Will India Defend Sri Lanka at UNHRC on Monday?

By Gagani Weerakoon | Published: 2:00 AM Mar 20 2021
Ceylon Politics Will India Defend Sri Lanka at UNHRC on Monday?

Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa on Friday (19), morning visited Dhaka, Bangladesh for a two-day State visit. The Premier was welcomed at the airport by Bangladeshi Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina and a number of other high-level Government officials. 

Following the welcome reception, Premier Rajapaksa visited the National Martyrs’ Memorial in the city of Savar, approximately 35 km from Dhaka. The Premier paid his respects at the monument, which was inaugurated in 1982 in memory of those who died in the fight for the country’s Independence. Prime Minister Rajapaksa also planted a sampling of “Browneacoccinea” at the venue. 

In the afternoon, the Premier’s official engagements included meetings with the Foreign Minister of Bangladesh and the Governor of Bangladesh Bank. 

In the evening, the Prime Minister attended an event to celebrate the birth centenary of the founder of Bangladesh, Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, and the Golden Jubilee of Bangladesh’s Independence as the Guest of Honour.

Premier in his speech said:

“I am delighted to be present here today in Dhaka to participate in an occasion of historic significance for the people of Bangladesh. Therefore, let me thank Her Excellency Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina for her cordial invitation to me and my delegation and the warm welcome given on my arrival.

Despite many challenges posed by the COVID-19 pandemic, I join you in person today with the message of solidarity from the people of Sri Lanka. 

The friendly relations between our two countries have a long history. Many scholars believe that the first migrations from Bengal arrived in Sri Lanka through maritime routes as far back as 2500 years ago. It is also believed that Sri Lanka and Bangladesh had vibrant trade exchanges since 6th century BC. Quite naturally, Sri Lanka was one of the first countries to establish diplomatic relations with the new nation of the People’s Republic of Bangladesh in 1971.

The people of Bangladesh are celebrating two historic events. One is the birth of the Father of their nation, Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, a century ago. And the second is the birth of Bangladesh a half a century ago. Both events are worthy of celebration. 

Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman was a person of principles who dedicated his entire life for the Bengali people, their language and their well-being. He was determined to continue his freedom struggle until the creation of a new nation of ‘Bangladesh’ in 1971. 

Unfortunately, he could not live to realise the dreams he nurtured for his beloved country.

Your Excellency, I understand the agony of the immense loss that occurred on the 15th of August 1975. On that day, the nation lost a hero and the Father of Independence. At the same time, a beloved daughter lost her parents and siblings.

Madam Prime Minister, despite setbacks, Bangladesh continues to flourish under your able leadership. That is the best honour in the name of your esteemed father.

As a tribute to his legacy and in dedication to Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, let me quote a part of a poem written by the Bengali Guru Rabindranath Tagore:

“Where the mind is without fear and the head is held high

Where knowledge is free

Into that heaven of freedom, my Father, let my country awake.”     

In this 21st century, with the great aspirations for Asian prosperity, our new generation need to be aware of the countless sacrifices made by their fore-fathers to achieve freedom.

As a neighbour and a close friend, Sri Lanka stands side-by-side with Bangladesh to achieve greater freedom and prosperity. Our objectives of economic transformation, eradication of poverty and achieving the Sustainable Development Goals remain key priorities in the middle of great challenges. 

Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman said “Bangladesh is fertile and endowed with plenty. Few countries in the world have the kind of fertile land that we have.” 

The geographical locations of our two countries provide ample opportunities for us to enhance closer maritime, shipping, trade and people-to-people contacts. 

Madam Prime Minister…..Your proposal to promote a ‘Blue Economy’ in the Bay of Bengal continues to inspire our approach on maritime affairs. 

Bangladesh is considered one of the key emerging economic power houses in South Asia. It remains an important trading and investment partner for my country. Our exchanges have continued to grow rapidly during the last few decades. 

The great stride Bangladesh has made in the field of agriculture attracts great attention in Sri Lanka. In addition to playing an active role through the SAARC Agriculture Centre in Dhaka, Bangladesh continues to provide training and capacity building for our institutions. I seek your indulgence to share closer cooperation in this field. 

The inspiring journey that the people of Bangladesh had undertaken from poverty and natural disasters in the past half century is a testament to a prosperous nation in the making. 

