Sri Lanka’s current economic crisis, and presumably growing anxieties about China’s dominance over its affairs are opportunities for Japan, the European Union, and United Kingdom to offer Sri Lanka renewed support and communicate if human rights improvements occur, Asia Advocacy Director at Human Rights Watch John Sifton told the Hearing of United States House of Representatives Tom Lantos Commission on Human Rights
Sifton said that in recent months, amid a worsening economic situation, the Rajapaksa government had begun reacting to international pressure over human rights by offering vague promises of reform to foreign diplomats, especially from the European Union, which is conducting a periodic review of rights-linked trading preferences enjoyed by Sri Lanka, known as GSP plus.
“This rhetoric is belied by the government’s actions. In particular, the Rajapaksa administration has issued vague promises to reform the Prevention of Terrorism Act, which it continues to use to target Tamils and Muslims, perceived opponents of the government, and members of civil society groups, with prolonged arbitrary detention,” he said.
Given below are his recommendations for the US government on Sri Lanka: “First, US government officials, including members of Congress, should continue pressing the Sri Lankan government on the importance of repealing or substantially amending the Prevention of Terrorism Act and ending the harassment and intimidation of human rights defenders and other critics of the government. US government officials should be urging the government of Sri Lanka to scrap recommendations from the commission on “political victimization.” And the United States should maintain its renewed engagement on Sri Lanka resolutions at the UN Human Rights Council.
“The United States should engage with allies to implement a coordinated and concerted strategy to protect human rights and civil society space in Sri Lanka. The Rajapaksa government has turned to China for various reasons, including providing diplomatic cover for its abusive laws and policies, but Sri Lanka’s most important economic relationships are with the United States, European Union, and India.
“Congress should also communicate clearly – to both the Biden administration and the government of Sri Lanka – that failure to address Sri Lanka’s human rights situation will imperil current and future military-to-military engagements and better economic relations. The US should also be harnessing other allies – in particular the European Union – to keep pressure on the Rajapaksa government.
“The country’s current economic crisis, and presumably growing anxieties about China’s dominance over its affairs, are opportunities for concerned democratic countries – Japan, the European Union, and United Kingdom – to offer Sri Lanka renewed support and communicate that more can be provided if human rights improvements occur.
“At the same time, the US should make clear that it cannot engage with security officials credibly implicated in gross human rights abuses. The US government has no choice but to engage with President Rajapaksa himself, the country’s head of government, with whom the US must engage as a matter of necessity and diplomatic protocol. But State Department and Pentagon officials and officers should continue to make clear that engagement is impossible with persons and units credibly implicated in human rights, and that Sri Lanka must take steps to hold such persons and units responsible for abuses. In the absence of accountability, the US has no choice but to consider imposing targeted sanctions on those persons and units, under the US Global Magnitsky Act.
“The United States has already imposed a travel ban on chief of defense staff Gen. Silva, for his alleged responsibility for war crimes. The US should also impose targeted sanctions on others in the government credibly linked to serious human rights abuses; and the US government should communicate that these sanctions will remain in place until human rights improvements are seen.
“The United States should ensure that members of the Sri Lankan security forces deployed on UN peacekeeping missions are subjected to independent vetting. Vetting has until now been conducted by the Human Rights Commission of Sri Lanka, which lacks independence following the adoption of the 20th amendment to the constitution.
“Lastly, given the inconclusive results so far of Sri Lankan investigations into the 2019 Easter Bombings, the United States should push for a prompt, impartial, and credible conclusion. The United States and other governments should also examine evidence of transnational corruption and money laundering in cases where the presidential commission on “political victimization” has sought to block domestic investigations.”
NGO to move SC against acquittal and discharge of first accused
Welikada Prison killings
‘The BASL should make its position clear now’
By Shamindra Ferdinando
Chairman of the Committee to Protect the Rights of Prisoners, Attorney-at-Law, Senaka Perera, says his outfit will soon move the Supreme Court against the acquittal and discharging of Inspector Neomal Moses Rangajiva, the first accused in the Welikada Prison killings.
The civil society activist, in a brief interview with The Island, over the weekend, said that the relatives of those who perished in the violence in the Welikada Prison compound on Nov 09 and 10, 2012, had requested him to pursue this matter.
Colombo High Court Trial-at-Bar last Wednesday (12) sentenced to death ex-Welikada Prisons Chief Lamahewage Emil Ranjan over the Welikada killings. He was the second accused in the high-profile case, whereas Rangajiva, at that time attached to the Police Narcotics Bureau (PNB), was acquitted and released from all charges.
Lawyer Perera said that as the verdict had been given by a Trial-at-Bar, the appeal would have to be made to the Supreme Court. The Trial-at-Bar bench comprising High Court judges Gihan Kulathunga (President), Pradeep Hettiarachchi and Manjula Thilakarathna was unanimous in its decisions.
The Trial-at-Bar said that the prosecution failed to prove its case against the PNB officer beyond reasonable doubt.
Responding to questions, Senaka Perera said that if it hadn’t been a Trial-at-Bar, his group would have moved the Court of Appeal. Senaka Perera explained: “We intend to write to Attorney General Sanjay Rajaratnam, PC, in this regard. We are of the view the AG should appeal against the acquittal and discharging of Rangajiva. However, if the AG refrained from doing so, the Committee to Protect the Rights of Prisoners will accept the responsibility.”
