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UK rejects Lanka’s request for handing over of Gash dispatches to Geneva

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… blames Defence Advisor for not verifying info, contradicts its own position

By Shamindra Ferdinando

The UK has rejected Sri Lanka’s request for the disclosure of wartime dispatches from its High Commission in Colombo.

 Authoritative sources told The Island that the request was made during the 46th session of the Geneva-based United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC).

 The month long Geneva sessions ended on March 23, with the 47-member council adopting a fresh accountability resolution with 22 countries voting for, 11 against and 14 abstaining.

 Sources said the UNHRC member and the leader of Sri Lanka Core Group the UK informed the government of its decision soon after the conclusion of the sessions. The request has been made in the second week of March. “We strongly believe those dispatches from the then British Defence Advisor Lt. Col. Anthony Gash can facilitate Geneva investigations. However, the British, despite repeatedly assuring us of longstanding friendship denied information in their possession,” a government source familiar with accountability matters, said.

After Gash’s departure, the UK discontinued having a resident Defence Advisor in Colombo. Instead, New Delhi-based Defence Advisor looked after matters pertaining to Sri Lanka for nearly a decade. However, in January 2019, the UK re-appointed Colonel David Ashman as their resident Defence Advisor in Colombo.

 Sri Lanka requested the UK to handover Gash dispatches to the UNHRC in the wake of the proposal to set up a special unit to ‘collect, consolidate, analyze and preserve information and evidence’ in respect of Sri Lanka. The unit is also meant for the development of required strategies to deal with the country in case of gross violations of human rights or serious violations of international humanitarian law. 

 Sources pointed out that despite Lord Naseby’s disclosure of a section of the Gash reports in Oct 2017, Sri Lanka refrained from requesting examination of the dispatches till March 2021.

 Responding to Sri Lanka’s request for the full disclosure of dispatches, the UK much to the surprise of the government played down the importance of Gash reports that dealt with the situation on the Vanni front between January1-May 18, 2009. The UK faulted Gash for not obtaining independent confirmation of reports he had sent to the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO). Sources said that the contrary to the position taken by the FCO when Lord Naseby moved the UK information Commission to get hold of dispatches in 2015, the government asserted that such a disclosure would impede their relations with Sri Lanka. However, when Sri Lanka made the request, the UK asserted that Gash reports couldn’t be taken seriously as he merely reported irregular information obtained from various parties at different times, sources said.

 The US has dismissed Gash reports on the basis they hadn’t been based on properly examined evidence and information.

 Gash countered the primary UN allegation (Panel of Experts’ report issued in March that the Sri Lankan military massacred 40,000 civilians. Gash estimated the number of deaths at 7,000 to 8,000. His assessment largely tallied with confidential UN survey (Aug 2008-May 13, 2009) that placed the number of dead at 7,721.

 The UK has told Sri Lanka that it would abide by UN reports, including POE report and the 2015 OHCHR Investigation on Sri Lanka (OISL) which faulted Sri Lankan military of causing deaths of tens of thousands by carrying widespread large-scale attacks.

 The UK has reminded Sri Lanka of OISL blaming the country for gross violations of international human rights law, serious violations of international law, and international crimes were committed by the government and the LTTE.

 Sources said that the UK had taken contradictory positions as regards Gash dispatches at the hearings at the UK Information Commission and when Sri Lanka requested for the full disclosure of relevant dispatches. Sources said that if the UK wasn’t pursuing an agenda inimical to Sri Lanka, dispatches from Colombo would have been released. The UK owed an explanation whether those dispatches weren’t made available to POE and OISL also on the grounds they weren’t credible. 

The Island sought former Constitutional Council member and attorney-at-law Javid Yusuf’s opinion on the Geneva move to set up a new inquiry at a cost of USD 2.8 mn to gather accountability info, evidence pertaining to Sri Lanka. On behalf of GoSL, Prof. GLP (at a recent media briefing) asked whether the UK would hand over what he called suppressed Gash dispatches to the new inquiry. GoSL stand for examination of all available evidence received SJB backing (Dr Harsha de Silva). My query: Do you think UK should submit all available evidence in its possession to Geneva inquiry?

