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AG urged to set up new mechanism to monitor HR violations 

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Sanjay Rajaratnam pays a courtesy call on PM Mahinda Rajapaksa yesterday (1)

The newly appointed Attorney General Sanjay Rajaratnam, PC, assumes duties at a critical time with the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (UN-HCHR) having got the special mandate of the 46th session of the United Nations Human Rights Council (UN-HRC) in March this year to set up a special mechanism to monitor Sri Lanka’s alleged human rights violations and alleged war crimes during the final phase of the separatist war that ended in 2009, former PA National List MP M.M. Zuhair, PC says.

Zuhair, who served the AG’s department as a State Counsel and later as Senior State Counsel at a time it was comparatively smaller, said so in response to The Island query regarding the growing challenge on the human rights front.

Zuhair has sent us the following response to our queries: “The office of the Attorney General of Sri Lanka has a 137 year history, beginning from Sir Francis Fleming on 1st January 1884. The Attorney General carries with him unique responsibilities though the world outside sees him as exercising exclusive powers. He is the principal law officer of the State, legal adviser to the President of the Republic, the Speaker of Parliament and the executive, having specific Constitutional powers, duties and functions, advocate of the supremacy of the Constitution and the rule of law, having powers to initiate criminal proceedings and present indictments, the leader of the Bar with specified rights to be heard in all courts and defender of the State in civil proceedings. He is a member of the executive but functions independently of the executive in all legal matters, subject however to the jurisdiction of the Courts in specified issues.

The report of the High Commissioner for Human Rights has drawn special attention of the UN HRC to several significant matters relating to Sri Lanka. They include inter alia ‘reversal of Constitutional safeguards’, ‘majoritarian and exclusionary rhetoric, ‘new and exacerbated human rights concerns’, ‘impunity in emblematic cases’, etc. The UN HCHR has in the report taken a further step by requesting Member States, in addition to taking steps of referral of Sri Lanka to the International Criminal Court (ICC) to actively pursue “investigations and prosecution of international crimes committed by all parties in Sri Lanka before their own national courts, including under accepted principles of extraterritorial or universal jurisdiction” (emphasis mine).

The report also points out that “Member States can also apply targeted sanctions, such as asset freezes and travel bans against State officials and other actors credibly alleged to have committed or be responsible for grave human rights violations or abuses…” The addition of the two special procedures may be due to, the referral to ICC very likely being vetoed in the Security Council!

Another critical development is that a resolution is already before the United States Congress recommending the US to explore investigations and prosecutions pursuant to the recommendations of the UN HCHR. The proposed resolution is wide enough to pursue inter alia the two courses of actions referred to earlier at the Member State level of the US government. This would also encourage other traditional allies of the US to join hands with similar Member State level approvals, without recourse to any further UN HRC approval!

So the time has come for the new Attorney General Sanjay Rajaratnam PC to set up a special high level unit in the department to handle the man-made tsunami that will very likely rattle the country on the legal and economic fronts much sooner than the HRC process.

Amongst the matters in the UN HCHR’s list are the alleged “erosion of the judiciary and key institutions responsible for the promotion and protection of human rights; … policies that adversely affect the right to freedom of religion or belief; increased marginalization of persons belonging to the Tamil and Muslim communities; surveillance and intimidation of civil society; … arbitrary detentions”, etc.

Another matter is the need to address the undertaking given to repeal the Prevention of Terrorism (Temporary Provisions) Act (PTA) enacted in 1979 and replace same with a new law in line with accepted human rights norms. The controversial law itself provides for a maximum detention of 18 months, whereas a large number of persons arrested under the PTA over the Mawanella Buddha statue damaging case as well as over the Easter Sunday attacks have been kept in remand for over two years, in violation of the PTA’s maximum period of one and a half years, through a process arguably violative of the human rights of the suspects.

There are many persons in remand who could have been enlarged on bail with the consent of the Attorney General and against whom the alleged material is weak and insufficient for prosecution. There are still others who ought to have been discharged because they have had nothing to do with 21/4 attacks. The PTA provides in section 19, that the bail provisions of other written laws (excluding the Bail Act as provided in the Bail Act) will not be applicable only to persons convicted under the PTA. But suspects are not granted bail by Magistrates Court, in violation of the bail provisions in the Code of Criminal Procedure Act read with section 19 of the PTA itself, with Courts insisting on AG’s consent as required by another provision in the PTA, which is in conflict with section 19.

The UN HCHR could review likely human rights violations by the alleged unreasonable refusal of the Attorney General and the Courts to consent to bail in weak cases. These are areas that must be addressed forthwith by the Attorney General’s special unit to prevent officers and their families being adversely affected by Member States’ targeted actions, particularly because indictments are delayed, largely because of incomplete investigations!

Another matter that will require the immediate attention of the new Attorney General who counts over 34 years in the department is the continuing arrests of persons with alleged links to one suicide bomber or the other without any evidence of their being party to or in any way conspired, prepared, aided and/or abetted in the 21/4 attacks. Suicide bombers may have had links with persons of all communities for years before the Easter attacks. Those numbers can run into several thousands. But they do not become suspects in the 21/4 attacks by any legal yardstick merely because they had at some point crossed the future bombers. These arrests may be perceived as illegal arrests targeting the minorities.

The 48th Attorney General will certainly address the matters that come before him from the national interest perspective and not from any minoritarian angle! My interest is limited to securing justice within the rule of law for the country and for all its people.” (SF)

 

 



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Lift restrictions on 21 June, and be prepared for dire consequences – Medical Specialists

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By Rathindra Kuruwita

The Association of Medical Specialists (AMS) President Dr. Lakkumar Fernando yesterday urged the government to reconsider its decision to lift the travel restrictions on 21 June on account of the detection of the Indian or Delta variant of COVID-19 in the country.

