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Govt will garner best outcomes through proactive engagement with global community



Foreign Minister Prof. G.L. Peiris reassured the Parliament last week that the Government will not rest in its efforts to garner the best outcomes for the nation through continued, proactive engagement with the international community.

Prof Peiris updated the House on the recent multiple global engagements by Sri Lanka with international partners and friends. He specifically referred to three recent high level engagements in Italy, Geneva and New York by President Gotabaya Rajapaksa, Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa and himself. Following are excerpts from Foreign Minister’s speech in Parliament: While we, as a Government, are combatting the current pandemic and dealing with the consequences of economic contraction due to its worst effects, I would like, with your permission, to highlight another aspect of our approach to governance and national wellbeing.

At a policy level, we must stress our President’s commitment to full, candid and open engagement with fellow nation states. Our vistas of prosperity and well-being cannot be achieved in isolation. We all share a common future and owe it to succeeding generations to do the best we can to secure and guarantee that brighter future.

In this vein, I would refer the attention of this House to recent international engagements with our international partners and friends. While we maintain a dialogue with diplomatic representatives in Sri Lanka and with bilateral partner-countries accredited to Sri Lanka, we also seek to engage at an international level – across geographical and other boundaries.

We seek to address the widest possible audience at every given opportunity. This is not only to counter or avoid critical comment, but also, to make our voice heard on the global stage. We do this with bilateral partners, organisations, regional groupings and especially at multilateral fora. We are also imbued with a sense of openness, a willingness to absorb and learn from others’ perceptions and real-life experience in dealing with the myriad challenges we face – individually and collectively.

We are a relatively small island state. However, we are also a nation with a proud history and complex background. We have much to learn from the world but, at the same time, much to share. Our multifaceted diversity is not a social experiment but one that we live with on a day-to-day basis. It causes tensions – from time to time – but we still continue to coexist with a sense of fraternity and goodwill.

We emphasised that during the three recent high level engagements in Italy, Geneva and New York by the President, the Minister and myself. These events provided critical platforms for Sri Lanka to express solidarity with the international community on important global issues of common concern to all countries and also to project Sri Lanka’s own perceptions in this regard.

These recent interactions enabled us to interact with leaders and policy-makers at the highest levels internationally. These engagements provided an important opportunity to address different aspects of what the United Nations Secretary General called the “greatest cascade of crises of our times”, after a long gap in physical connection due to the pandemic.

President Gotabaya Rajapaksa in his statement at the 76th UN General Assembly in New York, stated that Sri Lanka is fully engaged with international partners in order to combat the pandemic and the consequent economic fallout as well as existential crises resulting from climate change. Our engagement is aimed at safeguarding our people from the worst effects of these global challenges.

Equally importantly for Sri Lanka, these visits provided us with the opportunity to address the international community at bilateral and multilateral levels regarding recent domestic developments and difficulties we have faced in Sri Lanka on critical national issues related to human rights and reconciliation and to correct any inaccurate or biased perceptions.

I concluded my statement to the Human Rights Council in Geneva by stating that: “We are open in acknowledging our challenges and, as a responsible and democratic government, we are committed to achieving tangible progress on the entire range of issues relating to accountability, reconciliation, human rights, peace and sustainable development.”

We have taken the position that we do recognise the need to address these challenges and, in that effort, we need to be open and responsive to constructive criticism and international overtures made in good faith. That being said, Mr. Speaker, we do not need to compromise our independence, national sovereignty nor our self-respect as a nation. I myself had the opportunity to personally discuss with Foreign Ministers of a number of key countries, as well as address gatherings which are of direct relevance in Sri Lanka such as the Commonwealth, the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation, the Community of Democracies and the Human Rights Council in Geneva.

Our continued and vigorous efforts to place on record our experience, perceptions and position demonstrates this approach of openness, candour and willingness to engage. We reaffirmed our commitment to democratic norms, ideals and commonly shared values from the standpoint of a nation consistently adhering to this system for nine decades; as one of the oldest representative democracies in Asia.

