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PSC finally responds to AG’s recommendation to take action

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The Public Service Commission (PSC) has responded to the Attorney General’s recommendation that disciplinary action be taken against Deputy Solicitor General Azard Navavi and State Counsel Malik Azeez, who were entrusted with the file on National Thowheed Jamaat (NTJ) and its leader Zahran Hashim, for lapses in handling the case, the Presidential Commission of Inquiry (PCoI) investigating Easter Sunday attacks was informed yesterday.

This was revealed when Attorney General (AG) Dappula de Livera’s Coordinating Officer, State Counsel, Nishara Jayaratne appeared before the PCoI.

The commission prevented the counsel disclosing the PSC decision.

A request by Shavindra Fernando, PC, who appeared for Navavi, to declare Jayaratne guilty of contempt of PCoI was rejected by a majority of the Commissioners.

AG Dappula de Livera’s Coordinating Officer, State Counsel, Nishara Jayaratne was ordered to appear before the PCoI considering a request made by Shavindra Fernando, PC, on 15 December 2020.

On that day, it was revealed that the Attorney General had recommended disciplinary action against Deputy Solicitor General Azard Navavi and State Counsel Malik Azeez, who were given the file on National Thowheed Jamaat (NTJ) and its leader Zahran Hashim as far back as 2017. A preliminary inquiry on the duo by a three member committee had also been concluded and the investigators recommendations together with charge sheets had been sent to the Public Service Commission (PSC), Additional Solicitor General, Sumathi Dharmawardena told the PCoI, yesterday.

On 05 December Deputy Solicitor General Navavi said that the Attorney General’s Department had paid attention to the file on NTJ leader Zahran Hashim, sent by Terrorism Investigation Division (TID) seeking their advice, only three weeks after the Easter Sunday attacks. Chairman of the PCoI asked Navavi what the AG’s Department did about the file on Zahran, sent by the TID for legal advice. Navavi said that he received the file on 07 June 2017 and that he designated State Counsel Malik Azeez, who was under him, to handle the file. Both men insisted that the TID had not furnished the information it had in its possession about NTJ and Zahran until 2019.

Additional Solicitor General, Sumathi Dharmawardena was called before the PCoI to shed more light on the matter. Dharmawardena is also in charge of administration at the AG’s Department. Dharmawardena said that in 2019, he testified before the Parliamentary Select Committee (PSC) on the Easter Sunday attacks on the file TID had sent.

Dharmawardena added that he had drawn Attorney General Dappula de Livera’s attention to the final report of the PSC on or around 24 February 2020. The following day, Livera had recommended that an inquiry be conducted on Navavi and Azeez. Initially, the investigation was to be conducted by Deputy Solicitor General, Susantha Balapatabendi.

However on 13 March 2020, a three-member committee consisting of Senior Additional Solicitor General, Sarath Jayamanne, Balapatabendi and Senior Deputy Solicitor General, Mayadunne Corea was appointed. Jayamanne resigned from the committee on 29 May 2020 and on 01 June 2020, Additional Solicitor General, Priyantha Nawana was made the head of the Committee, Dharmawardena said.

The committee completed the investigation in July 2020 and the report had been sent to him, Dharmawardena said. The document contained draft charge sheets. It was given to Acting Solicitor General Sanjay Rajaratnam for further recommendations. On 27 July 2020, Rajaratnam had recommended disciplinary action, Dharmawardena said.

Shavindra Fernando, PC, who appeared for Navavi then brought Dharmawardena’s attention to a letter the AG sent to acting IGP on 18 June 2020. In the letter Livera has said law officers of the AG’s Department had done nothing wrong.

Fernando: “On 10 June 2019, the coordinating officer to the AG repeated the claim in a press release. It is obvious that AG didn’t think Navavi and Azeez had done anything wrong.” Fernando then asked the PCoI to summon State Counsel, Nishara Jayaratne as she was responsible for issuing press releases.

Jayaratne arrived at PCoI last Friday and soon got into a heated argument with Fernando, who accused her of contempt of PCoI. Jayaratne, who had appeared without a lawyer, sought legal advice and PCoI granted her time till yesterday.

Jayaratne yesterday appeared with another counsel from the AG’s Department and Fernando objected to it. However, Senior Deputy Solicitor General Vikum de Abrew said the counsel could appear on behalf of Jayaratne.

De Abrew also said that PSC had responded, on 15 December 2020, to the report the AG’s Department sent on Navavi and Azeez.

Chairman of the PCoI: “If you want to say something about what the PSC said about your recommendation, please let us know through the Department.”

Then the cross examination of Jayaratne began.

Shavindra Fernando PC: “The letter the AG sent to the acting IGP on 18 June 2020 states that the law officers of the AG’s Department had done nothing wrong. Isn’t this his opinion on the matter?”

