Major move after acceptance of genocide charge

By Shamindra Ferdinando

Foreign Minister Ali Sabry, PC, yesterday (11) summoned Acting Canadian High Commissioner Daniel Bood over the imposition of sanctions on two former Presidents, Mahinda Rajapaksa and Gotabaya Rajapaksa, Staff Sergeant Sunil Ratnayaka, and Lt. Commander P. Hettiarachchi over what Ottawa called ‘gross and systematic violations of human rights’ during the war against the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE).

Sri Lanka brought the war to a successful conclusion in May 2009 during Mahinda Rajapaksa’s first term (2005-2010).

Canada announced sanctions on Tuesday (10), just weeks ahead of the next Geneva sessions.

Canadian High Commission spokesperson confirmed the development. The official said that Charge d’affaires Bood would continue as the Acting HC until the new HC presents his credentials. High Commissioner designate Eric Walsh is here. Walsh succeeds David McKinnon, who completed his term late last year.

Sri Lanka’s former Ambassador in Iran, M.M. Zuhair, PC, who had served one term as the People’s Alliance National List MP, told The Island that the latest Canadian declaration should be examined against the backdrop of recognition of May 18 as Tamil Genocide Day by the Canadian Parliament, in May last year. The one-time senior State Counsel asserted that for want of a cohesive strategy to address accountability issues the situation has deteriorated. Declaration of sanctions against two former Presidents reflected, what the President’s Counsel called, the overall mood of the Western powers.

“The Special Economic Measures (Sri Lanka) Regulations impose on listed persons a prohibition on any transaction (effectively, an asset freeze) by prohibiting persons in Canada and Canadians outside Canada from engaging in any activity related to any property of these listed persons or providing financial or related services to them,” the Canadian Foreign Ministry said in a statement.

“The individuals listed in the Schedule to the Regulations are also rendered inadmissible to Canada under the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act,” the statement added.

Sri Lanka’s High Commissioner in Canada, Harsha Kumara Navaratne, on Tuesday, told The Island that his mission was in the process of addressing the issue at hand.

The Canadian action was the first since the US issued travel ban on General Shavendra Silva, the then Commander of the Army, and his immediate family, in February, 2020.

During a recent informal meeting with President Ranil Wickremesinghe, who is also the Commander-in-Chief of Armed Forces, as well as the Defence Minister, The Island raised the possibility of seeking an end to the continuing measures against the war-winning military, in return for amnesty for ex-LTTE cadres and the abolition of the Prevention of Terrorism Act (PTA). President Wickremesinghe pointed out that such measures were meant to address concerns of the Tamil Diaspora. Therefore, the Geneva-based United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) couldn’t be expected to respond to amnesty to ex-LTTE cadres or abolition of the PTA, the President said.

The Canadian declaration came ahead of FM Sabry’s first briefing of the Colomb-based diplomatic community, yesterday (11), for 2023. The Foreign Ministry statement, that dealt with the briefing, didn’t refer to the Canadian declaration.

Minister Sabry has provided an update regarding the key measures undertaken by the Government in the recent months, including the All-Party Conference (APC), convened by President Wickremesinghe, in December, 2022, with the participation of all political parties, setting up of Cabinet Sub-Committee on reconciliation and the establishment of a Special Unit on solving issues of people in the Northern Province, under the Presidential Secretariat. The statement also quoted Minister Sabry as having said that the Government has made serious efforts towards setting up a Truth and Reconciliation mechanism and the operationalization of the Office of Overseas Sri Lankan Affairs.

Justice Minister Dr. Wijeyadasa Rajapakse, PC, has explained the progress in drafting a comprehensive legislation on counter terrorism to replace the PTA, update on anti-corruption law, progress on matters related to reconciliation processes coming under the purview of the Ministry of Justice, including the progress made by the Office on Missing Persons (OMP), Office for Reparations (OR) and Office for National Unity and Reconciliation (ONUR).