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Midweek Review

Advocacy of GSP+ withdrawal will adversely impact vulnerable segments of population

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By Dharshan Weerasekera,
Attorney-at-Law, Head of Department of the Legal Unit of
the Eastern Province Provincial Council

I am a citizen of Sri Lanka and a lawyer working in the Eastern Province and would like an opportunity to respond to the statement by Ms. Ambika Satkunanathan made before the Subcommittee on Human Rights. In my opinion, the statement is replete with factual errors, insinuations, innuendos, etc. If these are not promptly addressed, they could create misperceptions about Sri Lanka among members of the international community, especially the EU, with grave consequences to this country.

Ms. Satkunanathan makes three recommendations: a) the EU should use the GSP+ facility as a tool to compel the Government of Sri Lanka to address its purported human rights abuses, b) the EU should support the evidence-gathering mechanism established under UNHRC resolution 46/1, and c) support efforts to use universal jurisdiction to hold persons accountable for purported human rights violations. In this reply, I will focus on the first issue.

In my view, Ms. Satkunanathan’s recommendation for a possible withdrawal of GSP+ is unreasonable because of the following reasons. First, the fields that would be most affected by such a withdrawal would be, a) the garment industry, b) fisheries and c) agriculture. Inevitably the persons who would suffer the most would be from the most vulnerable segments of the population. In the case of the garment sector, women, who primarily work in the garment sector will be affected. In the case of fishing, mostly low-income persons especially from the Tamil community, will be affected and finally in the agricultural sector, small to medium scale farmers will be the hardest hit.

If the expected result of a withdrawal of the GSP+ facility is an improvement in the human rights situation in Sri Lanka, the question arises, “what about the right to life, work of choice, family, etc.—all rights guaranteed under the Universal Declaration of Human Rights—of the aforesaid persons and their family members?”

Second, because of the Covid-19 global pandemic, Sri Lanka’s economy has been devastated. Moreover, the Government of Sri Lanka has had to spend enormous amounts of money to import vaccines, run treatment centres, etc. In these circumstances, to deprive this country of GSP+ which is one of the few remaining ways in which the country can earn foreign exchange, would be akin to kicking a fallen person when they are down. It would also arguably be contrary to EU law and more importantly, the principles of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, Article 30 which states:

“Nothing in this Declaration may be interpreted as implying for any State, group of person any right to engage in any activity or to perform any act aimed at the destruction of any of the rights and freedoms set forth herein.” (Article 30, Universal Declaration of Human Rights)

I next turn to Ms. Satkunanathan’s specific allegations. To the best of my knowledge, they fall into five categories: i) purported entrenching of impunity, ii) the majoritarian nature of the Sri Lankan state and its consequences, iii) shrinking of civic space, iv) extrajudicial killings and arrests under the pretext of the “war on drug” and v) exploiting inter-state rivalry to undermine the efforts of states that call for accountability. I will address each of them in turn.

i) Purported entrenching of impunity

Ms. Satkunanathan’s argument is that the failure of the Government of Sri Lanka to deal with accountability for purported war time abuses has entrenched a culture of impunity. The flaw in this argument is that, there are serious questions over the veracity of the evidence in the UNHRC-related reports (the only ones of any relevance for the international community) that level these allegations.

For instance, in regard to purported violations of humanitarian law, two reports are relevant—the Secretary-General’s Panel of Experts on Accountability in Sri Lanka (2011) and the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights Investigation on Sri Lanka (2015). Both reports allege that “system crimes” were committed during the relevant period. However, there are two domestic reports—the Lessons Learnt and reconciliation Commission (2011) and the Paranagama Commission (2015)—that state categorically that no systemic crimes occurred.

Sri Lanka’s position has been that the UNHRC-related reports are levelling unsubstantiated allegations. Given the principle of international law that domestic remedies must be exhausted before turning to international ones, it necessarily follows that the international community cannot unilaterally or uncritically endorse the position of the UNHRC-reports without first showing that the conclusions of the domestic mechanisms are wrong. To my knowledge, there has been no such report. Therefore, it is unreasonable for the EU to even entertain the prospect of taking unilateral action on Sri Lanka in regard to the issue of humanitarian law violations.

Furthermore, there is at present a Presidential Commission of Inquiry mandated specifically to review the findings and recommendations of the previous Presidential Commissions particularly the LLRC and the Paranagama Commissions, and report on the progress or lack thereof in implementing the recommendations of those Commissions. The new Commission is headed by Justice Nawaz a sitting member of the Sri Lanka Supreme Court and his final report is expected in February 2022. In these circumstances, hasty conclusions by the EU Parliament about the issue of accountability would be unjustified at least until the findings of the said report are known and also discussed and debated in international forums, including the UNHRC.

