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Sri Lanka: HRW Urges China, Japan, India To Assist In Debt Restructuring

Human Rights Watch (HRW) has urged Sri Lanka's major foreign creditors, including China, Japan and India to assist in debt restructuring

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Human Rights Watch (HRW) urged Sri Lanka's major foreign creditors, including China, Japan and India to help restructure debts and urgently mitigate the country's worst-ever economic crisis's adverse human rights impacts.

According to a report by South Asia Director Meenakshi Ganguly, the New York-based human rights organisation.

According to the watchdog, international creditors should agree to restructure Sri Lanka's debt for the country to receive final approval for an International Monetary Fund (IMF) loan and financing from other global institutions to stabilise the economy.

“Sri Lankan economists fear that if foreign creditors do not intervene, the economic situation will deteriorate rapidly, putting the basic needs of millions of people in jeopardy,” the report said.

The Human Rights Watch reiterated that the IMF should use its procedures to make necessary funds available. As soon as possible, safeguards must be implemented to protect people's economic and social rights.

Sri Lanka defaulted on more than USD 50 billion in international creditors' debts in April and in September, it reached a staff-level agreement with the IMF for a four-year, USD 2.9 billion bailout.

The first tranche of that bailout would alleviate the crippling foreign exchange shortage and open the door to other funding sources, including the World Bank and the Asian Development Bank, which cannot provide new funds until the IMF agreement is completed.

The report, titled “Sri Lanka on the Verge of a Humanitarian Crisis-Financial Partners Should Support Basic Needs and Promote Respect for Rights,” said that the United Nations renewed a humanitarian appeal this month, stating that 28 per cent of the population faces food insecurity and that the poverty rate has more than doubled this year.

“Food price inflation exceeded 85 per cent in October and acute foreign currency shortages mean that many imports, including essential medicines, are scarce or unavailable,” according to the report. 

The international pressure group also emphasised that the administration of President Ramil Wickremesinghe should respect fundamental rights, including the right to peaceful protest.

“President Ranil Wickremesinghe has suppressed protests and detained student activists under the infamous Prevention of Terrorism Act (PTA). Wickremesinghe has even threatened to declare a state of emergency and deploy security forces if major protests occur,” the HRW said. 

According to the report, without respect for human rights, including the right to peaceful protest, Sri Lankans will be unable to hold politicians accountable for mismanagement or corruption. It is critical that Sri Lanka's international partners, including the United States and the European Union, press the government to meet its human rights obligations as a first step toward resolving the crisis.

Faced with insurmountable foreign and domestic debts, Sri Lanka is experiencing a dollar crunch and uncontrollable inflation in March, people launched island-wide street fights due to severe shortages of essentials such as food, fuel and medicine.

On 9 May, amid public outrage, powerful Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa resigned with his cabinet and on 9 July, after people forcibly took over the President's House, President Gotabaya Rajapaksa fled the country and announced his resignation from Singapore.

He also appointed Wickremesinghe, who was serving as Prime Minister at the time, as Acting President and the latter was subsequently elected President with the support of a two-thirds majority of Rajapaksa's party lawmakers in Parliament.

On Wednesday, Wickremesinghe warned that he will use military and emergency laws to crush any popular uprising to destabilise the government.

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