Senior Deputy Solicitor General Vikum de Abrew said: “My learned friend has asked this question 18 times before. The witness has already responded.”

Fernando: “I am repeating myself because I didn’t get a straight answer. The letter to the acting IGP reflected the AG’s opinion. Isn’t that so?”

Jayaratne: “This letter doesn’t contain the AG’s opinion. It contains instructions to the then acting IGP. Twice the AG said, “I advise.” There are two sides to a coin. The AG advises the acting IGP to conduct further investigations because the file is incomplete. On the other hand, we don’t need to inform the acting IGP if our law officers have made lapses.”

Fernando then told PCoI that Jayaratne was not giving straight forward answers just like she had done the previous day. He again urged the PCoI to consider Jayaratne guilty of contempt of PCoI.

Jayaratne said that it was unfair to make the allegation and that it was an attempt to tarnish her image. She said: “I never insulted the commission. I answered all the questions. They are trying to tarnish my reputation and the post I hold.”

The Chairman of the PCoI said that she was guilty of contempt, but the other commissioners were of the view that she was not.

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Foreign Secretary sounds ‘consensual resolution’ as pressure mounts in Geneva

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by Shamindra Ferdinando

Foreign Secretary Admiral Prof. Jayanath Colombage on Monday (25) night revealed that the government was having discussions with the UK-led Sri Lanka Core Group in a bid to explore the possibility of reaching a consensus on what he described as a ‘consensual resolution’ ahead of the 46th sessions of the Geneva-based United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) scheduled for Feb-March this year.

Admiral Colombage acknowledged that an agreement on a consensual resolution was a politically challenging task. FS Colombage said so in conversation with Faraz Shauketaly on ‘News Line’ on TV 1.

Asked whether the government was under pressure to co-sponsor the new resolution or face a vote in case Sri Lanka rejected the UK-led move, the naval veteran said there was dialogue between the two parties in this regard. Talks have to be concluded today (27)

Prof. Colombage ruled out the possibility of Sri Lanka co-sponsoring the new resolution. The top Foreign Ministry official also dismissed the interviewer’s assertion the government was under pressure to accept the new resolution.

Admiral Colombage said they were also studying some suggestions made by the Core Group.

Asked whether the government would try to convince the Tamil National Alliance (TNA) led political grouping that had demanded an international war crimes investigation in addition to a range of punitive measures to reverse its decision, FS Colombage emphasized that Sri Lanka waged war against an internationally proscribed terrorist group.

The interviewer sought the Foreign Secretary’s assertion of retired justice C.V. Wigneswaran, MP, who signed Jan. 15 dated petition, in his capacity as the leader of Tamil Makkal Thesiya Kutani (TMTK). Altogether, 13 lawmakers represented the three political parties that called for external intervention.

Declaring that serious war crimes hadn’t been committed during the war, FS Colombage questioned the motives of those continuing to harp on unsubstantiated war crimes allegations. Referring to the failure on the part of the Northern Provincial Council to spend the funds allocated for the benefit of the public, FS Colombage asked whether an agenda detrimental to post-war national reconciliation was being pursued.

In the wake of Sri Lanka quitting in Feb 2020 Geneva Resolution co-sponsored by the previous government against one’s own country in Oct 2015, Geneva has warned Sri Lanka of serious consequences. In addition to freezing assets and travel bans slapped on those who had been ‘credibly accused of human rights violations,’ Geneva recommended the launch of criminal proceedings at the International Criminal Court and an international mechanism to gather evidence.

Referring to the US travel ban imposed on Army Commander Gen. Shavendra Silva in Feb 2020, the interviewer sought the Foreign Secretary’s opinion on the Geneva report. Refuting allegations, Admiral Colombage alleged serious shortcomings, including factual errors.

Asked whether the recent appointment of a three-member Commission of Inquiry (CoI) chaired by Supreme Court Judge Nawaz to examine previous CoI reports et al wasn’t too late as well as insufficient just ahead of the 46th sessions, Admiral Colombage explained how eruption of first Covid-19 wave that resulted in the postponement of general elections scheduled for April 2020 caused serious setback to government efforts.

Commenting on simmering controversy over the Sri Lanka-India agreement on the East Container Terminal (ECT) at the Colombo harbour, Admiral Colombage expressed confidence the issue could be resolved soon. The former Navy Chief categorically denied India’s valuable support to Sri Lanka at Geneva et al would be linked with agreement on ECT.

Responding to criticism directed at India over a spate of issues, including the forced imposition of the 13th Amendment thereby creating the Provincial Council system, Admiral Colombage pointed out the Tamil Nadu factor. Admiral Colombage, having reiterated President Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s foreign policy statement, assured Sri Lanka’s commitment to friendly ties with major powers.