 Yusuf said: “It goes without saying that if justice is to be done all available evidence must be placed before the inquiring authority so that all the available evidence is evaluated and a fair and just determination is made.

The unit that is being set up by the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights seems to be more in the nature of collecting evidence for future use and therefore whatever evidence is available with the UK should most certainly be submitted to the new unit.

“However from the perspective of Sri Lanka’s National Interest it is best that since there are continuous allegations being made in relation to the conduct of the end of the conflict,  an independent and credible inquiry acceptable to all stakeholders be initiated by the Sri Lankan state and concluded.  Only then will there be closure in respect of the matter. This will be fair by those who have been victims as well those against whom allegations have been made. Unless satisfactory closure is achieved the victims will feel that justice has been denied to them and the members of the armed forces will have the allegations hanging over them like a sword of Damocles.”



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GL: Colombo Port City Bill received AG’s sanction

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…SC scheduled to commence hearing petitions today

By Shamindra Ferdinando

SLPP Chairman Prof. G.L. Peiris says that the proposed Colombo Port City Economic Commission Bill is consistent with the Constitution. Prof. Peiris, who is also the Education Minister, insists the Bill received the sanction of the Attorney General.

Prof. Peiris explained to the media the circumstances under which the incumbent government had initiated the proposed Bill. He did so having briefed Ven. Dr. Ittapane Dhammalankara Thera as regards the current political developments, at the Sri Dharmaloka Maha Viharaya, Rukmale, Pannipitiya, on Saturday (17).

President Gotabaya Rajapaksa recently presented the Colombo Port City EC Bill to the Cabinet of ministers. The 76-page Bill provides for the establishment of an EC authorised to grant registrations, licences, authorisations, and other approvals to carry on businesses and other activities in the Special Economic Zone (SEZ) to be established within the Colombo Port City.

Responding to government member Dr. Wijeyadasa Rajapakse’s bombshell accusations that the proposed Bill when enacted in parliament would transform newly reclaimed land adjacent to the Galle Face Green to sovereign Chinese territory, Prof. Peiris emphasized the responsibility on the part of the President in respect of the implementation of the project. Declaring that even an amendment couldn’t be moved without specific approval of the President, Prof. Peiris said all reports pertaining to financial matters, too, should be submitted to the President.

The former law professor also challenged those opposed to the proposed Bill claiming that the police and the military would be excluded from performing duties in the reclaimed land. One-time External Affairs Minister insisted that the police and the military enjoyed the right to exercise powers in terms of the country’s law in case of violations.

The minister said that the government was keen to create an environment conducive for foreign direct investment. However, those who now decried the Colombo Port City EC Bill conveniently forgot the formation of the ‘Greater Colombo Economic Commission’ (GCEC) under a new draconian Bill introduced by the then President J.R. Jayewardene.

Prof. Peiris said unlike JRJ’s Bill, the one proposed by the incumbent government adhered to the Constitution hence the approval from the Attorney General.

Prof. Peiris alleged that the JRJ’s Act paved the way for GCEC to take decisions pertaining to newly formed Export processing Zones (EPZ) and basically conduct its affairs outside the purview of the parliament. Claiming that those who exercised the required powers could transfer funds to and from accounts and anyone violating the secrecy faced jail terms, Prof. Peiris stressed that even the judiciary couldn’t intervene in some matters pertaining to this particular Act introduced in 1978.

According to Prof. Peiris, in 1992, the then President Ranasinghe Premadasa further strengthened the law by depriving the public an opportunity to obtain a restraining order from a court in respect of the all-powerful Commission.

