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Civil society intervenes on behalf of Muslim Covid-19 victims

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Karu: Extremists may exploit govt. stand

By Shamindra Ferdinando

Two civil society groups -NMSJ (National Movement for Social Justice) and Purawesi Balaya yesterday (21) urged the government to allow the burial of Muslim victims of Covid-19 in keeping with the WHO guidelines.

Former Speaker and one-time UNP Deputy Leader Karu Jayasuriya and Gamini Viyangoda, on behalf of the NMSJ and Purawesi Balaya respectively, threw their weight behind the ongoing campaign to have the controversial ban on burials lifted.

They pointed out that the UN, too, backed Sri Lankan Muslim community’s demand for burial rights.

These civil society groups took up a stand on burial issue in the wake of Samagi Jana Balavegaya (SJB) leader Sajith Premadasa attacking the government for not adhering with specific UN and WHO instructions in this regard.

Alleging that the government was acting contrary to international norms in respect of final rights of Covid-19 victims, Jayasuriya pointed out that internationally acclaimed virologist Prof. Malik Peiris recently set the record straight. He suggested that burials should be allowed with bodies wrapped in impermeable material.

Responding to another query raised by The Island, the former lawmaker emphasized that continuing prohibition on burials couldn’t be justified under any circumstances as the entire world allowed burials.

Pointing out that there had been a series of discussions among various stakeholders in that regard over the past couple of months and the issue at hand also figured during parliamentary proceedings, the former Speaker drew the government’s attention to a recent court directive that a body should be kept in cold storage until expert committee decided on the matter.

Jayasuriya urged the government to take a decision without further delay. The former Speaker warned that the failure on the part of the government to respond positively to reasonable request could be exploited by extremist elements. The NMSJ Chief said that the government should not turn a blind eye to public protests in various parts of the world demanding the Muslims given burial rights.

Muslims protested both in and outside parliament with Thowheed Jamaat displaying placards at Galle Face against the government.

Purawesi Balaya spokesperson Viyangoda said that the government bid to bury Sri Lankan Muslim dead (corona victims) in the Maldives revealed the bankruptcy of the SLPP lot. Viyangoda said that the Maldives turned down Sri Lanka’s request on the basis it could cause unrest there.

Regardless of UN and WHO assertions that burial of those who died of Covid-19 didn’t pose health risk, Sri Lanka prohibited burials but allowed unrestricted import of foreign garbage, including hazardous materials during the last regime, Viyangoda said.

The civil society activist asked whether anyone of those who had been responsible for importing container loads of British garbage were hauled up before courts.

Having imported garbage from Europe, Sri Lanka now wanted to export bodies to Maldives because it was a Muslim country, Viyangoda said.

Viyangoda said that the government decision was certainly not fair by both Muslims and Catholics as both communities buried their dead.

Referring to a plethora of recent claims that burial of Covid-19 victims posed a grave danger as the groundwater could get contaminated, Viyangoda said that no less a person than Prof. Malik Peiris recently declared scientific opinion on the issue at hand. Once Prof. Peiris stated his opinion there couldn’t be an issue over resumption of burials, Viyangoda said.

Viyangoda said that only China and Sri Lanka carried out compulsory cremations contrary to the stand taken by the UN and WHO.

Both Jayasuriya and Viyangoda pointed out that UN Resident Representative in Colombo Hanaa Singer in early last month made representations to Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa in this regard.

Viyangoda said that Justice Minister Ali Sabry, PC, recently explained why burials should be allowed as the practice didn’t pose a health risk. Appreciating the stand taken by Minister Sabry on this particular issue, Viyangoda said that the National List MP looked at the issue at hand as a member of the community affected by an extremely unfair government stance. However, Minister Sabry took a very different stand on other issues, Viyangoda said. A case in point, he said was the President’s Counsel’s stand on the 20th Amendment to the Constitution.

Viyangoda said that Minister Sabry’s 50 minute video on social media should be watched by both those for and against burials.