On purported violations of human rights law, to the best of my knowledge the GOSL has been actively engaging the international community including the UNHRC’s Universal Period Review and Special Procedures to address the various concerns that have been raised. This includes the allegations of systematic torture. To my knowledge, there is no report or finding to date by the EU Parliament that Sri Lanka’s efforts at such engagement are inadequate. In these circumstances, to take unilateral action against Sri Lanka based on the statements of private persons or groups with their own agendas in respect of Sri Lanka is unreasonable.

ii) Purported majoritarian nature of the state,

Ms. Satkunanathan’ s argument is that, given the “majoritarian nature” of the Sri Lankan state, the minorities are marginalised and cannot get justice. She also raises two points under this, namely, that the present government is driven by an ideology based on the two pillars of Sinhala-Buddhist nationalism and militarisation. As evidence of the dominance of Sinhala-Buddhist nationalism, she points to the Presidential Task Force on Archaeology which she accuses of being a tool for land-grabbing and changing the demographics of minority-heavy areas, and the Presidential Task Force on “One-Country One Law” which she accuses of stoking ethnic hatred and violence.

The flaw in Ms. Satkunanathan’s reasoning is that: firstly, in all democracies the voice of the majority inevitably prevails, to wish otherwise would be to wish that Sri Lanka stop being a democracy. The more pertinent question is whether, given the realities of a democratic government, do the minorities in Sri Lanka have sufficient safeguards to ensure that their rights and interests are protected? The answer is “yes.”

For instance, there are no discernible differences among the Sinhalese, Tamils and Muslims in this country in regard to relevant factors such as life-expectancy, infant mortality, average income, graduation rates from the schools and universities and so on. If there was systematic discrimination against minorities, one would expect to see such discrepancies. Meanwhile, on representation, the Sri Lankan Parliament has minority members roughly in proportion to their numbers in the general population. Meanwhile, twice in the recent past, a Tamil political party has been the official opposition in Parliament.

Finally, in the years since independence, Sri Lanka has had innumerable Deans of Universities, Solicitors General (even Attorneys General), Supreme Court Judges (even Chief Justices), Cabinet Ministers and other high officials from among the minorities. The present Justice Minister is a Muslim while the Attorney General is of Tamil descent. If there was systematic discrimination against minorities, how could these things be possible?

Second, to turn to Ms. Satkunanathan’s claims about the Task Force on Archaeology including the claim that it is a device to facilitate land-grabbing and changing the demographics in minority-heavy areas, the following facts need to be brought to the attention of the EU Parliament. It is not in dispute that, Sri Lanka has an illustrious history going back to over 2,500 years. The archaeology including epigraphy of this period is the common heritage of all Sri Lankans. Today, this history is not just a matter of national pride but a source of national wealth because of tourism, one of the prime means of income for the country.

During the 30-year civil conflict, efforts at exploring the archaeology of the Northern and Eastern provinces were almost completely halted and there is a huge lacuna in our knowledge of the sites in these areas. Also, unfortunately, there is evidence that the LTTE and other factions deliberately destroyed some of the sites in the course of establishing training camps and other things and also as a means of obliterating signs of Sinhalese presence in the relevant areas.

Meanwhile, after the conflict as displaced persons returned to the North and East, there has been an increase in unauthorised encroachment on forest areas inevitably leading to destruction of archaeological sites. So, there is an urgent need to take concrete measures in order to protect these sites. The Antiquities Ordinance, passed during British times, gives the Government wide powers to preserve and protect the archaeological heritage of the country.

To my knowledge, it is in this context that the Presidential Task Force on Archaeology was set up. It has representation from all ethnic communities and it is reasonable to suppose that if anything illegal or untoward is proposed, these representatives will point such things out if vigilant members of the public (especially those such as Ms. Satkunanathan) fail to do so sooner.

The purpose of the Task Force is to coordinate the efforts to identify the archaeological sites in the Northern and Eastern Provinces. To think of it as a pretext for land-grabbing and introducing the Sinhalese to these areas is preposterous. For one thing, the Sinhalese people do not need a Presidential Task Force on Archaeology to validate their moving into the Northern and Eastern Provinces. Those areas are part of their country. Also, during the thirty-year civil conflict, the Sinhalese as well as Muslims in these areas were driven out as part of large-scale ethnic-cleansing campaigns by the LTTE. So, these people have a natural right of return to their former homes. However, there is absolutely no evidence of a systematic effort by the government to change the demographics of any provinces in Sri Lanka.

