Wednesday, June 23, 2010

World newspapers call for more media rights in Sri Lanka

The World Association of Newspapers and News Publishers (WAN-IFRA) while condemning intimidation and violence against journalists in Sri Lanka has called on the government to adhere to its Constitution, which recognises freedom of expression as a basic human right.

The Board of the World Association of Newspapers and News Publishers (WAN-IFRA), meeting in Düsseldorf, Germany, on June 7, condemned intimidation and violence against journalists in Sri Lanka and called on the government to adhere to its constitution, which recognises freedom of expression as a basic human right, a statement from the organization said.

It said:“Sri Lankan journalists continue to face routine threats, violence and abductions, despite the end of the conflict in May last year. In the first five months of 2010, journalists have been arrested and imprisoned without charge, and media outlets have been closed and censored. “At least 12 journalists have been killed and scores of others attacked with no one having been convicted in any case.”

© Daily Mirror

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Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Sri Lanka slams UN panel to probe war crimes

Sri Lanka Wednesday criticised the appointment of a panel by UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon to investigate allegations of human rights violations during the last months of the government's war against separatist Tamil rebels.

'The move is unwarranted and unacceptable to a sovereign nation like Sri Lanka,' media minister Keheliya Rambukwella said in a reaction to the panel's appointment late Tuesday.

Sri Lanka has been facing increasing international pressure to investigate alleged rights abuses committed by both sides before Sri Lanka's military killed the leadership of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) in May 2009, ending a 26-year civil war on the island.

The external affairs ministry was expected to give a detailed reaction on the panel's set-up, which went ahead despite government opposition to the UN plan.

The three-member panel is chaired by former Indonesian attorney general Marzuki Darusman and includes Yasmin Sooka, a human rights expert from South Africa, and Steven Ratner, a US lawyer, the UN office here said.

Sri Lanka last month appointed its own commission to investigate events during the last eight years of the conflict with the LTTE.

UN undersecretary general for political affairs Lynn Pascoe visited Sri Lanka last week where he met President Mahinda Rajapaksa and visited former combat zones.

He told reporters that the panel would advise the UN chief on how to look into accountably issues of events that took place during the final stages of the military operations.

The UN estimated that 7,500 civilians were killed in the last months of the civil war, a claim denied by the Sri Lankan government.

© Sify News

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Wednesday, June 23, 2010

UN Ban's Panel may not speak to Fonseka or travel to Sri Lanka - Report may be secret

By Matthew Russell Lee

Apanel on Sri Lanka war crimes has been named by UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, the day after Inner City Press exclusively disclosed the names of its three members - but the panel, it turns out, won't necessarily travel to Sri Lanka or interview any witnesses.

Inner City Press asked Mr. Ban's spokesman Martin Nesirky if, for example, the panel will interview Sarath Fonseka, who served as General in charge during the final stage of the conflict and who has spoken of orders to kill people who surrendered, a war crimes.

Nesirky replied that "the mandate is such that some of the precise details, the who and how, still need to be worked out." The aim, he said, is to speak with "the concerned officials," and to finish in four months.

Which officials are more "concerned" than President Mahinda Rajapaksa, his brothers Gotabaya and Basil, and his Ambassador to the UN Palitha Kohona, named by Ban's chief of staff Vijay Nambiar as having given assurances that those who surrendered would be treated in accordance with international law - before they were killed?

(Kohona disputes the timing of his communications with Nambiar, something that at a minimum one would expect this UN panel to inquire into and resolve.)

Inner City Press asked Nesirky, in light of the European Union's announcement that it will only extended the GSP Plus tariff benefit if the Rajapaksa administration takes specific human rights related actions in the next six months, if the UN believes or wants one of the actions to be cooperation with the UN panel.

Nesirky replied, we're focusing on the work of this advisory panel. So much for coordination.

So much, too, for consistency. Murzuki Darusman served on Ban's panel on the death of Benazir Bhutto of Pakistan. That panel's report was released to the public. Darusman came to the UN briefing room on the day of its release, and Inner City Press asked him questions.

In this Sri Lanka case, though, Nesirky would not say if the panel's report will be made public, nor if any of the three members will take questions from the Press.

Inner City Press asked, for example, how Mr. Darusman will handle his four month Sri Lanka focus with his new other job, as special rapporteur on human rights in North Korea / DPRK.

Has Steven Ratner performed any other service for the UN, other than advising Kofi Annan about Cambodia's Khmer Rouge in the last 1990s? Nesirky did not answer any of these. And so we'll add a third, about the third member: is Yasmin Sooka more about reconciliation or accountability?

Even as Nesirky announced the names, confirming what Inner City Press has asked him on the record the previous day, his Office did not have ready biographies for the three, as is the usual practice.

Later on Tuesday, after Inner City Press asked Nobel laureate and Elder Martti Ahtisaari a question, Ahtisaari said of Sri Lanka that it was sad that in the international community, no one had been prepared to do anything. Sad indeed.

© Inner City Press

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Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Ban appoints expert panel to advise on human rights issues during Sri Lankan conflict

Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon today appointed a panel of experts to advise him on accountability issues relating to alleged violations of international human rights and humanitarian law during the final stages of the conflict in Sri Lanka that ended last year.

The three-member panel will advise Mr. Ban on implementing the commitment on human rights accountability made in the Joint Statement issued by the Secretary-General and Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapaksa after the UN chief visited the island country in May 2009.

