(Edited excerpts of remarks made by Karu Jayasuriya, Chairman of the National Movement for Social Justice at the media conference in Colombo on Thursday. )
The National Movement for Social Justice has always been driven by a sense of duty to the country for the good of the country and its people. We have stood for these at all times and presented our ideas and suggestions publicly in good faith. All members of our organization are very interested in these matters and most concerned about the interventions that are necessary for the good of the country.
As suggested by our members, we will forward our views directly to the president . I hope that the president will pay his attention to them. We are not referring to gossip picked up from the street. These are facts verified by us.
We would also like to draw attention to a valuable comment made by the Ven. Medagoda Abhayatissa Nayaka Thero in the media recently. He said that this is the best time for the president to display that he is principled and upstanding leader, pointing out that the people of this country elected him to the presidency to build a law abiding society. The Maha Sangha made an unparalleled contribution to bring him to power and we sincerely hope that the president will take future decisions with the blessings of the Maha Sangha.
We would first like to focus on the 20th Amendment. The intelligent people of this country do not approve of 20A which deprives our country of democracy, freedom and human rights. We saw that the president himself had stated that he had not received the blessings of the Maha Sangha for this Amendment and had not met with the Buddhist Advisory Council before presenting the Amendment to Parliament.
Several leading monks have informed us that any knowledgeable Maha Thera will not bless 20A. We learned from survey reports that more than 80% of the Sri Lankan population has rejected it. It has caused much chaos in the country creating issues like giving dual citizens the opportunity to participate in governing the country. We feel that the President should reconsider the 20A which deprives the country of democracy and freedom.
It was the president who promised to introduce a new Constitution to the country before the first anniversary of his inauguration. It is our national responsibility to call for a new Constitution that will strengthen the country’s democracy, protect the freedoms and rights of the people, and ensure the sovereignty of the country. This is an important effort we must make for the future generations of this country.
The new Constitution should create an environment in which all communities of the country can live in unity, peace, coexistence and self-esteem. Accordingly, the dictatorial powers created by 20A must be removed when drafting the new Constitution or it would be a curse upon us enabling the establishing of a dictatorial presidency. The president should take action to prevent such a situation.
We believe there are two essentials that need to be completed before a provincial or any other election. The first is to establish an appropriate mechanism for holding free, peaceful and fair elections. The independence of the Election Commission must be ensured. This cannot be expected from the commission now in place.
A fair election can never be expected from a commission consisting of persons who have direct links with the political machinery of government. It is not the people who will win their allegiance at a crucial moment but their political masters. Therefore, the independence of the Election Commission must be ensured before any election is declared. It is also reported that the government has an intention to hold sporadic elections to gain more benefits for itself as has been done in the past. That should never happen.
The report of the Presidential Commission on Political Victimization must be trashed. However weak a government, it should not become a joke to the people. The president should explain his position on this report as soon as possible. Immediate intervention is also needed to eradicate corruption and fraud taking place in broad daylight. It is the responsibility of the president to take the lead in punishing the perpetrators. Without this the confidence of the people in him will be irreparably damaged.
The government cannot deny the people an explanation about the daylight robbery that took place while importing sugar. The COPE, the Finance Committee and the Treasury have admitted fraud and investigations by the Auditor General have begun.We call on the President to immediately launch an impartial inquiry into this matter.
Many involved in this racket hold various positions in the government. If a proper investigation is conducted, several heads will roll. Some may even be allies of the powerful but they cannot be allowed. to bring disrepute to the Head of State.
In the first decade of 1980/90 I was the Chairman of the Sugar Importers Association and former Deputy Speaker Ananda Kumarasiri represented the manufacturers (Pelwatta, Kantale, Sevanagala). Working together with the Ministry of Trade and the General Treasury, we launched a monthly reduction of import duties to develop and protect the local sugar industry to make it viable. There
seems to be a major irregularity in the questionable transaction now in the public domain.
Today an unprecedented environmental catastrophe is taking place in this country and it is impossible to even imagine the possible consequences. Leading government officials such as Government Agents and Divisional Secretaries have told us there is significant political meddling behind these disasters and the officials are powerless and helpless to the point of not being able to do duty. The situation can become worse if the president does not intervene personally.
The government must pay special attention to the human-elephant conflict and an immediate action plan formulated to protect the elephant and compensate farmers for crop damage. A dedicated Presidential Task Force for this purpose is appropriate.
The entire public service seems to be manipulated by politicians, destroying the prestige and dignity of the public service in this country. An attempt is being made to remove competitive examinations for the recruitment of public servants by the Examinations Department and hand this task to Ministry of Public Administration.
Unfortunately, public servants are harassed and embarrassed and top officials in the public service have been affected. The minister in charge of the subject is not aware of the removal of Dr. Amal Harsha de Silva from his post in the Ministry of Health. The removal of Dr. Palitha Abeykoon from the post of Director of the Drug Regulatory Authority of Sri Lanka is similar. He has earned the country an international reputation as one of the six chief advisers to the WHO. He was on line for a top position in the World Health Organization but due to the weak policies of the then government the post went elsewhere. In such a situation, will there be talented people left in the public service? We believe that the attention of the president should be drawn to this as well.