Finally, to turn to the Presidential task Force on “One Country One Law,” it should be noted that the Commission is expected to play an advisory role only. The Commissioner’s recommendations will be first studied by the Justice Ministry, then the Cabinet of Ministers and finally the Parliament in keeping with the democratic traditions we uphold dearly. Meanwhile, the Commission has not released any report yet and one must presume that before critics condemn a Commission, they should first wait until they know what its findings are. In any event, for the EU to take unilateral action against Sri Lanka on such grounds is unreasonable.

iii) Shrinking of democratic space

Ms. Satkunanathan’s argument is that extra-legal processes are increasingly being used to curtail the activities of civil society organizations, journalists and activists. In reply, one can point out that Sri Lanka has a system of courts with a tradition that goes backto nearly two hundred years. If the State is doing anything illegal, the aggrieved parties have many opportunities to challenge such actions in the courts. For instance, they can file actions under administrative law and also fundamental rights. Ms. Satkunanathan and others who claim that there is an increase in the State’s use of extra-legal processes have to adduce cogent evidence that the aggrieved persons have pursued administrative law actions or fundamental rights actions in regard to the matters in question and what the outcome of those cases are. To my knowledge, this has not been done yet.

On the contrary, now the Government at Presidents, Ministerial and institutal level is fully engaged with the civil society and work jointly in the development of the country and maintaining peace among communities. There are regular discussions with the Civil Society Groups and CSGs are playing a very constructive role in many different ways. It is reported that, even the NGO secretariat which was functioning under the Ministry of Defence has now moved to the Foreign Ministry to give it more liberty.

iv) “War on drugs” and its purported consequences

Ms. Satkunanathan’s argument is that there is an increase in extra-judicial killings and arrests under the pretext of a “war on drugs.” However, she fails to indicate even one instance of extra judicial killings since there is none. In regard to this, she focuses on the Prevention of Terrorism Act which she accuses of having become a tool that the Government of Sri Lanka exploits in order to intimidate and harass its critics. In regard to the PTA, it should be noted that the Government of Sri Lanka is in the process of amending the Act, which is now at the final stage and the international community is being briefed on that process. Therefore, to take unilateral action against this country at this stage based on these allegations, is certainly unreasonable.

v) Purported exploiting of inter-state rivalries

Ms. Satkunanathan’s argument is that, the Government of Sri Lanka L is exploiting its friendship with China to silence other countries that wish to pursue accountability here. This claim is refuted by the simple fact that, the so-called “Core Group on Sri Lanka” whose chief members are Germany, United Kingdom and Canada continue to aggressively pursue their agenda on Sri Lanka at the UNHRC. Last March, they managed to obtain a majority of votes to pass resolution 46/1 on Sri Lanka. Clearly, Sri Lanka’s friendship with China has failed to prevent such actions which continue unabated.

Such then are the arguments that Ms. Satkunanathan uses to support her recommendation that the EU use the GSP+ facility as a tool to pressure the Government of Sri Lanka L to mend its ways in regard to purported human rights violations. In my opinion, for the EU to even consider such a request is an affront to reason and common sense not to mention the norms and customs of international law. I would be happy to provide a more detailed response including supporting documents.



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Midweek Review

Ranil takes premiership amidst BASL bid for all party-consensus

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A smiling Premier Ranil Wickremesinghe reacts to President Gotabaya Rajapaksa after receiving the premiership. Gamini Senarath, Secretary to the President looks on. Mrs Maithri Wickremesinghe was present at the brief ceremony at the President’s House, Fort last Thursday evening (pic courtesy PMD)

By Shamindra Ferdinando

Retired Supreme Court Justice Rohini Marasinghe, in her current capacity as the Chairperson of the Human Rights Commission of Sri Lanka (HRCSL), directed the police to provide adequate protection for the President and the Prime Minister while protecting the freedom of speech and assembly through necessary and proportionate measures.

Justice Marasinghe, who received the appointment in Dec, last year, would never have believed she would be compelled to issue such a statement.

The HRCSL statement, issued on April 26, 2022, over a month after the eruption of violent protests at the private residence of President Gotabaya Rajapaksa, at Pengiriwatta, Mirihana, that lasted for several hours, didn’t name the President and the Prime Minister.

Mahinda Rajapaksa quit Temple Trees on May 10, less than 24 hours after he announced his resignation, in the wake of unprovoked violence directed at those demanding the resignation of both the President and the Prime Minister and the so-called peaceful protesters who lay siege to his official residence Temple Trees virtually making, him a prisoner therein.

The first protest, targeting President Rajapaksa, was held at Pangiriwatte, Mirihana, on March 31, 2022. What began as a peaceful protest in the vicinity, quickly turned violent after the crowds made attempts to advance towards the President’s private home. The deployment of the Army, in support of the beleaguered police, failed to bring the situation under control.

Protesters set ablaze several vehicles, including two buses that brought Police and Army reinforcements to the scene of the unprecedented confrontation. Therefore, it would be pertinent to discuss the circumstances, Justice Marasinghe called for sufficient protection for President Gotabaya Rajapaksa and Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa, over two weeks after the launch of the protest campaign, in front of the Presidential Secretariat, on April 09, 2022.

Perhaps, the HRCSL should have also advised the Army, as well as the Special Task Force (STF), regarding adequate protection for the President and the Prime Minister. The Army and the STF play an integral role in the protection of key leaders. The HRCSL cannot be unaware of the involvement of the Army and the STF in the protection of the President and the Prime Minister.

