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GL recalls how SLA was wrongly blamed for Mannar mass graves

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By Shamindra Ferdinando

Education Minister Prof. G.L. Peiris, who is also Chairman of the ruling SLPP, has questioned the rationale in UN human rights Chief Michelle Bachelet’s latest report that dealt with Sri Lanka accountability issues during the war and post-conflict period in the run-up to the 46th session of the Geneva-based United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC).

Bachelet served as the Chilean President for nine years beginning 2006.

 Acknowledging that Sri Lanka was again on the Geneva agenda, Prof. Peiris told a media briefing at the SLPP office at Battaramulla that Foreign Minister Dinesh Gunawardena would state the government’s stand. Prof. Peiris, who served as the External Affairs Minister during President Mahinda Rajapaksa’s second term (2010-2015) emphasized the government would take the following factors into consideration. Prof. Peiris asked how the UNHRC as regards Sri Lanka pursued a controversial agenda not compatible with its mandate. The top academic emphasized therefore forceful intervention in domestic matters was contrary to its mandate.

The UNHRC consists of 47 countries divided into five groups.

Referring to Bachelet’s latest report Prof. Peiris pointed out the absurdity in the UN human rights chief raising the enactment of an Amendment to the Constitution, appointments given to retired armed forces officers and interference in parliamentary matters. The Education Minister said the UN rights chief and the UNHRC had no business to intervene in such domestic matters.

 Minister Peiris said that the UNHRC actions should be fair by all member states of the UN. Recollecting his recent three-day visit to Kilinochchi and the Jaffna peninsula, Prof. Peiris alleged that Bachelet conveniently ignored substantial development achieved in the Northern and Eastern Provinces since the eradication of the LTTE.

 Sri Lanka brought the war to a successful conclusion in May 2009.

 The former Chief Negotiator for the government in talks with the LTTE, Prof. Peiris faulted Bachelet for not giving sufficient attention to two key post-war factors namely rehabilitation of the LTTE cadre and vacation of public and private land and property occupied by the military.

 Prof. Peiris said Sri Lanka had rehabilitated as many as 12,000 LTTE cadres after fighting ‘the world’s most ruthless terrorist organisation’, in an efficient manner that received the appreciation of some sections of the international community. The UN human rights chief however had chosen to ignore Sri Lanka’s unique rehabilitation project, the minister said, urging the Geneva body to give up its offensive directed at post-war Sri Lanka.

 Prof. Peiris explained the orderly vacation of public and private property in the Northern and Eastern provinces by the security forces would never have been possible without the eradication of the LTTE. Those who always inquire about the continuing military presence in the predominantly Tamil speaking areas were conspicuously silent about significant reduction of in military presence over the years, Prof Peiris said. Would that be possible until the armed forces crushed the LTTE, Prof. Peiris asked.

 Prof. Peiris said that the Office of the Missing Persons (OMP), too, was continuing its work. The SLPP Chairman also pointed out Bachelet’s failure to recognize improvement in education, agriculture, fisheries and industrial sectors over the past decade.

 Prof. Peiris said that the Geneva body lost its credibility as it dealt with countries differently. “We are a case in point,” Minister Peiris said, underscoring Sri Lanka was definitely not the first country investigated over accountability issues. 

The former foreign minister alleged that the UNHRC targeted some countries while some received protection. The minister said that the Geneva body was being used by those with vested interests to suit their agendas. The minister described Sri Lanka as a victim of that despicable strategy.

 The former Foreign Minister said that the Geneva body should give due recognition to local mechanisms set up by Sri Lanka to address accountability issues. Unfortunately, Geneva had ignored the LLRC, Paranagama Commission as well as its Second Mandate thereby deprived Sri Lanka of an opportunity to set the record straight.

 The Minister said that the international community should recognize the political environment too. Having won two national elections overwhelmingly, in 2019 and 2020, the ruling party commanded the respect of the people, the minister said, urging Geneva to be mindful of the circumstances leading to the rejection of yahapalana administration, twice within 12 months.

 Responding to a query by The Island, Prof. Peiris pointed out that the Geneva rights chief had been in such a hurry to pressure Sri Lanka she blamed the Mannar mass graves on the Sri Lanka Army before US lab revealed the bones found therein were several centuries old and belonged to the colonial period. They never bothered to verify facts, the minister said, calling for examination of disclosure made  by Lord Naseby in Oct 2017, US defence attaché Lt. Col. Lawrence Smith’s statement in June 2011,  Wikileaks cables and dispatches from the UN office during Eelam War IV to establish the truth.

