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Zuhair takes up right of Muslims killed by COVID-19 to be buried according to their religion

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Former lawmaker M. M. Zuhair, PC, has strongly opposed what he calls forcible cremation of Covid-19 victims on a directive given by Attorney General Dappula de Livera, PC.

 The following is the text of a letter by former Senior State Counsel Zuhair to President Gotabaya Rajapaksa and Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa: 

This is further to my previous representation dated 06th May 2020.

 According to media reports the Hon Attorney General has directed the Director-General of Health Services that the dead bodies of Covid-19 victims unclaimed by the immediate members of the family to be cremated. (Ada Derana. Lk-09/12/2020 at 15.07 hrs. and AFP “Sri Lanka cremates Muslim Covid-19 victims against religious wishes” 09/12/2020 7.40 pm).

 Firstly it is well known that the right to accord a dignified burial to a deceased person is an internationally recognized right. This is a right available to every person not merely to Muslims.

Secondly it is equally well known that the kith and kin of the deceased Muslims in particular have refused to accept the dead bodies as a protest against the unlawful refusal by the health authorities of our country to allow Covid 19 deceased persons a dignified burial. In the circumstances the Attorney General ought not to have directed the forcible cremation without hearing the kith and kin of the deceased persons. Such direction is in violation of the principles of natural justice, which principles the Attorney General is bound to uphold.

Thirdly, the direction has been made in terms of the Quarantine and Prevention of Deceases ordinance. If that be the case, the Attorney General would have seen that section 3(1)(i) of the Quarantine Ordinance provides for both options of burial and cremation and that he ought not to become a party to directing solely the cremation of the ‘under protest’ bodies without the consent of the kith and kin and in violation of the provisions of the Quarantine Ordinance read with section 17 (1) (c) of the Interpretation Ordinance. He ought not to expose the illustrious office of the Attorney General and the State to possible claims of damages.

Fourthly, Professor Tissa Vitharana has been quoted in the media last week that the expert panel appointed by the Minister of Health to advise her on the quarantine measures does not have a single virologist and hence not a competent panel, though the country has many eminent experts, virologists, epidemiologists, etc. Whereas 190 countries in the world had permitted burial of Covid-19 deceased persons following the World Health Organisation (WHO) guidelines, Sri Lanka and China are said to be the two countries that do not allow burials. The excellent work otherwise done by the countries health authorities and the armed forces are being brought into disrepute world-wide by the panel’s undue delay in resolving the problem by giving convincing scientific reasons as to why the WHO guidelines cannot be followed here.

 Fifthly, if in fact and in science Covid- 19 will spread through contamination of water, I wish to state that no one, Muslim or otherwise will ask for burial of their victims. According to WHO any virus contaminated water may cause diarrhea but will not spread Covid-19.

Sixthly recent judicial decisions have kept the matter open to be decided by the Cabinet based on expert opinion which is anxiously awaited. Courts have not restrained the government or the experts from taking necessary decisions.

Permit me also to point out the following matters. Two Ministers Hon. Chamal Rajapaksa and Hon. Mahinda Amaraweera said recently that the government is favourably considering restoring the 27th March 2020 gazette allowing both burial and cremation for Covid-19 deceased persons and a third Minister Hon. Keheliya Rambukwella said a final decision will be taken after the experts give their opinion to the Health Minister Pavithra Wanniarachchi. The country’s accredited experts on the subject must not delay giving the opinion and they must do so with convincing scientific reasons for the public to know, because the government’s pursuit to restore burials in line with the opinion of the experts of the country as well as the World Health Organisation (WHO) guidelines are being perceived as being delayed unreasonably.

According to the WHO, water contaminated by any virus may cause diarrhoea but not Covid 19. If the local experts on virology and epidemiology have scientific reasons to establish that Covid-19 will spread through contamination of water to the living cell of a host, they also need to explain that apart from human beings animals, birds and fish will not be infected and will not host the virus and transmit them to human beings who may consume or handle them. There is thus an urgent need for the Sri Lankan experts to clear with scientific reasons all possible misconceptions.

The main protective measures that the public have been presently made aware of, to restrict the spread of Covid-19 are related to contamination through inhalation of infected droplets or by touching infected surfaces but not to Covid-19 contaminated water being consumed by living cells and getting transmitted to human beings. Experts in the relative field must clarify these matters on an urgent basis with scientific reasoning and evidence.  

The composition of the committee of experts and their expertise in the relevant field to override WHO guidelines and the meetings or discussions they are engaged in need to be publicized in the interest of transparency. These representations are being made in the interest of the country’s best interests, its global reputation particularly in the Middle-Eastern countries which provide the highest foreign exchange earnings of US $ 7,000 million per year and in establishing acceptable scientific reasoning in the process of decision making affecting the fundamental rights of persons both living and dead.”