Viyangoda said that lawmaker Prof. Tissa Vitharana, too, expressed a view contrary to that of the SLPP as he was no longer a member of the cabinet. The civil society activist said that Prof. Vitharana wouldn’t have uttered a word contrary to the government stand if he was accommodated in the cabinet.

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MCC inconsistent with Constitution

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AG agrees with Prof. Gunaruwan report

By Shamindra Ferdinando

Attorney General Dappula de Livera, PC, has informed President Gotabaya Rajapaksa that the Millennium Challenge Corporation (MCC) Compact, Project Implementation Agreement, as well as Articles of Association of MCA (Millennium Challenge Act), Sri Lanka, are violative of cerain provisions of the Constitution.

The AG has said so in a 20-page report sent to Dr. P.B. Jayasundera, Secretary to the President.

The President’s Office on Sept. 3, 2020, sought the AG’s opinion on the MCC Compact and related matters in the wake of the Cabinet-appointed Prof. Gunaruwan Committee strongly advising against going ahead with the US initiative. The US sought Sri Lanka’s consent for the Acquisition and Cross Servicing Agreement (ACSA), Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA) and MCC. The previous government finalised ACSA in early August 2017.

Dr. Jayasundera made available the Gunaruwan report to the AG.

The outgoing US administration in Dec 2020 announced Sri Lanka had been left out of the MCC project.

AG’s Coordinating Officer State Counsel Nishara Jayaratne confirmed the MCC et al were inconsistent with the Constitution and other laws.

The Island,

 however, learns that the AG’s Department on two previous occasions, in letters dated Oct 10, 2018 and June 10, 2019, addressed to Jonathan G. Nash, Chief Operating Officer, MCC, and Director General, External Resources Department, respectively, asserted that the Compact and the Programme Implementation Agreement (PIA) were in line with the Sri Lankan law.

The first letter was sent during Jayantha Jayasuriya’s tenure as the AG and the second under incumbent AG without his approval, sources said. Dappula de Livera succeeded Jayasuriya in April 2019 about a week after the April 21 Easter Sunday carnage. Jayasuriya is the incumbent Chief Justice.

Prof. Gunaruwan’s Committee soon after the last presidential election in Nov 2019 failed to obtain the AG’s Department opinion in spite of making representations through the Prime Minister’s Office.

In the run-up to 2019 parliamentary election, then Finance Minister Mangala Samaraweera said the Attorney General had approved the US project though the Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna (SLPP) called it a sell-out.

The following is the text of the letter dated Oct 10, 2018 captioned ‘Legal Status of Proposed MCC Compact signed by Sanjay Rajaratnam, PC, Senior Additional Solicitor General, addressed to Jonathan G. Nash, Chief Operating Officer, MCC:

“I refer to your communication dated 27th September, 2018 in respect of the above captioned matter. In this regard, I am made to understand that the delegation from the Government of Sri Lanka was able to have fruitful discussion with the Millennium Challenge Corporation Team in resolving some of the outstanding issues.

“Having gleaned through the proposed Millennium Challenge Compact, the draft Program Implementation Agreement (PIA) as well as the Points of Discussion (without prejudice) between the negotiating parties which has been made available to me, I wish to at the very outset opine that no existing laws of Sri Lanka inhibit the Compact and the PIA being implemented in Sri Lanka. If I may elucidate further, the covenants of the Compact and the PIA do not infringe any existing domestic law or any previous undertakings given by the Government of Sri Lanka. It is acknowledged that the Compact imposes legal obligations on both parties to the Agreement

“Further, consequent to the negotiations and discussions had between parties, it is proposed that the Government of Sri Lanka would seek the passage of a law in Parliament to establish the MCA- Sri Lanka as a non-profit Company limited by guarantee under the Companies Act No.07 of 2007 to implement the provisions of the Compact. It is envisaged that the proposed enactment would encompass the Compact and the PIA as Annexures, which would form an integral part of this enactment.

“Thus, I am of the view that the passage of the said enactment by Parliament would result in the Compact and the PIA, having the parity of status of a domestic law in Sri Lanka.

