the Eastern Province during the Covid pandemic period to find alleged evidence of Anuradhapura period symbols in Thoppigala. Such evaluations during the pandemic itself generate mistrust.

“Reduction in Tamil presence:  Reduction in Tamil speaking officers in the North and East and non-use of the Tamil language in the administration of areas in which the Tamil speaking people live, especially in the East and Hills.

“Hate speech and misuse of ICCPR Act:  Sections of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights have been incorporated into national law.  But instead of being used to protect those from minority communities who are abused, the law has been used to prosecute them and needs to be amended.

“Non-inclusion of minorities in national events:  There is a feeling among members of minority communities that they are marginalised or ignored at national events.  The national anthem was not sung in Tamil and the President’s speeches are most often in Sinhala only.

“Targeting of Minorities: The issue of Muslims being targeted continues to fester in proposed legislation regarding personal law, the continuing refusal to permit burial of Covid victims, except in a single designated location, and the imprisonment without trial of large number of Muslim persons following the Easter bombings.  All communities need to feel that they have been fairly consulted and treated without discrimination for national reconciliation to become a reality.”

The Minister pledged to address the issues raised by discussing them within the Government.  He cautioned against having unrealistic goals and expecting immediate results.  He also pointed out that the issue of reconciliation was an emotive one and that the Government had its own constituencies to accommodate.

The Sri Lankan Collective for Consensus is a group of individuals drawn from multiple sectors of society, religion, academia, and non-governmental organisations.  They are committed to a Sri Lanka that is founded on ideals of pluralistic coexistence, human rights, and justice.

Importers face crisis

Worries on the international front are not the only ones for the Government. The Sri Lankans from all walks of life suffered a body blow due to a Central Bank ruling this week that importers would be required to place “Margins of deposit against the import of selected non-essential items under Letters of Credit and Documents against Acceptance terms with Licencsed Commercial Banks and National Savings Bank.” Such items include mobile telephones, fixed telephones, washing machines, T-shirts, rubber tyres, fresh apples, grapes, oranges and dried fruits and a variety of other items.  In other words, the lack of US dollars has prompted this order and such imports will become prohibitive.

Similarly, a discussion between authorities of the Commissioner General of Essential Services and sugar importers have led to industrial grade sugar from being covered by their raids. Stocks seized by them have been released. A letter written by Trade Ministry Secretary Badrani Jayawardena says: According to gazette notice 2243/13 on sugar required for ICUMSA- 45 industries issued on 2021.09.02, as it is not the sugar sold in market under the maximum retail price, the ICUMSA 45 sugar held at your wherehouses must be immediately supplied for the relevant industrialists to allow them to carry out their industries. The sugar should be issued to the industrialists according to the ICUMSA 45 sugar store owners documents under your supervision.

The requests of the warehouse owners and documents of confirmation regarding steps that should be taken in order for sugar to be issued without delay.

CC to Chairman Sathosa company; Sugar importers.

Meanwhile, during the “quarantine curfew” imposed for 21 consecutive days until today, the death rate due to COVID-19 was still above 100 deaths a day.

Another 131 deaths were reported on Friday, for the first time bringing the toll down to less than 150 a day in about two weeks.

With the death toll now reaching close to the 11,000 mark and more than 60,000 people receiving treatment at their homes and hospitals, it was clear that the country is yet to see a reduction in the number of cases.

But on Friday a fresh warning was sounded about the alarming situation.  It came from Dr. Chandima Jeewandara, Director of Operations and Clinical Services at Allergy Immunology and Cell Biology Unit of the University of Sri Jayewardenepura.

He said that a survey had revealed that 95 percent of the samples were found to be of Delta variant which was spreading fast in the country. He said that in the Western Province 100 percent of the samples was found to be of the Delta variant and even in the outstations the Delta variant percentage was found to be high.

Dr Jeewandara, therefore, called upon the authorities to take decisions on the lockdown on scientific evidence. However, despite the quarantine curfew being in force and an extension of the curfew until next Tuesday, the number of vehicles on the roads has been on the increase since the curfew first came into effect on August 20. There was hardly any checking around Colombo city and the outskirts. The outstations were no different.

The Government was heavily banking on the vaccination programmes, with 10.2 million people receiving both vaccines against COVID -19.

Meanwhile, the spokesperson for the Indian High Commission in Colombo issued the following statement last Wednesday:

“The High Commission of India has noticed that there have been several media reports regarding ‘credentials’ of H.E Asoka Milinda Moragoda, High Commissioner-designate of Sri Lanka to India, who has arrived in New Delhi. It is clarified that there is no truth in reports about non-acceptance of ‘credentials’ of High Commissioner-designate of Sri Lanka to India by Government of India.”

The name of Indian External Affairs Ministry was wrongly reported last week. He is Dr Subrahmanyam Jaishankar.

Note by the Political Editor: It is relevant to note that the Sunday Times Political Commentary published an account of how Mr Moragoda’s request for “Cabinet rank” was not accepted. There was no reference in the report to “non-acceptance of his credentials.” There was NO reference to his credentials being refused.

This week has seen a very significant transition in many areas. In the area of finance, the inadequacy of US dollars has led to further curbs causing serious questions for the future. Production in the agriculture sector has seen remarkable shortfalls necessitating imports. Now, all these could well indicate a return to a past era.

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