A copy has been also sent to the AG.



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Parliament rejected two anti-corruption proposals

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Ex-COPE Chairman makes another revelation:

By Shamindra Ferdinando

Parliament has blocked two specific proposals made by MP Prof. Charitha Herath in his capacity as the Chairman of the Committee on Public Enterprises (COPE) to enable the Parliamentary Watchdog Committee to engage the Attorney General in high profile corruption cases, directly.

SLPP National List MP Herath lost the COPE Chairmanship with the prorogation of the Parliament on 28 July by President Ranil Wickremesinghe. The prorogation results in suspension of all business before the House and quashed all proceedings pending at the time, except impeachments.

Prof. Herath told The Island yesterday (25) that in consultation with Auditor General W. P. C. Wickremaratne, he had requested for the modification of Standing Orders 120, several months back, to permit the COPE to call for Attorney General’s interventions as and when necessary. If that was not acceptable, Parliament should approve specific requests made by him on behalf of the COPE, he suggested.

Prof. Herath said that the alternative, too, has been rejected. Responding to another query, he said that he had submitted the proposals to the Parliamentary Committee on Standing Orders. The Committee consists of nine members, including the Speaker, the Deputy Speaker and the Deputy Chairman of Committees.

Appearing before the Parliamentary Committee on Standing Orders, Prof. Herath also suggested that if proposals submitted in writing weren’t acceptable then at least a representative of the Attorney General should be allowed to participate in the COPE proceedings. That proposal too was turned down.

Prof. Herath said that the rejection of specific measures to address corruption accusations should be examined against the backdrop of the economic fallout of waste, corruption, irregularities and mismanagement of the national economy as well as the unprecedented recommendation by the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) to investigate economic crimes that impact on human rights and the tracing and recovery of stolen assets.

Prof. Herath alleged that the Parliament should be seriously concerned over the Geneva intervention especially because the country was seeking immediate assistance from the International Monetary Fund (IMF). Asserting that the situation was so grave that even USD 2.9 bn loan facility spread over a period of four years couldn’t revive the national economy, Prof. Herath emphasised that streamlining of public sector enterprises was a prerequisite for the economic recovery process. Therefore, corruption had to be curtailed by taking tangible measures, he said.

Prof. Herath said that though the particular Standing Order had been amended it didn’t meet their aspirations. What has been approved by the Parliament was inadequate to meet the growing threat posed by influential racketeers, the outspoken MP said. Prof. Herath has closed ranks with the dissident SLPP group, led by Party Chairman Prof. G.L. Peiris, and Dullas Alahapperuma. Other members of the group are Prof. Channa Jayasumana, Dr. Nalaka Godahewa, Dilan Perera, Dr. Upali Galappatti, Dr. Thilak Rajapaksa, Lalith Ellawala, K.P. S. Kumarasiri, Wasantha Yapa Bandara, Gunapala Ratnasekera and Udayana Kiridigoda.

Prof. Herath said that as the SLPP declined to allocate time for members of the rebel group, he was compelled to obtain five minutes from the Opposition to take up the issue in Parliament.Appreciating Opposition Leader Sajith Premadasa and Chief Opposition Whip Lakshman Kiriella for giving him the opportunity, Prof. Herath pointed out how a carefully prepared set of proposals to strengthen the COPE had been rejected.

Prof. Herath stressed that the intervention of the COPE was required as the Secretaries to the Ministries often failed to proceed with the instructions issued to them. The MP found fault with section 3 and 4 of Standing Orders 120. Declaring that though the Parliament was routinely blamed for its failure to arrest corruption, MP Herath said that Members of Parliament weren’t aware of what was going on. He also called for the strengthening of Standing Orders 119, 120 and 121 that dealt with the Committee on Public Accounts (COPA), COPE and the Committee on Public Finance (COPF), respectively.

MP Herath declared in Parliament that the crux of the matter was that those appointed members of the Cabinet represented the interests of the Executive and thereby undermined the very basis of the responsibilities of the House. The undeniable truth was that the Cabinet ministers didn’t represent the interests of the Parliament. “In other words, they worked against the collective responsibility as members of Parliament to ensure financial discipline,” MP Herath said, pointing out that in some countries the lawmakers were not entrusted with the task of decision-making.

Referring to Executive Sub-Committees to be established, Prof. Herath emphasized the pivotal importance of recognizing their responsibilities. If they were answerable to the Executive there would be serious consequences pertaining to the parliamentary system. Executive Sub-Committees shouldn’t be at the expense of the Parliament, the MP said, underscoring the responsibility of the part of all political parties represented in Parliament to take immediate remedial measures.

The rejection of the COPE proposals meant that the Parliament,as an institution hadn’t been sensitive to the recent public upheaval that forced Gotabaya Rajapaksa, elected with a staggering 6.9 mn votes to give up the presidency and literally flee for his life.