FS Colombage emphasized that Sri Lanka’s bilateral relations wouldn’t be at the expense of another country.

Admiral Colombage regretted the recent mid-sea collision involving an SLN Fast Attack Craft and an Indian fishing trawler that resulted in the deaths of four fishermen. The FS emphasized that the incident happened well within Sri Lankan waters near Delft Island.

Navy headquarters last week alleged that the Indian vessel collided with FAC while trying to flee a naval cordon.

Admiral Colombage said that the SLN vessel would have suffered serious damage if the Indian trawler happened to be one with a steel hull.

Asked whether US, India, Japan and Australia would take a common stand vis a vis Sri Lanka in respect of accountability issues, Admiral Colombage asserted that wouldn’t be the case. “Sri Lanka is important to them” Admiral Colombage said, while describing them as the four pillars of the Quad-a security alliance.

Commenting on the disclosures made by Lord Naseby in the House of Lords in Oct 2017, Admiral Colombage appreciated the British politician’s efforts to set the record straight as regards war crimes accusations. The Foreign Secretary said that the revelations were made on the basis of genuine and accurate sources.

The British Lord used classified wartime British HC cables (Jan – May 2009) obtained following a legal battle to counter Geneva accusations. Sri Lanka is yet to officially request Geneva to revisit the 2015 resolution on the basis of Lord Naseby’s revelations.

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UK takes up forced cremation of Covid-19 victims

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The UK has raised human rights concerns with Sri Lanka including forced cremation of COVID-19 victims.

High Commissioner to Sri Lanka, Sarah Hulton OBE said in Tweeter message that the UN report in this regard is to be published next week and she would inform the approach to UN Human Rights Council.

“UK raising human rights concerns with Sri Lanka, including forced cremation of COVID19 victims. UN report to be published next week, will inform the approach to @UN_HRC,” she tweeted.

 

 

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Electors unaware of electoral register revision process – CMEV

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Text and pictures by PRIYAN DE SILVA 

National Coordinator of the Centre for Monitoring Election Violence (CMEV) Manjula Gajanayaka, who visited the polling districts of Puttlam and Vanni, last week, to look into allegation that more than 7,000 voters in the  polling division of Mannar were to be struck off the electoral register, said that electors were unaware of the electoral register revision process. He called upon the Election Commission of Sri Lanka to take immediate steps to educate the public on what actually is taking place; he urged the political parties not to capitalise on the situation. 

 Additional Commissioner of Elections Rasika Pieris said that electoral registers had been revised annually in accordance with the Registration of Electors Act 44 of 1980 to make voting more convenient to the electors by assigning them to the polling stations closest to residences.

 Pieris added that in addition to convenience there were many more advantages to be registered as an elector in the district one resides in.

 Retired Irrigation Engineer A. L. Burhanudhdheen is a chief occupant that has received the Revision of Electoral Register Notice sent by the Assistant Election Commissioner, Mannar. 

Burhanudhdeen had been a resident of Akaththimurippu, Mannar until being driven out by the LTTE in 1990. After being displaced he took refuge in Puttalam and at present lives in a modest house at Nagavillu, Puttlam.

 Burhanudhdeen said that he visited his property in Mannar whenever it was possible, but was unable to construct a new house there due to financial constraints. He also said that whenever possible he and his family had exercised their right to vote in the polling district of Mannar up to the 2020 Parliamentary election. At the last presidential election they had been provided with transport while the Election Commission arranged for a cluster voting facility in Puttlam for the last Parliamentary election, he said.

 Voicing his fears Burhanudhdeen said that he and his family might be struck off the electoral register in Mannar if their appeal was not accepted and added that they had not registered as voters of the Electoral District of Puttalam even though they were resident there.

Assistant Commissioner of Elections Mannar J. Jeniton said that taking action based on reports submitted by Grama Seva Niladharis nearly 10,000 revisions of election register notices had been sent by registered post to electors in the Mannar polling division. 

Jeniton said that the majority of them were known to be persons who were forced to flee from their homes in 1990 due to the conflict. It had been found that they were not resident in that area, he added.

 Jeniton said that about 700 persons had been requested to attend the inquiries and bring with them documents to prove their residence, but only 15 persons had been present.

 Chairman of the Musalee Pradeshiya Sabha A.G.H. Subeeham said that 3,542 constituents in Musalee had been served with Revision of Electoral Register notices requesting them to explain why their names should not be struck off the electoral register. Subeeham said that he did not understand the basis on which the list had been compiled as even persons who had been resident in Musalee for the past 10 years had received such notices. He appealed to the authorities to give the IDPs a grace period of two years to resettle.

The polling districts of Mannar, Mulaitivu and Vavuniya make up the Vanni Electoral District and six Members of Parliament represent the District.

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