SLG Syndication

SLG Syndication is committed to aggregating excerpts from news published by international news agencies and key insights on contemporary issues published by think tanks. Our aim is to facilitate the expansion of its reach while giving due credit to the original source.

Sri Lanka: Pseudo-leftists  

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Bopage, representing the FSP-controlled Inter-University Student Federation (IUSF), took part to raise human rights violations in Sri Lanka under the government of President Ranil Wickremesinghe. The FSP jubilantly reported “comrade” Bopage’s intervention on its website.

The FSP intervention is tail-ending Washington’s use of Sri Lankan human rights violations as a pretext to pressure Colombo to line up with its strategic confrontation with China.

The UNHRC session is discussing its High Commissioner’s report on Sri Lanka and a resolution presented by several countries led by the US and UK. This resolution proposes an investigation into Sri Lanka’s “war crimes” and “economic crimes” and is scheduled to be put to the vote on October 6. The FSP has not criticised the resolution at any time or pointed to its underlying purpose.

The widely-despised Wickremesinghe was appointed as acting President by former President Gotabhaya Rajapaksa as he fled the country on July 13 after huge mass protests demanding his resignation. Wickremesinghe was then installed as President by an anti-democratic vote of the discredited parliament on July 21.

Wickremesinghe immediately intensified the crackdown on anti-government protesters ordering police and the military to violently evict those who had occupied the presidential secretariat. Police attacks were also unleashed on IUSF-organised protests in August. On August 22, Wickremesinghe imposed 90-day detention orders on a IUSF convener and two other activists under the Prevention of Terrorism Act (PTA).

The government is preparing to crush the widespread opposition of workers and rural masses to skyrocketing prices and shortages of essentials including fuel, food and medicines. It has signed a loan agreement with the International Monetary Fund (IMF) that will only intensify the acute social crisis facing millions.

The FSP opposes the independent political mobilisation of the working class against the repression of the Wickremesinghe regime and the IMF austerity agenda. Instead, it has turned to the UNHRC, giving tacit support to Washington’s cynical “human rights” campaign and is cementing an alliance with Sri Lanka’s opposition parties that all support the IMF’s program.

In his brief address to the UNHRC, Bopage cited the Colombo government’s lack of “accountability” for war crimes, economic crimes and other human rights violations. To investigate and assure human rights in the country, he said the council should be “strengthening the existing measures and adopting new initiatives.” 

The FSP is deliberately covering up for the US, which is exploiting the UNHRC to advance its geostrategic interests and is also directly responsible for numerous bloody war crimes.

There is no question that successive Sri Lankan governments are responsible for war crimes and gross abuses of democratic rights during Colombo’s 26-year communal war against the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) that ended in May 2009.

During the final weeks of the war, then President Mahinda Rajapaksa and his brother Gotabhaya Rajapaksa, who was defence secretary, presided over the killing of at least 40,000 Tamil civilians, according to UN estimates, and the disappearance of hundreds more. 

After the war, Washington sponsored several resolutions to pressure Mahinda Rajapaksa to break relations with Beijing. Washington was deeply hostile to his government’s ties with and dependence on funds and arms from China and wanted to bring Sri Lanka under the US strategic sway.

Failing these efforts, Washington sponsored a regime-change operation in 2015 with the support of Wickremesinghe and former President Chandrika Kumaratunga to oust Mahinda and install Maithripala Sirisena as president. The Sirisena-Wickremesinghe regime shifted the Sri Lankan foreign policy markedly towards Washington.

After Gotabhaya Rajapaksa came to power in 2019, the US and UK sponsored another tough resolution on Sri Lanka that was passed in March last year. This resolution is currently being discussing in the UNHRC. Though Rajapaksa is no longer in power, the US is seeking to block any return of the Rajapaksas. Although the pro-US Wickremesinghe is president, he depends on Rajapaksa’s party—the Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna—for political survival. 

The FSP leaders were members of the Sinhala chauvinist Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna (JVP) which fully backed the communal war. As the JVP became widely discredited among workers and particularly youth, they broke away and formed the FSP in 2012. Despite its socialistic phrase mongering, the FSP backed the US engineered regime-change operation in 2015 that brought to power Sirisena, who was complicit in all the war crimes of the Rajapaksa government. 

The FSP turn to the UNHRC is significant. It underlines this party’s further rightward shift into the Colombo political establishment in response to the sharp upsurge of working class struggles in Sri Lanka and internationally.

Since April millions of workers and poor have been involved in huge protests and strikes in response to the social devastation produced by the global capitalist crisis. Like the ruling class, the trade unions and various pseudo-left groups were terrified by this popular uprising.

FSP collaborated closely with the trade union fronts to divert this mass opposition into one-day general strikes in April and May and to subordinate it to the demand for an interim capitalist regime that was also being pushed by the opposition Samagi Jana Balawegaya (SJB) and JVP. The JVP and FSP unions were part of these trade union fronts.

By blocking any independent movement of the working class against the Rajapaksa regime, the FSP and the trade unions paved the way for Wickremesinghe to come to power. Now the FSP is lining up with the opposition parties to mount a phony campaign to defend democratic rights.

