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AI asks SL to rescind emergency, shooting orders immediately

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Sri Lankan authorities must immediately rescind the emergency regulations and shooting orders that provide excessive powers to the police and military, and take immediate steps to respect, protect and fulfil the human rights of peaceful protestors, Amnesty International said yesterday.

Amnesty said that the authorities must also refrain from using the state of emergency as a pretext to curb the rights to peaceful assembly and freedom of expression, including at the protest sites such as “Gotagogama” in the country.

Following the President’s proclamation of a State of Emergency on 6 May along with a country-wide curfew from 9-12 May, backdated emergency regulations were published overnight on 9 May, the organization said.

The regulations give sweeping powers to the police and the armed forces to search and make arrests of “suspects” without due process safeguards, Amnesty said.

On 9 May, protesters peacefully demonstrating in front of the Presidential Secretariat for over a month were violently attacked by pro-government supporters after being allegedly incited to violence by top party leaders at Temple Trees, the Prime Minister’s official residence in Colombo.

The Human Rights organization said that the police stood largely as bystanders to the violence, doing little to effectively protect the peaceful protesters and their protest site, despite having used tear gas and water cannon to disperse the protestors just days before on 6 May,”

“Authorities in Sri Lanka should carry out a prompt, thorough, impartial, independent, effective and transparent investigation into the reports of violent attacks on peaceful protesters. Authorities should bring to justice those suspected to be responsible and ensure access to justice and effective remedies for victims,” said Yamini Mishra, South Asia Regional Director at Amnesty International.

Given below are excerpts of the AI statement: “The attacks look like a deliberate decision by the Police to allow pro-government groups to physically assault peaceful protesters, destroy structures and wreak havoc at the ‘Gotagogama’ protest site. The authorities have an obligation to provide an enabling environment for the protesters to peacefully exercise their human rights, and to end the violent attacks on protesters,” added Yamini Mishra.

“Elements of anti-government groups retaliated to the attack on 9 May by beating up pro-government supporters and destroying buses believed to have transported them. This escalated into targeting of parliamentarians with damage to their vehicles and arson against their homes, businesses, and party offices. According to authorities, nine people have died and over 220 people have been injured in the violence that erupted. Additionally, 41 vehicles had been set on fire, 61 vehicles were damaged, and 136 incidents of property damage were recorded.

“Justice and accountability from the Sri Lankan authorities is the need of the hour. An effective and transparent inquiry is necessary to bring those responsible for the violence to justice. The country is headed towards a deepening crisis while accountability and solutions for the economic crisis – key calls by the protesters – go completely unaddressed. Right now, Sri Lanka is a tinderbox, and any move to impermissibly restrict human rights through sweeping emergency powers granted to law enforcement agencies, including the armed forces, – will lead to further repression,” said Yamini Mishra.

 “The Emergency Regulations lack due process safeguards, such as the right to be informed of the reason for arrest, and the issuance of an arrest receipt at the time of arrest informing family where they would be detained. Access to legal counsel is subject to conditions. The offences are broad and can be used to bar trade union strike actions, give powers to the President to shut down public processions, restrict access to public spaces, restrict the right to freedom of expression including the right to information, freedom of movement and peaceful assembly.

“Further, the Regulations provide powers to use armed force against anyone who does not comply with orders. The Regulations come with hefty penalties including life imprisonment for ordinary penal offences. There is also no access to bail for offences under the Regulations, except under “exceptional circumstances.” Persons authorised by the commanders of the armed forces are empowered by the Regulations to remove suspects from detention for a period of seven days at a time. Sri Lankan authorities are accused of multiple instances of custodial torture in the past, making these provisions dangerous and raising the possibility of misuse of these powers.

“On 10 May, the Defence Ministry issued a notice saying the Armed forces have been ordered to open fire at anyone looting public property or causing harm to others- a move that has been called “illegal” by some parliamentarians. The cabinet remains dissolved following the PM’s resignation on 9 May.

“The shooting orders provide a license to kill. Violent mobs should be contained, however lethal force must not be the first resort. Any restrictions on human rights during times of emergency must be necessary and proportionate to the exigencies of the situation and must not be used as a tool against freedom of expression, peaceful assembly, right to personal security, liberty and freedom from arbitrary detention. Further, any derogations from human rights guarantees under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, to which Sri Lanka is a state party, should be formally communicated with a clear explanation of the reasons for them to other State parties,” said Yamini Mishra.

Sri Lanka has a history of human rights violations implicating the Military, including custodial torture under consecutive emergency situations in the past. This pattern of violations of human rights must end.”