Justice Marasinghe called for ‘necessary and proportionate measures’ to meet the threat on the two leaders as those who had been demanding their resignation stepped up the campaign.

The HRCSL consists of five Commissioners, namely Justice Rohini Marasinghe (Chairperson), Venerable Kalupahana Piyarathana Thera, Dr. M.H. Nimal Karunasiri, Dr. Vijitha Nanayakkara and Ms. Anusuya Shanmuganathan. The President constituted the HRCSL in terms of the 20th Amendment to the Constitution in Dec. 2020. Justice Marasinghe and Ven. Kalupahana Piyarathana Thera were brought in Dec. 2021 in the wake of the resignation of HRCSL Chairman Jagath Balasuriya and NGO, guru Harsha Kumara Navaratne taking up the post of Sri Lanka High Commissioner to Canada.

Did HRCSL make an assessment before Justice Marasinghe issued instructions to the police? The HRCSL intervened in the wake of the erection of a new protest site, opposite Temple Trees, as the government struggled to cope up with an unprecedented political-economic-social crisis that brought the ruling Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna (SLPP) to its knees.

The writer, over the last weekend, sought a clarification from Justice Marasinghe. The HRCSL Chief said that instructions were issued as access to the residences of the President and the Prime Minister had been blocked. The HRCSL was also informed of possible threats to their lives, Justice Marasinghe said, adding that the issue at hand should be examined on the basis of equal protection of the law.

In spite of HRCSL’s instructions, the police, and at least an influential section of the SLPP government, appeared to have been caught napping. Was it due to the fear of the wrath of the HRCSL or they being under the so-called international community spotlight? In fact, the law enforcement authorities had contributed to the rapid deterioration of the situation to such an extent that mobs took control of roads. Had the police top brass realized the gravity of the situation, in the first week of May, they would have definitely advised the then Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa not to summon several hundreds of his supporters to Temple Trees. The failure on the part of the police to advise the ousted Premier was nothing but a monumental blunder.

In fact, the police appeared to have been part of a political project meant to dismantle those who had been protesting against the government, while laying siege to both Temple Trees and the Presidential Secretariat. The operation was meant to regain control. Therefore, a primary objective was to silence those who had been asking Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa to step down.

President Gotabaya Rajapaksa, too, has been of that view, in the wake of about one-third of the SLPP parliamentary group demanding Premier Rajapaksa’s resignation to pave the way for an all-party interim administration.

PM, family take refuge in SLN base

Just two weeks after HRCSL asked the police to ensure protection of the President and the Prime Minister through ‘necessary and proportionate measures’ the latter had to move out of Temple Trees, under heavy security escort. President Gotabaya Rajapaksa had to authorize the deployment of SLAF assets to evacuate the ex-Prime Minister and some members of the family. They took refuge at the strategic Eastern Naval Command premises, Trincomalee.

By then, Yoshitha Rajapaksa, the ousted PM’s second son and Chief of Staff and his wife, Nitheesha Jayasekera, had left the country. Interestingly, Yoshitha left for Singapore at 12.50 am on May 09 on Singapore Airlines flight SQ 469 several hours before SLPP activists started arriving at Temple Trees.

Yoshitha Rajapaksa couldn’t have been unaware of the meticulous plans underway to bring in hundreds of supporters from all parts of the country to Temple Trees where the Prime Minister was to address them. Those who believed Premier Mahinda Rajapaksa was to announce his resignation were proved wrong. Instead, lawmaker Johnston Fernando and the then Premier Rajapaksa created an environment conducive for an ‘operation’ to evict those who had been protesting against the Prime Minister and the President. The operation boomeranged. The end result was the Prime Minister having to take refuge in the Trincomalee Navy base.

Two days later, the Fort Magistrate’s Court issued a travel ban on Mahinda Rajapaksa, MP Namal Rajapaksa and 16 others. They are Pavithra Wanniarachchi, Johnston Fernando, Sanjeewa Edirimanne, Rohitha Abeygunawardena, C.B. Ratnayake, Sanath Nishantha, Kanchana Jayaratne (Pavitra Wanniarachchi’s husband), Sampath Athukorala, Mahinda Kahandagama, Renuka Perera, Nishantha Abeysinghe, Amitha Abeywickrama, Pushpalal Kumarasinghe, Dilip Fernando and Senior DIG Deshabandu Tennakoon. The Senior DIG had been present at the time, SLPP goons broke through the police line, near the Galle Face hotel, to demolish the Galle Face protest camp.

The Magistrate also imposed a travel ban on seven others who had been wounded during the violence on the fateful Monday or were eye-witnesses to the attacks.

President of the Colombo High Court Lawyers’ Association Lakshman Perera told the writer that the Attorney General‘s Department moved the Fort Magistrate’s court amidst preparations made by his outfit to move the court. Speaking on behalf of the Association, Perera underscored the pivotal importance of ensuring the safety and security of all, regardless of whatever the accusations directed at them.