In August, the FSP took part in a seminar called by the Trade Unions and Mass Movement (TUMO). The FSP trade unions are part of TUMO. Among the invitees to the event were the representatives of the imperialist powers including the UK, Canada and Australia as well as of the opposition parties—the SJB, JVP, Sri Lanka Muslim Congress and Tamil National Alliance.

FSP Education Secretary Pubudu Jayagoda voiced the party’s full support to this reactionary line-up, declaring: “The FSP promises that we will give our maximum support to bring all forces against this repression into a common platform.”

On September 16, the FSP participated in an event organised by the IUSF to which the SJB and JVP were invited. The recently-formed Uttara Lanka Sabhagaya also attended. This outfit includes Sinhala chauvinist groups led by Wimal Weerawansa and Udaya Gammanpila who were ministers of the former Rajapaksa regime.

SJB chairman and MP, General Sarath Fonseka, addressed the meeting supposedly in a personal capacity. Fonseka was Army Commander during the final years of the war, overseeing the brutal offensives in the last months that killed tens of thousands of civilians. Jubilant about the gathering, he praised the IUSF and the FSP and called on professionals and businessmen to build the movement. “There are about 90 percent in the police are with us. In the military 98 percent are with us,” he declared.

Such are the rightwing forces being embraced by the FSP.

FSP leader Pubudu Jayagoda declared: “New leaders are in the making. All are uniting. This platform is the example. All these political parties, trade unions and mass organisations have united.” He added: “This mass force will not only secure the release of student leaders but a mass power will be built to send this anti-people, anti-social lot to the prison.”

The FSP claims to be building a “mass movement” to oust the repressive Wickremesinghe regime. In reality, it is promoting capitalist parties that have a similar record of repression and austerity. Both the SJB and JVP are committed to the IMF’s austerity agenda. A government of these parties would be just as ruthless as Wickremesinghe in attacking the democratic and social rights of working people.

This fake left group represents upper middle class sections of society. Its hostility to mobilise the working class on socialist policies flows from its commitment to the profit system.

[Sakuna Jayawardena and K. Ratnayake wrote this piece for World Socialist Website, Click here to read the original]

UK Pound Sinks, Heading to IMF Bailout

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Newly elected Prime Minister of the UK,  Liz Truss’s plan for growth, melding the biggest tax giveaway in half a century with Thatcherite deregulation, is a straight-up gamble with Britain’s future, and even before her chancellor of the exchequer had finished delivering it on Friday the bet was starting to sour, the Bloomberg has reported.

“The market’s verdict on the £220 billion policy blitz set out by Kwasi Kwarteng was swift and devastating. Sterling crashed below $1.11 for the first time since 1985, taking its slump for the year to date to 19%. Five-year gilts posted their biggest ever daily decline,” the report added.

Meanwhile, according to the reports in British media, Liz Truss’s 45bn pound tax cutting spree has set Britain on course for a bailout from the International Monetary Fund

“Nouriel Roubini, an economist who famously predicted the financial crisis, has warned that British investments are trading “like an emerging market” as he drew parallels with the economic chaos of the 1970s,” the Telegraph has reported.

“Mr Roubini said on Twitter that Britain is heading “back to the 1970s” and “eventually the need to go and beg for an IMF bailout” following huge tax cuts unveiled by Kwasi Kwarteng in his mini-Budget,” the report added.

The pound has hit an all-time low against the dollar after the bonanza of tax cuts and spending measures in Kwasi Kwarteng’s mini-budget threatened to undermine confidence in the UK.

The pound plunged nearly 5% at one point to $1.0327; it’s lowest since Britain went decimal in 1971, as belief in the UK’s economic management and assets evaporated.

U.S. Ambassador to UN Agencies to visit Sri Lanka

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United States Permanent Representative to the UN Food and Agriculture Agencies in Rome Ambassador Cindy McCain will visit Sri Lanka from September 25-28 to highlight U.S. food assistance programs in Sri Lanka and reinforce the U.S. commitment and lasting partnership with the island nation.

In addition to meeting with senior government officials and aid organizations in Colombo, Ambassador McCain will join U.S. Ambassador to Sri Lanka Julie Chung to travel to Central Province to visit schools, agricultural research facilities, and community organizations and meet with recipients and implementers of relief provided through U.S. government-funded humanitarian assistance programs.

The United States is the single largest country donor to the three United Nations food and agriculture agencies, the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD), and the World Food Program (WFP).  U.S.-funded UN projects showcase how the U.S. government, the UN Food and Agriculture Agencies, and the government of Sri Lanka collaborate to reduce food insecurity and advance humanitarian relief, livelihood protection, and agriculture-led economic growth, especially at this critical time of increased global hunger. 

The United States has provided partnership and assistance to the people and government of Sri Lanka for more than 70 years.  Since June, Ambassador Chung has overseen the announcement of nearly $240 million in new U.S. government assistance to Sri Lanka, including U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) Administrator Samantha Power’s September 2022 announcements of an additional $40 million to provide Sri Lankan farmers with fertilizer and $20 million to meet immediate humanitarian needs in the country. 