Of critical importance, is to make these efforts in the expectation that real and tangible benefits will accrue to our people. The main focus at this year’s UN General Assembly was on matters that affect all countries of the world big and small, such as the pandemic, climate change, the global food situation, the attainment of the Sustainable Development Goals and the need for transition to clean energy. It is very clear that these interconnected issues which are global in nature affect the daily lives of all Sri Lankans.

Sri Lanka needs to participate in this dialogue with the international community in resolving these fundamental issues. What is also clear is that we need to reach out to a very broad range of stakeholders domestically and internationally such as scientists, economists, the private sector, leaders in technology, youth as well as primary producers of food. This represents a cross-section of the local and global community, at various levels and across diverse fields of endeavour.

As the President stated, “The economic impact of the pandemic has been especially severe on developing countries. This has placed the implementation of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development Goals at considerable risk.” So this is the great challenge that faces us collectively. It is no empty nor idle boast to state that Sri Lanka has taken leadership in some critical spheres and is at the helm of some key aspects of environmental activism. As a country vulnerable to extremes of climatic change, our forthcoming engagement at the COP26 in the United Kingdom will only underline our commitment to our common, interdependent future.

The President stated that for these many reasons Sri Lanka’s engagement this year with the international community and the United Nations was timely and essential. He stated that Sri Lanka has contributed to these global efforts through the Colombo Declaration on Sustainable Nitrogen Management and our recognition as a Commonwealth Blue Charter Champion. We have pledged to join global efforts to become a carbon neutral country by 2050 and to obtain 70% of our energy resources from renewable sources by 2030. Our domestic efforts to promote sustainable agriculture, increase forest cover and to combat water and plastic pollution were generally welcomed.

Our presence internationally and at the General Assembly was vital because in order to reach these ambitious targets, in the years to come, we need to have significant access to technology, financial cooperation and assistance. We will reiterate these messages at COP 26 later this year.

The other great challenge we need to overcome is that of social cohesion and unity. In the absence of a truly integrated nation devoid of internecine strife, bitterness and rancour, we need to build bridges rather than walls. We need to reach out to all segments of society and repay the trust and confidence placed in the Government at successive elections in 2019 and 2020.

In my statement to the UN Human Rights Council in September I referred to our initiatives to reinvigorate and resuscitate national efforts to promote reconciliation – sorely needed after a protracted conflict. As President Rajapaksa said in New York: “Fostering greater accountability, restorative justice, and meaningful reconciliation through domestic institutions is essential to achieve lasting peace.” I adverted to the several national institutions that we support in this effort to sustain and build upon the hard-won peace of 2009.

In particular, I stressed the importance of The Office on Missing Persons (OMP) which, as its core function, is finalising the list of missing persons in collaboration with other agencies with a view to granting and enabling closure for a number of grieving families. In tandem, the Office for Reparations (OR) has processed 3775 claims this year alone. We have supported the Office for National Unity and Reconciliation (ONUR) in its effort to re energise their implementation of its eight-point action plan. We have continued to support the Human Rights Commission of Sri Lanka in carrying out its mandate to protect and promote human rights in Sri Lanka. We pointed out that a national steering committee on SDG 16 is working towards enhancing peace, justice and strong institutions.

Over and above this, the President was pleased to empower a Commission to take stock of the various efforts aimed at reconciliation and accountability over the past several years and arrive at a conclusion and recommendations, which, we expect, will drive these processes going forward. We are doing all this with sincerity and seriousness of purpose to enable a brighter, more prosperous and peaceful Sri Lanka for succeeding generations of sons and daughters of our soil.

Our Prime Minister, Mahinda Rajapaksa in his address to the G20 Inter-Faith Dialogue recently concluded in Bologna, Italy, stressed the importance of transcending barriers based on religion and other socio-cultural differences. The Prime Minister’s participation at the Interfaith Forum in Bologna further highlighted the important role of education and youth in fostering domestic peace and harmony. This Inter-faith forum was an appropriate moment to reflect on the diversity in our region, exemplified in Sri Lanka, and to reemphasise that this diversity is the bedrock of our strength as a nation. He stated that “rising above these differences, we have responded to the challenge of building a sense of mature nationhood, utilising all the different communities”.

