The Ministerial Subcommittee on amending the Prevention of Terrorism Act recently met members of the Sri Lankan Collective for Consensus (SLCC) to discuss the current state of their proposals. SLCC consists of individuals drawn from civil society organisations that have reconciliation, human rights and peace building aims as their objectives.
Chairman of the Subcommittee, Foreign Minister Prof G.L. Peiris said there was no draft legislation as yet to share but only a set of proposals which they wished to discuss with civil society and other groups. He stated that there would be no repeal of PTA as there was a continuing need for it due to security issues. He explained there was a need for balance between personal liberty and freedom and the need for national security.
The noteworthy amendments described in the verbal presentation made by Prof Peiris consisted of the following:
1. Detention orders: The period of validity of a detention order would be reduced from 18 months to 12 months
2. Restricted use of PTA: The IGP has issued clear instructions to police officers not to have recourse to the PTA as a regular mode of arrest or as a short cut. The norm should be to investigate with the use of the normal law. They should only use PTA in exceptional circumstances when adequate evidence is found in investigation and if national security issues arise in the process of investigations
3. Supervision by magistrates: It will be mandatory for magistrates to visit the place of detention and to personally ensure the welfare of detained persons. The Human Rights Commission should/ will be informed of such detention. Magistrates will be empowered to direct the IGP to investigate if any evidence of torture is found. In such a situation the Attorney General will institute criminal proceedings
4. Judicial oversight: The person detained will have access to judicial appeal through Article 126 of the constitution (Fundamental Rights jurisdiction of Supreme Court) and Article 140 (Writ jurisdiction of Appeal Court). This will be spelled out in the law so that there is no ambiguity. This will be the first time in the four decade long history of PTA that detention orders can be legally challenged
5. Access to lawyer: The person detained will have the right to access a lawyer and to visits by family members. This will be a statutory right so that there is no discretion in the matter
6. Repeal of Section 14 of PTA: This prohibits publication of any statement made by the detainee or with regard to the investigation
7. Speedy trial: Trials of PTA cases will take place on a daily basis until completed to avoid delays. The Chief Justice has already directed that PTA cases should be expedited
8. Advisory Board: This has been set up under Section 13 of the PTA. Chaired by retired Chief Justice Asoka de Silva it has already recommended the release of 26, 8 and 6 prisoners on three occasions. The Advisory Board is expected to make recommendations and advise the President on the investigation, release, granting of bail and future action related to the persons imprisoned over terrorist activities and detained under detention orders
Prof Peiris explained that the changes to PTA proposed were a result of consensus between the Ministries of Foreign Affairs, Justice and Defence and the Attorney General’s Department; these changes are not conceived as one-off ones, but as a part of a continuum, there being other changes contemplated that will be agreed on later. He also assured that changes in legislation will be rapid, and take place early next year.
No written documents were provided to the SLCC either before or during the meeting. However, SLCC presented a position paper of its own to the ministerial subcommittee which provides the principles underlying and restraining the PTA which they wished to have incorporated into the amended PTA (see attached).
SLCC highlighted the following areas of concern:
1. Arbitrary arrests need to be ended. An example was given from Batticaloa where 10 civilians including a mother of two had been taken under PTA for commemoration of their dead relatives.
2. The period prior to indictment should be considered under the normal law, and hence the judicial officers had power to bail out detainees, as decided in the Pathmanathan case by the Supreme Court and magistrates to be apprised accordingly
3. When detainees are sent to other districts on remand there is lack of communication and cross checking which can be rectified by video links for communication.
4. All actions with regard to detention need to be judicial rather than executive or administrative
“We were mindful that as we were being briefed by the Ministerial subcommittee on November 27, family members and others who sought to commemorate Martyrs Day of fallen LTTE cadres were being forcibly prevented by the security forces and arrests and assaults took place. SLCC therefore stresses the importance of national reconciliation taking place in a larger environment that is respectful of human rights. SLCC expressed appreciation of the subcommittee’s initiative to engage with a group of CSOs at this briefing session. We said we looked forward to further discussions once the government legislation had emerged in a draft form. We also requested the subcommittee to engage with other CSOs which had evinced much keenness to do so. Chairman of the subcommittee Prof G.L. Peiris invited interested CSOs to make written submissions without delay to the subcommittee for consideration,” SLCC said.
Weerawansa’s wife sentenced to RI
Lawyers appearing for Shashi Weerawansa, MP Wimal Weerawansa’s wife, yesterday (27) appealed against a Colombo Magistrate’s Court decision to sentence their client to two years rigorous imprisonment.Colombo Chief Magistrate, Buddhika Sri Ragala found her guilty of submitting forged documents to obtain a diplomatic passport circa 2010. The Colombo Magistrate’s Court also imposed a fine of Rs. 100,000 on Mrs. Weerawansa. If the fine is not paid she will have to serve an extra six months.
Additional Magistrate Harshana Kekunawala announced that the appeal would be called for consideration on 30 May.The case against Mrs. Weerawansa was filed by the CID after a complaint was lodged on 23 January 2015 by Chaminda Perera, a resident of Battaramulla.