Statement issued by US Embassy in Colombo

Sri Lanka Rated ‘Obstructed’ by a Global Alliance of Civil Societies

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Sri Lanka remains on a watchlist of countries that have seen a rapid decline in civic freedoms. Despite the removal of the Rajapaksa regime, brought about by mass protests – amid the country’s worst economic crisis in decades – the new President Ranil Wickremesinghe has continued the governments’ crackdown on protesters and activists, CIVICUS which is a global alliance of over 10,000 civil society organisations and activists dedicated to strengthening citizen action and civil society throughout the world has stated in a statement.

Following Wickremesinghe’s election, according to the statement, sweeping emergency powers were once again imposed to restrict protests and clamp down on protesters. Security forces used excessive force to remove parts of a rolling peaceful protest site in front of the Presidential Secretariat in Colombo. Protesters have also been harassed, arrested and detained.

The new watchlist is released by the CIVICUS Monitor, an online platform that tracks the latest developments to civic freedoms, including freedom of expression, association and peaceful assembly, across 197 countries and territories. Other countries included on the list are Guatemala, Guinea, Serbia and Zimbabwe.

On 17 July 2022, emergency regulations were imposed giving sweeping powers to the police and the armed forces to search and make arrests of ‘suspects’ without due process safeguards. UN human rights experts have condemned the “extensive, prolonged and repeated use of state of emergency measures” since April 2022 by the authorities to crack down on peaceful protesters.

In the early hours of 22 July 2022, a coordinated joint operation by the Sri Lankan military, police and special forces forcibly removed parts of the three-month-long ‘Gotagogama’ rolling peaceful protest site in front of the Presidential Secretariat in Colombo. Security forces severely beat protesters and lawyers and removed many tents from the pavement. At least 50 people were injured andt nine protesters were arrested and granted bail on the same day. At least 14 protesters were hospitalised. Materials and electronic devices belonging to protesters were destroyed.

“The Sri Lanka authorities must investigate all human rights violations committed by security forces during the state of emergency including unlawful arrests, excessive use of force on protesters and the brutal crackdown at the protest site at Galle Face in July. Any pending charges against those arrested for peacefully exercising their rights must be immediately dropped. These repressive actions clearly do not meet Sri Lanka’s obligations under international human rights law”, said Josef Benedict, Asia researcher for CIVICUS

The security forces have sought to harass, arrest or detain activists and protesters seeking political reform and accountability for the country’s economic crisis. Journalists have also been targeted for their reporting on the crisis and protests

On 25 July 2022, the Colombo Magistrates’ Court issued a travel ban on Father Jeewantha Peiris, a Catholic priest who had been prominent in the protests, and several others. Leading protester Dhaniz Ali was arrested by the police while trying to leave for Dubai on a flight on 26 July 2022. On 27 July 2022, unidentified men in civilian clothes abducted Veranga Pushpika, a former student activist and journalist who had also been active in the protests, from a bus in Colombo. Police did not disclose his whereabouts for several hours before acknowledging his arrest.

On 3 August 2022, human rights defender and General Secretary of Ceylon Teachers Union Joseph Stalin was arrested. The human rights defender was taken to the Fort police station and remanded despite suffering from poor health. He was granted bail by a Colombo Fort Magistrate on 8th August 2022.

On 18 August 2022, police intervened to disrupt a protest by members of the Inter University Students’ Federation (IUSF) in central Colombo by firing a water cannon and tear gas at them. The crackdown was followed by the arrest of members of the IUSF. According to reports, 20 people were arrested and 16 of the suspects were released on personal bail after being charged with unlawful assembly and obstructing the duties of police officers by blocking the road. One of those detained was human rights defender Chinthaka Rajapakse, the moderator of the Movement for Land and Agricultural Reform (MONLAR), a human rights organisation focused on land rights, protection of natural resources and the environment.

Three of those detained around the student protests including Wasantha Mudalige, the convener of the IUSF, Hashantha Jeewantha Gunathilake, member of the Kelaniya University Students’ Union and Galvewa Siridhamma Thero, the convener of Inter University Bhikku Federation, have been detained under the draconian Prevention of Terrorism Act (PTA). The government has used the PTA to target and harass minorities, activists, journalists and critical voices.

On 9 September 2022, the National Organiser of Youth for Change (YFC), Lahiru Weerasekara was arrested by Maradana police as he was returning on his bike from a peaceful protest at Galle Face.

“The arbitrary arrests or harassment of activists and protesters must end and those detained for exercising their right to the freedom of peaceful assembly must be unconditionally and immediately released. President Ranil Wickremesinghe should also immediately end the use of the draconian counterterrorism law to lock up activists for long periods ” added Benedict.

The violations against protesters are part of a broader trend of attacks on civic space under the Rajapaksa administration that civil society has documented in recent years including the targeting of activists and critics, use of the notorious Prevention of Terrorism Act (PTA), surveillance, intimidation and harassment of Tamil war victims and families of the disappeared, journalists and civil society organisations, particularly in the North and East, and failure to hold officials accountable for conflict-era crimes under international law.

