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Civil society demands end to deaths in police custody

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‘Autopsies on Mahara victims revealed ugly truth’

By Shamindra Ferdinando

Senior lawyer Senaka Perera yesterday (29) said that the government owed an explanation as regards deaths in police custody.

Perera said that the latest killing in police custody had taken place in the Veyangoda police area in the early hours of Monday (28).

Responding to The Island queries in this regard, Perera, who heads the Committee for Protecting Rights of Prisoners said that the police couldn’t justify the killing of 37-year-old Nishantha Kumarasiri of Bandagagoda Road, Veyangoda at Halgampitiya, Veyangoda in the early hours of Monday.

Asking how a handcuffed suspect could try to strangle a police driver, Perera said it was a familiar narrative.

The police claimed that they had been left with no alternative but to shoot the suspect, who attacked the police driver.

The police detained Kumarasiri over the gruesome crime of severing the arms and legs of a person who allegedly tipped off the police about his nefarious activities. The limbless father of three children is now recovering in a hospital. After committing the dastardly deed, Kumarasiri and his accomplice had even carried off one of the limbs of the victim. Police spokesperson DIG Ajith Rohana said that there were three High Court cases pending against Kumarasiri, obviously pointing to the fact that he was no angel.

While not justifying killing of violent criminals in custody here, an independent observer, however said far more unarmed innocent Negroes and other minority group members running to hundreds were gunned down by police forces in the bastion of democracy, the USA each year with impunity as the entire system there was geared to cover up such killings. And only in this year that civil society groups and media there really started agitating against such killings for the world to hear, he said.

Lawyer Perera also questioned the controversial practice of taking suspects out of police stations and other detention facilities in the middle of the night or in early hours to recover weapons stashed away by such desperados conveniently hardly seen  by anyone, but the police accompanying them.

Kumarasiri had been taken to Halgampitiya, Veyangoda around 3.30 am, the civil society activist said, pointing out the previous death in police custody took place in the early hours of Oct 20, this year when the police claimed Madush Lakshitha alias Makandure Madush was killed during a confrontation between law enforcement personnel and the underworld in the Maligawatte police area.

Lawyer Perera said that the Justice Ministry, the Attorney General, the Bar Association of Sri Lanka (BASL), Human Rights Commission of Sri Lanka as well as Police Headquarters should take tangible measures to prevent deaths in police custody. The Parliament should inquire into deaths in Police custody as well as in Prisons, lawyer Perera said, pointing out the recent revelation that eight suspects previously described as victims of clashes among Mahara prisoners were killed in gunfire.

No less a person than the State Minister in charge of Prisons, Lohan Ratwatte declared in parliament on Dec 3 all 11 Mahara deaths were due to clashes among prisoners. Responding to another query, lawyer Perera said that autopsies of the three remaining victims would be revealed soon.

Lawyer Perera said that his organization recently complained to the Chief Justice, the AG and the BASL regarding the position taken up by the State Counsel at the Wattala Magistrate court where the Mahara case was being heard. The lawyer alleged that attempts were being made to silence them by calling those who represented prisoners NGO operatives.

According to Perera the killing of those in police or Prisons custody and subjecting them to inhuman treatment violated 13 (3) of the Constitution. In spite of their efforts, suspects had been eliminated under controversial circumstances and the killing Makadure Madush and Kumarasiri in October and Dec this year proved those in authority turned a blind eye to what was going on.

The Island sought a clarification from Justice Minister Ali Sabry, PC on deaths in police custody. Minister said that the police didn’t come under his purview though he would take it up with the Attorney General.

The Island also sought the BASL’s opinion on the matter from its President Kalinga Indatissa, PC. However, at the time of going to press, The Island couldn’t obtain the BASL’s response.

Counsel Perera said that extra judicial killings couldn’t be condoned under any circumstances. The police couldn’t decide the fate of suspects/prisoners, he said urging the Parliament to intervene in what he called a matter of utmost importance.

The civil society activist said that if not for their efforts those in authority could have easily cremated the bodies of Mahara prisoners on the basis they tested corona positive. Had that happened autopsies wouldn’t have revealed the ugly truth that all of them died as a result of gunshot injuries.

The Mahara case is scheduled to be taken up at the Wattala Magistrate court today (30).