For how long would the ex-Premier have to live under the protection of the Navy? In response to media queries, Defence Secretary retired General Kamal Gunaratne told a hastily arranged press conference, at the Battaramulla Defence Complex, that as a former head of State Mahinda Rajapaksa was entitled to required security. When would the ex-PM be able to move freely as protests demanding President Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s resignation continue amidst traffic disruptions on main roads, especially over shortage of cooking gas? The situation remains extremely dicey.

Politically-motivated mobs destroyed many properties belonging to the Rajapaksa family. Mobs set ablaze the Rajapaksas’ ancestral home at Medamulana, Hambantota, and did not even spare the memorial built for their parents also at Medamulana, while the former Premier’s home in Kurunegala, too, was destroyed.

Properties belonging to elder brother, Chamal Rajapaksa and his son, Shashendra were also destroyed.

Gangs set fire to Green Ecolodge, situated very close to the Sinharaja rain forest. The hotel, situated close to the UNESCO heritage site, is widely believed to be owned by Yoshitha Rajapaksa, who recently warned JVP leader Anura Kumara Dissanayake of legal action against the accusations made in respect of Green Ecolodge. But the JVP instead of backing their accusations regarding that prized eco-property (torched by the politically-motivated mobs early last week) with facts, issued a veiled threat to expose Yoshitha on some other issues if he dared to go to courts. Comrade Nalinda Jayatissa told the media that they would raise his fake qualifications, how he managed to enter the famed British naval college Dartmouth, etc., if he ventured to challenge them in court.

Well organized mobs also looted and set fire to properties of over 50 MPs, mainly of the government, across the country. They and their families were left with only the clothes on their backs.

Politicos under threat

The government should do everything possible to prosecute those responsible for incidents of violence, regardless of their status. Destruction of lawmakers’ properties should be denounced and punitive action taken against all those responsible. Who would take the responsibility for killing SLPP Polonnaruwa District MP Amarakeerthi Atukorale and his police bodyguard at Nittambuwa? The slain MP was on his way home, after attending the Temple Trees meet earlier in the day. Did Atukorale open fire on those who blocked his path? Did his police bodyguard, too, open fire? The post-mortem revealed the MP had been lynched and contrary to initial reports there were no gunshot injuries. The post mortem also set the record straight that the MP didn’t commit suicide with his own weapon as initially claimed by interested parties over the social and mainstream media. Having allowed SLPP goons to go on the rampage, the police pathetically failed to intervene when the public retaliated. Politically-motivated groups obviously took advantage of the situation. At an early stage of the ongoing protest campaign, German Ambassador in Colombo Holger Seubert tweeted: “I’m impressed with how peaceful the proud people of Sri Lanka are exercising their right to freedom of expression. It reminds me of German unification back in 1989 when we experienced how powerful peaceful protests can be. Wishing all parties involved the strength to remain peaceful.”

During the second JVP inspired-insurgency, the then JRJ government issued firearms to members of Parliament. Some lawmakers formed their own death squads. The government accepted extra-judicial killings as part of the overall defence against the JVP/DJV violence perpetrated against the UNP and those connected with that party.

Members of the SLPP raised security issues at a meeting they had with President Gotabaya Rajapaksa at the President’s House last Saturday (14). The government shouldn’t expect normalisation of the situation until tangible measures are taken to stabilize the national economy. Lawmakers wouldn’t be safe as long queues for diesel, petrol and cooking gas exist with the vast majority of the electorate struggling to make ends meet. The government should be mindful of interventions made by foreign powers and other external and internal players hell-bent on exploiting the situation to their advantage.

Recent demonstrations near the Parliament compelled the police to close several roads for traffic on May 05 and 06. The police closed the section from Diyatha Uyana junction (Polduwa junction) to Jayanthipura junction and from Jayanthipura junction to the Denzil Kobbekaduwa road to deter mass invasions by well organised demonstrators. The police asserted that closure of the roads were necessary, in spite of the inconvenience caused to the public, to prevent hindrance to lawmakers entering and leaving the parliamentary complex.

The police closed down the same sections of the roads yesterday (17) to facilitate parliamentary proceedings. Trade unions combine and the Inter-University Students’ Federation (IUSF) have vowed to lay siege to the Parliament. The warning that had been made several days before the May 09 mayhem should be reviewed. The trade union grouping and the IUSF affiliated to the Frontline Socialist Party (FSP), the breakaway JVP faction, should be mindful of the crises the country is experiencing.