Sri Lanka is currently rated ‘obstructed’ by the CIVICUS Monitor. There are a total of 42 countries in the world with this rating. This rating is typically given to countries where civic space is heavily contested by power holders, who impose a combination of legal and practical constraints on the full enjoyment of fundamental rights.

UN Calls for a Global Ban on Mercury Trade

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A UN expert today urged States to address human rights violations related to the use of mercury in small-scale gold mining and protect the environment by prohibiting its trade and use in such mining.

“In most parts of the world where mercury is used in small-scale gold mining, the human rights of miners, their families and communities, often living in abject poverty, are increasingly threatened by mercury contamination,” said Marcos Orellana, UN Special Rapporteur on toxics and human rights in a report presented to the Human Rights Council.

The expert said indigenous peoples are particularly affected by the destruction and pollution of their territories, deforestation, loss of biodiversity and contamination of their food sources. Children are also disproportionately impacted by the dangerous work in the mines, sexual exploitation, and slavery-like conditions.

Mercury is a highly toxic liquid metal that accumulates to dangerous levels in the food chain. Consumption of contaminated fish can cause neurological and behavioural disorders. Mercury can also pass through the placenta, increasing fetal risk of malformation and IQ loss. Mercury is persistent, generating contaminated sites for decades and centuries and affecting future generations.

“The use of mercury for small-scale gold mining is the main source of mercury pollution globally. The mercury trade is driven by the insatiable demand for gold in the financial and jewellery markets. Refineries purchase gold without adequate due diligence mechanisms to address human rights abuses,” Orellana said.

The Minamata Convention on Mercury is a robust agreement which aims to protect human health and the environment from emissions and releases of mercury.

Orellana said that despite its strengths, the Convention had shortcomings that limit its effectiveness in reducing and eliminating mercury use in small-scale gold mining. Thus, mercury releases and emissions from the small-scale gold mining sector have continued to increase, affecting the rights of vulnerable individuals, groups and peoples.

“In order to more effectively combat human rights violations related to the use of mercury in small-scale gold mining and protect the environment, States and the Convention should prohibit the use and trade of mercury in such mining. This will be an essential step towards strengthening other elements of the Convention and making them more effective,” the expert said.

Our Military Plan will Not Adjust – Putin

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In conclusion of his visit to Uzbekistan, Vladimir Putin answered journalists’ questions. Following excerpts adapted from the press release published by Kremlin

Question: Now that the SCO summit is over, summing it up, can you tell us how you regard the SCO’s development prospects and what the most important thing is for Russia in the SCO?

Vladimir Putin: The most important thing always and everywhere is economic development. And the SCO, cooperation with the SCO countries, creates conditions for the development of the Russian economy, and thus for the social sphere and for resolving the tasks related to improving the living standards of our citizens.

The Shanghai Cooperation Organisation includes countries whose population, as has been said many times, comprises almost or even slightly more than half of humanity. It is 25 percent of world GDP. And, most importantly, the national economies in the region, those of the SCO member states, are developing much faster than others in the world.

Now we had a separate meeting. I sat next to the Prime Minister of India at the working dinner. India’s GDP grew by 7 percent, China’s by more than 5 percent. China was in the lead for quite a time and its potential is tremendous. Our trade with these countries is growing fast. If these rates are preserved, and they are bound to be for many objective reasons, we will be one of these countries, next to them, ensuring our interests. This is what we are doing and this is the main point.

Question: This question is certainly worrying very many people in our country. People have already developed certain concerns over the course of the special military operation in Ukraine. We are increasingly seeing strikes, raids and acts of terror even on Russian territory. We are hearing all the time very aggressive statements that the final goal of Kiev and the West is Russia’s disintegration. Meanwhile, many think that Russia’s response to all of this is very restrained. Why is that?

Vladimir Putin: There is nothing new about this. Frankly, I find it even a bit strange to hear your question because Western countries have cultivated the idea of the collapse of the Soviet Union and historical Russia and Russia as such, its nucleus.

I have already cited these statements and studies by some figures in Great Britain during World War I and after it. I cited excerpts from Mr Brzezinski’s writings in which he divided the entire territory of our country into specific parts. True, later he changed his position a bit in the belief that it was better to keep Russia in opposition to China and use it as a tool to combat China. It will never happen. Let them address their own challenges as they see fit. But we are seeing how they are handling them and, most likely, they are doing harm to themselves in the process. Their tools are no good.

But they have always been seeking the dissolution of our country – this is very true. It is unfortunate that at some point they decided to use Ukraine for these purposes. In effect – I am answering your question now and the conclusion suggests itself – we launched our special military operation to prevent events from taking this turn. This is what some US-led Western countries have always been seeking – to create an anti-Russia enclave and rock the boat, threaten Russia from this direction. In essence, our main goal is to prevent such developments.

