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Lanka’s draft ‘Rehabilitation Law’ would spur abuse – HRW

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The Sri Lankan government should withdraw a draft law that would give the authorities broad powers to detain people in military-run “rehabilitation” centers, placing them at great risk of abuse, Human Rights Watch said yesterday (17).

The Bureau of Rehabilitation Bill, submitted to parliament on September 23, 2022, would allow the compulsory detention in centers of “drug dependant persons, ex-combatants, members of violent extremist groups and any other group of persons.”

The Bureau of Rehabilitation Bill would establish a new administrative structure controlled by the Defense Ministry to operate “rehabilitation” centers staffed by military personnel. The proposed law, which human rights advocates have already challenged in the Supreme Court, does not describe the basis for being sent for “rehabilitation,” but other recent government policies provide vague and arbitrary powers to forcibly “rehabilitate” people who have not been convicted of any crime.

“The Sri Lankan government’s proposed ‘rehabilitation’ efforts appear to be nothing more than a new form of abusive detention without charge,” said Meenakshi Ganguly, South Asia director at Human Rights Watch. “The Rehabilitation Bill would open the door widely to more torture, mistreatment, and endless detention.”

The Sri Lankan government has previously used coercive “rehabilitation” centers to enable arbitrary detention and torture. Following the civil war, which ended in 2009, thousands of people whom the government identified as members of the defeated separatist Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam were detained in military-run “rehabilitation” centers, where some were allegedly tortured and subjected to other abuses, including sexual violence. The current bill seeks once again to “rehabilitate” “ex-combatants” 13 years after the war ended.

The Rehabilitation Bill is the latest measure in a long history of laws, such as the Prevention of Terrorism Act (PTA), that authorize arbitrary detention and torture in Sri Lanka. The law could be used to target minority communities or anti-government protesters whom President Ranil Wickremesinghe has labeled “extremists.”

Under the Rehabilitation Bill, which would allow prolonged detention without judicial oversight, government officials would be protected from criminal liability for their actions if they act “in good faith.” The bill also empowers officials to use undefined “minimum force” to “compel obedience” from detainees. Another provision provides that an official who “without reasonable cause” strikes, wounds, ill-treats, or willfully neglects anyone under rehabilitation can be punished by up to 18 months in prison, suggesting that there might be a “reasonable cause” to harm detainees. International law absolutely prohibits torture, and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.

A separate bill to amend Sri Lanka’s Poisons, Opium and Dangerous Drugs Ordinance, which was presented to parliament on September 9, provides for the compulsory rehabilitation of alleged drug users. The legislation would worsen already abusive laws and practices under Sri Lanka’s “war on drugs,” which Sri Lankan military officers have repeatedly compared to the “war on terror.”

Sri Lanka already has a system of forced “rehabilitation” for alleged drug users, which is run by the armed forces at two sites previously used to “rehabilitate” former combatants. There have been allegations of forced labor and ill-treatment, including the collective punishment of inmates, who are denied access to medically appropriate treatment for drug dependency while undergoing coercive “de-addiction.” The death of an inmate at the Kandakadu rehabilitation center in June led to the arrest of four army and air force sergeants acting as “therapists.”

International standards for the treatment of addiction maintain that treatment should always be voluntary and addiction regarded primarily as a health condition. The abstinence-based “rehabilitation” programs operated by the military are not based on scientific evidence and provide no harm reduction services.

In 2017, the United Nations Working Group on Arbitrary Detention expressed concern at the involvement of the Sri Lankan military in drug treatment and at the lack of medical care, as well as irregularities in the judicial process. The detention of alleged drug users for coercive “rehabilitation” is incompatible with medically appropriate drug dependency treatment and contravenes international law, Human Rights Watch said.

The proposed amendment to the drug law contains provisions to weaken evidentiary standards and deny bail to suspects in some criminal cases related to the possession of drugs. Sri Lanka continues to impose the death penalty for some drug offenses, contrary to international law standards and despite a national moratorium on executions since 1976.

The Rehabilitation Bureau Bill and the proposed amendment to anti-narcotics legislation are only the latest measures in President Wickremesinghe’s assault on fundamental rights, Human Rights Watch said. An attempt to use the Official Secrets Act to restrict public gatherings in the capital, Colombo, was withdrawn earlier in October amid widespread objections that the action was unlawful.

On October 6, the United Nations Human Rights Council adopted a resolution expressing concern at the human rights situation in Sri Lanka and mandating enhanced UN monitoring, as well as renewing a mandate for the UN to collect and analyze evidence of past human rights violations for use in future prosecutions.

