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Planters decry mob-violence on Park Estate, demands swift legal action against perpetrators

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The Planters’ Association of Ceylon (PA) condemned what it called the “shocking violence instigated by CWC Member of Parliament M. Rameshwaran at Park Estate in Kandapola on January 17, 2021”, which damaged property and left a Trainee Assistant Superintendent in hospital.

The Association called for an impartial investigation and swift justice following the brutal mob attack which resulted in the Trainee Assistant Superintendent being admitted to the Nuwara Eliya General Hospital. The victim of the assault was reported to have received severe injuries and was undergoing respiratory difficulties as a result of the assault perpetrated against him by a mob that was transported from outside of the region in two buses facilitated by the MP Rameshwaran, the PA claimed in a statement on behalf of all 21 Regional Plantation Companies (RPCs) in the country.

The PA also called for further investigations to ascertain the extent of damage done to the Estate Manager’s Bungalow and grounds – all of which are classified as state property of significant historical value.

“The conduct of the MP is utterly disgraceful and totally unacceptable from any citizen, let alone a duly elected representative of the people of Sri Lanka. We call on law enforcement authorities to uphold the rule of law and take swift action to ensure that the perpetrators of the brutal attack are immediately arrested, charged for their violent and illegal actions, and prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law,” the PA said.

The attack took place following a phone call made by the MP Rameshwaran to the Estate Superintendent wherein he (the MP) demanded an immediate meeting on Sunday, January 17, 2021 around 5.30 pm. The Estate Superintendent had calmly and politely suggested an alternate date, given that he was on leave at the time and was driving to Kandy to urgently purchase essential cancer medication for his father in-law, the statement continued.

Dissatisfied with the response, the MP had launched a crude verbal assault against the Estate Superintendent, who had then hung up. Thereafter, the Rameshwaran coerced workers at the estate to give him the Estate Superintendent’s wife’s number, whom he also verbally abused, which was unbecoming of an MP. This phone call had multiple witnesses, the statement asserted.

Subsequently, MP Rameshwaran, together with the Pradeshiya Sabha Chairman travelled directly to the estate in two buses full of people from outside the region to gather a mob and incite them to violence. At around 5.30 pm, the MP forcibly and unlawfully entered the bungalow premises with the mob., it further said.

A young Trainee Assistant Superintendent in the premises at the time had tried to de-escalate the tense situation, but was brutally assaulted by the mob led by the MP. Following the vicious assault, the MP and his thugs prevented anyone from entering or exiting the premises. Instead they unlawfully detained those present, including the assault victim who was denied any medical attention or assistance for at least five hours after the assault took place, it said.

Following the intervention of the Police Special Task Force and local police, the Trainee Assistant Superintendent was finally removed from the premises under armed escort and immediately transported to the Nuwara Eliya base hospital where he remains hospitalized at present. As a result of the grievous assault, the victim is still recovering from severe contusions and suffering from respiratory distress and other multiple injuries, it added.

Meanwhile, the MP and the mob continued the unauthorized and unlawful occupation of the bungalow premises for over 24 hours, burned rubber tires, damaged building structures, and also compelled workers from the estate, as well as surrounding estates of the company to stage a strike – resulting in loss of wages to workers and revenue to the company, the PA said.

“At a time when RPC’s are making every possible endeavour to keep the industry and the national economy afloat by managing the estates in a manner that safeguard the livelihood of the plantation community, such random violent incidents have undone a lot of our efforts, and will ultimately hurt the workers most”, the PA further noted.

“This is true financially, but in the context of a global pandemic, the foolish actions of MP have also seriously increased the risk of COVID transmission in the very communities he is supposed to represent. While RPCs had taken every possible measure to protect them from these risks, the conduct of the MP may have severely compromised their safety”, it said.

“This is utterly inexcusable, in addition to being totally illegal. He must not be allowed to break the law with impunity. We hope that his standing as a Member of Parliament will not be an impediment to him being brought to justice,” the PA added.

Asked for comment on the incident, Rameshwaran said he was busy at a meeting and to call later.



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Govt. MP Wijeyadasa strikes discordant note on Port City Bill

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… 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.

 

 

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Sooka pushing UK for punitive action against Army Commander

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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.”

 

 

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‘UNHRC missive exposes UK duplicity in grave accountability matters’

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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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