Court says Sri Lankan ex-leaders can be prosecuted

Court says Sri Lankan ex-leaders can be prosecuted

Former president and PM must take accountability for economic crisis, says Transparency International

A protester takes part in an anti-government demonstration in Colombo on Sept 25. (AFP Photo)
A protester takes part in an anti-government demonstration in Colombo on Sept 25. (AFP Photo)

COLOMBO: Sri Lanka’s top court has granted permission for proceedings against former president Gotabaya Rajapaksa, according to the rights group that filed the case against him.

The court also agreed to allow proceedings against former prime minister Mahinda Rajapaksa, a former finance minister and two former central bank governors, Transparency International said on Friday.

The rights group said the case was filed to call for accountability for the country’s leadership for its worst financial crisis in more than seven decades.

In a related development, The UN Human Rights Council called on Sri Lanka to get a grip on its economic crisis and prosecute corruption by public officials.

The United Nations’ top rights body voted 20-7 to keep up its focus on the country. But Sri Lankan Foreign Minister Ali Sabry told the chamber in Geneva that Colombo “categorically rejects” the text.

The resolution urges the Sri Lankan government “to address the ongoing economic crisis, including by investigating and, where warranted, prosecuting corruption, including where committed by public and former public officials”.

The council voiced concern over the human rights impact of the economic crisis, violence against peaceful protesters and called for a “comprehensive accountability process” for all rights violations and abuses.

The 19-point resolution was brought forward by 37 mostly European countries.

Sri Lanka’s 22 million population has endured acute shortages of food, fuel and medicines along with hyperinflation and lengthy electricity blackouts since late last year.

The island ran out of foreign exchange and defaulted on its $51-billion foreign debt in mid-April. It has since been negotiating for a bailout from the International Monetary Fund.

The crisis led to widespread protests that resulted in president Gotabaya Rajapaksa fleeing in mid-July over allegations of mismanagement and corruption. He flew to Singapore, where he formally announced his resignation, and then to Thailand where he stayed for a month before being allowed to return to Colombo in early September.

New President Ranil Wickremesinghe has taken a hard line against protesters who brought down Rajapaksa and used the tough Prevention of Terrorism Act to detain three student leaders.

The rights council called on Colombo to ensure a safe environment “in which civil society can operate free from hindrance, surveillance, insecurity and threat of reprisals”.

It urged the UN rights office to enhance its reporting on the situation, with oral and written updates at future Human Rights Council sessions.

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