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Ex-Indian HC in Colombo during turbulent 1989-90 will be featured in next Pathfinder “In Conversation” webinar

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Ambassador Lakhan Mehrotra, former High Commissioner of India in Sri Lanka, will be featured in the next Pathfinder “In Conversation” webinar scheduled at 2.30 p.m. IST/SLST on Thursday 28th October.

Mehrotra will be interviewed by Bernard Goonetilleke, Chairman, Pathfinder Foundation. They will discuss the guest speaker’s publication ‘My Days in Sri Lanka’, which features his experience during the period 1989-1990, when he served as High Commissioner of India in Sri Lanka, during a politically turbulent era coupled with the separatist war in the north-east and an insurrection in the south.

His book, ‘My Days in Sri Lanka’ touches on the beginnings of the conflict, briefly follows on its evolution until it reached its peak in the early 1990s, and then takes the reader in detail through the author’s own experience in the country, nearly two years after the 1987 Indo-Lanka Agreement was signed and the Indian Peace Keeping Force had been inducted at the invitation of President J. R. Jayewardene, while President Premadasa, who succeeded President Jayewardene considered the presence of an Indian military contingent on his nation’s soil as an affront to its sovereignty. Soon after his election, the President issued an ultimatum for the IPKF to leave its shores by 29th July 1989 and threatened military action against it if it failed to do so, which brought the two nations to the brink of a military confrontation.

The High Commissioner’s intensive consultations and tireless interaction with the political leaders of Sri Lanka, the warring factions in the country’s north-east, and the governments in New Delhi and Colombo helped signing of the joint communique on 28th July 1989 on arrangements for phased withdrawal of the IPKF in March 1990 with due recognition of its contribution and sacrifices made to preserve the unity, integrity and sovereignty of the country. ‘My Days in Sri Lanka’ provides information that has never been divulged before. The “In Conversation” webinar will delve into these experiences of the High Commissioner; whose rather brief assignment was from April 1989 to June 1990.

Following his assignment that covered the most turbulent period of Sri Lanka in modern times, Ambassador Mehrotra served as Secretary (East) in the Ministry of External Affairs and as Prime Minister’s Special Envoy for Africa before his retirement in 1992. Later, he served as UN Secretary General’s Personal Representative in Cambodia from 1997 to 2000 and as Head of the UN Diplomatic Mission in Jakarta for Peace Talks between Indonesia and East Timor.

Those who are interested in retracing the history of Sri Lanka should register in advance for this webinar through the link below:

https://us02web.zoom.us/webinar/register/WN_0nxJI2dPR8SCKK7k4hqDpg



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Cabinet nod to provide land for victims of floods and landslide

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The Cabinet of Ministers taking into account a proposal made by the Minister of Tourism, approved the distribution of 200 acres of the land known as Hineford Estate located in the Pasbage Korale Divisional Secretariat in Kandy to the victims of floods and landslides and residents of high risk zones for such disasters.

 

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Privilege issue: House warned against move to summon SC judges

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Treasury Chief given seven-day ultimatum

By Shamindra Ferdinando

The Freedom People’s Alliance (FPA) yesterday (20) said that the contentious move to summon judges of the Supreme Court before the House Ethics and Privileges Committee, this week, over an interim order could have disastrous consequences.

Former Speaker Chamal Rajapaka heads the Ethics and Privileges Committee.

Addressing the media, at Nawala, the ex-External Affairs Minister pointed out that the government had not only ignored the interim ruling issued by the Supreme Court, but sought to interfere with the judiciary.

Referring to the powers exercised by the executive, legislature and judiciary, Prof. Peiris alleged that the government wanted to keep the judiciary under its thumb.

The former minister declared that there was absolutely no basis for privilege issues raised by SLPP MPs, Premanath Dolawatte, Attorney-at-Law, and Shehan Semasinghe, State Finance Minister.

The MPs, on 07 and 10 March, respectively, raised privilege issues over an interim order that cleared the obstacles for the conducting of polls.

The order was given by the three-member Supreme Court bench, comprising judges Preethi Padman Surasena, Janak de Silva and Priyantha Fernando, allowing the consideration of a fundamental rights petition filed by Samagi Jana Balawegaya General Secretary, MP Ranjith Madduma Bandara.