With regard to our restrained response, I would not say it was restrained, even though, after all, a special military operation is not just another warning, but a military operation. In the course of this, we are seeing attempts to perpetrate terrorist attacks and damage our civilian infrastructure.

Indeed, we were quite restrained in our response, but that will not last forever. Recently, Russian Armed Forces delivered a couple of sensitive blows to that area. Let’s call them warning shots. If the situation continues like that, our response will be more impactful

Terrorist attacks are a serious matter. In fact, it is about using terrorist methods. We see this in the killing of officials in the liberated territories, we even see attempts at perpetrating terrorist attacks in the Russian Federation, including – I am not sure if this was made public – attempts to carry out terrorist attacks near our nuclear facilities, nuclear power plants in the Russian Federation. I am not even talking about the Zaporozhye Nuclear Power Plant.

We are monitoring the situation and will do our best to prevent a negative scenario from unfolding. We will respond if they fail to realise that these approaches are unacceptable. They are, in fact, no different than terrorist attacks.

Question: Kiev recently published draft security guarantees for Ukraine. What can you tell us about this, and what is your assessment of this project?

Vladimir Putin: Frankly, I am not familiar with what they have come up with this time. We, in fact, started with this when we were negotiating with the incumbent Kiev authorities and, in fact, completed this negotiating process in Istanbul with the well-known Istanbul agreement, after which we withdrew our troops from Kiev in order to create the proper conditions for concluding this agreement. Instead of concluding an agreement, Kiev immediately turned down all agreements, shoved them into a box and said they would not seek any agreement with Russia, but instead would pursue victory on the battlefield. Let them try. They are just now trying to do this with the counteroffensive. Let’s see how it ends.

As for security guarantees, and these were fairly tough security guarantees, they were required from our side, from the main NATO countries and regional states, including Turkiye. Overall, we agreed with this – to a large extent. There were some things that required minor adjustments but overall we agreed and these were quite serious requirements. However, the Kiev authorities shelved them.

What have they come up with? I don’t know because they change their position on every issue almost every day. I must have a look.

I would like to recall in this connection that before the start of the special military operation, we talked about security principles and measures on ensuring the security of Russia itself but nobody deemed it necessary to respond to this. Unfortunately.

Q: Could you please share your opinion on the course of the special military operation? Is it necessary to adjust the plan?

Vladimir Putin: No, the plan will not be adjusted. The General Staff takes real-time decisions in the course of the operation and some are considered a key, the main goal. The main goal is to liberate the entire territory of Donbass.

This work continues despite the attempts of the Ukrainian army to launch a counter-offensive. We are not stopping our offensive operations in Donbass itself. They continue. They continue at a slow pace but consistently and gradually, the Russian army is taking more and more new territory.

I must emphasise that we are fighting not with a full army but only with part, with contracted forces. But, of course, this is linked with certain personnel parameters and so on. This is why we are not in a rush in this respect. But essentially, there have been no changes. The General Staff considers some objectives important and others secondary but the main task remains the same and it is being carried out.

Question: Did President of Turkiye Erdogan make proposals on your meeting with Zelensky at this meeting?

Vladimir Putin: He always suggests meeting with Zelensky. He has been doing this for a long time and there is nothing bad about it. The President of Turkiye is making a substantial contribution to normalising the situation, including resolution of the food problem. The export of Ukrainian grain via Odessa is largely the result of his work. So, he is really making a tangible contribution to resolving a number of serious issues that are arising in connection with this crisis. And, of course, it is only natural that he also suggests meeting with President Zelensky, thinking that it may produce some positive result. He did not raise it at this meeting.

Question: On what conditions could there be dialogue with Ukraine now, if it is possible at all?

Vladimir Putin: But they refuse. The first condition is that they agree to it. But they do not want it. Mr Zelensky has publicly announced – I do not know where exactly, but he said it publicly – that he is not ready and does not want to talk to Russia. Well, if he is not ready, fine.

Click here to read the rest of this press interaction

Threats to privacy growing – UN

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People’s right to privacy is coming under ever greater pressure from the use of modern networked digital technologies whose features make them formidable tools for surveillance, control and oppression, a new UN report has warned. This makes it all the more essential that these technologies are reined in by effective regulation based on international human rights law and standards.

The report – the latest on privacy in the digital age by the UN HumPeople’s right to privacy is coming under ever greater pressure from the use of modern networked digital technologies whose features make them formidable tools for surveillance, control and oppression, a new UN report has warned. This makes it all the more essential that these technologies are reined in by effective regulation based on international human rights law and standards.

The report – the latest on privacy in the digital age by the UN Human Rights Office – looks at three key areas: the abuse of intrusive hacking tools (“spyware”) by State  authorities; the key role of robust encryption methods in protecting human rights online; and the impacts of widespread digital monitoring of public spaces, both offline and online. 

The report details how surveillance tools such as the “Pegasus” software can turn most smartphones into “24-hour surveillance devices”, allowing the “intruder” access not only to everything on our mobiles but also weaponizing them to spy on our lives.

“While purportedly being deployed for combating terrorism and crime, such spyware tools have often been used for illegitimate reasons, including to clamp down on critical or dissenting views and on those who express them, including journalists, opposition political figures and human rights defenders,” the report states.

