Sri Lanka on Tuesday rejected a charge by the UN rights body that the military may expand its role in civilian functions, saying there is no militarisation in the island nation and the government’s move was aimed at ensuring food security amid soaring inflation. Giving an oral update on Lanka’s human rights situation in Geneva, the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet on Monday expressed concern on the state of economic emergency declared in Sri Lanka amid deepening recession.
“A new state of emergency was declared in Sri Lanka on August 30, with the stated aim of ensuring food security and price controls, amid deepening recession. The emergency regulations are very broad and may further expand the role of the military in civilian functions,” she said.
Bachelet said that her office will be closely monitoring the application of the new laws by the Sri Lankan government.
Reacting to the comments, government spokesman and Information Minister Dulles Alahapperuma said, “there is no militarisation which we know in practical terms. What the government did was to amend just two clauses in the emergency regulations to ensure food security. Alahapperuma said there will be a limited role for the military in the issue of food security, while the defence forces had successfully handled the vaccination programme of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Bachelet’s comments came as Sri Lankan President Gotabaya Rajapaksa on August 31 declared an economic emergency to contain soaring inflation after a steep fall in the value of the country’s currency caused a spike in food prices. The action is aimed at preventing hoarding of essential items.
The government has appointed a former Sri Lankan Army general as commissioner of essential services, who will have the power to seize food stocks held by traders and retailers and regulate their prices.
The military will oversee the action which gives power to officials to ensure that essential items, including rice and sugar, are sold at government-guaranteed prices or prices based on import costs at customs and prevent hiding of stocks. The government, at the time of enactment of the new food security law under the charge of a retired military officer, had said it was aimed at giving relief to the public by preventing hoarding by some traders.
The emergency move followed sharp price rises for sugar, rice, onions and potatoes, while long queues have formed outside stores because of shortages of milk powder, kerosene oil and cooking gas. The wide-ranging measure is also aimed at recovering credit owed to state banks by importers.
In recent weeks, the prices of most essential goods have been skyrocketing due to the falling local currency and high global market prices driven by the COVID-19 pandemic. The government blames traders for hoarding.
The Sri Lankan rupee has fallen by 7.5 per cent against the US dollar this year. The Central Bank of Sri Lanka recently increased interest rates in a bid to shore up the local currency. The UNHRC’s 48th session got underway on Monday with Sri Lanka on its agenda. Bachelet was presenting an update on her annual report, while the general debate on her update is due to start on Tuesday and will conclude on Wednesday.