Prof. Peiris accused the UNP and its breakaway faction, the Samagi Jana Balavegaya (SJB) and other interested parties of propagating lies against the project as part of their overall political strategy. The minister acknowledged that the UNP was among those who moved the Supreme Court against the proposed Bill.

Since former Justice Minister Rajapakse strongly condemned the proposed Bill at a hastily arranged media briefing at Abayaramaya under the auspices of Ven Muruththettuwe Ananda thera, several Ministers and State Ministers, Keheliya Ranbukwelle, Mahindananda Aluthgamage, Prof. G. L. Peiris, Namal Rajapaksa, Ajith Nivard Cabraal responded to their colleague on behalf of the government.

A five-member bench of the Supreme Court will begin hearing the petitions today (19).

Among those who filed cases against the proposed Bill were President of the Bar Association Saliya Pieris, PC, former lawmaker Wasantha Samarasinghe on behalf of the JVP, civil society activists, Gamini Viyangoda and K.W. Janaranjana on behalf of Purawesi  Balaya and the Center for Policy Alternatives (CPA).

Viyangoda questioned the government’s motive in depriving the public ample time and space to challenge the constitutionality of the Bill.

Purawesi Balaya spokesperson said that the disputed Bill had been placed on the Order Paper of Parliament on the 8th of April 2021, at a time when the sittings of the Supreme Court were suspended for the vacation. In terms of the Constitution any citizen seeking to challenge a Bill on the grounds that it is inconsistent with the Constitution has to do so within one week of being placed on the Order Paper of Parliament, which in this instance is the 15 th of April 2021. The petitioner said between the 8 th April 2021 and 15 th April 2021, there were the weekend and three public holidays intervening, thereby giving any citizen seeking to challenge the Bill, only two working days to obtain legal advice and representation.

Those who complained bitterly over urgent Bills exercised the same strategy as regards the controversial Bill, the civil society activist said. Responding to another query, Viyangoda said that if the government was confident the Bill didn’t violate the Constitution, it could have been properly discussed at their parliamentary group meeting before being presented to the cabinet of ministers.

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Hiding in obscure corner of India, Myanmar’s ousted lawmakers plotting to dethrone military junta

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BY S VENKAT NARAYAN

Our Special Correspondent

NEW DELHI:

Roughly a dozen ousted Myanmar lawmakers, who fled to India after the February 1 military coup, are now busy plotting to dethrone the generals.

In a spartan hillside room in India furnished only with a thin sleeping mat, one of the Myanmar Members of Parliament (MPs) spends much of his days attentively listening to Zoom conference calls and tapping away messages on his smartphone.

The short, soft-spoken man is among the handful of ousted Myanmar MPs who have fled across the border to India’s remote north-eastern region after the military coup and the lethal crackdown on dissent.

Two of the lawmakers and a Myanmar politician spoke to a Reuters reporter. They are involved with the Committee Representing the Pyidaungsu Hluttaw or CRPH, a body of ousted lawmakers that is attempting to re-establish the civilian government and displace the military.

The three said the group is supporting demonstrations, helping distribute funds to supporters and holding negotiations with multiple entities to quickly form a civilian administration nationwide. They asked not to be named for fear of reprisals against their families back home.

Most of the ousted lawmakers are from deposed leader Aung San Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy (NLD) that overwhelmingly won a November 2020 election, which the military has annulled.

The coup has been met with a fierce pro-democracy movement and tens of thousands of people have taken to the streets across the country, despite the crackdown.

Security forces have killed over 700 people, and more than 3,000 have been detained, including more than 150 lawmakers and members of the former government. Mobile and wireless internet services have been shut down.

The fear of detention and inability to rebuild a civilian government without internet connectivity has driven some Myanmar lawmakers involved in the resistance to work from India, the two MPs elected to Myanmar’s Parliament said.

“There is no time,” one of them, who is from the country’s western Chin state, told Reuters. “People are dying in our country.”