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BASL urges President to de-escalate tensions in different parts of country

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The Bar Association of Sri Lanka has called upon President Gotabaya Rajapaksa to instruct the Defence Secretary, the Commanders of the Tri Forces and the Inspector General of Police to ensure that there is an immediate de-escalation of tensions in different parts of the country – especially at fuel stations – understanding the difficulties faced by the public.”

 “Whilst keeping in mind that the police and armed forces are acting under very trying circumstances, nevertheless it is necessary to give strict instructions to the police and the forces to desist from violence in dealing with the public and to act with utmost restraint”, the BASL has said in a media statement.

 “We also call upon you to ensure that steps are taken under the law to deal with errant officers who have subjected civilians to such violence.”

The BASL is of the view that it is not appropriate for service personnel to be deployed in the present manner in matters which essentially should be managed by the Sri Lanka Police.

 The armed forces should also not be used to disturb or hinder peaceful protests as was seen last week in Galle.

Full text of the BASL letter to the President:

The Bar Association of Sri Lanka (BASL) expresses its gravest concerns at the current situation at fuel stations throughout the country and the reports of several incidents of conflicts between civilians and members of the police force and the armed forces at fuel stations. There has been video footage of civilians being assaulted by personnel of the armed forces and the police, the latest being of a civilian being kicked by an Army officer at a fuel station. There have also been situations of the police and Army opening fire into the air to contain the crowd.

Your Excellency is no doubt aware that thousands of desperate civilians are waiting in queues at hundreds of fuel stations in the country. The queues are kilometres long. The tension at the fuel stations have arisen from this desperation for which there is no immediate solution in sight.

The BASL wishes to warn Your Excellency of the imminent dangers this situation could give rise to. The present unrest could result in a conflagration between civilians and members of the armed forces or the police. Some years ago, confrontations between members of the public and the armed forces resulted in the deaths of civilians. Such incidents between the members of the armed forces or the police and the civilians will discredit Sri Lanka’s armed forces and the police.

We call upon Your Excellency to take all necessary steps to give instructions to the Defence Secretary, the Commanders of the Tri Forces and the Inspector General of Police to ensure that there is an immediate de-escalation of the situation in different parts of the country – especially at fuel stations – understanding the difficulties faced by public. Whilst keeping in mind that the police and armed forces are acting under very trying circumstances, nevertheless it is necessary to give strict instructions to the police and the forces to desist from violence in dealing with the public and to act with utmost restraint. We also call upon you to ensure that steps be taken under the law to deal with errant officers who have subjected civilians to such violence.

The Sri Lanka Army and other service personnel must be deployed only in very limited circumstances as contemplated in the Criminal Procedure Code. The BASL is of the view that it is not appropriate for service personnel to be deployed in the present manner in matters which essentially should be managed by the Sri Lanka Police. The Armed Forces should also not be used to disturb or hinder peaceful protests as was seen last week in Galle.

We trust that this will receive the immediate attention of the Government as to do otherwise may otherwise result in unprecedented turmoil and harm.

The BASL believes that the ultimate solution to the situation at fuel stations is to be transparent with the public and to ensure an equitable and effective system of fuel distribution throughout the country.

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SC orders AG to submit report on fuel purchases and distribution

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By A.J.A. Abeynayake

A three-member Supreme Court bench consisting of Justices Vijith Malalgoda, Mahinda Samayawardena and Arjuna Obeysekera yesterday ordered the Attorney General to submit a report on fuel purchases, the distribution thereof and the sectors to be provided with fuel on a priority basis.

The Supreme Court made the order after considering two fundamental rights petitions presented by the Bar Association of Sri Lanka.

The BASL has requested the Supreme Court to direct the Cabinet of Ministers to consult all stakeholders and independent experts to formulate and implement the necessary policies, and to provide concessions in relation to the prices of essential goods and services to the people including LP gas, fuel, electricity, milk powder, medicines and food.

The petitions were filed by the President of the BASL Saliya Pieris PC, Deputy President Anura Meddegoda PC, former Secretary Rajeev Amarasuriya, Treasurer Rajindh Perera and the Assistant Secretary Pasindu Silva.

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A/L may be delayed by one month

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Education Minister Sushil Premajayantha told Parliament yesterday that although it had been scheduled to hold the G.C.E. A/L Examination 2022 in November this year, it could be further delayed by another month.

Responding to a question by MP Shantha Bandara, the Minister said: “The examination should be held at least after three months of releasing the results of the previous A/L exam because the students who need to sit it again should have enough time to prepare,” the Minister said.

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