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UN: Tamils continue to face racial discrimination in Sri Lanka

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The United Nations Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (UNCERD) stated recently that Tamils continue to face discrimination in Sri Lanka and questioned the island-country if Indian Tamils were allowed to get back to their homeland – while reviewing a report on the anti-discrimination efforts undertaken by the country.

UN CERD is a body of independent human experts monitoring the implementation of ICERD by the state parties.

No cases of sexual violence – during the horrific civil war in Sri Lanka – had been submitted, even though this had affected thousands of women, said Jose Francisco Cali Tzay, committee member and country rapporteur for Sri Lanka, during a review of Sri Lanka in the 90th session of the UN Committee on CERD. Last week, CERD concluded the examination of the combined tenth to seventeenth periodic report of Sri Lanka – on its implementation of provisions of the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination (ICERD).

The Tamil population continues to suffer discrimination, including through lack of access to public services in their own language, and the fact that police agents in the north of the country did not speak Tamil, he noted. People continue to live in fear due to the big military presence.

The recently-promulgated Law for Witness and Victim Protection had no dedicated funds for the mechanism to facilitate its implementation on the ground. What measures have been taken to protect Tamil women from multiple discrimination, the Guatemalan expert who has been on the Committee since 2004, asked, warning that discrimination against Tamils, particularly for not having access to public spaces to bury their dead would continue to hinder lasting peace and reconciliation.

Since 2009, there have been several issues that have remained unaddressed, brought about by violations of humanitarian laws and human rights by both sides, leading to anxiety, fear and suspicion, said Ravinatha Aryasinha, Sri Lankan Ambassador to the UN office at Geneva, while presenting his country report. Successive governments have failed to reach a political settlement with the groups. Aryasinha referred to the various steps that have been taken since the Maithripala Sirisena government assumed power in January 2015, including the introduction of the nineteenth amendment to the Constitution – which imposed a two-term limit for the mandate of President and recognized national reconciliation as a duty of the President. The amendment also established a special Presidential Task Force on Reconciliation and an Office for National Unity Commission for Truth, Justice, and Reconciliation that would consult with South African authorities.

Both Sinhala and Tamil were made the languages of administration and of the courts, he added. Article 22, per the provisions of the 16th amendment to the Constitution, ensures that Sinhala will be the official language in all provinces except in the north and east where Tamil will also be used.

Replying to questions by experts on application of customary laws, the Sri Lankan delegation said that any change of customary law had to change from the communities themselves. As such, those people of Islamic faith have the option of subscribing to Muslim personal laws (including statutes) while Tamils hailing from the Jaffna Peninsula fall within the ambit of the ‘Thesavalame Law’. Any Sri Lankan had the right to return – and the Government had re-established the possibility for dual citizenships – said the Sri Lankan delegation, replying to a question from a human rights expert that if Indian Tamils were allowed to return to their country.

The CERD members said that the situation of refugees and internally displaced persons, war widows, inter-ethnic violence, reconciliation, the Prevention of Terrorism Act, and the lack of human rights education were all “issues of concern” for the Committee. Reports presented by civil society organisations and the UN human rights mechanisms along with UN resolutions, offered a very different picture of the current situation than that presented by the Sri Lankan government – the discrepancies were concerning, Tzay stated.

The UN Special Rapporteur on torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment, Juan E. Méndez, and the UN Special Rapporteur on the independence of judges and lawyers, Mónica Pinto, were on an official visit to the Buddhist nation this year. Both the experts had said that “more reforms are needed before Sri Lanka can be considered to be on a path to sustainable democratization”. “Severe forms of torture continue to be used, although probably less frequently, while both old and new cases of torture continue to be surrounded by total impunity,” Méndez had said. Reiterating her concerns on the issue of massive rape by the military, a CERD expert noted that many of the perpetrators were still in the north of the country, and emphasized the need for newly-recruited Tamil elements there.

Experts were concerned about the 18-month period for pre-trial detention, and raised a number of questions in relation to the application of the Prevention of Terrorism Act (PTA). “Suspects are subjected to lengthy remand periods with many being detained for years, some even up to 15 years before trial,” Méndez had said after his Sri Lankan tour. The Act allows for arbitrary detention without charges, admissibility of statements obtained under duress in courts and limits access to a lawyer.

The Sri Lankan government, however, maintained that persons arrested under the PTA were entitled to all safeguards, including visits by family members and the National Human Rights Commission. Questions were also raised by the UN committee on risks of political interference, referring specifically to the removal of judges for politically-motivated reasons, urging the country to adopt better provisions for ensuring the independence and impartiality of the judiciary. Pinto had also stated that the government needs to “reinforce the independence and impartiality of the justice sector” during the drafting of its new Constitution. This is the first interaction between the Sri Lankan government and the CERD experts since August 2001, when the last formal meeting took place in the midst of hostilities perpetrated by the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE).

UN should convene an extra ordinary meeting to discuss the problems being faced by Tamils in Sri Lanka even after the defeat of Rajapksha regime that had been extra cruel to Tamils. Tamils in Lanka and India as well as entire world expected a real change o f mind and heart in Sri Lanka with the onset of the Sirisena government that officially committed to reconciliation and faire treatment of Tamils.