The former law professor said that the move against the Supreme Court should be examined, taking into consideration Finance Secretary Mahinda Siriwardena conveniently ignoring the directive given on 03 March. Lawmaker Chamal Rajapakse’s committee includes Justice Minister Dr. Wijeyadasa Rajapakse, PC, Kanaka Herath, Vijitha Berugoda, Tharaka Balasuriya, Anuradha Jayaratne, Dullus Alahapperuma, Kabir Hashim, Jayantha Ketagoda, Gajendrakumar Ponnambalam, Hesha Withanage, Kokila Gunawardena, Ali Sabry Raheem, Samanpriya Herath and Dr. Harini Amarasuriya.

“If Siriwardena fails to release funds as required by the Election Commission, within seven days from today, the joint Opposition will move the Supreme Court against him on the basis of contempt of court,” the academic said.

Pledging the undivided support of the Opposition to the judiciary, Prof. Peiris said that the interim order was issued to the Secretary of the Finance Ministry and the Attorney General preventing them from withholding the funds allocated for the Election Commission, through the Budget passed by the Parliament for 2023.

In addition, the apex court issued another interim order preventing the misappropriation of money allocated to the government printing press for the printing of ballot papers.

These interim orders were issued to the Secretary of the Ministry of Finance, who were named as respondents in the relevant petition, and the Attorney General, who was named on behalf of the President.

Prof. Peiris said that in spite of clear directives in this regard, the Treasury Chief has refrained from releasing funds. Instead of addressing that issue, the ruling party was now going after Supreme Court judges, Prof. Peiris said.

The MP said that if the government was allowed to get away with this, the same strategy would be applied to avoid conducting a presidential election next year.

Prof. Peiris said that the conduct of Parliament, in this regard, could not be acceptable. The former minister found fault with Parliament for interfering in legitimate functions of the Supreme Court, thereby creating an explosive environment which may contribute to further destabilization.

The SJB, in a letter delivered to the Treasury Secretary, warned him of their decision to initiate contempt of court proceedings unless he immediately complied with the original interim order issued by the Supreme Court.

Prof. Peiris said that fearing a certain defeat, the Wickremesinghe-Rajapaksa government had sought to indefinitely put off scheduled Local Government polls, much to the chagrin of the electorate. In support of that disgraceful strategy, they had gone to the extent of challenging the Supreme Court, the former minister said. The lawmaker compared the action contemplated against the judges of the Supreme Court to recent measures taken in respect of Siyatha TV for being critical of government strategies.

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Bar Council of England and Wales asks GoSL not to undermine judicial independence

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The Bar Council of England and Wales has urged the Sri Lankan government not to undermine the independence of the judiciary. It has, in a media statement, said it is hopeful that the parliamentary authorities, in Sri Lanka, will reconsider “most carefully” the appropriateness of questioning Supreme Court judges before a parliamentary committee.

The text of the statement:  Elections to Sri Lanka’s Local Authorities are supposed to have taken place by 19 March, 2023. The Sri Lankan Parliament has allocated funds, through the National Budget, but release of the funds has been blocked, despite requests from the Elections Commission. On 3 March, 2023, a three-judge bench of the Sri Lankan Supreme Court issued an interim order to the Attorney-General, and to the Secretary to the Treasury, to refrain from withholding funds for the elections to the country’s local authorities.

The Speaker of the Sri Lankan Parliament has recently accepted a request to refer the conduct of the three Supreme Court judges to the Sri Lankan Parliamentary Committee on Ethics and Privileges, and on 10 March the Sri Lankan Minister of Finance, Shehan Semasinghe, told Parliament that “it is a serious offence to implement the interim order before hearing the privilege issue by the Parliamentary Committee on Ethics and Privileges.” The Minister then requested the Deputy Speaker to advise all relevant authorities not to act on matters relating to the polls until the said Parliamentary Committee concludes its inquiry on the matter. The Parliamentary authorities have now written to the Court Registry asking for a copy of the interim order to be placed before the Committee on Privileges on 22 March, 2023.

The UN Basic Principles on the Independence of the Judiciary state that “it is the duty of all governmental, and other institutions, to respect and observe the independence of the judiciary” and “there shall not be any inappropriate or unwarranted interference with the judicial process, nor shall judicial decisions by the courts be subject to revision.”

Chair of the Bar Council of England and Wales, Nick Vineall KC, said: “An independent judiciary is an essential and integral part of the rule of law. So too is the principle that governments comply with court orders.

“We hope that the parliamentary authorities in Sri Lanka will reconsider most carefully the appropriateness of questioning Supreme Court Judges before a parliamentary committee, and we similarly hope that the Sri Lankan government will consider most carefully whether it can ever be right to encourage disobedience to court orders.”

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