A spokesman for Myanmar’s military did not answer calls seeking comment. The junta has accused the CRPH of treason. The group is working to set up a national unity government to challenge the military’s authority.

Since fleeing to India around two weeks ago, the lawmaker said he had been holding regular discussions with colleagues to set up a parallel administration in Chin state, under directions from the CRPH.

The process is complex, involving building consensus between elected representatives, political parties, ethnic armed groups, civil society bodies and civil disobedience movement leaders, the two lawmakers and the politician said.

The CRPH is also keen on opening communications with India, where at least 1,800 people from Myanmar are already sheltering. It will seek New Delhi’s blessings for the parallel government it is attempting to form, the politician said.

“We can’t rely on China, Thailand and other neighbouring countries,” he said. “The only country where refugees are being welcomed is India”.

India’s External Affairs Ministry did not immediately respond to questions from Reuters.

This week, NLD lawmakers from Myanmar’s northern Sagaing region held an online conference call, but only 26 out of 49 representatives dialled in, according to the second MP who attended the meeting from India.

“We don’t know where the rest are,” the federal lawmaker said. Two party officials were now trying to track down their missing colleagues.

Some of the fiercest resistance to the junta has come from Sagaing. In the last two months, around 2,000 families involved in the civil disobedience movement in one part of the region have been given financial assistance of around 17 million Kyat ($12,143), the lawmaker from Sagaing said.

The presence and activities of escapee Myanmar lawmakers could pose a diplomatic quandary to India, particularly given New Delhi’s close ties with the Myanmar military rulers.

But India’s position on the Myanmar crisis itself appears to have somewhat shifted in recent weeks. This has also been acknowledged by some CRPH representatives.

At an United Nations Security Council (UNSC) meeting on April 10, Indian diplomat K. Nagaraj Naidu said New Delhi is pushing for a return to democracy in Myanmar. “The first, and most immediate step, in this regard is the release of detained leaders,” Naidu said.

However, India is concerned around internal divisions within the CRPH that could hobble its functioning, a source with knowledge of New Delhi’s thinking said.

The politician involved with the CRPH said he is hopeful that India will engage with the group.

“If democracy wins in Myanmar, it is also a win for India,” he said.

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Wijeyadasa, under heavy flak over opposition to China project, says ready to face consequences

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by Shamindra Ferdinando

SLPP lawmaker Dr. Wijeyadasa Rajapakshe, PC, yesterday (18) told The Island that he stood by the accusations he made in respect of the proposed Colombo Port City Economic Commission Bill.

The former Justice Minister emphasised that he had expressed concerns publicly regarding the planned project after carefully examining the proposed Bill.

“In spite of a spate of statements issued by various government spokespersons, I’m confident of the legal process scheduled to begin today (19). The entire country should be concerned over the government move made at the behest of China.”

Responding to another query, the Colombo district MP urged political parties represented in Parliament to study the Bill with an open mind. The proposed law should be examined taking into consideration the previous UNP-led government transferring control of the strategic Hambantota port to China on a 99-year-lease and China is also in control of a terminal in the Colombo port for 35 years.

The MP said that he was ready to face the consequences of his decision to take a contrary view as regards the Chinese project. Those who had been benefited by the mega China funded project would shamelessly back it, lawmaker Dr. Rajapakse maintained, recollecting how members of parliament backed the 2002 Ceasefire Agreement brokered by Norway, shielded Treasury bond thieves et al.

Those who moved the Supreme Court against the proposed Bill included the Bar Association of Sri Lanka, MP Rajapakse said. The former Minister claimed that unprecedented tax exemptions provided to the businesses coming up in the newly reclaimed land adjacent to the Galle Face Green would pose a severe threat to the national economy.

The MP said that he didn’t personally have anything against China or any other country, but strongly believed in political and economic independence of the country. Therefore, the right-thinking lawmakers couldn’t under any circumstances vote for the proposed Bill as it was, the former Minister said.

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