Tamils and other minorities overwhelmingly voted the Sirisena’s party to power hoping for a change in state attitude towards minorities but the new government also seems to be pursuing the same old racially discriminatory policies detrimental to common good of the nation. .

President Sirisena has to rewind the old anti-human system of racial discriminations and targeting of Tamils and help a democratic system dawn on the island nation, already facing extinction owning to deadly climate change processes.

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South Asia

Accusations to Acknowledgement: The Battle of Article 63 A

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The weather is heating up. As the May is ending, Political temperatures are soaring. The fate regarding the country’s political and economic stability will be measured in the upcoming days. Earlier, PDM built momentum by taking on institutions. Maryam Nawaz raised the temperature by targeting key personalities and institutions. Allegations were bursting against the institutions in all dimensions. Today, we witness reversal of roles. Accusations have been outflowing in every Jalsa by PTI. But now suddenly, the “accusations” turned into “acknowledgment”. “Complaints” started transforming into “Compliments”. Is it the change of narrative? Is it another U-turn? Or is it the restoration of confidence in the institutions? Where will this chaos end?

The Supreme Court’s “decision” or as they say “opinion” or “binding” on Article 63 A has raised some pertinent questions on the status of CM Punjab election? In the interpretation of Article 63 A of the constitution, the Supreme court categorically condemns the practice of horse trading by calling it “a cancer afflicting the body politic”. Supreme Court in its decision of 3-2 rejected the vote count of these dissident members against the party directives. So the future of the Chief Executive of Punjab is now under threat because it is contrary to what happened in National Assembly. The political instability continues and the situation is messy.

In light of this verdict, Hamza has a support of 172 MPAs in Punjab assembly but at the same time, he also has 4 dissenting members which draws the figure to 168. Now further moving ahead, PTI and alliance also has a collective figure of 168 votes minus 21 dissenting members. The situation here in Punjab is way too complex now. A support of 186 members is required for a clear majority in Punjab assembly to formulate a government. This current Punjab government can either fall through a governor led vote of no confidence or a Supreme court order. The governor even has a right to dissolve the assembly with his discretionary powers according to Article 112 (2) of the constitution. Supreme Court has already made its decision on cross voting against Party fiat.  Now legal experts are interpreting the decision in their own dictionaries. What will happen in Punjab? What will happen on the federal level? Will there be an election call? If so, what will be the care taker setup? Will there be a fresh mandate? Who will make the hard economic decisions?  Lot needs to be answered in these crucial times.

From “My judges disappointed me” to “Thankyou Supreme Court”, a lot has happened and a lot is ready to take place. Islamabad is full of gossips, interpretations, whispers and predictions these days. There is something seething under this political turmoil. The Red zone is under a lot of pressure whether politically or economically. Pre – Elections, Elections and then Post elections, we have a lot of consequences of a lot of hard decisions. But hard decisions need to be taken. Question is who is ready to make the hard choices? Be Afraid!!

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South Asia

The sizzling “Political Matrix”; What will happen now?

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Politics in Pakistan is unfortunately leaving scars that will fade away not that easily. Islamabad today is wrapped in thick political clouds since past few weeks. These last few weeks have altered all assumptions and calculations in the national political matrix.  While the political landscape today is sizzling with intensity, aggression and strain the economy is shattering every day.  Who is to blame for? What will happen now? And will sanity prevail?

The entire edifice of the “conspiracy mantra” which even made PTI commit violation of the constitution stands demolished today. It was one of the worst advices Imran khan could ever get from his party among the list of many others. Sadly he made his entire politics captive to this conspiracy myth.  But today no one questions them on the impact it had on our foreign policy. US today feels betrayed, Saudis not ready to give aid, Chinese worried about their stakes and it continues.  So diplomatically this conspiracy mantra has damaged Pakistan like anything.

Imran Khan’s followers see nothing wrong in what he says and what he does. They absolutely reject all the facts, all the logics and embrace the rhetoric which is fuelling more today with a greater intensity. Imran khan is leading this campaign more aggressively. Khan very well knows that bringing large crowds to Islamabad will have an impact only if there is some kind of aggression.  The leaders on different occasions already hinted towards an aggressive March. He very well realizes that the figure of 2.5 Million is unrealistic but keeping in view the size of Islamabad, 0.1 Million crowd will even be perceived as a bigger crowd. So can he force the early elections at this stage? How will the government react to it? For instance let’s accept this narrative that the pressure of crowd aids PTI in getting an early election call and PTI wins it. So now what next? How will you deal with the mighty US? The economy is already sinking. You need aid to feed it but no one is providing you that. Then how will you stop dollar from going above 200? How will you provide relief from the soaring fuel prices when you won’t have money for a subsidy even? Forget about one lakh jobs and 50 lakh houses.

From the past few weeks we haven’t heard any PTI leader telling any economic plan or any diplomatic plan to revive relations. How will you deal with the IFI’s, World Bank & IMF when they’re all US controlled and as per your narrative you won’t accept “Amreeka ki Ghulami” or USA’s dictatorship.