Finally, I would like to draw attention to another incident where the police have reportedly questioned a girl who participated in the Lakshapathi program aired on Sirasa TV recently for mentioning environmental destruction in the area she lives. This is like Hitler’s Gestapo in the 1940s and is a stern warning to the people of this country. The ultimate responsibility for this rests with the president.
What has happened should be severely condemned. In fact, the police or wildlife officers or the grama niladhari should have listened to what she had to say and taken necessary action without harassing her. The IGP must act immediately to protect the dignity and honor of the police.
I once again stress that the NMSJ makes these points in good faith. All these issues are being raised by educated members of our organization and they are being referred to H.E. the President with the utmost responsibility. He can look into these matters or trash them. But I would like to say these are opinions of a majority of our people.
Govt. MP Wijeyadasa strikes discordant note on Port City Bill
… alleges bid to turn Port City into Chinese territory
Over 12 petitioners move SC against proposed law
By Shamindra Ferdinando
SLPP lawmaker Dr. Wijeyadasa Rajapakshe PC, yesterday (15) alleged that the proposed Bill, titled ‘Colombo Port City Economic Commission,’ would transform the reclaimed land, adjacent to the Galle Face Green into a Chinese territory.
Addressing the media at the Abhayarama temple, under the auspices of Ven Muruththettuwe Ananda Thera, the former President of the Bar Association of Sri Lanka (BASL), Rajapakshe, warned of dire consequences if the government went ahead with what he termed the despicable project.
Sixteen parties had filed action against the Bill. Ven. Muruththettuwe Ananda thera was among the petitioners.
The ruling party had placed the Bill on the Order Paper on April 8, just 15 calendar days after the publication of the Bill in the Gazette. In terms of the Constitution a citizen intending to challenge the constitutionality of a Bill had to do so within one week from the Bill being placed in the Order Paper of Parliament, Dr. Rajapakse said.
Among those who moved the SC were the General-Secretary of the UNP and the Chairman of the UNP. The Attorney-General has been named a respondent in the petition. The BASL, too, moved SC against the Attorney General. Three civil society activists, Oshala Herath, Dr. Ajantha Perera and Jeran Jegatheesan also filed action.
Lawmaker Rajapakse explained how the proposed Bill, if enacted, could allow independent status to USD 1.4 bn Colombo Port City. Former Justice Minister alleged that the Colombo Port City project was far worse than the selling of the strategic Hambantota port to the Chinese by the previous administration.
The Colombo District MP said the Parliament wouldn’t have financial control over the Colombo Port City Project whereas its independent status would legally empower those managing the project to finalise agreements with external parties
Referring to the previous administration, the former UNPer alleged that China had bribed members of Parliament. MP Rajapakse questioned the rationale behind China providing computers to all members of Parliament and officials as well as jaunts to China.
Rajapakse said that Sri Lanka shouldn’t give in to Chinese strategies aimed at bringing Sri Lanka under its control. The former minister explained the threat posed by the growing Chinese presence including the Colombo Port City, a terminal in the Colombo harbour and at the Hambantota port.
Sooka pushing UK for punitive action against Army Commander
An outfit, led by Yasmin Sooka, a member of the UNSG Panel of Experts’ (PoE), has urged the UK to take punitive measures against the Commander of the Army, General Shavendra Silva, who is also the Chief of Defence Staff (CDS).
The Army headquarters told The Island that the matter had been brought to the notice of the relevant authorities. It said that it was all part of the ongoing well-funded campaign against the Sri Lankan military.
Issuing a statement from Johannesburg, the International Truth and Justice Project (ITJP) said it had compiled a 50-page dossier which it has submitted to the Sanctions Department of the UK’s Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office on General Shavendra Silva. The Submission argues why Silva, who is Sri Lanka’s current Army Commander, should be designated under the United Kingdom’s Global Human Rights (GHR) Sanctions Regime established on 6 July 2020.
“We have an extensive archive of evidence on the final phase of the civil war in Sri Lanka, meticulously collected by international prosecutors and lawyers. The testimony of victims and witnesses – many now in the UK – was vital in informing this Submission, and making the linkages to Shavendra Silva and those under his command,” said the organisation’s executive director, Yasmin Sooka.
The ITJP Submission details Shavendra Silva’s role in the perpetration of alleged gross human rights violations including of the right to life when he was 58 Division Commander during the final phase of the civil war in 2009 in the north of Sri Lanka. It draws on searing eyewitness testimony from Tamils who survived the government shelling and bombing of hospitals and food queues in the so called No Fire Zones, many of whom now reside in the UK as refugees. The Submission also looks at Silva’s alleged involvement in torture and sexual violence, including rape, which is a priority area of the UK Government’s foreign policy.