Our message, through you, Mr. Speaker, to the nation and the world is that we seek to celebrate our diversity while forging a sense of oneness – a Sri Lankan consciousness and identity – that will be a source of strength rather than weakness as we address the several local and global challenges.

As the Prime Minister said in his address in Bologna: “Reconciliation is a critical need of our time. Conflicts and escalating tensions are all too evident around us. Peace and stability come from healthy relationships with all who live in our countries, including those with whom we have deep disagreements. Here, again, our religion teaches us that hatred is not conquered by hatred but by love alone. Rather than dwell on grievances derived from the past, we must focus on the present, the need for harmony with points of view different from our own, and the inspiring new frontier which awaits us all if we forge the urgently needed links of brotherhood and understanding.”

I wish, in passing, to stress the role of civil society in these efforts. Representatives of civil society are an integral part of the solutions we wish to devise. They are not a manifestation of the problem but an essential component of the resolution of our problems. There have been concerns raised about the supposed Government initiatives to stifle NGO activities in Sri Lanka. Nothing could be further from the truth. We are actively engaged with the community and are seeking to harness their capabilities and undoubted capacity in support of reconciliation and with regard to SDG16 processes.

I stated this quite clearly in my address to the Human Rights Council in Geneva and I want to assure this House that we consider them a valuable and valued partner in our efforts for the betterment of our people. One of the principal challenges to this unified sense of purpose, is extremism and its progeny, terrorism. We, as a representative government, are taking all measures in close collaboration with international partners to ensure human security in its widest sense. There are several considerations of collective national and international security that must be taken into account in this context.

The guaranteeing of individual freedoms and liberties is not antithetical to the concept of national security. Indeed, it is a stable and secure international and domestic order that enables the enjoyment of individual rights. Like the many-headed Hydra of classic myth and legend, extremism and terrorism crop up elsewhere when one movement is defeated in one country or region. We have seen this in numerous instances. In an interconnected world, such movements and extremist ideologies make nonsense of previously impenetrable national boundaries. Our response must be equally dynamic, adaptive and resilient.

During my exchanges with ministerial colleagues from friendly countries in New York and elsewhere, we have placed a sharp focus on close cooperation, intelligence gathering and sharing and collective action to address issues of funding and interdiction of these criminal networks.

As President Rajapaksa stressed in his address to the UNGA: “Terrorism is a global challenge that requires international cooperation, especially on matters such as intelligence sharing, if it is to be overcome. Violence robbed Sri Lanka of thousands of lives and decades of prosperity in the past half century. My Government is committed to ensuring that such violence never takes place in Sri Lanka again. We are therefore acting to address the core issues behind it.”

In conclusion, Mr. Speaker, I wish to reassure the people of Sri Lanka that we will not rest in our efforts to garner the best outcomes for the nation through continued, proactive engagement with the international community. I will endeavour, in the coming months, to regularly inform the Hon. Members of the House and the nation at large of our endeavours in this regard.

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Outgoing BASL chief asks lawyers to continue struggle to safeguard rule of law, democracy, judicial independence



Saliya Peiris

Outgoing President of the BAR Association of Sri Lanka (BASL) Saliya Peiris, PC has urged his colleagues to continue their struggle to counter threats to the rule of law and judicial independence.

“The BASL was able to play a pivotal role in the nation’s struggle to safeguard the rule of law, democracy, and human rights. In doing so, we were together able to make our profession relevant to the lives of the people and help enhance its credibility and public acceptance,” Saliya Peiris, PC said in a statement to mark the completion of his tenure as BASL President.

Peiris has said that in these two years, the BASL took up strong positions on many issues and where necessary sought recourse to the courts to protect the rights of the people.

