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Easter Sunday probe: Former HR Chief sets the record straight

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…contradicts Sirisena’s claim of dead LTTE cadre’s family member on HRCSL staff

By Shamindra Ferdinando

Former Chairperson of the Human Rights Commission of Sri Lanka (HRCSL) Dr. Deepika Udagama strongly refuted former President Maithriapala Sirisena’s claims that during her tenure as the HRCSL Chief a family member of a dead LTTE cadre was accommodated in the setup. Dr. Udagama emphasized that she had never heard of that particular allegation before. There was absolutely no basis for accusations or claims she had been summoned by the former President over the alleged inclusion of a member of the dead LTTE cadre’s family on the staff.

 The Island sought explanation to several issues in the wake of media reports pertaining to the recent P CoI proceedings. Former President Maithripala Sirisena, in response to P CoI queries, directed serious allegations in respect of the HRCSL conduct and also questioned the former Chairperson’s responsibilities as the then Chairperson.

The following are the questions

(Q)   The former President alleged that the inclusion of a family member of a dead LTTE cadre in the HRCSL caused serious problems. Did HRCSL accommodate any such person? If so, can you reveal the name of the dead LTTE cadre and the circumstances he/she died?

(A) First, I wish to point out that my responses are based on the assumption that the media reports you refer to have correctly reported the statement made by the former President as there has been no denial from the former President’s office.

I served as the Chairperson of HRCSL from the end October, 2015 – August, 2020. During that period I am not aware of any such person being recruited by the Commission. Where the staff was concerned, in fact, during the entire period of my tenure it was not possible to hire a single staff member due to administrative complications stemming from first, the absence of a Scheme of Recruitment (SOR) and secondly, the complicated procedural and other delays and difficulties in recruiting staff after approval was obtained by the relevant authorities for such a Scheme. Where the Commissioners are concerned, as I am sure that you are aware, the President appoints all Commissioners and the Chairperson on the recommendation of the Constitutional Council per provisions of the 19th Amendment to the Constitution. Again here, I am not aware of any Commissioner being the family member of a dead LTTE cadre.         

 (Q) Did the President summon you for a meeting/sought an explanation over the inclusion of a dead LTTE cadre’s relative?

(A) No. In fact, it would be very problematic if anyone in government ‘summoned’ a Chairperson or a member of an independent commission.  We were never summoned. However, we did receive invitations from the Office of the President on a couple of occasions for discussions with President Sirisena. On one such occasion, I recall it was in early 2017, the Chair and all Commissioners were invited for a meeting with the President. We were not informed in advance what the discussion was about.

At the meeting, President Sirisena expressed his displeasure about a report HRCSL had sent the UN Committee against Torture in October, 2016. We explained that the report was submitted at the request of the Committee when it was due to examine Sri Lanka’s periodic report under the UN Convention against Torture. As Sri Lanka had legally accepted the Convention, the State was legally bound to provide periodic reports to explain how it was meeting legal obligations undertaken to prevent and punish torture. We explained that it was standard practice of all UN human rights treaty bodies to invite the national human rights institution and also civil society to submit parallel reports. It was also pointed out that the statistics of torture indicated in the HRCSL report were of complaints of torture received annually by the Commission; just as much as police crime statistics are of complaints of crime recorded by the police and not of adjudicated cases of crime, the Commission too traced patterns of violation via the number of complaints it received.

HRCSL consistently pointed out that during the tenure of the previous government political freedom, freedom of expression, association and assembly vastly expanded and that serious forms of violations such as enforced disappearances were not reported. However, it was pointed out that custodial violations have been a problem for decades and it had to be seriously addressed.

(Q)   The former President accused the HRCSL of depriving SL military opportunity to serve under UN Command

(A) The Commission’s observation was that the UN welcomed the deployment of well-trained officers of the Tri Forces and police from Sri Lanka for its Peacekeeping operations. Pursuant to a resolution adopted by the General Assembly, all troops deployed for peacekeeping have to be subject to human rights vetting. The vetting process, undertaken by HRCSL at the invitation of the UN and the previous government, experienced initial difficulties until it was streamlined as it was an entirely novel process. Pursuant to the adoption of a Standard Operating Procedure in 2018 with the concurrence of the Tri Forces, police, HRCSL, UN and GOSL, vetting of officers has progressed well.  It is not possible to agree that the routine report submitted by HRCSL to the UN Committee against Torture diminished opportunities for our troops.

 In fact, the Sri Lanka Army affirmed that it has the ‘highest confidence in the HRCSL that it does its utmost to expedite this HR screening processes in a Statement issued on March 28th 2019 which was carried in all media. In fact, in that Statement, the Army said ‘the task of screening is not that easy since the HRCSL, apart from the duties it has to perform according to its prime mandate, have to scrutinize thousands of applications as all three services and the Police are engaged in UN peacekeeping,’ It was further said that, ‘Sri Lankans, should be proud that the UN selected the HRCSL, Sri Lanka’s own organization, to carry out the domestic mechanism in the HR screening process.’

 (Q)Would you volunteer/seek an opportunity from P CoI to respond to accusations directed at the HRCSL

(A) I do not see how the reported statement made by the former President before the PCoI is relevant to the matter under investigation.

(Q) Can you briefly explain the President’s role and that of the Constitutional Council in the appointment of HRCSL (members of Independent Commissions) and finally

(A) My response to your first question addressed this issue.

(Q) Do you think HRCSL contributed in any way leading to the political crisis that may have facilitated the Easter attacks?