Indonesia’s Marzuki Darusman will serve as the chair of the expert panel, and the other two members are Yasmin Sooka of South Africa and Steven Ratner of the United States. The panel is expected to wrap up its responsibilities within four months of starting work.

The experts will examine “the modalities, applicable international standards and comparative experience with regard to accountability processes, taking into account the nature and scope of any alleged violations in Sri Lanka,” according to a statement issued by Mr. Ban’s spokesperson.

“It will be available as a resource to Sri Lankan authorities should they wish to avail themselves of its expertise in implementing the commitment. In the conduct of its mandate, the panel hopes to cooperate with concerned officials in Sri Lanka.”

Government forces declared victory over the rebel Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) last year after a conflict that had raged on and off for nearly three decades and killed thousands of people. The conflict ended with large numbers of Sri Lankans living as internally displaced persons (IDPs), especially in the north.

Today’s statement stressed that Mr. Ban “remains convinced that accountability is an essential foundation for durable peace and reconciliation in Sri Lanka. Through the panel the Secretary-General expects to enable the UN to make a constructive contribution in this regard.”

Last week B. Lynn Pascoe, the Under-Secretary-General for Political Affairs, visited Sri Lanka and held talks with Mr. Rajapaksa, senior Government officials, Opposition leaders and representatives of the Tamil and Muslim communities and civil society groups. He also visited conflict-affected areas where IDPs are being resettled.

Mr. Pascoe said that political solutions that tackle the underlying grievances which fuelled the conflict are necessary to heal the wounds left by the civil war.

© UN News Centre

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Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Sri Lanka in port expansion deal with China

The Sri Lanka ports Authority has signed a contract with a Chinese firm, China Harbour Engineering Company, to start the second phase of a new port in Hambantota on the south coast, a statement said.

Phase two would start in November this year with the completion of the first phase of the port project, the SLPA statement said.The agreement was signed by SLPA chairman.Priyath B. Wickrama and the chairman of the China Harbour Engineering Company Sun Ziyu.

China will also provide concessionary finance for the second phase of the port project.

The first phase of Hambantota port is also being financed by Chinese loans and built by Chinese firms.

The SLPA statement said construction work on the first phase is ahead of schedule with much of the infrastructure work almost completed.

Phase two of the project will include further excavation of the site for the harbor basin and dredging of the approach channel a well as building berths for ships.

© Lanka Business Online

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Wednesday, June 23, 2010

EU threatens to cut Sri Lanka's trade benefits in August

The European Union threatened Tuesday to withdraw by August trade concessions granted to Sri Lanka unless the island makes a written undertaking to improve its human rights record.

The EU's executive arm, the European Commission, has insisted on "significant improvements on the effective implementation of the human rights conventions" for the island to continue enjoying the trade benefits.

The GSP+ scheme gives 16 poor nations preferential access to the vast European market in return for following strict commitments on a variety of social and rights issues.

These benefits will be withdrawn on August 15 unless Sri Lanka makes a written commitment by July 1, a statement from an EU mission to the island said.

Sri Lanka's hawkish government has faced almost constant criticism in the past several years over the way it conducted a war against Tamil Tiger separatist rebels who were finally defeated in May 2009.

Government forces have been accused of a host of rights violations including the indiscriminate killing of thousands of Tamil civilians, the murder of aid workers and the execution of surrendering rebels.

Sri Lanka criticised the EU's warning to withdraw the trade benefits, with the foreign ministry in Colombo complaining that Europe was setting "unattainable targets".

Sri Lanka gains about 150 million dollars annually due to preferential tariffs, according to trade estimates.

The island's clothing industry is the main beneficiary, using the concessions to sell to high street retailers in Europe.

© EU Business

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Wednesday, June 23, 2010

No vote for the IDPs in camps again:

The registration of the IDPs who were resettled in Mullativu and Kilinochchi and the amendments to the electoral registry are not been properly carried out claimed Campaign for Free and Fair Elections (CaFFE.)

Although the revision of the electoral registry commenced over three weeks ago those who reside in IDP camps and many who have been recently resettled in Mullativu and Kilinochchi areas have not received the preliminary survey forms. CaFFE has identified Mallavi, Mullativu, Paranthan, Weralabadapaththu, Madu, Vavuniya North and Manthei West Divisional Secretariats as areas that are thus neglected by the officials.

It is unlikely that those who still live in the IDP camps will be resettled before the deadline for the electoral registration expires. Therefore the Department of Elections is obligated to visit the IDP camps and conduct the necessary activities. This step is vital since this is the only chance to ensure their right to vote.

There are 209 electorates in the Kilinochchi, Mannar and Mullativu. Because of the war the Department of Elections were not able to revise the electoral registry of 76 electorates in 2008 and 2009 which lead to many losing their franchise in the recently held elections. Also the registry includes many who have been either killed or have left the country. The voter registry of Jaffna and Kilinochchi does not include the National Identity Card numbers which leaves space for election malpractices.

According to the experience of election monitors around the world maintaining an accurate electoral registry is vital to ensure a free and fair election. This is also paramount in reestablishing representative democracy in the war ravaged north. Therefore CAFFE believes that the Department of Elections, Civil administration and civil society organizations should focus on the successful revision of the electoral registry in the North.


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