“In the coming months, the Bar will need to continue to stand for the principles which are at the core of our profession and to protect the rights described in the Constitution as the intangible heritage of the people,” he said.

Excerpts of the statement:

“As I conclude my term as President of the Bar Association of Sri Lanka (BASL), I write to thank you for the support given to me during my tenure and for placing confidence in me. It has been my privilege to have led the Bar during this momentous period in our history.

“With your support and drawing from your strength, the BASL was able to play a pivotal role in this nation’s struggle for the rule of law, democracy, and human rights. In doing so we were together able to make our profession relevant to the lives of the people and help enhance its credibility and public acceptance.

“In these two years the BASL took up strong positions on many issues and where necessary sought recourse to the courts to secure the rights of the people. The BASL was the first amongst the professional bodies to publicly express its view on the looming economic crisis and the need to address the same.”

“Amidst these difficult times, the BASL continued to support the membership in their professional development and welfare. Through seminars, symposiums, workshops, webinars as well as through its social and welfare work during the pandemic and thereafter, the BASL was able to reach out to thousands of members, including the junior members of the Bar. The BASL also reached out to the branches in the outstations in an unprecedented manner. The BASL formed the Members Benevolent Society, and it is our expectation that the Society will grow to benefit the members in the years to come.

“As I write, we see new threats emerging to the rule of law and a concerted effort being made to undermine the independence of the judiciary. In the coming months the Bar will need to continue to fiercely stand for the principles which are at the core of our profession and to protect the rights described in the Constitution as the tangible heritage of the people.

“I take this opportunity to thank His Lordship the Chief Justice, all the members of the judiciary, the Hon. Attorney General, the Solicitor General and the members of the official Bar for the support and co-operation extended towards me as the President of the BASL.

“A special worn of thanks also to the Chairpersons of the Standing Committees as well as the Co-Chairs and Convenors for their immense contribution towards the BASL.

“I must record my deep appreciation for the unwavering strength demonstrated by the Bar Council the Executive Committee and the office bearers of the BASL, namely the Deputy President Mr. Anura Meddegoda PC, the Secretary of the BASL Mr. lsuru Balapatabendi, the Treasurer Mr. Rajindh Perera and the Assistant Secretary Mr. Mehran Careem as well as the former Secretary Mr. Rajeev Amarasuriya and the former Assistant Secretary Mr. Pasindu Silva for their unstinted support and co-operation given to me.

“I am indebted to the senior members of the profession to whom I turned to, for their wise counsel and words of encouragement.

“I have striven at all times to act according to the cherished values of our profession and to act in its best interests, mindful of the trust and confidence you placed in me on 24 February 2021. As I leave office, I trust that I have performed the duties of this office in accordance with your expectations. I have at all times drawn strength and been inspired by your goodwill towards me.

“I extend my best wishes to the incoming President Mr. Kaushalya Navaratne and the new office bearers and members of the Executive Committee.

“It is my sincere hope that the BASL will remain a strong and vibrant institution, inspiring confidence among the people of the nation, dedicated towards upholding the rule of law, democracy, the independence of the judiciary and the rights of the people and the community whilst safeguarding and promoting the welfare and interests of the members of the Bar.”

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SC summons IGP for disregarding court order



C. D. Wickramaratne

by AJA Abeynayake

The Supreme Court (SC), on Friday, summoned IGP C. D. Wickramaratne to appear in court on 03 April for disregarding a court order.The SC issued the summons when a fundamental rights petition was called before a bench comprising Justices S. Thurairajah, A. H. M.D. Nawaz and Achala Vengappuli.

The IGP has been ordered by the Supreme Court to prepare a set of guidelines to prevent the deaths of suspects in police custody taken out for various investigations.The SC judges pointed out that the IG had not abided by the order and expressed displeasure.

Justice Thurairajah said that despite the fact that the Supreme Court itself had given many judgments regarding the police, there had been no progress in the police department.The Justice said the police had a separate legal department and money should be allocated and training imparted to the police personnel through that section.