In terms of the Trial-at-Bar proceedings, the eight prison inmates who were killed in the incident are Kankanmalage Malinda Nilendra Pelpola alias Malan, Attapattu Sangakkara Nirmala Atapattu, Mohammed Wijaya Rohana alias Gundu, Chinthamani Mohottige Thushara Chandana alias Kalu Thushara, Asarappulige Jothipala alias Ponna Kapila, Harshan Sri Manakeerthi Perera alias Manju Sri, Raigamage Susantha Perera alias Mala Susantha, Devamullage Malith Sameera Perera alias Konda Amila.
However, lawyer Senaka Perera said that altogether 27 inmates had been killed after the deployment of the Special Task Force (STF) and the Army inside the Welikada Prison. According to official records, in addition to 27 deaths, at least 43 other inmates received injuries. The then Prisons Minister Chandrasiri Gajadeera informed Parliament of the deaths of 27 inmates.
The then Police Spokesman SSP Prishantha Jayakoday said that inmates had triggered violence as the STF was looking for drugs and hand phones inside the prison.
The Attorney General filed indictments against IP Rangajeewa, Lamahewage Emil Ranjan and Indika Sampath, an officer attached to the Prisons intelligence unit under 33 counts, including committing murder, conspiring to commit murder after being members of an unlawful assembly.
The Court proceeded in spite of the third accused Indika Sampath who managed to evade the police so far.
The human rights activist recalled how Chief Justice Jayantha Jayasuriya, PC, named a Trial-at-Bar to hear the Welikada case on a request made by Rajaratnam’s predecessor, Dappula de Livera, PC. The latter made the request in late June 2019. Rajaratnam succeeded de Livera in late May 2021.
The Prisons Department and the Justice Ministry couldn’t absolve themselves of the responsibility for ensuring safety and security of those in their care, lawyer Senaka Perera said. Those who had been remanded and sentenced could be serious offenders and some may even deserve a death sentence but the State shouldn’t under any circumstances resort to extra judicial measures, the public litigation activist said.
Lawyer Senaka Perera said that he believed the Bar Association of Sri Lanka (BASL) should examine the Welikada case and make its position known to the public. “Perhaps, the BASL, too, should consider moving the SC against the acquittal and discharging of the first accused,” the lawyer said.
Lawyer Senaka Perera said that before the former AG made an intervention the progress in investigations had been slow. In fact, real progress was made since 2017, two years after the change of government following the 2015 presidential election, the lawyer said, alleging that the powers that be continuously hindered the investigations.
According to lawyer Perera and other sources, there had been four separate investigations at different levels beginning with the one launched by the Criminal Investigations Department (CID) immediately after the Welikada killings. Subsequently the then Prisons Minister the late Chandrasiri Gajadeera named a three-member team to inquire into the Welikada killings. The committee comprising retired High Court judge Bandula Atapattu, retired DIG Gunasena Thenabadu and Prisons Ministry Legal Officer Lalith Andrahannadi produced two reports in Feb 2013 and Nov 2013. There had been two other investigations ordered by the then Prisons Chief P.W. Kodipillai and the Human Rights Commission.
Lawyer Senaka Perera said that the four investigations undertaken during the Rajapaksa administration should be examined. The lawyer emphasized the importance of appraisal of the investigations as the Trial-at-Bar declared that the progress had been made only since 2017.
In addition to those four investigations, there had been another report prepared by the three-member committee comprising retired High Court judge Wimal Nambuwasam, retired Senior DIG Asoka Wijeyatilleke and senior public servant S.K. Liyanage. Appointed on January 22, 2015, less than two weeks after the presidential election, the committee handed over its report to the then Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe and Justice Minister Dr. Wijeyadasa Rajapakse, PC, on June 09, 2015 as the latter appointed it.
Lawyer Perera said that the former Prisons Chief claimed that the inmates after having broken into the Prisons armoury seized weapons, including machine guns.
The activist pointed out that the 2012 incidents were the worst since the 1983 massacre of Tamil terrorist suspects. The public have lost faith in law enforcement authorities and the political leadership regardless of the party that held power, the lawyer said. There couldn’t be better example than how the current dispensation handled the then State Minister for Prisons Lohan Ratwatte’s ‘raids’ on Welikada and Anuradhapura prisons in September last year.
The report prepared by retired High Court judge Kusala Sarojini Weerawardena into the incidents involving Ratwatte should be made public as the police were yet to at least record the State Minister’s statement, lawyer Perera said.
China donates shipment of rice to Sri Lanka
By Anura Balasuriya
China will soon send a shipment of rice to Sri Lanka as a donation, a Ministry of Trade spokesman said.
The donation comes in the wake of the 70 year anniversary of the Sri Lanka – China Rubber Rice pact on 1952.
Minister of Trade Bandula Gunawardane had discussed the matter recently with a senior Chinese Embassy officia, the Trade Ministry Spokesman said.
“The Chinese Embassy in Colombo is already doing the needful. The Trade Ministry has informed China of the varieties of rice that Sri Lankan consumers like,” the Trade Ministry Spokesman said.
Rating downgrades discourage investors – JVP
JVP MP Dr. Harini Amarasuriya, on Friday (14) day, said investors were discouraged by the continuous downgrading of the country’s credit ratings.
Speaking at an event in Colombo, MP Amarasuriya said import costs had increased as the country was going through a forex crisis. The President’s agricultural policy had been a disaster and that in the coming months, the government would have to import large volumes of food.
Amarasuriya added that Sri Lanka’s relations with other nations had deteriorated and that too would have an adverse impact on the country.
Dr. Amarasuriya said that international rating agencies were independent and that their ratings were very important for investors to make decisions.
“Investors don’t consult Ajith Nivard Cabraal before investing. Besides, in other countries, it is economic experts, not politicians, who become Central Bank Governors,” she added.
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