Urgent steps are needed to address the spread of spyware, the report flags, reiterating the call for a moratorium on the use and sale of hacking tools until adequate safeguards to protect human rights are in place. Authorities should only electronically intrude on a personal device as a last resort “to prevent or investigate a specific act amounting to a serious threat to national security or a specific serious crime,” it says.

Encryption is a key enabler of privacy and human rights in the digital space, yet it is being undermined. The report calls on States to avoid taking steps that could weaken encryption, including mandating so-called backdoors that give access to people’s encrypted data or employing systematic screening of people’s devices, known as client-side scanning.

The report also raises the alarm about the growing surveillance of public spaces. Previous practical limitations on the scope of surveillance have been swept away by large-scale automated collection and analysis of data, as well as new digitized identity systems and extensive biometric databases that greatly facilitate the breadth of such surveillance measures.

New technologies have also enabled the systematic monitoring of what people are saying online, including through collecting and analysing social media posts.

Governments often fail to adequately inform the public about their surveillance activities, and even where surveillance tools are initially rolled out for legitimate goals, they can easily be repurposed, often serving ends for which they were not originally intended. 

The report emphasises that States should limit public surveillance measures to those “strictly necessary and proportionate”, focused on specific locations and time. The duration of data storage should similarly be limited. There is also an immediate need to restrict the use of biometric recognition systems in public spaces.

All States should also act immediately to put in place robust export control regimes for surveillance technologies that pose serious risks to human rights. They should also ensure human rights impact assessments are carried out that take into account what the technologies in question are capable of, as well as the situation in the recipient country.

“Digital technologies bring enormous benefits to societies. But pervasive surveillance comes at a high cost, undermining rights and choking the development of vibrant, pluralistic democracies,” said Acting High Commissioner for Human Rights Nada Al-Nashif.

“In short, the right to privacy is more at risk than ever before,” she stressed. “This is why action is needed and needed now.” an Rights Office* – looks at three key areas: the abuse of intrusive hacking tools (“spyware”) by State  authorities; the key role of robust encryption methods in protecting human rights online; and the impacts of widespread digital monitoring of public spaces, both offline and online. 

The report details how surveillance tools such as the “Pegasus” software can turn most smartphones into “24-hour surveillance devices”, allowing the “intruder” access not only to everything on our mobiles but also weaponizing them to spy on our lives.

“While purportedly being deployed for combating terrorism and crime, such spyware tools have often been used for illegitimate reasons, including to clamp down on critical or dissenting views and on those who express them, including journalists, opposition political figures and human rights defenders,” the report states.

Urgent steps are needed to address the spread of spyware, the report flags, reiterating the call for a moratorium on the use and sale of hacking tools until adequate safeguards to protect human rights are in place. Authorities should only electronically intrude on a personal device as a last resort “to prevent or investigate a specific act amounting to a serious threat to national security or a specific serious crime,” it says.

Encryption is a key enabler of privacy and human rights in the digital space, yet it is being undermined. The report calls on States to avoid taking steps that could weaken encryption, including mandating so-called backdoors that give access to people’s encrypted data or employing systematic screening of people’s devices, known as client-side scanning.

The report also raises the alarm about the growing surveillance of public spaces. Previous practical limitations on the scope of surveillance have been swept away by large-scale automated collection and analysis of data, as well as new digitized identity systems and extensive biometric databases that greatly facilitate the breadth of such surveillance measures.

New technologies have also enabled the systematic monitoring of what people are saying online, including through collecting and analysing social media posts.

Governments often fail to adequately inform the public about their surveillance activities, and even where surveillance tools are initially rolled out for legitimate goals, they can easily be repurposed, often serving ends for which they were not originally intended. 

The report emphasises that States should limit public surveillance measures to those “strictly necessary and proportionate”, focused on specific locations and time. The duration of data storage should similarly be limited. There is also an immediate need to restrict the use of biometric recognition systems in public spaces.

All States should also act immediately to put in place robust export control regimes for surveillance technologies that pose serious risks to human rights. They should also ensure human rights impact assessments are carried out that take into account what the technologies in question are capable of, as well as the situation in the recipient country.

“Digital technologies bring enormous benefits to societies. But pervasive surveillance comes at a high cost, undermining rights and choking the development of vibrant, pluralistic democracies,” said Acting High Commissioner for Human Rights Nada Al-Nashif.

“In short, the right to privacy is more at risk than ever before,” she stressed. “This is why action is needed and needed now.”

Source: UN News

Assam: Emerging Epicenter of Islamist Extremism?

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There are few noted arrests were made by police to nullify multiple ABT (Ansar al-Islam/Ansarullah Bangla Team)-linked/inspired modules, spread across Dhubri, Barpeta, Bongaigaon, Goalpara, Morigaon, Kamrup (Metropolitan) and Nagaon Districts, which have come to focus since March 2022. On March 4, 2022, the Assam Police arrested five ABT cadres including Saiful Islam aka Haroon Rashid, a Bangladeshi national, from Barpeta.

