2,300 families did not commit economic crimes

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Minister of Foreign Affairs Ali Sabry, speaking at the 51st regular session of the UN Human Rights Council, opposed the reference made to ‘economic crimes’ in the report of the High Commissioner for Human Rights on Sri Lanka, noting that it exceeds the mandate of the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR).

He further argued that such reference is vague and recalled the paramount importance of adhering to UN General Assembly resolutions 60/251, 48/141 and the IB package.

“We are not hesitant to acknowledge our challenges and forge ahead with renewed vigour. While our immediate concern is economic recovery, advancing the human rights of our people is of equal priority. We look to the genuine support and understanding of this Council, as we proceed on this path,” he said.

Sri Lanka which has been in the bad books of the UNHRC over a decade for its negative human rights record and alleged war crimes is, for the first time, facing economic crimes allegations.

Nada Al-Nashif, the Acting High Commissioner for Human Rights said that the abuse of power and economic crimes have impacted human rights in Sri Lanka.

She told the 51st session of the UNHRC in Geneva on Monday (12), that the Sri Lankan situation is an important illustration of how human rights and corruption intersects.

The OHCHR, in a report to the UNHRC, noted that Sri Lanka’s new Government should embark on a national dialogue to advance human rights and reconciliation, calling for accountability and deeper institutional reforms to prevent a recurrence of past violations.

It added that for sustainable improvements to take place, however, it is vital to recognise and address the underlying factors which have contributed to the economic crisis, including embedded impunity for past and present human rights violations, economic crimes and endemic corruption.

This is in fact the first time that a UN High Commissioner for Human Rights has referred to economic crimes in a report on Sri Lanka.

Sri Lanka’s Foreign Minister placed renewed and recycled pledges before the UNHRC this time as well. These include the Prevention of Terrorism Act (PTA) being replaced with more comprehensive national security legislation in accordance with international best practices.

Speaking on the proposed 22nd Amendment to the Constitution, he noted, the Amendment introduces several salient changes which would strengthen democratic governance and independent oversight of key institutions, and combat corruption including through the constitutional recognition of the United Nations Convention Against Corruption (UNCAC).

Measures aimed at promoting reconciliation and human rights, if they are to be meaningful and sustainable, must be based on cooperation with the country concerned, be compatible with the aspirations of its people, and be consonant with its basic legal framework, Sabry said.

The below remarks by Sabry should not be limited to the Council, but be taken seriously by the Government of Sri Lanka as well.

“It is 13 years since the end of the conflict in Sri Lanka, and since then, a new generation has emerged with their own aspirations. There is a need to acknowledge actual progress on the ground and support Sri Lanka adding that the current challenges, though formidable, have provided us with a unique opportunity to work towards institutional change for the betterment of our people.”

Irrespective of whether the Council has gone beyond its mandate, fact remains that authorities or someone takes a sincere bring in those who, over the past few years, are responsible for putting Sri Lanka in current economic crisis.

The children of this country or 2,300 families who are now running a risk of not having enough food to survive are not the ones who pushed the country to its present sorry situation.

Minister Sabry, Justice Minister and the entire Cabinet of President Ranil Wickremesinghe has, on their shoulder, the responsibility of doing justice by the innocent ordinary people of this country by coming up with a mechanism to recover monies that were looted out from this country. As a stepping stone, taking a genuine realistic and genuine approach to declaring assets of 225 legislators as well as top bureaucracy that ran key State institutions would be suffice!