President Maithri in a fix with clock ticking fast

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2017-07-09

BY GAGANI WEERAKOON

The most heated Cabinet meeting ever since the election of President Maithripala Sirisena in 2015 took place last Tuesday at the President's Secretariat with the impatient President cracking the whip against his UNP coalition partners for inaction or rather lethargy shown in taking action against the former First Family.

As for the reasons he gave for his sudden anxiety over this wait for justice to be meted out against alleged corruption and other crimes which are said to have been committed by former President Mahinda Rajapaksa and members of his family, seemed to be more on personal grounds than in the interest of the country.

Yet, it is quite understandable that President Sirisena getting impatient over the matters as the time he has in hand is less than the time he has already spent.

"I risked my life and my family's life in running for the election. It is true that the UNP worked for my victory, but it doesn't mean that I have to tolerate everything. If the Rajapaksa regime is back, there will be no problem for UNP ministers. But the first people to be persecuted will be me and my family. Nothing will happen to the Prime Minister too," was exactly what he told the Cabinet during his outburst, according to sources.

murders and corruption

President Sirisena then gave a three-month ultimatum for his government to prosecute those responsible for high profile murders and corruption, or risk losing its hold on power.

"The President said he was aware of those who have cut deals to either delay or scuttle some of the ongoing investigations," a ministerial sources asserted. This irked Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe who demanded that President reveal who is cutting deals and with whom, so that he too, can take action against them.

Though President Rajapaksa was heavily criticized for keeping the Attorney General's Department under his purview which allegedly led for him to interfere with the judiciary, President Sirisena too, had declared that he could settle all these mega corruption and criminal cases and take action against those who are implicated if the ministries of Justice, Law and Order and the AG's Department were under him.

Senior Police Officers and State Attorneys have told the authorities they were under political pressure to go easy on some of the suspects under investigation although much evidence had been gathered and they were about to file action.

According to sources, even though fingers were pointed at Police Inspector General Pujith Jayasundara for the inordinate delay, while seniors at the AG's Department were also seriously criticized, the President focused more on political interference.

Following this meeting, another closed door meeting was held with the participation of Prime Minister Wikremesinghe and several senior UNP ministers in which they had arrived at an understanding to short-list nearly 10 most serious corruption and criminal cases against the former first family and prosecute the suspects within the next three months.

UNP has no issue

In the meeting, it was also disclosed that the UNP has no issue if the FCID and the Attorney General's Department are placed under the President for three months, if necessary, to achieve results.

The FCID is currently under Law and Order Minister Sagala Ratnayaka, a close ally of Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe. The AG's Department comes under the Ministry of Justice and Buddha Sasana, held by Minister Wijeyadasa Rajapakshe.

"The UNP has already communicated to the President that it has no problem with the FCID and the AG's Department being brought under the President's control for three months. But, the President is yet to make a final decision on the matter," the source said.

What is noteworthy here is that expediting or delaying the cases against Rajapaksas would have no impact on Prime Minister Wickremesinghe led UNP as clearly shown by the President Sirisena, yet, what he seemed to have failed to understand is that it is he, who is at a fix.

Either way President Sirisena will be in trouble, while PM Wickremesinghe led UNP will gain by the time it reaches the 2020 elections.

The main slogan in President Sirisena's campaign was to end corruption and take action against the former First Family for alleged crimes, which were used against them in both presidential and general elections held in 2015. The longer it takes to bring those implicated to book the more the unrest would grow amongst public against President Sirisena and his allies. The frustration of the President comes with the realization of his political strategy and assessment going wrong with each passing day. What he expected was, those who were pledging support to Rajapaksas coming back to his side once Rajapaksas lose their face with proper legal action against them being initiated. Yet, as things are happening now, it seems nothing, but a distant dream. On the other hand, the theory of the Wickremesinghe led group seems to be deepening the split between two factions of the SLFP till 2020 without letting them to regroup.

Rajapaksas thus far enjoyed freedom to a certain extent even though they have been called for various investigations. However, if President Sirisena acts as he vowed, action will be taken against at least two Rajapaksas. This, in return will increase their wrath against President Sirisena posing even greater threat to his life in future (as he says his life is already in danger for defying the Rajapaksas in 2015). At the end of the day, it will be President Sirisena who is in a fix. As far as opinions of the political experts are concerned, there is only one way for him to escape this trap. That is to form a SLFP Government with the assistance of UNP members before his term ends.

The MoU between SLFP and UNP also comes to an end by this September.

Meanwhile, political sources close to President Sirisena disclosed that action against one powerful Rajapaksa will be taken by August. While he did not mention which Rajapaksa it would be, former Defence Secretary Gotabaya Rajapaksa in Kandy on Friday revealed a plan to arrest him within a month's time.

He said this was revealed to a group by a close confidante of President Sirisena.

After paying homage to the Scared Tooth Relic in Kandy and meeting the Maha Nayaka Theras of Malwatta and Asgiriya Chapters, he said Rajapaksas did not pilfer this country, they only saved it and did so by putting their lives on the line when ending war.

"If eradicating the LTTE terrorist organization is a crime which needs punishing, then I have no problem with going to prison."

Rajapaksa charged that those who are unable to do the work can only keep accusing others. He stated that while he usually does not like to talk politics with Buddhist monks, he visited Kandy in order to brief the Maha Nayake Theras regarding the injustice that is being done to him.