 (A) If anyone makes that accusation against the HRCSL, it is hard to comprehend the logic behind it. How could protection of people’s rights lead to such a crisis? I thought the previous government was commended for establishing independent commissions and for the improved human rights situation. The answer is certainly not. 



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Abandon selfishness and embrace a life of sacrifice and harmony to achieve spiritual and worldly success – President

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President Ranil Wickremesinghe, in his Hajj message emphasizes that to achieve spiritual and worldly success, individuals must abandon selfishness and embrace a life of sacrifice and harmony. It is with this noble aim in mind that Muslims celebrate the Hajj festival each year.

On this occasion, Muslims from around the globe gather at a single place of worship, united in purpose, to pray for communal values that embody the hope of humanity. The Hajj celebration fosters feelings of equality and brotherhood among all people, delivering a profound message for world peace.

I extend my heartfelt wishes to the entire Muslim community in Sri Lanka and around the world for a meaningful Hajj celebration, where everyone comes together to fulfill the aspirations of humanity.

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Justice Minister goes ahead with SLFP election campaign

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… attends Karandeniya meeting with MS

by Shamindra Ferdinando

Justice Minister Dr. Wijeyadasa Rajapakshe, who calls himself the SLFP’s presidential candidate, launched the SLFP’s election campaign yesterday (16) in spite of restraining orders the Colombo District Court has issued against him and former SLFP Chairman Maithripala Sirisena.

Minister Rajapakshe attended the SLFP meeting at Karandeniya, the main meeting of the Galle District. Former President Sirisena was also present at the meeting organised by former monitoring MP of the Foreign Ministry Sajin de Vas Gunawardena.

Restrictions imposed on Sirisena and Rajapakshe are effective until June 19 and June 25, respectively.

The Election Commission on May 09 announced by virtue of the powers vested in the Commission to fix the date for the Presidential Election, it will hold the Presidential Election between 17 September and 16 October 2024.

The group headed by Sirisena decided to go ahead with the campaign, especially in the wake of the other section forming an alliance with a group of SLPP rebels to back Ranil Wickremesinghe’s candidature at the forthcoming Presidential Poll. However, Sirisena and Minister Rajapakshe, both elected to Parliament on the SLPP ticket, couldn’t represent the party, in any capacity, sources say.

Meanwhile, Chief Government Whip Urban Development and Housing Minister Prasanna Ranatunga yesterday (16) disclosed that the ruling SLPP wouldn’t field a candidate of its own and would throw its weight behind a candidate in the fray instead.

When he was asked, after a meeting in Minuwangoda, whether the SLPP would field a presidential candidate, Minister Ranatunga said it would support a candidate in the fray. Minister Ranatunga reiterated that the incumbent President was the best to lead the country therefore he believed he should be supported. The Minister said that the support would grow for Wickremesinghe after he officially declared his candidature.

Minister Ranatunga said that though he didn’t like Wickremesinghe the current crisis had compelled him to back him.

Another Minister Pavitradevi Wanniarachchci, widely believed to be a staunch Rajapaksa loyalist, declared on Saturday (15) though the SLPP and President Wickremesinghe differed on policy for the sake of the country such differences had to be sunk. Wanniarachchi said so in Embilipitiya.

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NMSJ calls for proper use of IMF funds

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Karu Jayasuriya

Former Speaker and the National Movement of Social Justice (NMSJ) Chairperson Karu Jayasuriya, yesterday stressed the critical importance of effectively utilising the third tranche of the International Monetary Fund (IMF) bailout package.

Jayasuriya has, in a media statement, said steps must be taken to ensure proper use of the funds. The IMF released the third tranche of $ 336 million from its $ 2.9 billion bailout package.

Full text of the statement: “We believe that the release of the third tranche by the International Monetary Fund (IMF) is crucial for Sri Lanka’s restructuring programme and is in the nation’s best interest. It is our national responsibility to allocate and manage these funds towards the country’s development. Given the current economic challenges and the significant sacrifices made by the people, it is imperative that every penny received is used responsibly and effectively.

“Our foremost concern is the urgent need to combat waste and corruption, consistently highlighted by the IMF.

“Additionally, rehabilitating neglected ancient tanks, totaling approximately 15,000, for modern agricultural use is essential. This initiative can be supported by international funds, friendly nations, the private sector, and the military, promising transformative outcomes.

“Another major task is to immediately accelerate the export sector. In the 1990s, a significant programme under the theme “Export or Perish” was launched, including the highly successful international trade fair “Expo 92,” which attracted 5,600 foreign buyers. The concept of Export Villages was successfully implemented, resulting in high incomes for people in selected villages. Given the current situation, we can establish special export villages by leveraging the support of the supermarket chains that are currently operating successfully.

“The Export Development Board (EDB) should be given the necessary resources and powers to strengthen its capabilities. With advanced communication technology, Sri Lanka can be promoted as a country with rapidly increasing exports, even without the need for traditional exhibitions.

“At the same time, it is crucial to support the development of small and medium-scale entrepreneurs (SMEs). This can be achieved by providing subsidized interest rates and basic infrastructure facilities. We should take inspiration from the former Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, who created new opportunities for India’s youth through the development of the IT/BPO sector. This concept can be easily popularized in Sri Lanka, offering similar benefits.

“The National Movement for Social Justice (NMSJ) urges immediate action on these fronts, expecting responsible leadership to address these pressing issues.”

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