Lawyer Perera said that the massacre  during the Welikada prison riot in 2014, when even a STF DIG was shot and injured by rioting prisoners, after they armed themselves by breaking into an armoury there, proved how brutal the State crackdown could be. Wrongdoers should be dealt appropriately in terms of the law, lawyer Perera claimed, urging the political leadership to rein in the police.

Asked whether they would complain to the HRCSL, lawyer Perera said that the body had been politicized and weakened to such an extent the public couldn’t depend on it.

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Foreign Secretary sounds ‘consensual resolution’ as pressure mounts in Geneva

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by Shamindra Ferdinando

Foreign Secretary Admiral Prof. Jayanath Colombage on Monday (25) night revealed that the government was having discussions with the UK-led Sri Lanka Core Group in a bid to explore the possibility of reaching a consensus on what he described as a ‘consensual resolution’ ahead of the 46th sessions of the Geneva-based United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) scheduled for Feb-March this year.

Admiral Colombage acknowledged that an agreement on a consensual resolution was a politically challenging task. FS Colombage said so in conversation with Faraz Shauketaly on ‘News Line’ on TV 1.

Asked whether the government was under pressure to co-sponsor the new resolution or face a vote in case Sri Lanka rejected the UK-led move, the naval veteran said there was dialogue between the two parties in this regard. Talks have to be concluded today (27)

Prof. Colombage ruled out the possibility of Sri Lanka co-sponsoring the new resolution. The top Foreign Ministry official also dismissed the interviewer’s assertion the government was under pressure to accept the new resolution.

Admiral Colombage said they were also studying some suggestions made by the Core Group.

Asked whether the government would try to convince the Tamil National Alliance (TNA) led political grouping that had demanded an international war crimes investigation in addition to a range of punitive measures to reverse its decision, FS Colombage emphasized that Sri Lanka waged war against an internationally proscribed terrorist group.

The interviewer sought the Foreign Secretary’s assertion of retired justice C.V. Wigneswaran, MP, who signed Jan. 15 dated petition, in his capacity as the leader of Tamil Makkal Thesiya Kutani (TMTK). Altogether, 13 lawmakers represented the three political parties that called for external intervention.

Declaring that serious war crimes hadn’t been committed during the war, FS Colombage questioned the motives of those continuing to harp on unsubstantiated war crimes allegations. Referring to the failure on the part of the Northern Provincial Council to spend the funds allocated for the benefit of the public, FS Colombage asked whether an agenda detrimental to post-war national reconciliation was being pursued.

In the wake of Sri Lanka quitting in Feb 2020 Geneva Resolution co-sponsored by the previous government against one’s own country in Oct 2015, Geneva has warned Sri Lanka of serious consequences. In addition to freezing assets and travel bans slapped on those who had been ‘credibly accused of human rights violations,’ Geneva recommended the launch of criminal proceedings at the International Criminal Court and an international mechanism to gather evidence.

Referring to the US travel ban imposed on Army Commander Gen. Shavendra Silva in Feb 2020, the interviewer sought the Foreign Secretary’s opinion on the Geneva report. Refuting allegations, Admiral Colombage alleged serious shortcomings, including factual errors.

Asked whether the recent appointment of a three-member Commission of Inquiry (CoI) chaired by Supreme Court Judge Nawaz to examine previous CoI reports et al wasn’t too late as well as insufficient just ahead of the 46th sessions, Admiral Colombage explained how eruption of first Covid-19 wave that resulted in the postponement of general elections scheduled for April 2020 caused serious setback to government efforts.

Commenting on simmering controversy over the Sri Lanka-India agreement on the East Container Terminal (ECT) at the Colombo harbour, Admiral Colombage expressed confidence the issue could be resolved soon. The former Navy Chief categorically denied India’s valuable support to Sri Lanka at Geneva et al would be linked with agreement on ECT.

Responding to criticism directed at India over a spate of issues, including the forced imposition of the 13th Amendment thereby creating the Provincial Council system, Admiral Colombage pointed out the Tamil Nadu factor. Admiral Colombage, having reiterated President Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s foreign policy statement, assured Sri Lanka’s commitment to friendly ties with major powers.

FS Colombage emphasized that Sri Lanka’s bilateral relations wouldn’t be at the expense of another country.

Admiral Colombage regretted the recent mid-sea collision involving an SLN Fast Attack Craft and an Indian fishing trawler that resulted in the deaths of four fishermen. The FS emphasized that the incident happened well within Sri Lankan waters near Delft Island.