So now what options the present regime has? The government would of course like to stop this building dangerous momentum of “Azadi March”. They would not like any big clash in Islamabad which results in bigger mess and chaos. The PDM government also has a much bigger fish to deal with, the same sinking economy. They came into power with this narrative to fix economy as former Premiere was unable to do it.  The key cabinet members made more than two different official visits.  The instructions are coming from London today as a decisive power so who will run the government? Who will run the system? Will the IMF aid? What will be the upcoming budget about? This upcoming budget is a bigger risk for this government along with an already announced to Long march call. Khan has already played a dangerous narrative especially with the blame of another conspiracy being made about his Life.   

The stakes, the narrative and the politics of every party is at risk today.  But above that, Pakistan is at risk. The dread is in the air. The end of May will be heated ferociously in Islamabad, whether politically or meteorologically.

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South Asia

Sri Lankan economic crisis and the China factor

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After the resignation of Mahinda Rajapaksa, Ranil Wickremesinghe, who is the sole member of the United National Party (UNP), was sworn in as Sri Lankan Prime Minister on Thursday, May 12, 2022. Wickremesinghe will be holding the position of Sri Lankan PM for the sixth time. While the new Sri Lankan PM is a seasoned administrator, the task of restoring even a modicum of normalcy to the island nation’s economy, which is currently facing its worst economic crisis since its independence in 1948 seems to be a Herculean task (Wickremesinghe has clearly indicated, that his first task will be ensuring the supply of electricity, diesel and petrol to the people).

 The grave economic crisis, which has resulted in acute shortage of food and essential commodities have brought ordinary people on the roads and demonstrations have resulted in violence and loss of lives (the Sri Lankan President had to declare a state of emergency twice first last month and then earlier this month). There had been a growing clamor for the resignation by President Gottabaya Rajapaksa but Wickremesinghe was sworn in after the exit of Mahinda Rajapaksa (protests have been carrying on even after the swearing in of Wickremesinghe)

During his previous tenure, Wickremesinghe had tried to reduce Sri Lanka’s dependence upon China, and in his current tenure he will be compelled to do the same. He had also been critical of the previous government for not approaching the IMF for assistance (Wickremesinghe has been repeatedly accused of being pro-west and having neoliberal leanings by many of his political opponents).

It would be pertinent to point out, that the PM had also batted for a coordinated regional response, by SAARC vis-à-vis the covid19 pandemic. The new Sri Lankan PM has also been an ardent advocate of improving ties with India.

While it is true, that Sri Lanka finds itself in the current situation due to economic mismanagement and excessive dependence upon the tourism sector (which faced a severe setback as a result of covid 19), it is tough to overlook the level of debts piled vis-à-vis China, and the fact that the Island nation was following China’s model of economic growth with a focus on big ticket infrastructure projects.

Another South Asian nation — Pakistan which witnessed a change last month where Shehbaz Sharif took over as Prime Minister, replacing Imran Khan, also faces daunting economic challenges.  Pakistan’s foreign exchange reserves were estimated to be a little over $ 10 billion on May 6, 2022 and the Pakistani Rupee fell to its all time low versus the US Dollar on Thursday, May 12, 2022. Shehbaz Sharif ever since taking over as PM has repeatedly reiterated the importance of Pakistan’s ties with China and the Foreign Minister Bilawal Bhutto in a conversation with his Chinese counterpart alluded to the same, with Pakistan’s Foreign office in a statement released after the conversation between Bhutto and Wang Yi said:

 “underscored his determination to inject fresh momentum in the bilateral strategic cooperative partnership and add new avenues to practical cooperation”.

 Yet, China has categorically said that it will not provide any financial assistance until Pakistan resumes the IMF aid program. Pakistan has been compelled to look at other alternatives such as Saudi Arabia and UAE, which have also said that without the revival of the IMF program aid will not be possible. Only recently, Chinese power companies functioning under the umbrella of the China Pakistan Economic corridor (CPEC) have threatened to shut down their operations if their dues (to the tune of 1.59 billion USD) are not cleared. China had also reacted very strongly to the terror attack on Karachi University in which three Chinese teachers lost their lives, this is the second such attack after 2021. China in recent years had also indicated to Pakistan, that it was not happy with the progress of the China Pakistan Economic (CPEC) project. The current government in Pakistan has repeatedly pointed to this fact.

One point which is abundantly clear from the economic crisis in Sri Lanka as well as the challenges which Pakistan is facing is that excessive dependence upon China has disastrous consequences in the long run. If one were to look at the case of South Asia, Bangladesh has been astute by not being excessively dependent upon China – it has maintained robust economic relations with India and Japan. Given the changing economic situation it is becoming increasingly important for developing countries, especially in South Asia, to join hands to confront the mounting challenges posed by excessive dependency upon China. US, Japan and western multilateral bodies and financial institutions need to find common ground and provide developing countries with an alternative economic narrative. It is also time for India along with other countries in the South Asian region to find common ground and focus on robust economic cooperation.

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