 

 



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Parliament rejected two anti-corruption proposals

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Ex-COPE Chairman makes another revelation:

By Shamindra Ferdinando

Parliament has blocked two specific proposals made by MP Prof. Charitha Herath in his capacity as the Chairman of the Committee on Public Enterprises (COPE) to enable the Parliamentary Watchdog Committee to engage the Attorney General in high profile corruption cases, directly.

SLPP National List MP Herath lost the COPE Chairmanship with the prorogation of the Parliament on 28 July by President Ranil Wickremesinghe. The prorogation results in suspension of all business before the House and quashed all proceedings pending at the time, except impeachments.

Prof. Herath told The Island yesterday (25) that in consultation with Auditor General W. P. C. Wickremaratne, he had requested for the modification of Standing Orders 120, several months back, to permit the COPE to call for Attorney General’s interventions as and when necessary. If that was not acceptable, Parliament should approve specific requests made by him on behalf of the COPE, he suggested.

Prof. Herath said that the alternative, too, has been rejected. Responding to another query, he said that he had submitted the proposals to the Parliamentary Committee on Standing Orders. The Committee consists of nine members, including the Speaker, the Deputy Speaker and the Deputy Chairman of Committees.

Appearing before the Parliamentary Committee on Standing Orders, Prof. Herath also suggested that if proposals submitted in writing weren’t acceptable then at least a representative of the Attorney General should be allowed to participate in the COPE proceedings. That proposal too was turned down.

Prof. Herath said that the rejection of specific measures to address corruption accusations should be examined against the backdrop of the economic fallout of waste, corruption, irregularities and mismanagement of the national economy as well as the unprecedented recommendation by the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) to investigate economic crimes that impact on human rights and the tracing and recovery of stolen assets.

Prof. Herath alleged that the Parliament should be seriously concerned over the Geneva intervention especially because the country was seeking immediate assistance from the International Monetary Fund (IMF). Asserting that the situation was so grave that even USD 2.9 bn loan facility spread over a period of four years couldn’t revive the national economy, Prof. Herath emphasised that streamlining of public sector enterprises was a prerequisite for the economic recovery process. Therefore, corruption had to be curtailed by taking tangible measures, he said.

Prof. Herath said that though the particular Standing Order had been amended it didn’t meet their aspirations. What has been approved by the Parliament was inadequate to meet the growing threat posed by influential racketeers, the outspoken MP said. Prof. Herath has closed ranks with the dissident SLPP group, led by Party Chairman Prof. G.L. Peiris, and Dullas Alahapperuma. Other members of the group are Prof. Channa Jayasumana, Dr. Nalaka Godahewa, Dilan Perera, Dr. Upali Galappatti, Dr. Thilak Rajapaksa, Lalith Ellawala, K.P. S. Kumarasiri, Wasantha Yapa Bandara, Gunapala Ratnasekera and Udayana Kiridigoda.

Prof. Herath said that as the SLPP declined to allocate time for members of the rebel group, he was compelled to obtain five minutes from the Opposition to take up the issue in Parliament.Appreciating Opposition Leader Sajith Premadasa and Chief Opposition Whip Lakshman Kiriella for giving him the opportunity, Prof. Herath pointed out how a carefully prepared set of proposals to strengthen the COPE had been rejected.

Prof. Herath stressed that the intervention of the COPE was required as the Secretaries to the Ministries often failed to proceed with the instructions issued to them. The MP found fault with section 3 and 4 of Standing Orders 120. Declaring that though the Parliament was routinely blamed for its failure to arrest corruption, MP Herath said that Members of Parliament weren’t aware of what was going on. He also called for the strengthening of Standing Orders 119, 120 and 121 that dealt with the Committee on Public Accounts (COPA), COPE and the Committee on Public Finance (COPF), respectively.

MP Herath declared in Parliament that the crux of the matter was that those appointed members of the Cabinet represented the interests of the Executive and thereby undermined the very basis of the responsibilities of the House. The undeniable truth was that the Cabinet ministers didn’t represent the interests of the Parliament. “In other words, they worked against the collective responsibility as members of Parliament to ensure financial discipline,” MP Herath said, pointing out that in some countries the lawmakers were not entrusted with the task of decision-making.

Referring to Executive Sub-Committees to be established, Prof. Herath emphasized the pivotal importance of recognizing their responsibilities. If they were answerable to the Executive there would be serious consequences pertaining to the parliamentary system. Executive Sub-Committees shouldn’t be at the expense of the Parliament, the MP said, underscoring the responsibility of the part of all political parties represented in Parliament to take immediate remedial measures.

The rejection of the COPE proposals meant that the Parliament,as an institution hadn’t been sensitive to the recent public upheaval that forced Gotabaya Rajapaksa, elected with a staggering 6.9 mn votes to give up the presidency and literally flee for his life.