A tragedy

War-winning President Mahinda Rajapaksa having to take refuge in the Trincomalee SLN base is a tragedy. Mahinda Rajapaksa gave resolute political leadership to Sri Lanka’s war effort at a time the vast majority of lawmakers felt the LTTE couldn’t be defeated. Therefore, many accepted peace at any cost. They were prepared even to give up Sri Lanka’s unitary status in a bid to reach a consensus with separatist Tamil terrorists mollycoddled by Western powers. Mahinda Rajapaksa had the strength and political acumen to take on the LTTE. The country should never forget how President Rajapaksa, in spite of strong objections from the military, flew into Kebitigollewa on June 15, 2006, in the immediate aftermath of a claymore mine attack on a passenger bus. The blast killed over 60 men, women and children. Having visited the survivors, President Mahinda Rajapaksa gave an assurance that the terrorism would be eradicated. The promise was made two months before the LTTE resumed large-scale offensive action in the Northern and Eastern Provinces. Sri Lanka brought the war to a successful end in May 2009. But, the President, who restored peace, has ended up virtually running for his life and had to seek refuge in a military installation for the time being as post-war policies and strategies take their toll with interested parties taking advantage of the tragedy facing the country.

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Midweek Review

Up for Grabs

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By Lynn Ockersz

It’s the Horse Trader’s hour once again,

And fierce bargaining unfolds on Stage;

Creatures stomping with iron hoofs,

Displaying teeth of menacing length,

And merciless whips for tongues,

Are receiving top most billing,

By ‘Strutting and Fretting’ business Heads,

Trying now to sit in saddles under siege,

But in a hitherto nodding land,

That’s suddenly come rudely awake,

These are risky sleazy deals to make,

For, the moment has already arrived,

Wherein hunger has turned Ploughshares,

Into Spears of divisive hate and vengeance.

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Midweek Review

Possible link between TID head’s arrest and Easter Sunday massacre baffles retired DIG

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Retired DIG Priyantha Jayakody, one-time police spokesman, last Saturday (07) advised the police on how to deal with the current wave of protests. Jayakody addressed the media in the wake of President Gotabaya Rajapaksa declaring a State of Emergency following police crackdown on protests near the Parliament. The retired top cop urged his former colleagues not to give into illegal orders, under any circumstances. Jayakody is the first retired top cop to declare his support for the ongoing countrywide campaign for political reforms.

By Shamindra Ferdinando

Actor Jehan Appuhamy carried a life-sized cross on his shoulder from Katuwapitiya, in the Katana electorate, to the entrance of the President’s Office (Old Parliament), Galle Face, where a high profile ‘Go Gota Home’ campaign was underway.

The three-day trek began at the St. Sebastian Church premises, on April 19, where exactly three years ago Achchi Muhammadu Muhammadu Hasthun detonated his suicide device, killing over 100. Hasthun is widely believed to be one of the bomb makers, responsible for six suicide blasts, in the space of 20 minutes, beginning at 8.45 am on that particular day. The first detonation occurred at the St. Anthony’s Shrine, Colombo, Kochchikade, at 8.45 am. Other blasts ripped through Kingsbury, Colombo, at 8.47 am, St. Sebastian’s Church, Katuwapitiya, also at 8.47, Shangri-La, Colombo at 8.54, Cinnamon Grand, Colombo at 9 and Zion Church, Batticaloa at 9.05.

In addition to those planned blasts, there were two explosions – one at the Tropical Inn Guest House, Dehiwela, where one terrorist triggered his explosive device, and the last blast at Dematagoda, where Fatima Ibrahim, the wife of Inshaf Ibrahim (the Cinnamon Grand bomber), blew herself up, killing three police commandos. The blast also claimed the lives of her three young sons and her unborn child.

Actor Appuhamy’s endeavor received the blessings of the Catholic Church, campaigning for justice. The Catholic Bishops’ Conference has repeatedly demanded that the perpetrators of the Easter Sunday massacre, as well as those who failed to thwart the conspiracy, due to sheer negligence, or some other reasons, be punished, regardless of their standing in the society.

Appuhamy completed a 25-mile long journey, on April 21, on the 13th day of the ‘Go Gota Home’ campaign. A group of Catholics joined a protest launched opposite Temple Trees, three days later, demanding justice for the Easter Sunday carnage. The Catholic Bishops’ Conference members, and the Archbishop of Colombo, Rt. Rev. Malcolm Cardinal Ranjith, has pledged their support for the ongoing campaign, demanding the resignation of President Gotabaya Rajapaksa and the entire Cabinet-of-Ministers, including Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa.

Quite a number of Catholics displayed placards, demanding justice for the Easter Sunday victims, an issue that has sharply divided the country, experiencing the worst-ever post- independence economic-political and social crisis.

Retired Deputy Inspector General (DIG) of Police, Priyantha Jayakody, in an open letter, addressed to Defence Secretary, retired Gen. Kamal Gunaratne, published in Annidda, in its May Day edition, has questioned the failure on the part of the incumbent dispensation to bring the perpetrators of the Easter Sunday massacre to justice. Jayakody also queried the inordinate delay in completing the high profile investigations, launched during the yahapalana administration, into the alleged attempts to assassinate the then President Maithripala Sirisena and Gotabaya Rajapaksa, the incumbent President.