Speaking to The Island yesterday, Dr. Fernando said: “The Ex-Co and COVID committee of the AMS met on Thursday before it was announced that the Indian variant had been found in the community, and we decided to ask the government to continue the travel restrictions until 28 June.”

The AMS President added that the detection of the Indian variant from Dematagoda was an alarming development as the Indian variant was more transmissible than the UK variant.

“Reopening the country even after this detection is a very bad idea. We detected the UK variant on 08 April 2021 but we allowed people to celebrate the New Year. I feel that the government is repeating the same mistake,” he said.

Dr. Fernando urged the government to have discussions with a broad section of experts in the coming two days and take a more informed decision as we are likely lose more valuable lives if we are not careful enough in our decision making. “I don’t think the government has sought advice from experts,” he said.

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SLPP will not let disputes with Gammanpila undermine govt.

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…will vote against SJB’s no-faith motion

By Shamindra Ferdinando

The Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna (SLPP) yesterday (18) said that whatever the differences the party had with Pivithuru Hela Urumaya (PHU) leader and Energy Minister Udaya Gammanpila, it would not undermine President Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s government. A senior SLPP spokesperson said so when The Island sought their response to Samagi Jana Balavegaya planning to move a no-faith motion against attorney-at-law Gammanpila over the recent increase in prices of fuel.

The SJB early this week declared its intention to hand over a no-faith motion against Gammanpila to Speaker Mahinda Yapa Abeywardena. Already, the JVP and the UNP have questioned the SJB’s exercise.

The SLPP stood solidly with the stand taken by its General Secretary attorney-at-law Sagara Kariyawasam, MP, in respect of Minister Gammanpila, the official said. According to him, SJB’s certain defeat at the forthcoming vote should not be considered an endorsement of the energy minister.

However, the SJB would not be allowed to exploit the dispute between the party and Minister Gammanpila, under any circumstances, party sources said. The SLPP has been in touch with SLPP strategist Basil Rajapaksa, currently in the US, throughout the conflict, sources said.

The SJB’s no-faith motion would be easily defeated, sources said, pointing out that the SLPP group in the government parliamentary group accounted for 115 excluding the Speaker. The SJB parliamentary group comprised 54 members, including seven National List appointees. One of the NL members, Diana Gamage has switched her allegiance to the SLPP.

Sources revealed that on behalf of the SLPP group, the General Secretary of the party, lawmaker Kariyawasam discussed the developments with SLPP leader Premier Mahinda Rajapaksa.

The SLPP group is expected to meet coming Monday (21) to reach consensus on a settlement. Sources said that a no holds barred discussion was with MP Kariyawasam getting an opportunity to explain his stand.

Referring to a statement dated June 12 issued by MP Kariyawasam demanding Minister Gammanpila’s resignation, SLPP underscored the need to set the record straight.

The SLPP General Secretary did not challenge the fuel increase announced by Minister Gammanpila as the party realized the government had no other option, sources said. However, there was no change in the SLPP’s stand in respect of Minister Gammanpila as he did nothing to improve the energy sector coming under his purview, sources said. The SLPP alleged that Minister Gammanpila had done nothing except taking advantage of gullible media.

Responding to another query, sources questioned the rationale in a recent statement issued by eight political parties, affiliated to the SLPP, in support of Minister Gammanpila. Except one political party therein, other parties comprised just one lawmaker each. There were two National List members, too among that eight-member group, sources said, adding that PHU, was represented in parliament by just one MP (Gammanpila.)

Sources said that the SLPP felt that there should be a consensus among the main party and its constituents on major policy decisions. Sources questioned the National Freedom Front (NFF) and the PHU pursuing an agenda inimical to the government. How could they take a different stand on some contentious issues publicly having been members of the cabinet of ministers, sources asked, accusing them of sabotaging key policy decisions.

The SLPP emphasized that the ruling coalition would have to reach a consensus on a common agenda or face catastrophic consequences.

Sources alleged that Weerawansa-Gammanpila led group sabotaged an agreement the incumbent administration worked out with India on the East Container Terminal (ECT) of the Colombo Harbour.

Asked to explain, sources said that the previous Sirisena-Wickremesinghe had finalized agreements in respect of Mattala airport, ECT, remaining tanks at the Trincomnalee oil tank farm and LNG plant at Sampur with India. Following the last presidential election, the incumbent government decided to go ahead with only the ECT project in the Colombo South Harbour.

The SLPP said that the agreement on ECT was certainly not a popular one though it could have helped efforts to revive the national economy. But, Weerawansa-Gammanpila group as usual played politics with the issue at hand and took credit for stopping the project.

Sources said that the country would have faced eternal blackouts if the then President Mahinda Rajapaksa gave into pressure meant to stop Norochcholai coal-fired power plant.

 

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1,390 more lockdown violators arrested

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The police had arrested 1,390 persons who violated lockdown regulations on Thursday (17), Police Spokesman DIG Ajith Rohana said. The bulk of the arrests numbering 172 were made by the Kuliyapitiya Police, 133 by Matale Police and 121 by Kandy Police.

The police have arrested 38,311 people so far for violating quarantine regulations since 30 October 2020.

About 6,797 people were questioned at checkpoints set up at 14 entry and exit points in the Western Province on Thursday and 108 of them were warned and sent back for attempting to cross provincial borders in violation of the current travel restrictions.

Meanwhile, the Police are planning to carry out a special operation during this weekend to arrest those who violate health regulations by increasing mobile patrols, roadblocks and motorcycle patrols, DIG Rohana added.

Drone operations too will be conducted in Colombo and suburban areas to identify individuals who violate lockdown rules and regulations.

 

 

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