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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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AG says no legal impediment to Bathiudeen attending Parliament

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Public Security Minister: Those detained under PTA shouldn’t be allowed in

By Shamindra Ferdinando

Attorney General Dappula de Livera, PC, says there is no legal impediment to Opposition MP Rishad Bathiudeen attending Parliament while being detained in terms of the Prevention of Terrorism Act (PTA).

The CID arrested the leader of the All Ceylon Makkal Congress (ACMC) in the early hours of April 24 for aiding and abetting the 2019 Easter Sunday suicide bombers.

Multiple blasts in different locations killed 270 people and wounded about 500.

The AG set the record straight in the wake of the CID failing to arrange for MP Bathiudeen to attend Parliament on May 4 and 5.

The Island learns that Police Headquarters recently consulted the AG as regards the legality of the Vanni District SJB MP attending parliamentary sessions and the SJB, on his behalf, requested the Speaker to facilitate the arrangements.

The ACMC contested the last general election on the SJB ticket. Its parliamentary group comprises four, including Bathiudeen.

The police sought the AG’s advice after having received a missive from Serjeant at arms Narendra Fernando in that regard. The AG has advised the police that MP Bathiudeen could attend parliamentary sessions.

However, Public Security Minister Rear Admiral Sarath Weerasekera has advised the police against the ACMC leader attending Parliament. The Minister has issued instructions in this regard having requested the Speaker Mahinda Yapa Abeywardena to prevent those detained under the PTA from attending parliament.

MP Bathiudeen has been detained for a period of 90 days pending investigations. His brother Riyajj too has been detained under PTA for 90 days.

 Minister Weerasekera, in Parliament yesterday (5) defended his decision to prevent MP Bathiudeen from attending parliament. Dismissing concerns raised by SJB MP Field Marshal Sarath Fonseka and TNA MP M.A. Sumanthiran about the ACMC leader being deprived of his right to attend parliament sessions, Minister Weerasekera emphasized that he was responsible for public security.

Minister Weerasekera reminded Speaker Abeywardena that he had requested him not to allow anyone detained under PTA to attend parliament pending conclusion of investigations.

Weerasekera said that the CID wouldn’t have detained the MP concerned without valid reasons.

Perhaps, Field Marshal Fonseka had no concerns for public security, the former Navy Chief of Staff said, emphasising that the government wouldn’t conduct investigations the way the former Army Commander and the TNA spokesman desired.

Bathiudeen earlier served in the Cabinets of President Mahinda Rajapaksa (2010-2014) and President Maithripala Sirisena (2015-2019). The ACMC switched its allegiance to SJB at the 2020 August parliamentary election after having backed Sajith Premadasa’s candidature at the 2019 presidential.

Bathiudeens’ lawyer Rushdhie Habeeb told The Island that the decision to prevent MP Bathiudeen from attending parliament was political. Habeeb said that the issue at hand would be raised vigorously, both here and abroad, and a media briefing would be called soon to explain the situation.

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MONLAR draws attention to ticking COVID time bomb in plantations

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By Rathindra Kuruwita

A large number of estate workers had been diagnosed with COVID-19, and given the generally congested living environment and lack of health facilities on plantations, the entire estate sector was a ticking time bomb, Moderator of the Movement for Land and Agricultural Reform (MONLAR) Chinthaka Rajapakshe said yesterday.

Rajapakshe told The Island  that the latest outbreak on the estates had occurred after the return of some persons from Colombo during the Sinhala and Tamil New Year.

“We had warned that this would happen. People kept on returning home although the preparedness of the plantation economy to face a COVID-19 outbreak was non-existent.”

 “If one person gets it, the entire line will get it, and therefore urgent steps should be taken to minimise COVID-19 spread,” Rajapakshe said, adding that such an eventuality would not only destroy lives but also cripple the plantation sector, causing an enormous loss to the state coffers.

 

 

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Clandestine dealings of fishers will precipitate spread of deadly Indian variant here – Expert

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By Rathindra Kuruwita

There was a risk of the deadly Indian COVID-19 variant spreading to Sri Lanka as well, Chief Epidemiologist of the Ministry of Health, Dr. Sudath Samaraweera told the media yesterday in Colombo.

Dr. Samaraweera said that Sri Lankan fishermen continued to interact with their Indian counterparts in mid-sea and therefore it was only a matter of time before the Indian variant entered Sri Lanka.

“We must be extremely vigilant. We have seen the devastation caused by this variant in India. These mid-sea interactions by the fishing community must be stopped.”

Dr. Samaraweera added that although the Dambulla Economic Centre

had been reopened for business yesterday morning, health officials had been compelled to close five shops as their owners violated the Covid-19 protocol.    

“This is a commercial hub where people from all parts of the country converge. So, if there are COVID-19 cases here, then it will spread across the country. Therefore, people have to act carefully and responsibly.”

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