The current dispensation couldn’t absolve itself of the responsibility for not adequately addressing the grievances of the Catholic Church, Jayakody told The Island. It would be a grave mistake on the government’s part to believe the issues, at hand, would be forgotten in a couple of years, therefore the current protests could be ignored. Jayakody, who had served the Police Department for almost 40 years, retired in late April 2021.

Namal Kumara affair

Ex-DIG Jayakody asserted that the arrest of DIG Nalaka Silva, the head of the Terrorist Investigation Division (TID) on Oct 25, 2018, over his alleged involvement in an attempt to assassinate President Maithripala Sirisena and incumbent President Gotabaya Rajapaksa (then an ordinary citizen) may have facilitated the Easter Sunday suicide mission. Declaring that at the time of Silva’s arrest, the officer had been tracking the would-be Shangri-La bomber, and the leader of the suicide squad, Zahran Hashim, Jayakody questioned whether the investigator was falsely implicated in an alleged assassination plot to clear the way for the dastardly suicide attacks.

Jayakody emphasized that the conspirators had intervened when the investigation reached a crucial stage. Did the government pay sufficient attention to the unwarranted delay at the Attorney General’s Department, in respect of its failure to deal with Zahran Hashim’s file? The National Catholic Committee for Justice, in a missive, dated July 12, 2021, addressed to President Goabaya Rajapaksa, referred to the conduct of the Attorney General’s Department. The Committee pointed out to the President, the PCoI (Presidential Commission of Inquiry) recommendation to the Public Service Commission (PSC) that disciplinary action be taken against State Counsel Malik Azees and Deputy Solicitor General Azad Navavi (PCoI Final Report, Vol 01, p 329).

The Criminal Investigation Department (CID) arrested Silva after having questioned him over a period of five days. At the time of his arrest, Silva had been suspended on the instructions issued by the National Police Commission (NPC).

Jayakody pointed out how within 24 hours after the TID Chief’s arrest, President Maithripala Sirisena sacked the Cabinet-of-Ministers, including Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe. In spite of Mahinda Rajapaksa being sworn in as the Prime Minister, he couldn’t prove a simple majority in Parliament. A disappointed President Sirisena had no option but to dissolve Parliament, on Nov 09, 2018, and set January 05, 2019 as date for parliamentary election. But, the Supreme Court intervention restored Ranil Wickremesinghe’s premiership. Thus President Sirisena’s plan for January 05, poll was thwarted; thereby the stage was set for scheduled presidential election.

According to Jayakody, the arrest of the TID Chief, over alleged assassination plots, automatically crippled the unit. Those who had been attached to the TID were looked down, both by other police officers and men, as well as the public.

The retired top cop questioned the role played by the media, particularly the television channels, in propagating claims made by police informant Namal Kumara, as regards alleged plots to assassinate President Sirisena and incumbent President Gotabaya Rajapaksa. Pujith Jayasundera, who had served as the yahapalana IGP, is on record as having told the PCoI that Namal Kumara was paid by the Presidential Secretariat. Jayasundera quoted Dr. Saman Kithalawarachchi, the then Chairman of the Presidential Narcotics Bureau, as having told him that Namal Kumara served as a lecturer and was paid by the Presidential Secretariat.

Jayakody, in his open letter to Gen. Gunaratn, asked for the status of the investigation launched, following Namal Kumara’s unprecedented claims. “The people have a right to know. The government, under siege over the economic fallout, should come clean,” Jayakody stressed, adding that the ongoing countrywide protests reflected the crisis the country is in today.

Key issues

The Police Department owed an explanation to the public regarding the status of the investigation into the disgraced TID Chief’s alleged involvement in planned political assassinations. DIG Jayakody said that the incumbent dispensation, having repeatedly assured justice for the Easter Sunday victims, was yet to bring a critically important investigation into the Namal Kumara affair, to a successful conclusion. The need for a thorough investigation into the constitutional coup, perpetrated by President Maithripala Sirisena immediately after DIG Silva’s arrest, cannot be ignored. Would Zahran Hashim have gone ahead with the attacks if the constitutional coup succeeded? DIG Jayakody raised the following unresolved accusations leveled by Namal Kunara:

* DIG Silva dispatched a police hit squad, that had been assigned the task of carrying out VIP assassination, to Batticaloa

* DIG Silva sought special weapons used by snipers

* DIG Silva conspired with the then Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe

* Involvement of Thushara Peiris, a person living overseas, in the assassination conspiracy

*Conspiracy to involve ‘Makandure Madush’ in the conspiracy

Suspected drug baron, Samarasinghe Arachchige Madush Lakshitha, alias ‘Makandure Madush,’ was shot dead in the early hours of Oct 21, 2020. Madush was killed, under controversial circumstances, while being in police custody. At the time of the incident, Madush had been in the custody of the Colombo Crime Division (CCD). The police claimed that Madush received gunshot injuries at the Lakshitha Sevana apartment complex at Applewatta, in Maligawatta. Madush was brought to Colombo on May 05, 2019, from Dubai, where he was arrested on February 05, 2019.