It is in this backdrop, I take this opportunity to extend my heartfelt compliments and sincere and warm wishes to you, Madam Prime Minister, your Government, and the people of Bangladesh.”

Abduction Drama backfires 

SJB MP Dr. Rajitha Senaratne and former MP Chathura  Senaratne have once again been embroiled in a fake abduction story, as Police Spokesman, DIG Ajith Rohana revealed that the two are linked to a false complaint made by Siyarata web journalist Sujeewa Gamage. The Colombo Crime Division (CCD) has begun investigating the pair for their alleged role in the incident.

After a Police complaint was filed by the journalist, who was allegedly abducted on 10 March, the Mirigama Police conducted a full-scale investigation immediately. Gamage stated in the complaint that at 7:00 p.m. on 10 March, when arriving in Colombo he was abducted in Borella by four unidentified individuals.

Following his assault, Gamage claimed that he was taken to Dematagoda and released. According to phone records, he had then called his friend Sarath and made a call to the owner of a printing press in Maharagama.

He had then travelled to Chathura Senaratne’s office, where he stayed until 5:00 p.m. Gamage was then taken in a vehicle by Rajitha Senaratne’s driver, from the office to the National Hospital.

However, it was revealed that the abduction story was fabricated. Subsequently, Police arrested the suspect. The CCD, who undertook the investigations, took measures to check CCTV footage from the places Gamage claimed to have visited, and found there was no video footage to prove his claims.

It was later discovered through CCTV footage that the suspect travelled in a Colombo-bound train from Negombo around 1:30 p.m. – the time he said he was abducted, and from there travelled to Chathura Senaratne’s office in Thimbirigasyaya at 3:30 p.m. DIG Rohana said, the CCD has taken steps to obtain statements from Dr. Senaratne and Chathura Senaratne.

When Gamage was asked why there was no CCTV footage of the incident, he had told the Police that he had lied. Instead of the attack happening on 10 March, he said, he was assaulted on 9 March at his home. According to CCD, he was the only person at home, as his wife had left their home and returned on 10 March.

On further questioning, Gamage confessed that he was not assaulted by anyone. Instead, he admitted that he had inflicted the injuries on himself on 9 March at his residence using a heated masonry trowel. The masonry trowel is in the possession of the Police.

The next day, he had boarded a bus to Colombo at around 8:00 p.m. As this was early, he had then boarded a train and headed to Mirigama and then went to Dematagoda. When he arrived in Dematagoda, it was around 2:00 p.m., following which he had gone to Chathura Senaratne’s office and spent three hours there.

The suspect is also the defendant in two fraud cases. One case is related to a Rs 35 million fraud and another separate Rs 4.2 million fraud case, where the suspect has to pay Rs 25,000 monthly.

Gamage had confessed to Police that he had pretended to have been abducted to increase the likes he got on Facebook. DIG Rohana stated that Gamage may have had several other motives, for instance, to draw foreign attention.

Vote on SL

The voting on the UK–led  Core Group resolution on Sri Lanka at the 46th United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) session will be held on Monday (22)  at around 8:30 p.m. local  time. 

A series of debates and lobbying are being held on Sri Lanka by the Western countries pushing the member States to support by voting in favour of the resolution.  

The resolution that has accommodated many of the member States’ recommendations, has also incorporated India’s stance urging the Government of Sri Lanka to fulfil its commitments on the devolution of political authority, which is integral to reconciliation and the full enjoyment of human rights by all members of its population and encouraging the Government to respect local governance, including through the holding of elections for Provincial Councils, and to ensure that all Provincial Councils, including the Northern Provincial Council are able to operate effectively, in accordance with the 13th Amendment to the Constitution of Sri Lanka.

At the forum ‘Geneva Human Rights and Geopolitical Pressure dialogue’ organised by Media Centre for National Development, last Week, Foreign Secretary Jayanath Colambage noted that India is key in the whole exercise and in fact, the four countries in the Asian regions namely, India, Pakistan, Nepal and Bangladesh are in the Council. Of these countries, Pakistan has been highly supportive but India seems to have taken a ‘natural’ line, he noted. The reason, the Foreign Secretary assumed, could be the 9 April election in Tamil Nadu why India is ‘silent’. 