“In the Context of the above, it is requisite that Section 7.1 of Article 7 of the Compact referring to the provisions on Entry Into Force, would be revised with the deletion of the sentence pertaining to the Compact prevailing over the domestic laws of Sri Lanka.

“However, in order to assuage any concerns with regard to the implementation of the Compact, by an unlikely event of a legislation in the future which may impinge or infringe the said compact, upon notification by the Ministry of Finance and Mass Media (the relevant Ministry) of this fact, a legal opinion would be tendered that the proposed legislation if proceeded with would violate the covenants of the Compact. This would enable the relevant Ministry to forward its observations to the Cabinet of Ministers and Parliament, that the Attorney-General has opined that the proposed Bill if enacted would violate the Compact.

“In the circumstances, I believe that the aforementioned matters would confirm the legal status of the Compact and its entry into force.”

“Copies were sent to Ms. Caroline Nguyen, Managing Director- Europe, Asia Pacific and Latin America Millennium Challenge Corporation and J. Charitha Ratwatte, Head of Policy Development and Chief of Party MCC- Sri Lanka Project.”

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Environmentalist accuses Govt. of resorting to trickery to hand over 800,000 acres to pvt. companies

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By Rathindra Kuruwita

President Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s ‘Gama Samaga Pilisandara’ is a psychological operation to counter people’s resistance to a move to hand over chena and grasslands to large companies, environmentalist Sajeewa Chamikara said yesterday.

Chamikara claimed that the government had earmarked 800,000 acres of land to be given to corporations, and those lands would mainly consist of forests and areas used for chena cultivations and to feed cattle by small scale farmers.

“The Gama Samaga Pilisandara is an attempt to misguide the people by giving them false promises. The government tells people they could cultivate lands belonging to the Forest Conservation Department and instructs officials not to punish people who send cattle into forests. People walk away feeling good but a few months later they will find that these same lands handed over to big companies.”

They had conducted a survey on the lands that had been given to corporations by the government during 2020 Most of those lands in fact were those used by cattle herders and chena cultivators, he said.

For example 70,000 acres in Demaliya and Wandama were being given to a company engaged in sugarcane cultivation, and almost all those lands were those used by small scale farmers and cattle herders, Chamikara said. Among the lands that were given were those earmarked for those displaced by the Uma Oya project. The previous administrations tried to provide irrigation water to those lands through the Handapanagala scheme.

Chamikara said: “Another 62,000 acres have been earmarked in Moneragala, Ampara and Badulla districts for sugarcane cultivation. 80% of these lands are chena cultivations. In Rambaken Oya 5,426 acres have been earmarked for 15 companies to carry out various agro projects and most of these lands are now used by small scale cattle herders. Recently, the Department of Agriculture wrote to the Forest Conservation Department requesting that 80,000 acres in Moneragala, Anuradhapura and Badulla districts be released. These lands are to be used for corn cultivation. The Forest Conservation Department then asked the Department of Agriculture to identify the lands and we know that these lands for the most part are those used by small scale cattle herders and chena cultivators.”

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Contempt of Court case against GMOA President re-fixed for hearing on March 03 and 10

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By Chitra Weerarathne

The Court of Appeal yesterday re-fixed for hearing on March 3 and March 10, the Contempt of Court application against the President of the Government Medical Officers’ Association Dr. Anuruddha Padeniya.

Counsel Ravindranath Dabare said that his client Dr. Padeniya was under self-quarantine and was unable to attend Court.

Dr. Padeniya was summoned for Contempt of Court under Article 105/3 of the Constitution of Sri Lanka for allegedly having criticised a Superior Court ruling in respect of the admission of students to the Sri Lanka Institute of Technology and Medicine, Malabe, at a public rally on April 7, 2016, disrespecting a Supreme Court order pertaining to the enrolment of a student in the Private Medical College, which will ultimately lead to an MBBS degree.

The Court of Appeal bench comprised Justice Arjuna Obeysekera (President) and Dr. Mayadunne Corea.

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