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Opposition slams govt. for move to undermine judiciary



The Opposition has strongly condemned what it calls a move by the Wickremesinghe-Rajapaksa government to undermine the Supreme Court (SC).The Opposition has, in a joint statement issued over the weekend, urged the government to refrain from being hostile towards the apex court.

Among the signatories to the statement are Opposition Leader Sajith Premadasa, Dullas Alahapperuma, Prof. G. L. Peiris, Wimal Weerawansa, Gevindu Cumaratunga, Dr. Harini Amarasuriya, Field Marshal Sarath Fonseka, M.A. Sumanthiran and Udaya Gammanpila.

“The country is facing an unprecedented crisis in respect of the rule of law and the independence of the judiciary,” the Opposition has said.

“Basic principles and values we had all taken for granted, are now being directly and strenuously challenged.

“Now, for the first time, a criterion fraught with the gravest consequences for the very survival of representative democracy, is sought to be laid down that election can be held only if and when the Head of State is subjectively satisfied that the economic condition of the country warrants the allocation of resources for the conduct of an election at a particular time.

“The alarming corollary is a vicious onslaught on the Supreme Court in the exercise of its inalienable jurisdiction to uphold and implement the provisions of the highest law, the Constitution of the Republic.

“The country has been treated to the ignominious spectacle of the apex court being derided and reviled in parliament.

“The interim order by the court, directing the Minister of Finance and the Secretary to the Ministry of Finance to refrain from preventing the release, to the Election Commission, of financial resources allocated by parliament in the annual budget for the conduct of the Local Government election, has been contemptuously disregarded.

“In a flagrant violation of a binding decision by the Supreme Court, the Government Printer and other relevant authorities are being deprived of funds required for the performance of essential functions in this regard.

“Urgent appeals by the Election Commission, addressed to the Finance Secretary, continue to be simply ignored.

“Refusal by the Executive to give effect to imperative directions by the Supreme Court represents, of itself, a deliberate erosion of the foundations of our constitutional system, based as it is on the clearly demarcated separation of powers among the organs of government.

“It expresses, in our view, undisguised contempt for cherished constitutional values which form the bedrock of freedom and stability in our country.

“Tragically, not even this seems to satisfy the appetite of an unelected administration to arrogate to itself authoritarian powers incompatible with the rudiments of a functioning democracy.

“The government has brazenly invaded the province of the judiciary by means of a wholly distended, and entirely illegitimate, recourse to the concept of parliamentary privilege to assail the independence and integrity of the judiciary.

“We are aghast at the purported initiative by the Privileges Committee of Parliament directing the Supreme Court to forward to parliament the interim order which has already been impugned with egregious disregard for sound principle and policy.

“There were strident calls in parliament for the discontinuation of proceedings property in progress before the Supreme Court : these were complimented by demands for the cessation of all judicial action in respect of pending proceedings , until parliamentary processes with regard to privileges are exhausted : to cap it all, cynically infringing express provision contained in the Standing Orders of Parliament, there was explicit criticism of a judgment of the Supreme Court and indeed, of propriety of the behavior of a judge , in the absence of substantive motion before the House.

“In keeping with established precedents across the civilized world, these actions constitute, cumulatively, contempt of the Supreme Court in uniquely aggravating circumstances.

“We find very disquieting the arrogant and dismissive attitude which the government, embarked on its dangerous frolic, has adopted to the emphatic appeals by religious leaders, including the Venerable Theras of the Malwatte and Asgiriya Chapters and his Eminence the Archbishop of Colombo.

“The sense of frivolity and flippancy underpinning the government’s approach to issues which define our political system and our way of life, presents to this nation and the world a spectacle of which we can hardly be proud.

“Representing all parties and groups in the Opposition in the parliament, we wish to express our profound respect for the judiciary –an indispensable pillar and, indeed, the final bulwark for the enjoyment of individual and collective liberties enshrined in the Constitution –and our firm resolve to resist, by all means at our disposal within a democratic framework, every attempt to undermine the prestige and stature of our country’s judiciary.”

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