He added, in this regard, President Gotabaya Rajapaksa had sent the first letter urging the support of Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi. “If we don’t get the Asian region’s support, it would be a major issue to establish our strategic concept globally that we have a mechanism and we don’t bow down to international pressure.” 

Admiral Colambage continued: “I think India is in a fix however; India assured us that they will not land Sri Lanka in a volatile situation when the voting takes place, he added.   

He also said that despite strong statement by the Human Rights Commissioner Michelle Bachelet, 21 countries including China, Pakistan and Venezuela spoke in favour of Sri Lanka.  

In the meantime,  the UK Parliament held a debate on Sri Lanka on 18 March, 2021 where Parliamentarians Siobhain McDonagh, Elliot Colburn, Dr. Matthew Offord Dawn, Butler Robert, Halfon Ed Davey, Theresa Villiers,  Tanmanjeet Singh Dhesi, Bob Blackman, Jim Shannon, Chris Grayling, Sam Tarry,  Anthony Mangnall, Margaret Ferrier, Wes Streeting, John McDonnell ,Taiwo Owatemi, Stephen Timms, Gareth Thomas, Anne McLaughlin,  Stephen Kinnock, and Minister for Asia Nigel Adams raised their concerns on Sri Lanka, chaired by Deputy Speaker Nigel Evans. 

When asked if Sri Lanka is defeated in the resolution what would be the scenario, he said, ‘there’s nothing to gain anyway’. 

He also noted that the UNHRC has no legal binding but acts as an advisory organisation. But there is a danger, he said pointing at one clause of the recommendation of the resolution which is ‘’beyond their mandate”.

“The resolution points out some suggestions against Sri Lanka. One such is, to collect funds from various countries to find out more information on Sri Lanka and its activities and report to the Council.   It suggests, to collect information, how to use it for a legal framework in the future and to establish an office for it. That we see as a dangerous move. That is why we are calling the resolution has a wrong move. I think it’s a ‘testing water’ to see the reaction from the rest of the world. If they can rout Sri Lanka today in this manner, tomorrow it would be another country they could try.   

He also pointed out that   UNHRC managed to attract 40 other member countries as additional co-sponsor of the resolution on us. Out of the 40, 12 countries have the power to vote on Monday. He said that this only points out how a tiny island became significantly important to the rest of the world.

Captain Cool loses his cool 

Information has come to light that the Sri Lanka Cricket (SLC) had incurred a hefty sum of Rs 5.7 million towards the staging of the event that was held on 17 March under the aegis of Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa to fete the 1996 World Cup-winning Sri Lanka cricket team and to mark the silver jubilee anniversary of the momentous triumph.

The event had been held at Temple Trees based on the advice from the PM, while it had been coordinated by the PM’s Office, the Ministry of Youth and Sports and the SLC.

It had been held at the Reception Room of the PM’s Office while the cost of it had been overseen by the latter. 

It is further said that Sports Minister Namal Rajapaksa had personally taken care of the costs involved with the luncheon that had been hosted for the 1996 World Cup-winning team, their family members and other invitees which had taken place at Temple Trees.

Under such circumstances, information regarding the SLC furnishing a bill for the event for the aforesaid amount had also been received by the PM as well while the latter had also paid serious attention to it. 

Sources revealed that the SLC had produced this bill as costs for the supplying of a digital screen, the putting up of a few photos and the dance item that had been staged to welcome the cricketers to the event.

This comes to light in a backdrop where World Cup winning captain turned politician Arjuna Ranatunga lambasting the cricket administration for its corruption at the commemorative event held at the Temple Trees under the patronage of PM Rajapaksa.   

‘Ranatunga launched a scathing attack on the cricket administration, and also requested Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa to appoint a Commission to look into corruption at Sri Lanka Cricket (SLC). 

Ranatunga said that Sri Lanka is the only country in which the International Cricket Council (ICC) has established an anti-corruption office, and also highlighted how local coaches had been ignored by the cricket administration.

He also emphasised the fact that Sri Lanka has very talented coaches, and that these talents will be wasted if Sri Lanka continues to rely on the expertise of foreign coaches. 

“We spend huge amounts to import coaches,” Ranatunga said, adding that the foreign imports were partly responsible for the low ranking of the National team in all formats of the game.