He alleged that Minister Mahinda Amaraweera had recently declared to several SLFP parliamentarians that he would be arrested within a month.

no truth to rumours

"If cases are being heard, instigated and decided on by individuals such as Mahinda Amaraweera, then he does not see any justice in the law," he said while adding those like Amaraweera have become terrified and want him arrested because the people expect him to enter politics.

Denying accusations, UPFA General Secretary Minister Mahinda Amaraweera said that there was no truth to rumours that he had spoken of Former Defence Secretary Gotabaya Rajapaksa being arrested.

The United Nations Special Rapporteur on Human Rights and Counter-terrorism Ben Emmerson will undertake an official visit to Sri Lanka from 10 to 14 July to gather first-hand information on initiatives in the area of counter-terrorism and assess how they affect the promotion and protection of human rights.

"I will seek to provide assistance in the discussion of the country's counter-terrorism policy and legal framework, as well as in the preparation and drafting of relevant legislative acts, with a view to ensuring that measures taken by the government are in compliance with international human rights law," Emmerson has said.

During his five-day mission to the country, Emmerson is scheduled to have high-level meetings with representatives of the government, including the Ministries of Foreign Affairs, Law and Order and Southern Development, Justice, Defence, Finance, Media, Prison Reform, Rehabilitation, Resettlement and Hindu Religious Affairs.

The Special Rapporteur will also meet law enforcement officials, Members of Parliament, members of specialized Police Departments, the National Police Commission and the Human Rights Commission. In addition, he will go to places of detention to interview persons suspected or convicted of terrorism related crimes.

invitation

Emmerson, who visits Sri Lanka at the invitation of the government, will also hold talks with representatives of the international community, lawyers, academics, and non-governmental organizations. He will visit Colombo and spend several days in other areas of the country, including Anuradhapura and Vavuniya.

His visit follows at a time government is under heavy criticism for attempting to incorporate into the law of Sri Lanka the provisions of the 'International Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearances'.

"Countries like the United States, Britain, Australia and Canada, never even signed this Convention. Denmark, Finland, Norway, Sweden, Ireland and India signed it ten years ago in 2007, but never ratified it," former President Mahinda Rajapaksa alleged.

Many countries had kept away from this Convention altogether for the obvious reason that its provisions had the potential to violate the individual rights of citizens of the States that join it, he said.

In a statement he issued warning stating that:

A Bill has been gazetted to incorporate into the law of Sri Lanka, the provisions of the 'International Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearances' which was hurriedly signed and ratified by the present government. Clause 8 of this Bill enables foreign countries to seek the extradition of a Sri Lankan who is suspected, accused or convicted of having caused enforced disappearances in Sri Lanka. When such a request is made, the Government of Sri Lanka is obliged to inform the foreign country of the measures it intends taking to prosecute or extradite that person. Clause 21 empowers the executive arm of the State to oversee the full implementation of this international convention in Sri Lanka and Clause 23 states that this new law is to override all other written laws.

Articles 10 and 11 of the International Convention against Enforced Disappearances empowers any member State to arrest anybody, even a foreigner present within its jurisdiction on suspicion of having been involved in enforced disappearances in any other country.

The State that carries out such an arrest can prosecute the suspect without extraditing him to his own country. Most significantly, a suspect arrested in that manner, can be handed over to an international criminal tribunal even if the suspect's own country does not come under the jurisdiction of that international tribunal.

Article 32 of the international Convention (which the Sri Lankan Government has accepted by a separate declaration) enables any member State to complain to the ten-member 'Committee on Enforced Disappearances' in Geneva that Sri Lanka is not fulfilling her obligations under this Convention and the Committee can investigate such complaints. Countries like the United States, Britain, Australia and Canada, never even signed this Convention. Denmark, Finland, Norway, Sweden, Ireland and India signed it ten years ago in 2007, but never ratified it. Many countries have kept away from this Convention altogether for the obvious reason that its provisions have the potential to violate the individual rights of citizens of the States that join it.

No one who is prosecuted in the courts of a foreign country or by an international criminal tribunal which is funded and maintained by interested foreign governments in relation to a crime allegedly committed in that person's home country, can really expect justice. Such prosecutions are always politically motivated. All the elements that relate to an enforced disappearance such as abduction, illegal confinement, murder and the illegal disposal of dead bodies are more than adequately covered by the Penal Code and the existing criminal law in Sri Lanka.

international convention

The only real purpose of this proposed law will be to give interested foreign parties an opportunity to interfere in the justice system in Sri Lanka. Fortunately, according to our legal system, and the judgment given by the Supreme Court in Nallaratnam Singarasa v Attorney General (2006), even an international Convention that is signed and ratified does not become law in this country unless it is expressly incorporated into local law by Parliament.

Even though the government in its folly has signed and ratified an international convention that wiser nations have steered clear of, Parliament can reduce the damage to some extent by not passing the legislation to incorporate it into local law. The proposed law is an attempt to subject our armed forces to international war crimes prosecutions without using the term 'war crimes' and rephrasing it as 'disappearances'. The use of the word 'disappearances' makes this look like an innocuous attempt to trace missing persons. However, the purpose of this proposed legislation is not to trace missing persons but to hunt down and prosecute those who won the war against terrorism.

The only 'disappeared' persons whose cases will be dealt with under this proposed law, will be those of the LTTE because the armed forces have already categorized the thousands of soldiers who disappeared as 'assumed to be dead'. However, LTTE combatants who have either died in battle or fled overseas still continue to be categorized as having 'disappeared' by all interested parties. All Members of Parliament should be mindful that passing this Bill into law will be a clear case of betraying our country to the pro-LTTE Diaspora and the interested foreign parties backing them.

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