Unions predict end of energy sovereignty
By Rathindra Kuruwita
A government decision to allow all privately-owned bunker fuel operators to import and distribute diesel and fuel oil to various industries was a rollback of the nationalisation of the country’s petroleum industry and another severe blow to energy sovereignty of the country, trade union activist of the SJB Ananda Palitha said yesterday.Earlier, Minister of Power and Energy, Kanchana Wijesekera Tweeted that ‘approval was given to all the Private Bunker Fuel Operators to Import and provide Diesel and Fuel Oil requirements of Industries to function their Generators and Machinery. This will ease the burden on CPC and Fuel Stations provided in bulk’.Commenting on the decision, Palitha said that according to the existing law those companies only had the power to import, store and distribute fuel for ships. Those companies did not have the authority to distribute fuel inside the country, Palitha said.
“Only the Ceylon Petroleum Corporation (CPC) and Lanka Indian Oil Corporation (LIOC) can distribute fuel inside the country. There is a controversy about the licence given to the LIOC as well. If the government wants other companies to import fuel, it needs to change the laws. The Minister does not have the power to make these decisions. A few months ago the Gotabaya Rajapaksa administration used to rush Bills that adversely affected the country through Parliament. Now, since they don’t have a majority in parliament, they are using the Cabinet to make decisions that are detrimental to the country’s interests.”
Palitha said that the controversial government move would further weaken the CPC, and that the ultimate aim of the Rajapaksa-Wickremesinghe government was to make the Ceylon Electricity Board (CEB) purchase fuel from private distributors. With a weakened CPC and a CEB under the mercy of private companies, the Sri Lankan state would have little control over the country’s energy sector, he warned.
“The CEB already can’t pay the CPC, and therefore how can it pay private companies? It will have to sell its assets. This is another step in the road to fully privatise the energy sector. When this happens no government will be able to control inflation or strategically drive production through fuel and energy tariffs. The people will be at the mercy of businessmen and the government will only be a bystander,” he said.
Modi government moves to ‘solve’ Katchatheevu issue
The Narendra Modi government is mulling restoring the traditional rights of Tamil Nadu fishermen in Katchatheevu, an uninhabited island of 285 acres, sandwiched between India and Sri Lanka in the Palk Bay, with the BJP hoping the move could lift its political fortunes in the southern state.The government will push Sri Lanka to implement “in letter and spirit” the 1974 agreement reached between Indira Gandhi and Sirimavo Bandaranaike, then prime ministers of India and Sri Lanka, on the island.This will have to be done by withdrawing the “Executive Instructions” issued in 1976 without questioning Sri Lanka’s “sovereignty” over Katchatheevu, sources aware of the internal discussions in the BJP told the Indian newspaper, Deccan Herald.
Sources added that the discussions were “ongoing” at “various levels” including reaching out to Tamil political parties in Sri Lanka. The recent visit of TN BJP chief K Annamalai to Sri Lanka is also part of the outreach. Many feel the instructions issued in 1976 “superseded the provisions of the legally valid” pact between India and Sri Lanka, thus making Katchatheevu a subject of dispute in the Palk Bay.While the 1974 agreement gave away Katchatheevu, which was part of the territory ruled by the Rajah of Ramanathapuram, to Sri Lanka, the 1976 pact drew the maritime boundary between India and Sri Lanka in the Gulf of Mannar and Bay of Bengal.
“We cannot disturb the agreement signed in 1974. We are now finding ways and means to implement the agreement in letter and spirit. All we plan is to ask Sri Lanka to invoke Article 6 of the Katchatheevu pact. If Sri Lanka agrees, the issue can be sorted through Exchange of Letters between foreign secretaries of both countries,” a source in the know said.Another source said the time is “ripe” to push forward on the issue. “With fast-changing geopolitical situation in the region, we believe Sri Lanka will slowly come around and accept the rights of our fishermen,” the source said.
“The opinion within the party is that time is ripe to push this cause, with Sri Lanka beginning to realise that India can always be relied upon, given PM Ranil (Wickremesinghe) is pro-India.”
Articles 5 and 6 of the 1974 agreement categorically assert the right to access of the Indian fishermen and pilgrims to Katchatheevu and state that the “vessels of Sri Lanka and India will enjoy in each other’s waters such rights as they have traditionally enjoyed therein”.
However, fishermen from India were prohibited from fishing in the Sri Lankan territorial waters around Katchatheevu in 1976 following the signing of an agreement on the maritime boundary. The battle for fish in the Palk Bay has often ended in Indian fishermen being attacked by Sri Lankan Navy for “transgressing” into their waters.The BJP, which is yet to make major inroads in Tamil Nadu, feels a “solution” to the long-standing issue will give the party the much-needed momentum ahead of the 2024 Lok Sabha polls and provide a chance to get into the Tamil psyche. Political analysts feel that it might also allow the BJP to needle the DMK and the Congress by pointing out that it has restored the rights “surrendered by them,” to Tamil fishermen
Senior journalist and Lanka expert R Bhagwan Singh said: “If BJP succeeds in its efforts, it will certainly help the saffron party in the coming elections.”
But a source said the move will “take time”. “We don’t want to rush and create an impression we are forcing Sri Lanka. We will take it slow. We will take every stakeholder into confidence and reach an amicable settlement with Sri Lanka. All we want to do is restore traditional rights of our fishermen,” the source said.CM Stalin also raised the issue at an event on Thursday, telling Modi that this is the “right time” to retrieve Katchatheevu.
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