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AI claims govt. cracks down on dissent

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The Amnesty International yesterday claimed that the Lankan government continued its crackdown on dissent, targeting multiple groups while impunity continued in a number of emblematic cases in 2021.

Al’s annual report on the state of the world’s human rights in 2021, released on Wednesday shows that in Sri Lanka excessive use of force and brutality by law enforcement officers were widely reported, and there were deaths in custody.

The report says: The UN Human Rights Council set up a mechanism to consolidate evidence of serious human rights violations for future prosecutions after the Sri Lankan government withdrew its support for transitional justice. Existing transitional justice mechanisms did not progress. The Prevention of Terrorism Act continued to be used to target critics from minority communities through arbitrary arrests and prolonged detention without judicial oversight. New regulations issued under the Act would effectively deny suspects a judicial hearing and force them to attend mandatory “rehabilitation”. Discrimination and marginalization of the Muslim community increased because of government policies specifically targeting them. The government failed to prioritize health workers, older populations, people with comorbidities or marginalized groups during its Covid-19 response.

The crackdown on dissent continued. The government targeted human rights defenders, journalists, lawyers, members of the opposition and criminal investigators and expanded its scope to include university students, academics, trade unionists and social media commentators. In May, the Secretary to the Ministry of Health issued an order threatening disciplinary action against health sector employees who spoke to the media about difficulties in tackling the Covid-19 pandemic.

There were protests over long-standing salary issues for teachers and principals. Demonstrators also called for the withdrawal of a controversial education bill; some activists were arrested, in some cases spending more than 75 days in detention.

In an online meeting organized by the Sri Lanka Judges Institute in August, judicial officers were given instructions by non-judicial officers on controlling public gatherings during the Covid-19 pandemic. The instructions followed widespread protests by trade unions, and the judicial officers reportedly felt pressured to deliver court orders preventing such protests.

The government announced law reform initiatives to regulate the work of NGOs, potentially hindering the right to freedom of association.

In emblematic cases which implicated members of the military or government supporters, either the suspects were acquitted or the cases were withdrawn by the Attorney General. Other cases failed to progress. The trial relating to the enforced disappearance in 2010 of journalist Prageeth Eknaligoda was postponed multiple times, owing in part to Covid-19 restrictions. Suspects in the 2005 assassination of Tamil MP Joseph Pararajasingham, including those from a government-aligned political party, were acquitted and the Attorney General’s Office did not indicate any interest in re-opening the investigation. Without publicly providing reasons for its decision, the Attorney General’s Office decided not to proceed with charges against Wasantha Karannagoda, a former Navy commander, over his alleged role in the enforced disappearance of 11 Tamils in 2008 and 2009. The Sri Lankan Navy is alleged to have been responsible for the forcible disappearance of the so-called “Navy 11”.

The UN Human Rights Council passed resolution 46/1 with a view to advancing accountability in Sri Lanka. The resolution established an international mechanism for OHCHR to collect, consolidate, analyse and preserve information and evidence and to develop strategies for future accountability processes for gross violations of human rights or serious violations of international humanitarian law.

Under the leadership of the controversial former Supreme Court judge Upali Abeyratne, the Office on Missing Persons (OMP) opened a new office in the North and announced plans to “verify” the 21,374 cases collated by its former members. By the end of the year, the OMP’s official caseload stood at 14,988, with no clear explanation for having dropped more than 6,000 missing persons cases. New members were appointed; there was lack of clarity over whether the leadership changed.



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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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