“There is good (coaching) talent in the country, but they are going abroad because there is no recognition for them at home.” Ranatunga also stated former nationwide gamers equivalent to his 1996 Vice Captain Aravinda de Silva, in addition to Mahela Jayawardene and Marvan Atapattu, had been among the many finest batting coaches on this planet.

The Sri Lankan National cricket team that won the Cricket World Cup in 1996 received their medals given by International Cricket Council (ICC) after 25 years.

Ranil assures support to Ravi 

UNP Leader Ranil Wickremesinghe headed to the Hotel Dampe Village to attend a birthday party last Sunday. The event was held to mark the birthday of UNP Working Committee member Lasantha Gunawardena. 

Ex- UNPer SJB Parliamentarian S.M. Marikkar was also present when the UNP Leader arrived.  

Lasantha made sure Wickremesinghe and Marikkar sitting together, so that the two could converse freely. They were engaged in a lengthy discussion, before having dinner together and then departed. 

Wickremesinghe attended the reorganisation of the party’s Youth Front last Tuesday at Sirikotha. Several new members of the Youth Front were present while among the party seniors present were Ruwan Wijewardene, Vajira Abeywardena, Palitha Range Bandara and Akila Viraj Kariyawasam. 

Wickremesinghe at the outset conveyed his wishes to the new members of the Youth Front and allowed them to air their views. Views were exchanged regarding opportunities not being given for youths to join the party in the recent past as well as the responsibility of the party to look into the grievances of the members of the Youth Front. The party leader recalled how his political mentors in the past had given him the chance to climb the political ladder systematically and advised those in the Youth Front to charter a journey with patience and not to be hasty in striving for success. Vajira said that currently the party has allowed a new crop of youths to take the party forward unlike in the past. Afterwards the party seniors began a closed door meeting with the leader and urged him to carry out the party reorganisation at grass roots level in a manner where fingers could not be pointed at anyone. 

Former Finance Minister Ravi Karunanayake was remanded last Wednesday. Having been informed of it the Party Leader instantly rang Ravi’s spouse Mela Karunanayake. He promised her that any support for Ravi would be extended to him by the party as the latter is still a member of the party though not being active unlike in the past. He further confided to Mela that legal advice would be extended to the former Minister at any given time and advised her to ring him regarding any other help.

 On Thursday, the party activists visited the leader’s residence to discuss the present political situation here. They began the talk with the imprisonment incident of Ravi. The leader briefed them of his conversation with Ravi’s wife. Sandith Samarasinghe said that the oxygen level in Colombo had reduced drastically as big wigs of the Government continue to deforest and wondered whether the people would be forced to reside in a desert before long at the rate forest lands are being destroyed throughout the country. 

Ashu Marasinghe also charged that massive deforestation had taken place during the short time this Government has been in power. Vajira then said that it had been the UNP Government that had saved the Wilpattu National Park but charged that the present Government had damaged it beyond measure. Ruwan said that the revelation made by a girl who had taken part in a reality programme on Sirasa TV of deforestation at Sinharaja had prompted the Government to grill her. But, he alleged that a similar interest has not been shown by the present rulers to protect the country’s forest cover. Shamal Senerath said that the Government had nabbed both Azath Salley and Ravi Karunanayake to sweep under the carpet controversial issues such as the sugar scam and the deforestation taking place nationwide. 

Wickremesinghe said that if any crime had been committed by Ravi then legal action should be taken against him but advised the Government to recoup the losses incurred through the sugar scam as it is public money that has been pilfered. Range said that it is only the JVP that is highlighting the issues of the people on behalf of the Opposition. Vajira explained that the sugar scam had been felt by the hoi polloi here unlike the wealthy and affluent of the city. 

Ashu Marasinghe said that the Government had also botched the supplying of the jabs of the AstraZeneca vaccine for COVID-19 as less than 25 per cent of the population had been catered to thus far. He then said under such circumstances the Government was also planning to press ahead with the delayed Provincial Council Poll. The party leader then warned that attempting to hold the PC Poll without even giving the jabs of the vaccine to at least 50 per cent of the population would be foolhardy on the part of the Government.

By Gagani Weerakoon | Published: 2:00 AM Mar 20 2021

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