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Ex-HRCSL head challenges ‘Bureau of Rehabilitation Bill’

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alleges govt. targeting protesters

Alleging that those who participated in the recent protests could be targeted, former Human Rights Commissioner Ambika Satkunanathan moved the Supreme Court last Friday (30 Sept.) against the ‘Bureau of Rehabilitation Bill’.The Attorney-at-Law named Attorney General Sanjay Rajaratnam, PC, as the respondent. The fundamental rights petition has been filed in terms of Article 121(1) of the Constitution challenging the Bill, titled “Bureau of Rehabilitation Act”. The petitioner has stated that provisions of the Bill were inconsistent with the fundamental rights enshrined in the Constitution  of Sri Lanka that guaranteed freedom from arbitrary arrest and detention, torture and ill-treatment, and unequal treatment and discrimination.

Satkunanathan served the Human Rights Commission during the Yahapalana administration at the time Dr. Deepika Udagama functioned as the independent commission’s chairperson.The petition states that the Bill purports to establish a Bureau for the rehabilitation of “drug dependent persons, ex-combatants, members of violent extremist groups and any other group of persons who require treatments and rehabilitation”.

 Notwithstanding the fact that these categories are ill-defined and do not clarify how persons may qualify for rehabilitation under these categories, the Bill assumes that “members of violent extremist groups” and “drug dependent persons” require that same approach to rehabilitation. The use of such vague and arbitrary classifications can thus lead to persons being detained for rehabilitation for even participating in protests, as recent arrests of protesters, under the Prevention of Terrorism Act, have demonstrated.

The government has previously attempted to introduce a similar rehabilitation programme under the “Prevention of Terrorism (De-radicalization from holding violent extremist religious ideology) Regulations No. 01 of 2021”. The petitioner filed a fundamental rights petition against these regulations, as well, in SC FR Application No. 107/2021 as they contained provisions that contravened articles of the Constitution. The Supreme Court granted leave to proceed, issuing an interim order against the regulations being applied until the final determination of the application. The petitioner states the Bill in its current format is similarly ex facie unconstitutional and impinges on fundamental rights.

The petitioner has raised concerns against the militarisation of the rehabilitation process by way of section 17 of the Bill, which allows the President to designate any member of the armed forces to exercise, perform and discharge the powers, duties and functions under the Act. The petitioner states that there is no connection between the rehabilitation process and involvement of the armed forces, and the lack of a clear chain of command restricts oversight and accountability of the actions of the members of the armed forces. These concerns are exacerbated due to section 25 of the Bill, whereby officers of the Bureau are prevented from disclosing information about the ongoing activities at the Centres, which threatens the welfare of persons detained for the purposes of rehabilitation.

The petitioner has cited other provisions of concern in the Bill, including section 28 (2) where persons employed at the Centres for Rehabilitation “to preserve order and discipline” may use all means “including minimum force as may reasonably be necessary to compel obedience to any lawful directions’’, which enables the use of violence against persons detained at the centres. Section 27 makes the obstruction or attempted obstruction of any person employed at a Centre for Rehabilitation in the performance of their duties an offence punishable by a fine and/or imprisonment, without defining what may constitute an obstruction. For instance, relapse and withdrawal symptoms are expected aspects of drug treatment processes, but under the above-mentioned provisions, persons engaging in such behaviour could be subjected to punishment.

The petitioner has requested the Supreme Court to declare several sections of the Bill, as outlined in the petition, inconsistent with Articles 10, 11, 12(1), 12(2), 13(2), 13(4) and/or 14A of the Constitution of Sri Lanka as they violate the fundamental rights and Sovereignty of the People contrary to Article 3 and 4 of the Constitution, and therefore cannot be enacted into law except if approved by the People, at a Referendum, in addition to a two-thirds vote of the whole number of the members of Parliament in favour.



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Embassy officer arrested at BIA remanded

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The Embassy official who was attached to the Sri Lanka Embassy in Oman who is accused of being involved in a human trafficking racket was arrested by officers of the Criminal Investigation Department (CID) and remanded till the 13th of December when he was produced before the Colombo Chief Magistrate

The official was arrested on his arrival at the Bandaranaike International Airport (BIA) this morning (29 November).

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Easter Sunday terror attack suspect hacked to death

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By Norman Palihawadane

A 38-year-old Easter Sunday terror attack suspect was hacked to death yesterday morning (28) in Mattakkuliya.

The victim, Mohamed Badurdeen Mohamed Harnas, was a resident of Safiya Avenue, Mattakkuliya, police said.

A suspect in the Easter Sunday terror attacks, he had been released on bail.

The suspect was rushed to the National Hospital, Colombo, after three individuals, who arrived in a car around 10. 00 am, attacked him.

Two persons attacked the man while the other was keeping the car engine running, according to eyewitnesses. The attackers thereafter fled in the same car.

Harnas was pronounced dead on admission to hospital.

Further investigations in this regard are currently underway.

The victims family members said that Harnas had been taken into custody, following the 2019 Easter Sunday attacks, but later released as there was no evidence of his involvement in terrorist activities.

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Rail service between Mahawa and Jaffna to be suspended for five months

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Transport Minister Bandula Gunawardena told Parliament yesterday that the railway services between Mahawa and Jaffna will be suspended for a period of five months in 2023.

The Minister said that operations will be suspended from January 15, 2023.

The Minister said it was to repair work on the railway line.

He said so in response to a question raised by Vanni District MP Selvam Adaikalanathan.

“We are focusing our attention on the request made by you. We have to halt railway operations between Mahawa and Jaffna for five months from January 2023. Train services have been continuously operating to Jaffna, but now we have faced a situation as we have not been able to carry out any repair work thus far,” the Minister said.

Assuring that this issue can be rectified in five months, Minister Gunawardane said that, thereafter, a good railway service can be provided for this route.

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