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The latest pronouncement of the UN High Commissioner does not bode well for Sri Lanka. The immediate reason for this is the impeachment of the Chief Justice, but if reports in the papers a couple of weeks back are inaccurate, she has been simmering for some time.

It was reported that she had sent a letter suggesting visits by what are termed Special Procedures, but the response she had received had ignored this and simply suggested that she visit us soon. We knew at the last meeting of the Inter-Ministerial Committee to implement the National Human Rights Action Plan that there had been a letter, but what was being done was not made clear.

This seemed a bit hard on Minister Mahinda Samarasinghe who has been the ministerial envoy to the Human Rights Council for well over half a decade now. It would obviously make sense to keep him in the loop, and indeed consult him about our official position but, as I have noted before, coordination is not something common in Sri Lanka.

This is particularly hard on him now, because he has lost his principal ally in recent years in dealing with problems in Geneva. Mohan Pieris began to join us in Geneva in Dayan Jayatilleka’s time even before he became Attorney General, and continued to attend every session since then, including when Mahinda Samarasinghe was not deployed. He was obviously a crucial player when he was Attorney General, and perhaps even more so afterwards, when he chaired the Inter-Ministerial Committee to implement the Interim Recommendations of the LLRC, and now that he has been in virtual charge together with the President’s Secretary of the LLRC Action Plan. However as Chief Justice he will probably not be able to be on the delegation, which will be tough on Minister Samarasinghe.

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The National Action Plan for the Protection and Promotion of Human Rights 2011 – 2016 ( sinhala & tamil) as well as the full series of  Sri Lanka Rights Watch are available at the Peace & Reconciliation Website.

Detainees under the PTAA week ago, in writing about former combatants who have undergone rehabilitation, I referred too to the decision of government to send several of those remanded before the conclusion of the conflict for rehabilitation instead of seeking to punish them. These had been taken in under the PTA or Emergency Regulations, on suspicion of terrorist activity or of aiding and abetting terrorism.

 

I noted then that, from what I had been told last year, there were 4195 of these, a figure which fitted with the 4000 I remembered from my days as Secretary of the Ministry of Disaster Management and Human Rights, which had monitored their fate. We would get regular reports about them from the ICRC, which visited them regularly, and they were also amongst those visited by Manfred Nowak, UN Special Rapporteur on Torture, who produced a very helpful report that we should have acted on more expeditiously.

 

Our Ministry indeed advocated that these remandees should be charged soon or else released. However we understood that at least some of them were extremely dangerous, given the long and terrifying reach of the LTTE in those days. We understood therefore the need for special care, as provided for by the special measures in force, but after the war we suggested that those measures needed to be reviewed, and that decisions as to the remandees should be made swiftly.

 

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Rajiva Wijesinha

November 2019
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