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Repression of civic space threatens financial reform – HRW

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The International Monetary Fund (IMF) should urge Sri Lanka’s government to abandon draft legislation that would severely curtail civil society and jeopardize the IMF’s program in the country, Human Rights Watch said in a letter to the IMF that was released yesterday (March 12).

The proposed Non-Governmental Organizations (Registration and Supervision) Act is among several recent and planned measures that would curtail fundamental freedoms, despite the critical role of public scrutiny in promoting good governance and combating corruption.

The IMF’s US$3 billion bailout of Sri Lanka – which is linked to government commitments to reform – helped stem the immediate economic crisis after the country defaulted on its foreign debt in 2022, but further progress is threatened by the adoption of laws by President Ranil Wickremesinghe’s administration that would severely restrict basic rights. The Online Safety Act, enacted in January, creates vague and broad speech-related offenses punishable with lengthy prison terms. The Anti-Terrorism Bill, currently before parliament, contains sweeping new speech-related offenses and arbitrary powers of arrest. And the draft law to regulate nongovernmental organizations could make independent civil society activity all but impossible in Sri Lanka.

“As the economy collapsed in 2022, Sri Lankans demanded good governance and an end to corruption, but instead now face draconian laws and policies that threaten human rights and undermine reforms,” said Meenakshi Ganguly, deputy Asia director at Human Rights Watch. “The protests helped bring President Wickremesinghe to power, but instead of listening to calls for change, he’s clamping down on peaceful dissent.”

A 2023 IMF study of Sri Lanka known as the Governance Diagnostic Assessment stated that “[a]nticorruption efforts are unlikely to achieve their objectives unless they also encompass initiatives designed and led by groups outside of government who are committed to rule-based inclusive economic and social progress.” However, the study found that civil society’s participation in oversight and monitoring of government actions has been “restricted by limited transparency, the lack of platforms for inclusive and participatory governance, and by broad application of counter-terrorism rules.” As a result, “opportunities for public participation and oversight of official behaviour, including by civil society, are increasingly restricted.”

The government on January 30, 2024, provided the draft NGO law to selected members of civil society, who were given three weeks to respond. The bill does not address any evident need, but instead seeks to subject civil society organizations to invasive government scrutiny and interference, and threatens civil society members with prison if they don’t comply with cumbersome administrative procedures.

The National Collective of CSOs and NGOs, a coalition of Sri Lankan civil society organizations, wrote to the government on February 28 that the proposed law would “violate the fundamental rights to freedom of association and expression,” while damaging the delivery of services by civil society organizations, including to “the many families who are struggling to make ends meet in the midst of severe economic hardship.”

The United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, Volker Türk, in his March 1 update to the UN Human Rights Council on the crisis in Sri Lanka, said he was “concerned by the introduction of new or proposed laws with potentially far-reaching impact on fundamental rights and freedoms … which variously strengthen the executive, grant broad powers to the security forces, and severely restrict rights to freedom of assembly, association and expression, impacting not only on civic space but the business environment.”

The IMF should protect the credibility and efficacy of its program in Sri Lanka by publicly calling upon the government to abandon the proposed NGO law, impose a moratorium on use of the Online Safety Act, and amend the Anti-Terrorism Bill to ensure that it respects human rights standards, Human Rights Watch said.

“The IMF and other international partners supporting Sri Lanka’s economic recovery recognize that this crisis has its roots in misgovernance and corruption,” Ganguly said. “If their efforts are to be successful, they need to stand firm against the government’s attempts to curtail fundamental civil and political rights.”

(hrw.org)

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Japanese grant to strengthen facilities at BIA & Colombo Port

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With almost 1.5 million visitor arrivals and 7.5 million passenger turnovers recorded in 2023, Sri Lanka is on its way to recovery, stability, and growth after the Easter Sunday attacks, the COVID-19 pandemic, and the devastating economic crisis in 2022. 

As cross-border travel is expected to rise rapidly in the coming months, preparedness of Points of Entry (PoE) to Sri Lanka to operate without any closure has become a national priority than ever before.  

In this hopeful setting, the Government of Japan, a longstanding development partner to the people of Sri Lanka, has provided a grant of USD 8.4 million through the International Organization for Migration (IOM) to strengthen PoE facilities in Sri Lanka and the Maldives.