The National Investigation Agency (NIA) took over Saiful Islam’s case on March 22, 2022. According to the NIA First Information Report, there is an active module of ABT in Barpeta District, led by Saiful Islam, who entered India illegally and was engaged as an Arabic Teacher at the Dhakaliapara Masjid. Saiful Islam was active in motivating impressionable youth/men to join jihadi outfits and to work in modules, Ansars (sleeper cells), to create a base for Al-Qaeda and its manifestations in India. The other members of the module were Khairul Islam, Badshah Suleiman Khan, Noushad Ali and Taimur Rahman Khan. All the accused persons were involved in the commission of various offences, including conspiracy, waging war against the state, harbouring, and collecting funds for committing unlawful and terrorist acts.

According to partial data compiled by the South Asia Terrorism Portal (SATP), at least 30 ABT-linked extremists have been arrested by the Police from different Districts of the State since March 4, 2022, (till September 11, 2022).

Though details about ABT activities are still emerging, Assam Chief Minister (CM) Himanta Biswa Sarma stated on August 4, 2022, that ABT had increased its focus on Assam during the COVID-19 pandemic, when the administration and police were busy handling the crisis. He disclosed,

These people [ABT cadres] were working as preachers in mosques – as a cover job – their aim was to wage jihad against India and establish ‘shariat’ law. Several training camps were organised by these people especially during COVID-19 times. They were trained in tradecraft (techniques/technology used in modern espionage), radicalisation, indoctrination, gun training and bomb-making… They [ABT] do not use mobile calls but use chat apps to communicate. Not Telegram, but these chat apps found are unheard of. They are peer-to-peer encrypted chat apps and are more sophisticated and beyond the end-to-end chat apps.

Further, on August 28, 2022, Special Director General of Police (Law and Order) G. P. Singh noted that, “till now, we haven’t received any indication of arms training’’. When asked whether the madrasas (seminaries)-linked to ABT were registered, he asserted, “We will take action if they are not as per govt guidelines.” Earlier, on April 25, 2022, Additional Director General of Police (Special Branch) Hiren Nath added that, though “there was no formal arms training” by the ABT, they have “started indoctrination”.

Also, on September 1, 2022, a long-time observer of militancy in the Northeast, Rajeev Bhattacharya, comparing ABT with others like Jamaat-ul-Mujahideen Bangladesh (JMB), wrote, “Jamatul-ul Mujahideen Bangladesh (JMB), for instance, was structured unlike the ABT which is loosely organised and decentralized.”

There have been earlier instances of infiltration by ABT into Assam as well. The interrogation of a Bangladeshi ABT cadre, Faisal Ahmed, arrested from the Bommanahalli area of Bangalore city, Karnataka, on July 1, 2022, revealed that he had arrived in Silchar in the Cachar District of Assam in 2015. He, thereafter, made a fake voter ID card under the name, Shahid Majumdar, and also obtained an Indian passport. Importantly, Faisal Ahmed was one of the four ABT militants convicted for killing Bangladeshi blogger Ananta Bijoy Das in thr Subidbazar area of Sylhet on May 12, 2015. On March 30, 2022, the Anti-Terrorism Special Tribunal-based in Sylhet convicted and sentenced four persons, including Faisal Ahmed to death.

Meanwhile, another Bangladesh-based Islamist terrorist group, the Jamaat-ul-Mujahideen Bangladesh (JMB) continues with its efforts to extend its influence in Assam. The presence of JMB came to notice when, on October 2, 2014, Shakil Ahmed and Suvon Mandal aka Subhan, both active members of the JMB, were killed, and Abdul Hakim aka Hassan sustained injuries in an accidental explosion in a rented two-story house at Khagragarh under the Burdwan Police Station of Burdwan District, West Bengal. All three were found to be Bangladeshi citizens. A spate of arrests that followed the incident underscored the extent of the spread of the outfit.

According to the SATP database, since October 2, 2014, at least 61 JMB cadres have been arrested in Assam. The last arrest was made on July 7, 2022, when two JMB terrorists, Mokkodos Ali Ahmed and Sofiqul Islam, were arrested from Barpeta District.

The interrogation of arrested JMB militants revealed that their objective was to counter purported ‘Bodo aggression’. Between 2008 and 2014, there have been periodic clashes between Bodos and Muslims in lower Assam.  In 2008, at least 55 persons were killed in such clashes; 109 were killed in 2012 and 46 in 2014.

Before the advent of these Bangladesh-based jihadi groups, several Islamist extremist formations existed in Assam. The then Parliamentary Affairs Minister Rockybul Hussain informed the State Assembly on December 15, 2014, that between January 2001 to November 2014, a total of 130 Islamist extremists, including 106 Muslim United Liberation Tigers of Assam (MULTA) militants, 14 Harakat-ul-Mujahideen (HuM) militants and 10 JMB militants had been arrested in the State. Since then (December 1, 2014) another 149 Islamic extremists [including 55 JMB, 30 ABT, 26 Muslim Tiger Force of Assam (MTFA), 21 MULTA,10 Hizb-ul-Mujahedeen (HM), five Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS), one each from Muslim Liberation Army (MLA) and Peoples United Liberation Front (PULF], have been arrested in Assam.