Ranil Wickremesinghe, who had been elected by Parliament to complete the remainder of the five-year term secured by Gotabaya Rajapaksa, and the SLPP, hadn’t realised the need to introduce urgent reforms, the MP alleged.Prof. Herath also questioned the rationale behind setting up of the National Council when the powers that be deprived the existing mechanisms required power to achieve their objectives.

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AHP asks President RW to be wise gazette-wise

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The Academy of Health Professionals (AHP) has called on President Ranil Wickremesinghe to learn from the mistakes of his predecessor and refrain from issuing gazettes, one after the other, and then reverse them in order to prevent worsening of the crisis situation prevailing in the country’s health sector.

AHP President Ravi Kumudesh, has, in a letter to President Ranil Wickremesinghe, said that the country’s health sector is in the present situation as the former President and the Health Minister allowed themselves to be manipulated by a coterie of officials. “We call on the President not to become another ruler who reverses gazettes and to assess the practicality of the proposals put forward by his advisors before gazzetting them. One such cause for the downfall of the health sector was former Health Ministers playing with the retirement age. As a result, there are many senior officials holding top offices of the health sector despite the fact that all of them are above the age of 60 years. If any official is given a service extension for an office in a health sector position, then it should be given only for a six-month period with the specific objective of training one of his qualified subordinates for that particular position.

 During that period, the official who is given the service extension should not be sent abroad for training or further education. Many officials, who are over 60 years of age, had been given service extensions and were found given foreign trips for capacity building. The irresponsible human resource management in the public sector is one of the main concerns that has been raised by the International Monetary Fund when assisting this country,” Kumudesh has said in his letter.

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BASL contemplates legal action against HSZ gazette

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The Bar Association of Sri Lanka (BASL) has threatened legal action against President Ranil Wickremesinghe’s reintroduction of war-time high security zones (HSZs).

“The BASL will be carefully studying the provisions of the said order and take appropriate legal action to ensure that the Fundamental Rights of the people are secured,” the BASL has said in a statement.

The BASL has said it is concerned that the purported order of the President also seeks to create offences under the said order which are not found in the Principal Act.

Full text of the statement: The Bar Association of Sri Lanka (BASL) is deeply concerned at the declaration of certain areas in Colombo as High Security Zones under Section 2 of the Official Secrets Act No. 32 of 1955 by President and Minister of Defence Ranil Wickremesinghe.The said order appears to cover several areas in the Colombo District including the areas in Colombo ordinarily used by the members of the public. It also covers several areas in Hulftsdorp in the vicinity of the Court premises.

The said order by the President purports to prohibit public gatherings or processions whatsoever on a road, ground, shore, or other open area situated within such High Security Zones without the permission of the Inspector General of Police or a Senior Deputy Inspector General. It also prohibits the parking of vehicles within the zone unless reserved for parking by the Competent Authority or under a permit issued by him, such Competent Authority being the Secretary to the Ministry of Defence.The scope of the Official Secrets Act is clearly set out in Section 2 of the said Act which can be read at: https://www.lawnet.gov.lk/official-secrets.4/

What Section 2 of the Official Secrets Act enables the Minister, is to declare any land, building, ship, or aircraft as a prohibited place. The Act does not empower the Minister to declare large areas as High Security Zones.The objective of making an order under Section 2 of the Official Secrets Act is to better safeguard information relating to the defences of Sri Lanka and to the equipment, establishments, organisations, and institutions intended to be or capable of being used for the purposes of defence. Orders under Section 2 cannot be made for any other purpose.

The BASL is concerned that the purported order of the President also seeks to create offences under the said order which are not found in the Principal Act. It is also of utmost concern that the purported order imposes stringent provisions in respect of bail by stating that a person taken into custody in connection with an offence under the said orders shall not be granted bail except by a High Court. The Official Secrets Act contains no such provisions, and in fact Section 22 of the Act empowers a Magistrate to release a suspect on Bail. As such the purported order seeks to significantly curtail the liberty of the citizen, without any reasonable or legal basis.

The BASL is deeply concerned that under the cover of the purported order under Section 2 of the Official Secrets Act that there is the imposition of draconian provisions for the detention of persons who violate such orders thus violating the freedom of expression, the freedom of peaceful assembly and the freedom of movement all of which are important aspects of the right of the people to dissent in Sri Lanka

The BASL will be carefully studying the provisions of the said Order and take appropriate legal action to ensure that the Fundamental Rights of the people are secured.We continue to remind the authorities including the President of the wisdom found in the Judgment of the Supreme Court in the ‘Jana Ghosha’ case of Amaratunge v Sirimal and others (1993) 1 SLR 264 which states as follows:

“Stifling the peaceful expression of legitimate dissent today can only result, inexorably, in the catastrophic explosion of violence some other day.”

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