“The US State Department designated Shavendra Silva in 2020 for his alleged role in the violations at the end of the war but the remit of the UK sanctions regime works is broader and includes his role in the shelling of hospitals and other protected civilian sites during the military offensive. This is important in terms of recognising the full extent of the violations, as well as supporting the US action,” commented Ms. Sooka. “UK designation would be another significant step forward in terms of accountability and would be in line with the recent UN Human Rights Council Resolution passed in Geneva for which Britain was the penholder,” she added.
Political will in applying the UK’s new sanctions regime to Sri Lanka was apparent in a recent parliamentary debate which saw 11 British parliamentarians ask why the UK government had not applied sanctions against Sri Lankan military figures, including Shavendra Silva, who was named six times in this context.”
‘UNHRC missive exposes UK duplicity in grave accountability matters’
By Shamindra Ferdinando
Wartime Foreign Minister Rohitha Bogollagama says that the leader of Sri Lanka Core Group at the Geneva–based United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) the United Kingdom’s policy of double standards has been challenged by no less a person than UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet.
Bogollagama said that the Bachelet warning couldn’t have been issued at a better time as the UK stepped up pressure on Sri Lanka over accountability issues. The former FM was responding to Bachelet’s declaration on April 12 that the proposed new Overseas Operations (Service Personnel and Veterans) Bill, in its current form, would undermine key human rights obligations that the UK has committed itself to respect.
The UK is a member of the UNHRC. Bogollagama pointed out that Bachelet had called for amendments to the proposed Bill to ensure that it didn’t protect British personnel deployed overseas for acts of torture and other serious international crimes.
The Bill is now reaching its final stages in the legislative process, and will shortly be debated again by the House of Lords, the UK’s upper chamber, where amendments may still be made.
In the run-up to the Geneva vote on a resolution spearheaded by the UK on March 23, SLPP Chairman and former External Affairs Minister Prof G.L. Peiris questioned the rationale in British actions. Prof Peiris asked how the UK sought protection for its armed forces deployed outside their territory whereas it sought punitive measures against Sri Lanka for fighting terrorism in its own land.
Bogollagama said that British double standards should be examined taking into consideration the UK’s current membership in the UNHRC as well its role as the leader of Sri Lanka Core Group. The Core Group members include Germany and Canada.
Bogollagama who served as the Foreign Minister during the fourth phase of the war (2007-2010) alleged that the UK adopted an extremely hostile position primarily because of domestic political reasons. Wikileaks disclosed the true extent of Tamil Diaspora influence on the British political establishment, Bogollagama said. So much so, the UK allowed the Global Tamil Forum (GTF) to announce its formation in the House of Commons in early 2010, the former Minister said. Would the UK accept Geneva advice as regards the proposed Bill, Bogollagama asked, those who voted for the resolution moved against Sri Lanka and abstained to realise that the UK’s stand in respect of Colombo was political.
The UK succeeded the US as Sri Lanka Core Chair in 2018 after the latter quit the Geneva body in a huff calling it a cesspool of political bias.
The purpose of the controversial British Bill is stated as being “to provide greater certainty for Service personnel and veterans in relation to claims and potential prosecution for historical events that occurred in the complex environment of armed conflict overseas.” British Forces played significant roles in the invasion of Iraq and Afghanistan. The Bill seeks to achieve this, in particular, by introducing new preconditions for the prosecution of alleged offences covered by the Bill.
“As currently drafted, the Bill would make it substantially less likely that UK service members on overseas operations would be held accountable for serious human rights violations amounting to international crimes,” the UNHRC statement dated April 12 quoted Bachelet as having said.
It stated that in its present form, the proposed legislation raises substantial questions about the UK’s future compliance with its international obligations, particularly under the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (CAT), as well as the 1949 Geneva Conventions. These include obligations to prevent, investigate and prosecute acts such as torture and unlawful killing, and make no distinction as to when the offences were committed.
Responding to another query, Bogollagama said that Bachelet’s statement exposed the British hypocrisy. While demanding accountability on the part of Sri Lankan military on the basis of unsubstantiated war crimes accusations, the British deprived Geneva of wartime dispatches (January-May 2009) from its High Commission in Colombo in a bid to facilitate the campaign against Sri Lanka, former minister Bogollagama said.
The British exposed their hostile intentions when London turned down Sri Lanka’s request to hand over those dispatches to Geneva, the ex-lawmaker said, urging the government to continuously highlight the need for examination of all available evidence by the proposed new Geneva inquiry unit appointed at a cost of USD 2.8 mn.
Bachelet’s request to the UK was interesting, Bogollagama said. The former minister was referring to Bachelet’s appeal: “I urge UK legislators in both Houses of Parliament, and the Government, to take these concerns fully into account when reviewing the Bill, and to ensure that the law of the United Kingdom remains entirely unambiguous with regard to accountability for international crimes perpetrated by individuals, no matter when, where or by whom they are committed.”
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