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    Sri Lanka Economic Crisis Requires ‘Immediate Global Attention’, Warn Rights Experts

    GovernanceAccountabilitySri Lanka Economic Crisis Requires ‘Immediate Global Attention’, Warn...
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    Sri Lanka Economic Crisis Requires ‘Immediate Global Attention’, Warn Rights Experts

    Sri Lankans are struggling to meet their food and nutrition needs in the face shortages and higher prices for food and fuel. The country has come to a standstill and inflation is rising and people are losing jobs.

    Expressing alarm about record high inflation, rising commodity prices, power shortages, crippling fuel crisis and the economic collapse in Sri Lanka, a group of UN human rights experts appealed to the international community on Wednesday for greater support the country as it grapples with economic crisis and political turmoil.

    The nine experts expressed alarm over record high inflation, rising commodity prices, power shortages, a crippling fuel crisis and economic collapse, as the country grapples with unprecedented political turmoil.

    This crisis has had a serious impact on the enjoyment of human rights for the entire population, the experts say.

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    “Sri Lanka’s economic collapse needs immediate global attention, not just from humanitarian agencies, but from international financial institutions, private lenders and other countries who must come to the country’s aid,” they said in statement.

    Prolonged crisis

    On Wednesday, lawmakers elected six-time Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe as Sri Lanka’s new President.

    Former leader Gotabaya Rajapaksa stepped down last week after fleeing the country as protestors stormed key government buildings in the capital, Colombo.

    Again, a new leadership with Ranil Wickremesinghe at the helm has been elected by the Parliament today.

    Sri Lanka has been rocked by mass protests which erupted in March in response to shortages of food, fuel, medicines, and other essential items.

    The situation was compounded by economic reforms such as deep tax cuts and servicing debt payments, which ate into the country’s foreign exchange reserves.

    Mass protests broke out in March following heavy shortages of food, fuel, medicines, and other essential items compounded by a series of ill-conceived economic reforms like tax cuts and servicing debt payments that ate into the country’s forex reserves. Prolonged disrupted access to food and healthcare has severely affected people with illnesses, pregnant women and lactating mothers who are in serious need of life-assistance.

    Structural gaps exposed

    The crisis has had a serious impact on human rights, the experts said.  Prolonged disrupted access to food and healthcare, has severely affected people with illnesses, pregnant women and lactating mothers who are in serious need of life-assistance.

    “Time and again, we have seen the grave systemic repercussions a debt crisis has had on countries, exposing deep structural gaps of the global financial system, and affecting the implementation of human rights,” said Attiya Waris, UN independent expert on foreign debt and human rights.

    As foreign reserves dried up, unable to make interest payments on the loans, the country defaulted on the debt of USD 51 billion in May 2022. After suspending all debt payments, the government took steps to restructure the country’s debt with the International Monetary Fund (IMF). In June, IMF staff noted that significant progress had been made on the staff level arrangement on the Extended Fund Facility.

    “Any response towards mitigating the economic crisis should have human rights at its core, including in the context of negotiation with the IMF”, Waris said.

    In April, UN experts urged the government to guarantee the fundamental rights of peaceful assembly and expression during peaceful protests, as thousands gathered in front of the President’s office demanding his resignation over corruption and mishandling of the economic crisis.

    UN human rights chief Michelle Bachelet condemned the violence that broke out across the country, resulting in at least seven deaths.

    Human rights approach

    As foreign reserves dried up, Sri Lanka defaulted on its $51 billion foreign debt in May.  The government took steps to restructure the debt with the International Monetary Fund (IMF), which in June noted that significant progress had been made.

    “Any response towards mitigating the economic crisis should have human rights at its core, including in the context of negotiation with the IMF,” said Ms. Waris.

    The issue of Sri Lanka’s rising institutional debt had been flagged in a report issued following an expert visit in 2019.

    The report found that debt repayments were the country’s largest expenditure, and highlighted the need for complementary alternatives and pursuit of less harmful policies.

    Inflation hit a record high of 54.6 per cent this month, while food inflation rose to 81 per cent.

    The experts said the “snowballing economic and debt crisis” was deepened by the government’s hasty and botched agricultural transition, adding that the World Food Programme (WFP) has launched an emergency response as nearly 62,000 citizens are in need of urgent assistance.

    The experts who issued the statement receive their mandates from the UN Human Rights Council (OHCHR), which is based in Geneva. They operate in their individual capacity and are neither UN staff, nor are they paid for their work, the UN rights body said.

     

    Image: Josh Estey / WFP

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