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Lanka battles UNHRC: Geneva Chief’s comments unwarranted and pre-judgmental

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Sri Lanka strongly defended the move to do away with the 19th Amendment at the 45th Sessions of the Human Rights Council, in Geneva on Tuesday (15). Sri Lanka assured the UNHRC that the draft 20th Amendment to the Constitution submitted through the Parliament would be discussed, debated, following a complete democratic process, where all stakeholders would have the opportunity to present their views. Sri Lanka emphasized that High Commissioner’s comments on the proposed 20th Amendment were unwarranted and pre-judgmental, based on presumption.

The following is the text of statement made during the General Debate under Agenda Item 2 at the 45th Session of the UN Human Rights Council by Ms Dayani Mendis, Actg. Permanent Representative of Sri Lanka: “Sri Lanka wishes to respond to the references made by the High Commissioner for Human Rights to Sri Lanka in the ‘Global Human Rights Update’ on 14 September 2020.

As this Council is aware, since February/March this year, the entire world was challenged by the COVID-19 pandemic, a health crisis of a global scale, which had impacted many aspects of governance in many countries, and Sri Lanka was no exception.

We hope that this Council would appreciate that Sri Lanka while successfully containing the spread of COVID-19 through a balanced, multi-sectoral approach and despite this challenge, held its commitment to the democratic processes, and conducted Parliamentary elections successfully and peacefully, last month, which the EU has acknowledged.

Sri Lanka made it clear even as it withdrew from the co-sponsorship of Resolution 30/1, that it will remain committed to achieve reconciliation, accountability and human rights within the framework of the Sri Lankan Constitution, through a domestically designed and executed process in line with the Government’s policy framework. Sri Lanka would like to state further that the new Government which assumed office with the election of the new Parliament on 5 August remains committed to the assurances given before this Council in February this year.

The draft 20th Amendment to the Constitution submitted through the Parliament will be discussed, debated, following a complete democratic process, where all stakeholders will have the opportunity to present their views. Therefore, the GoSL is of the view that the High Commissioner’s comments on the proposed 20th Amendment are unwarranted and pre-judgmental, based on presumption.

The GoSL wishes to state that the pardon to the former Army sergeant was granted in terms of the powers and provisions of the Constitution of Sri Lanka.

The Government rejects the false and unsubstantiated allegations leveled against senior military officials being appointed to key positions of institutions. Sri Lanka has consistently refuted the credibility of these allegations and wishes to highlight that the domestic processes such as the LLRC and Paranagama Commissions that examined these allegations particularly with regard to the last stages of the conflict, have not found substantive evidence against any of the senior military officials referred to in this regard.

In the absence of any substantive proof, Sri Lanka considers that the continued arbitrary accusations of crimes or crimes against humanity made against these senior military officials are unacceptable and a violation of the principles of natural justice.

In conclusion, with regard to allegations of surveillance and intimidation, the Government has already publicly refuted these allegations, and is committed to protecting and promoting freedom of expression and civil society space, and ensuring that complaints received on alleged attacks against journalists, human rights defenders and civil society are investigated and prosecuted.

The prime focus of this Government is to ensure national security, and to uphold the rule of law and order in the country for all its citizens, with the aim of creating “an environment where any citizen can live freely without any fear for the safety of themselves and their families.”

In line with the above policy framework, the Government is committed to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals of the UN, with a determination to uplift the lives of all its citizens and ensure that there is no threat to peace, reconciliation or development in Sri Lanka.

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Foreign qualified medical students protest

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A group of foreign medical degree holders protested opposite the Presidential Secretariat yesterday (23) requesting that tangible measures be taken to conduct the Examination for Registration to Practice Medicine (ERPM) without further delay.

They alleged that over 1,500 students had been deprived of the opportunity to sit the examination due to the fault of the Sri Lanka Medical Council, which is now under investigation by a committee, appointed by Health Minister Pavitra Wanniarachchi.

Photo: A section of the protesting students (pic by Thushara Atapattu)

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SJB insists referendum necessary besides 2/3 majority in Parliament

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Supreme Court moved against 20A

By Chitra Weerarathne

General Secretary of the Samagi Jana Balavegaya Ranjith Madduma Bandara, MP, yesterday (23) filed a petition in the Supreme Court stating that the proposed 20th Amendment (20A) to the Constitution was inconsistent with the Constitution. It requires a two-thirds majority in Parliament and approval by people at a referendum for passage, the SJV has argued.

The SJB says 20A violates people’s sovereignty and franchise enshrined in Article (3) and (4) of the Constitution.

The petitioner has argued that the provisions in clause 55 of the Bill are inconsistent with the public trust doctrine and the principle of checks and balances and would prejudicially affect public finance.

 The clause 54 of the Bill seeks to repeal Article 156 A of the Constitution, which provides constitutional recognition to the Commission to Investigate Allegations of Bribery or corruption, the petition says.

 The petition says 20A seeks to repeal the prohibition on dual citizens being elected to Parliament and to the post of President.

The power of the Auditor General to audit the state institutions has been curtailed, the petition says, arguing that it could be detrimental to the economy.

It will be detrimental to the country if the Constitutional Council is replaced by a Parliamentary Council, the SJB General Secretary’s has contended in his petition.

Clause 20 (2) of the proposed 20A has restricted the powers of the Election Commission as regards the conduct of elections, the petitioner has argued.

The 20A states that an omission by the President could no longer be challenged through a fundamental rights violation petitions in the Supreme Court, the petitioner has said, adding that the Bill seeks to further enhance the powers of the President by allowing him to unilaterally remove the Prime Minister. The President would not be accountable to Parliament, the petition says.

The 20A would repeal Article 70/ (1) of the Constitution and enable the President to dissolve Parliament even immediately after a general election, the SJB General Secretary argues.

The respondent to the petition is the Attorney General.

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Lawyer Hijaz’s foundation received funds from banned foreign outfit – CID tells court

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By A.J.A.A beynayake and Kasuni Rebecca

The CID yesterday informed the Colombo Fort Magistrate Priyantha Liyanage that Save the Pearls Trust run by lawyer Hijaz Hisbullah, now in custody for allegedly aiding and abetting one of the Easter Sunday bombers, had received Rs.13 million from a banned organisation named the Caliphate of Qatar.

The CID told court that according to the bank accounts of the trust the money had been received by it during the last few years and the police had launched an investigation to ascertain whether the funds had been used for terrorist activities.

The CID told court the investigation had been launched under the Money Laundering Act and a psychologist’s opinion had been sought on the book titled “Navarasam” found in a madrasa (school teaching Islam) run by Save the Pearls Trust in Puttalam.

The Magistrate order the CID to submit to court a Sinhala translation of the book and examine whether the contents of the book promoted terrorism.

The case will be taken up again on October 7.

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