Navy headquarters last week alleged that the Indian vessel collided with FAC while trying to flee a naval cordon.

Admiral Colombage said that the SLN vessel would have suffered serious damage if the Indian trawler happened to be one with a steel hull.

Asked whether US, India, Japan and Australia would take a common stand vis a vis Sri Lanka in respect of accountability issues, Admiral Colombage asserted that wouldn’t be the case. “Sri Lanka is important to them” Admiral Colombage said, while describing them as the four pillars of the Quad-a security alliance.

Commenting on the disclosures made by Lord Naseby in the House of Lords in Oct 2017, Admiral Colombage appreciated the British politician’s efforts to set the record straight as regards war crimes accusations. The Foreign Secretary said that the revelations were made on the basis of genuine and accurate sources.

The British Lord used classified wartime British HC cables (Jan – May 2009) obtained following a legal battle to counter Geneva accusations. Sri Lanka is yet to officially request Geneva to revisit the 2015 resolution on the basis of Lord Naseby’s revelations.

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UK takes up forced cremation of Covid-19 victims

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The UK has raised human rights concerns with Sri Lanka including forced cremation of COVID-19 victims.

High Commissioner to Sri Lanka, Sarah Hulton OBE said in Tweeter message that the UN report in this regard is to be published next week and she would inform the approach to UN Human Rights Council.

“UK raising human rights concerns with Sri Lanka, including forced cremation of COVID19 victims. UN report to be published next week, will inform the approach to @UN_HRC,” she tweeted.

 

 

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Electors unaware of electoral register revision process – CMEV

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Text and pictures by PRIYAN DE SILVA 

National Coordinator of the Centre for Monitoring Election Violence (CMEV) Manjula Gajanayaka, who visited the polling districts of Puttlam and Vanni, last week, to look into allegation that more than 7,000 voters in the  polling division of Mannar were to be struck off the electoral register, said that electors were unaware of the electoral register revision process. He called upon the Election Commission of Sri Lanka to take immediate steps to educate the public on what actually is taking place; he urged the political parties not to capitalise on the situation. 

 Additional Commissioner of Elections Rasika Pieris said that electoral registers had been revised annually in accordance with the Registration of Electors Act 44 of 1980 to make voting more convenient to the electors by assigning them to the polling stations closest to residences.

 Pieris added that in addition to convenience there were many more advantages to be registered as an elector in the district one resides in.

 Retired Irrigation Engineer A. L. Burhanudhdheen is a chief occupant that has received the Revision of Electoral Register Notice sent by the Assistant Election Commissioner, Mannar. 

Burhanudhdeen had been a resident of Akaththimurippu, Mannar until being driven out by the LTTE in 1990. After being displaced he took refuge in Puttalam and at present lives in a modest house at Nagavillu, Puttlam.

 Burhanudhdeen said that he visited his property in Mannar whenever it was possible, but was unable to construct a new house there due to financial constraints. He also said that whenever possible he and his family had exercised their right to vote in the polling district of Mannar up to the 2020 Parliamentary election. At the last presidential election they had been provided with transport while the Election Commission arranged for a cluster voting facility in Puttlam for the last Parliamentary election, he said.

 Voicing his fears Burhanudhdeen said that he and his family might be struck off the electoral register in Mannar if their appeal was not accepted and added that they had not registered as voters of the Electoral District of Puttalam even though they were resident there.

Assistant Commissioner of Elections Mannar J. Jeniton said that taking action based on reports submitted by Grama Seva Niladharis nearly 10,000 revisions of election register notices had been sent by registered post to electors in the Mannar polling division. 

Jeniton said that the majority of them were known to be persons who were forced to flee from their homes in 1990 due to the conflict. It had been found that they were not resident in that area, he added.

 Jeniton said that about 700 persons had been requested to attend the inquiries and bring with them documents to prove their residence, but only 15 persons had been present.

 Chairman of the Musalee Pradeshiya Sabha A.G.H. Subeeham said that 3,542 constituents in Musalee had been served with Revision of Electoral Register notices requesting them to explain why their names should not be struck off the electoral register. Subeeham said that he did not understand the basis on which the list had been compiled as even persons who had been resident in Musalee for the past 10 years had received such notices. He appealed to the authorities to give the IDPs a grace period of two years to resettle.

The polling districts of Mannar, Mulaitivu and Vavuniya make up the Vanni Electoral District and six Members of Parliament represent the District.

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