“President Wickremesinghe is pursuing abusive and repressive policies that make it difficult for Sri Lanka’s international partners to wholeheartedly back desperately needed economic measures,” Ganguly said. “Foreign governments should make clear that they will support the urgent needs of the Sri Lankan people, but they will also take action through targeted sanctions and other measures against those committing serious human rights violations.”



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Bid to use private member’s motion to put off LG polls alleged

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By Shamindra Ferdinando

Former Foreign Minister Prof. G. L. Peiris has questioned the rationale behind President Ranil Wickremesinghe’s warning that the military will be deployed to curb protest vis-a-vis a Foreign Ministry undertaking to boost foreign trade and investment.

Addressing the Parliament, during the Budget committee stage debate, on 28 Nov., Prof. Peiris said the Foreign Ministry couldn’t expect to succeed in economic diplomacy while the government was resorting to repressive measures.

Prof. Peiris asked who would want to invest in a country where the people were warned of dire consequences if they held protests, and elections were arbitrarily postponed.

Referring to the long overdue Provincial Council polls, Prof. Peiris discussed how postponement of scheduled Local Government polls could further jeopardise Sri Lanka’s standing among the international community.

Prof. Peiris alleged that the government was planning to use private members’ motion submitted by Attorney-at-Law Premanath C. Dolawatta (SLPP, Colombo District) to put off scheduled Local Government polls further. The ex-Minister claimed that the motion meant to enhance youth representation in governance would be utilised to delay the polls indefinitely. He recalled how the Yahapalana government had postponed the Provincial Council elections indefinitely.

The rebel SLPP Chairman pointed out that the government had chosen MP Dolawatta’s motion, handed over recently, though SJB’s Imthiaz Bakeer Markar submitted a private member’s motion on the same lines much earlier.

MP Dolawatta handed over a copy of his motion to President Ranil Wickremesinghe on Oct 31. Prof. Peiris said that they wouldn’t find fault with the lawmaker for making proposals which the academic said were timely.

Prof. Peiris warned Foreign Minister Ali Sabry, PC, that Sri Lanka wouldn’t be an appealing destination for investments unless the government adopted tangible measures to curb corruption. Shocking disclosures at parliamentary watchdog committees underscored that corruption was at unprecedented level and needed immediate attention.

Speaking on behalf of the breakaway SLPP faction, Nidahasa Jathika Sabhawa aka Freedom People’s Congress Prof. Peiris said that the recent declaration by the World Bank that it would audit the procurement and distribution of fertiliser here meant that the world had no faith in our system.

Commenting on assurances given by the government that a new Anti-Corruption Bill would be introduced soon, Prof. Peiris said that existing laws were quite sufficient. The issue at hand is absence of political will to battle corruption, the former Minister said, meant flight of professionals and intolerable increase in taxes on business wouldn’t encourage Foreign Ministry’s drive.

At the onset of his speech, lawmaker Peiris asked whether the government was genuine about the recent declaration that the national issue could be resolved by the enactment of a new Constitution by the next Independence Day. Who would take such a promise seriously against the backdrop of all previous attempts undertaken by far more stable governments failing to achieve the desired results? the former law professor asked. The former minister also questioned the feasibility of forming an apparatus on the lines of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of South Africa. Prof. Peiris asked whether those now at the helm really had the wherewithal to meet the South African standards.

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State FM assures there won’t be shortage of milk powder

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State Finance Minister Ranjith Siyambalapitiya told Parliament yesterday (29) that there would be no shortage of milk powder in the coming days due to the Customs holding a consignment of six containers of milk powder, imported into the country, for violating regulations.

Minister Siyambalapitiya said the six containers had 105,375 kilos of full cream milk powder, imported from New Zealand, via Malaysia. It reached the Colombo port on 20 Oct. It was only after the consignment had arrived in the Port that the importers submitted the letters to get the consignment released from the Controller Imports and Exports. Arrangements would be made to release the stock from the harbour on the recommendation of the Secretary to the Ministry of Trade and Food Security.

As such, there is no need for permission from the Controller Import and Export to release the stock, the minister said, adding that there were no limitations imposed on importing milk powder and there would be no cause for panic buying in fear of a shortage of milk powder in the coming days.

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Dolawatta responds to GL

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premanath-c-Dolawatta

SLPP MP Premanath C. Dolawatta said his private member’s motion wouldn’t lead to the postponement of local government polls. He said he felt the need to restore the 25% quota for youth, even before he entered Parliament, consequent to the August 2020 general election. The government and the Opposition could quickly reach a consensus on the proposals, and avoid unnecessary complications. MP Dolawatta said so when The Island sought his response to accusations made by Prof. Peiris, who said that time was rapidly running out for Local Government polls. As the nomination process needed to be commenced soon to ensure that 341 Local Government bodies could be constituted by 20 March 2023.

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