Ranil Wickremesinghe, who had been elected by Parliament to complete the remainder of the five-year term secured by Gotabaya Rajapaksa, and the SLPP, hadn’t realised the need to introduce urgent reforms, the MP alleged.Prof. Herath also questioned the rationale behind setting up of the National Council when the powers that be deprived the existing mechanisms required power to achieve their objectives.

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AHP asks President RW to be wise gazette-wise

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The Academy of Health Professionals (AHP) has called on President Ranil Wickremesinghe to learn from the mistakes of his predecessor and refrain from issuing gazettes, one after the other, and then reverse them in order to prevent worsening of the crisis situation prevailing in the country’s health sector.

AHP President Ravi Kumudesh, has, in a letter to President Ranil Wickremesinghe, said that the country’s health sector is in the present situation as the former President and the Health Minister allowed themselves to be manipulated by a coterie of officials. “We call on the President not to become another ruler who reverses gazettes and to assess the practicality of the proposals put forward by his advisors before gazzetting them. One such cause for the downfall of the health sector was former Health Ministers playing with the retirement age. As a result, there are many senior officials holding top offices of the health sector despite the fact that all of them are above the age of 60 years. If any official is given a service extension for an office in a health sector position, then it should be given only for a six-month period with the specific objective of training one of his qualified subordinates for that particular position.

 During that period, the official who is given the service extension should not be sent abroad for training or further education. Many officials, who are over 60 years of age, had been given service extensions and were found given foreign trips for capacity building. The irresponsible human resource management in the public sector is one of the main concerns that has been raised by the International Monetary Fund when assisting this country,” Kumudesh has said in his letter.

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BASL contemplates legal action against HSZ gazette

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The Bar Association of Sri Lanka (BASL) has threatened legal action against President Ranil Wickremesinghe’s reintroduction of war-time high security zones (HSZs).

“The BASL will be carefully studying the provisions of the said order and take appropriate legal action to ensure that the Fundamental Rights of the people are secured,” the BASL has said in a statement.

The BASL has said it is concerned that the purported order of the President also seeks to create offences under the said order which are not found in the Principal Act.

Full text of the statement: The Bar Association of Sri Lanka (BASL) is deeply concerned at the declaration of certain areas in Colombo as High Security Zones under Section 2 of the Official Secrets Act No. 32 of 1955 by President and Minister of Defence Ranil Wickremesinghe.The said order appears to cover several areas in the Colombo District including the areas in Colombo ordinarily used by the members of the public. It also covers several areas in Hulftsdorp in the vicinity of the Court premises.

The said order by the President purports to prohibit public gatherings or processions whatsoever on a road, ground, shore, or other open area situated within such High Security Zones without the permission of the Inspector General of Police or a Senior Deputy Inspector General. It also prohibits the parking of vehicles within the zone unless reserved for parking by the Competent Authority or under a permit issued by him, such Competent Authority being the Secretary to the Ministry of Defence.The scope of the Official Secrets Act is clearly set out in Section 2 of the said Act which can be read at: https://www.lawnet.gov.lk/official-secrets.4/

What Section 2 of the Official Secrets Act enables the Minister, is to declare any land, building, ship, or aircraft as a prohibited place. The Act does not empower the Minister to declare large areas as High Security Zones.The objective of making an order under Section 2 of the Official Secrets Act is to better safeguard information relating to the defences of Sri Lanka and to the equipment, establishments, organisations, and institutions intended to be or capable of being used for the purposes of defence. Orders under Section 2 cannot be made for any other purpose.

The BASL is concerned that the purported order of the President also seeks to create offences under the said order which are not found in the Principal Act. It is also of utmost concern that the purported order imposes stringent provisions in respect of bail by stating that a person taken into custody in connection with an offence under the said orders shall not be granted bail except by a High Court. The Official Secrets Act contains no such provisions, and in fact Section 22 of the Act empowers a Magistrate to release a suspect on Bail. As such the purported order seeks to significantly curtail the liberty of the citizen, without any reasonable or legal basis.

The BASL is deeply concerned that under the cover of the purported order under Section 2 of the Official Secrets Act that there is the imposition of draconian provisions for the detention of persons who violate such orders thus violating the freedom of expression, the freedom of peaceful assembly and the freedom of movement all of which are important aspects of the right of the people to dissent in Sri Lanka

The BASL will be carefully studying the provisions of the said Order and take appropriate legal action to ensure that the Fundamental Rights of the people are secured.We continue to remind the authorities including the President of the wisdom found in the Judgment of the Supreme Court in the ‘Jana Ghosha’ case of Amaratunge v Sirimal and others (1993) 1 SLR 264 which states as follows:

“Stifling the peaceful expression of legitimate dissent today can only result, inexorably, in the catastrophic explosion of violence some other day.”

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