The grant component for Sri Lanka aims to strengthen capacities at Bandaranaike International Airport (BIA) and the Colombo Port – vital gateways to Sri Lanka, to be future-ready for responding to any public health emergencies such as pandemics and infectious diseases. The event for handing over the first part of the donation took place on 10th April 2024 at Bandaranaike International Airport. (BIA)

Under this initiative, BIA and Colombo Port are set to receive cutting-edge equipment and facilities, including advanced baggage scanners, full body scanners, Automated Border Control (ABC) gates equipped with a Face Recognition System (AFRS), full-page e-passport scanners, and biometric-based access control systems. Additionally, the project renovates approximately 150 washrooms at BIA with sensor-operated, touchless equipment providing hygienic benefits for passengers, crew, and staff.  

At the event, the Ambassador of Japan to Sri Lanka, – Mr. Mizukoshi Hideaki stated “I am proud to reaffirm Japan’s unwavering commitment to the recovery, growth, and development of Sri Lanka. Our support extends particularly to the enhancement of PoE, with a special focus on BIA and Colombo Port. Through this initiative, Japan aims to fortify PoE capabilities, ensuring seamless management of future emergencies, especially during pandemics.”

In addition, the project will provide much-needed medical equipment, and renovate and equip the isolation room at BIA in line with International Health Regulations (IHR), alongside enhancements to both BIA and Colombo Port waste disposal capabilities.

A four-story office building will be constructed for the Port Health Service at Colombo Port and 25 Sri Lankan Diplomatic Missions will receive biometric enrollment workstations enabling linking up with the Department of Immigration and Emigration to speed up passport issuance for Sri Lankans living overseas. For a greater outcome, the project will provide comprehensive training and staff capacity building to strengthen border health compliance in line with international standards enabling swift response to public health emergencies.  

Commenting on the timely initiative, Minister of Ports, Shipping and Aviation, Nimal Siripala De Silva,  at the ceremony  stated  “I am immensely grateful for the generous financial support given by the Government of Japan and IOM Sri Lanka for this important initiative which will significantly bolster health preparedness at Sri Lanka’s main Airport and the Colombo Port, in consonance with International Health Regulations, and in turn garner public confidence for uninterrupted, safe, and secure cross-border operations benefitting passengers, crew, and staff.”

This project is implemented by IOM under the guidance of the Ministry of Ports, Shipping and Aviation in close coordination with the Airport & Aviation Services Sri Lanka Limited (AASL), Sri Lanka Ports Authority, the Department of Immigration and Emigration, and the Ministries of Health and Foreign Affairs. 

Commenting on the occasion, the Chief of Mission of the International Organization for Migration for Sri Lanka & the Maldives, Mr. Sarat Dash stated that “IOM strongly believes that strengthening the PoE is an investment for the future. The focus of the project extends beyond physical infrastructure and encompasses efforts for the economy, security, and digital landscape. IOM feels privileged to be a part of this project of national significance and is grateful for the support extended by all stakeholders for its successful implementation.”

The project intervention will reduce physical contact points, waiting time and congestion at points of entry for efficient, secure, and safe operations at BIA and Colombo Port. It will further improve traveller confidence, driving the potential for a boost in tourism and business travel offering an opportunity for mobility to return to pre-pandemic levels and adapt to the post-pandemic reality.

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Boy’s play with giraffe statue ends in death

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An eight-year-old boy, the only son of a millionaire businessman in Hettipola, died on Sunday after a statue of a giraffe made of cement, placed in front of the house of the businessman, fell on him while he was playing with it.

Police investigations have revealed that the boy had climbed onto the eight-foot-tall statue.

While on top, the child fell with the statue and the neck of the giraffe broke into two and a part of it hit the child’s chest.

However, the boy had gone to the kitchen and had told his mother about the incident and she had promptly informed her husband.

(dailynews.lk)

(This story, originally published by dailynews.lk has not been edited by SLM staff)

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Chamara Sampath’s vehicle catches fire

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The vehicle of State Minister Chamara Sampath Dissanayake has suddenly caught fire in the early hours of today, reports say.

According to reports, the State Minister was travelling from Mahiyanganaya to Ella when the vehicle caught fire at around 12.45am in Halpe, Bandarawela.

The State minister and the driver had escaped unscathed while the Fire Brigade of the Bandarawela Municipal Council residents had doused the fire.

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