Jayakody questioned the rationale in Namal Kumara’s accusations, TID Chief’s arrest and delivering a crippling blow to investigations into Zahran Hashim’s outfit. Finally, the wartime Defence Secretary Gotabaya Rajapaksa, who had been the alleged target of a police assassination attempt, won an opportunity to contest the 2019 presidential election, on the SLPP ticket. Gotabaya Rajapaksa received the mandate of 6.9 mn votes whereas the other claimed target, Maithripala Sirisena, in his capacity as the SLFP leader, contested the 2020 General Election. Sirisena re-entered Parliament having contested the Polonnaruwa electoral district. The SLFP group, in the current Parliament, comprised 14 lawmakers, including one National List MP. Except for Angajan Ramanathan, elected on the SLFP ticket (Jaffna District), the remaining 13 entered Parliament on the SLPP ticket.

Ex-DIG Jayakody said that in the wake of the SLPP victory, they expected rapid progress, not only in the Easter Sunday massacre probe, but also investigations into the Namal Kumara affair. Jayakody compared the investigations into the Easter Sunday attacks, and the Namal Kumara affair, with that of the 1962 coup attempt meant to remove the then Premier Sirimavo Bandaranaike from power. Jayakody recalled how top military personnel, who had been accused of the bid to assassinate Premier Bandaranaike, were dealt with the following investigations. Unfortunately, investigations into Namal Kumara’s disclosure hadn’t been completed, even over three and half years after the arrest of TID Chief.

In his open letter, Jayakody posed the following questions to Gen. Gunaratne: (i) Would you disclose the current status of the investigations into claims made by Namal Kumara (ii) Would you explain why cases hadn’t been filed in court against ex-DIG Nalaka Silva or other suspects involved in the alleged assassination attempts (iii) Have the investigators succeeded in verifying the claims made by Namal Kumara? If the accusations could be verified, what delayed all suspects being arrested? In respect of those who had been arrested so far, what caused the delay in the government moving court against them? (vi) Have the investigators realized that there is no basis for Namal Kumara’s accusations? If so, why a case hadn’t been filed against the former police informant over making false accusation and finally (vii) Could you explain the failure on the part of the government to conduct investigations speedily in spite of one of the two main targets of ex-DIG Nalaka Silva, as alleged by Namal Kumara, is serving the incumbent administration as the President, who is also the Commander-in-Chief of the armed forces, and the other leader of a constituent party and a lawmaker.

Cardinal’s stand

The government should be mindful of the consequences of further delay in bringing the investigations into a conclusion. The widely held belief that the incumbent dispensation deliberately delayed, or undermined the investigations, may cause quite a serious situation, particularly against the backdrop of the Geneva-based United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) taking up the issue last year. Sri Lanka Co Chairs at the UNHRC, too, have taken up the issue.

Jayakody warned that unless the government, at least now, dealt with the Namal Kumara affair properly, the public would believe it was related to the Easter Sunday conspiracy. According to Jayakody, the public are gravely suspicious of Namal Kumara ‘drama’ being the precursor for later developments. Jayakody questioned Gen. Gunaratne’s response to Archbishop of Colombo Rt. Rev. Malcolm Cardinal Ranjith’s repeated demands for justice. Referring to Gen. Gunaratne’s recent response to the Cardinal’s public criticism of the handling of the Easter Sunday investigations, Jayakody asserted that the Defence Secretary’s advice to the Cardinal that he should inform the CID of any relevant information without making public statements sounded like a challenge. Jayakody emphasized that the Cardinal had taken the issue beyond the CID against the backdrop of growing suspicions that justice couldn’t be expected under the current dispensation.

Jayakody, identifying himself as a Catholic, drew the government’s attention to the Cardinal’s fight, both here and abroad, that has attracted the attention of the international community. The retired top cop stressed that the government hadn’t so far been able to counter the spate of issues raised by the Catholic Church regarding the Easter Sunday massacre. Instead of challenging the Catholic Church, the government should answer pertinent questions.

Responding to The Island queries, Jayakody emphasized that he didn’t want to issue a character certificate to DIG Nalaka Silva. Jayakody said the issue at hand is whether Namal Kumara, at the behest of some interested party/parties, directed a spate of allegations, at the then TID Chief Silva, to create an environment conducive for law enforcement authorities to move against DIG Silva. Had Silva received the wrath of the powers that be, as he pursued the now proscribed National Thowheed Jamaat (NTJ) responsible for the Easter Sunday massacre?

The Easter Sunday massacre created an environment that undermined the yahapalana administration. The public responded to the SLPP’s assurances to ensure security in the run-up to the 2019 Presidential Election. Three years later, those who vowed to deal with extremism and terrorism are under fire over the failure to unravel the Easter Sunday mystery.

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