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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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SC judgement on petitions challenging IGP’s appointment, on July 24

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The Supreme Court is to pronounce judgement on the petitions, challenging the appointment of Inspector General of Police Deshabandu Tennakoon, on July 24.

The petitions were filed by 08 parties including His Eminence Malcolm Cardinal Ranjith.

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Lawyers helped Kanjipani Imran & Ganemulle Sanjeeva to escape from SL – Tiran

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Kanjipani Imran and Ganemulle Sanjeeva, who are wanted by the police, were helped by their lawyers to escape from the country, Minister of Public Security – Tiran Alles has said.

He has said this during a media briefing held in Colombo today (July 18). 

The minister also stated that the police has seized drugs amounting to Rs. 19 billion as well as 955 firearms, since the ‘Yukthiya’ operation kicked off on Dec. 17, 2023.

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“Japan ready to resume suspended official development assistance projects”

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Dr. IZUMI Hiroto, the head of the Japanese delegation visiting Sri Lanka, lauded the successful completion of the country’s debt restructuring process, noting that it has paved the way for the resumption of Japanese Official Development Assistance (ODA) projects. 

These projects, which include several initiatives that were suspended last period, are now poised to restart, signaling a renewed phase of cooperation and development.

Dr. Hiroto highlighted that the international community’s confidence in President Ranil Wickremesinghe’s leadership is strongly reflected in the expedited success of the debt restructuring agreements. This achievement, accomplished in partnership with the Official Creditors’ Committee and the International Monetary Fund, underscores a remarkable turnaround for Sri Lanka.The high-level Japanese delegation, comprising representatives from the housing, construction, and urban sectors, met with President Ranil Wickremesinghe at the Presidential Secretariat this morning (18).

During the meeting, Dr. IZUMI Hiroto highlighted the successful completion of Sri Lanka’s debt restructuring process and announced that projects under Japanese Official Development Assistance (ODA), including those previously suspended, are set to resume.

The discussion also focused on new investment opportunities in Sri Lanka, emphasizing the potential for enhanced cooperation between the two nations. The delegation expressed their appreciation for Sri Lanka’s economic progress and the swift achievement of debt restructuring agreements in collaboration with the Official Creditors’ Committee and the International Monetary Fund. They praised President Wickremesinghe’s leadership in navigating the country through its financial challenges, which has restored international confidence and paved the way for renewed development initiatives.

President Ranil Wickremesinghe, recalling Japan’s invaluable support during Sri Lanka’s debt restructuring process, emphasized Sri Lanka’s commitment to deepening economic cooperation with Japan across various sectors, including education and agricultural modernization. The President stressed the importance of resuming stalled projects under Japanese cooperation to further strengthen bilateral relations.

Additionally, President Wickremesinghe highlighted the critical role of the Colombo Dockyard, underscoring its significance as a key institution in Sri Lankaís maritime and industrial landscape.

The Japanese delegation noted that several projects that are currently suspended, including the Bandaranaike International Airport (BIA) Development Project, the Colombo Port Eastern Terminal Development Project, the Central Expressway Construction and the Digital Broadcasting Project, can be promptly restarted.

Additionally, the delegation highlighted the potential to resume the Light Railway Transit (LRT), which was halted by the previous government. They are actively assessing locations to re-implement this project, recognizing its significant potential to alleviate traffic congestion in Colombo city.

Both sides emphasized the significance of Public-Private Partnerships (PPP) in executing housing for low-income earners and other urban development projects. It was also highlighted that the Government of Sri Lanka is committed to promoting environmentally friendly projects and renewable energy in line with its policies and international agreements.

The Japanese delegation expressed their willingness to the President to recruit Sri Lankan graduates in the field of technology for job opportunities in Japan’s private sector. This initiative aims to improve the electricity supply sector in Japan. The delegation also highlighted the Joint Credit Mechanism (JCM), which encompasses projects designed to promote environmental sustainability by utilizing advanced Japanese technology to reduce carbon dioxide emissions.Chief of Presidential Staff and Senior Advisor to the President on National Security Sagala Ratnayaka, Japanese Ambassador to Sri Lanka H.E. Mizukoshi Hideaki, Chairman of the Board – Japan Bank for International Cooperation (JBIC) Mr. MAEDA Tadashi, Presidential Senior Advisor to the President on Economic Affairs Dr. R. H. S. Samaratunga, and the Managing Director/CEO of the Colombo Dockyard PLC Mr. Thimira S. Godakumbura, along with representatives from several leading businesses in Japan attended the discussion.

President’s Media Division (PMD)
18.07.2024

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