A majority of the Islamist militant groups in Assam were founded between 1990 and 1996 with the prime objective of safeguarding the ‘overall interests’ of the minority Muslim communities in the region. These groups had the backing of Pakatan’s Inter-Services Intelligence and the then Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP)-led regime in Bangladesh. According to SATP, at least 21 Islamist terror formations have operated in Assam at different periods.

The entry of the Bangladeshi groups is partly due to the severe crackdown by the Sheikh Hasina-led Awami League government of Bangladesh that had disrupted the networks of all Islamist groups, including the JMB and ABT, forcing them underground or to seek refuge in bordering regions of Indian states like Assam, Bengal or Tripura, where the demographic composition is favorable for concealment.

Moreover, the present polarized political debates have created a perception of targeting/isolating religious minorities (especially Bengali speaking Muslims) in the state, due to recent events, including the Supreme Court monitored updating of the National Register of Citizens (NRC) 1951, followed by the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA), as well as administrative measures such as ‘anti-encroachment drives’ to free government land. The division of Muslims along ethno-linguistic lines can also be a pull factor for these jihadi groups.

The conflict in Assam is largely shaped on the discourse of identity-based politics based on insider-outsider identification, as well as claims to autochthonous status and primacy over local resources, but has gradually been transformed into a religious struggle, and a polarizing politics to consolidate electoral gains. The dominant narratives are likely to be counterproductive, rupturing social bonds and leading to destabilization.

This article is a part of SLG Syndication project. Giriraj Bhattacharjee, Research Associate, Institute for Conflict Management in Delhi wrote this for South Asia Terrorism Portal, where this piece first appeared. Click here to read the complete article.

Sri Lanka wins Asia Cup, Beats Pakistan by 23 runs in Dubai

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Yes, it was another chasing side winning in Dubai, the venue now having seen 17 victories for chasing sides in the last 20 T20Is. But this time, Sri Lanka’s bowlers had arguably put the legwork in for the victory, before the second innings could even begin.

Pakistan’s innings could never quite achieve lift-off, and when the middle overs came, Wanindu Hasaranga put in his first big performance of the tournament, taking 3 for 21. After his strikes, Pakistan’s horizons contracted substantially, despite the best efforts of Mohammad Nawaz, who seemed to be striking well in the 26 he made off 18, before he was run out. Eventually, Pakistan succumbed to 121.

Sri Lanka were rattled by Pakistan’s pace in the powerplay, slipping to 29 for 3 at one stage. But so modest was the target, they could afford to take it slow. Pathum Nissanka anchored the chase, hitting an unbeaten 55 off 48. Thanks to less substantial but more aggressive innings from Bhanuka Rajapaksa and Dasun Shanaka, Sri Lanka ambled home with 18 balls and five wickets to spare.

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Power Announces More Humanitarian Aids to Sri Lanka

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Today in Sri Lanka, Administrator Samantha Power announced an additional $20 million in humanitarian assistance to support Sri Lankans during the complex emergency that has resulted in a severe economic crisis leaving 5.7 million people in urgent need of food, agriculture, livelihood support, protection, and more, the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) said in a press communique.

“The United States is committed to getting the Sri Lankan people the critical humanitarian assistance they need to weather this crisis. We will continue to support the economy, which includes the resilience of small businesses, help strengthen institutions and civil society, and ensure that the most vulnerable have access to services,” it added.

The press communique further reads as follows;

The United States Agency for International Development (USAID) will invest the additional funds to provide emergency food and nutrition support to those most in need. This brings USAID’s total assistance to nearly $92 million since June to support the Sri Lankan people through this crisis. Our contributions provide meals for approximately 1.1 million school children for 60 days and ensure that impoverished lactating mothers receive the nutritious food they need, equip farmers with agricultural assistance and cash in order to increase food production in vulnerable communities, distribute cash assistance to enable hundreds of thousands of crisis-affected people to immediately meet their basic needs, and support public financial management reforms to facilitate Sri Lanka’s emergence from debt. Our humanitarian programming will also support disaster risk reduction, shelter, and agriculture and livelihood activities, including providing agricultural inputs to Sri Lankan farmers to strengthen the ability of vulnerable communities to prepare for and withstand impacts of the complex emergency and other potential new disaster shocks.

The two announcements made in Sri Lanka this weekend brings the total U.S. government assistance to Sri Lanka to nearly $240 million. On top of the USAID total contribution of $92 million, there is also $120 million from the U.S. Development Finance Corporation that will bolster the Sri Lankan economy, especially small and medium-sized enterprises and $27 million in grant technical assistance through the U.S. Department of Agriculture, which supports food security and economic growth by helping participating Sri Lankan dairy farmers double their milk production. This humanitarian and technical assistance is in addition to USAID’s ongoing development assistance in partnership with the government, the private sector, civil society, and the people of Sri Lanka.

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