Zeid Al Hussein’s supervisory role in SL
Posted on February 6th, 2016

Courtesy The Island

UN Human Rights Commissioner Zeid Al Hussein arrived in Sri Lanka yesterday. In the days prior to his arrival, it appeared as if a divergence of opinion had emerged between the President and the Prime Minister about the implementation of last September’s UNHRC resolution against Sri Lanka. One of the key demands in that resolution was the institution of a war crimes tribunal in Sri Lanka with the participation of foreign judges, prosecutors and investigators. In the past couple of weeks, President Maithripala Sirisena gave two interviews to the BBC and Al Jazeera where he claimed that there were no war crimes allegations against Sri Lanka and that there was no need for foreign judges to be imported to Sri Lanka as we had enough expertise in this country. In the meantime, the Prime Minister gave an interview to Channel 4 saying that the participation of foreign judges had not been ruled out.
This apparent divergence of opinion was widely commented on. But in President Sirisena’s Independence Day speech, he set the record straight by coming into alignment with the PM’s statement. What the president said in essence was that because we had not done what should have been done in the post conflict period after the war, some ‘recommendations’ had been put forward by the UN Human Rights Council. He stated that had we done what needed to be done after the war, such recommendations would never have been put forward and that the people had voted him into power in order to fulfil incomplete tasks pertaining to national reconciliation and unity between Sinhalese Tamils, Muslims and Burghers. He stated that the UNHRC recommendations which had been put forward in this connection were being given wrong interpretations by some people.
President Sirisena further stated that we will be ‘facing’ (muhuna denne) these recommendations to safeguard the respect of the state, the armed forces and the people and gain acceptance for our armed forces in the world. He stated that we will be ‘facing’ these recommendations and implementing them (kriyathmaka karanne) with patience, and fortitude. He stated that those who sought quick ways to get into power were trying to mislead the people about the actions taken by the government to implement these recommendations and that implementing those recommendations will only strengthen freedom, democracy, and reconciliation in the country. The president stated that extremist forces were carrying out propaganda aimed at causing anxiety among members of the armed forces and he said that as the president he was making the solemn pledge that in implementing the (UNHRC) recommendations, the independence and territorial integrity of the country, and the respect of the country and the armed forces would be safeguarded.
This independence day message made it quite clear that what the president meant by ‘facing’ the Geneva resolutions was ‘accepting’ them and he was trying to make the implementation of those demands acceptable to the people with sweet sounding words. It is a moot question as to what understanding the President has of the Geneva resolution because he is not familiar with the English language. If what was given to him was the doctored and sugar coated Sinhala translation prepared by the Foreign Ministry, then he may actually be under the impression that the Geneva resolution can be implemented without much damage.
 The undertakings given in Geneva
 What exactly did the government undertake to do by co-sponsoring the American initiated resolution against Sri Lanka in the UNHRC last September? The undertakings assumed by the government are as follows.
 *In Operative Paragraph 1, the government agreed to accept the report against Sri Lanka prepared by the Office of the High Commissioner on Human Rights (OHCHR) which had accused SL of committing unlawful killings of civilians, torture, rape, deliberate starvation of people and other such war crimes. With this Sri Lanka has officially accepted that war crimes were committed. President Sirisena has no way of reading the OHCHR and understanding its contents so he tells the BBC that there were no accusations of war crimes against in Sri Lanka in a context where his government has already officially accepted that war crimes have been committed!
 *In OP 4 the government agreed to allow the war crimes tribunal that was going to be set up and related institutions to obtain funding directly from foreign sources. What this would mean is that the Judges and prosecutors who will be jailing members of the Sri Lankan armed forces will be paid directly by foreign powers.
 *In OP 6 the government agreed to set up a judicial mechanism to try our war heroes with the participation of foreign judges, prosecutors, investigators and lawyers.
 *In OP 7 it was agreed that the Government of Sri Lanka would reform its domestic law to ensure that it can implement the commitments made in this UNHRC resolution.
 *In OP 8 the government undertook to remove through administrative action members of the armed forces suspected of having committed human rights violations and war crimes but against whom there isn’t enough evidence to place before a war crimes tribunal.
 In OP 12 the government undertook to review the Public Security Ordinance and repeal the PTA and replace it with internationally acceptable anti-terrorism legislation.
 In OP 16 the government undertook to bring about a political settlement through the devolution of power and to ensure that the Provincial Councils were able to function effectively.
  In terms of OPs 18 and 20 all the above were to be implemented under the supervision of the Office of the High Commissioner on Human Rights. Well, Zeid Al Hussein is in the country now to begin his supervisory work!
Fonseka as a fig leaf?
It was obvious that the sudden interest in getting Sarath Fonseka into the UNP fold was due to the impending implementation of this UNHRC resolution. Those in the government who do understand the implications of the Geneva resolution seem to be convinced that Sarath Fonseka’s presence in the government will somehow help to contain the public outrage that is expected when the above provisions are implemented. Last week an MOU was signed between Sarath Fonseka and the UNP and it was widely speculated that he would be given the UNP national list seat that fell vacant due to the demise of M.K.A.D.S Gunawardene. The UNP however has not officially made any commitment with regard to the vacant national list seat as yet. Given how unpopular the implementation of the UNHRC resolution will be especially among the armed forces, some in the government would feel better if they had Sarath Fonseka by their side.
However the fact that the UNP has not made any official commitment yet indicates that they may be weighing their options. Sarath Fonseka is a seriously discredited politician who now has no following worth talking about even among the armed forces. That he would be able to convince the armed forces to accept the war crimes tribunal is therefore in doubt. By accommodating Fonseka the actual returns the UNP gets may be minimal but by bringing a volatile and unpredictable individual into their ranks, unnecessary conflicts and turbulence in the cabinet and in the party will be a certainty. If the UNP is to change its policy of not appointing defeated candidates on the national list in favour of a person who has not even contested from the UNP, they should be assured of some worthwhile return, but that is exactly what is in doubt in this instance.
While the UNP will be grappling with the question whether they should accommodate Fonseka on the national list rather than a UNP veteran like Rosy Senanayake, there is the resistance from the journalistic community to contend with. Colombo Telegraph, edited by Uvindu Kurukulasuriya was one of the first to raise objections to Fonseka being appointed to parliament and the cabinet. In an article titled “With SF’s ‘Re-Entry’ What Will Happen To The Attack On Keith And The Killing Of Journos?” which featured a photograph of former The Nation Deputy Editor Keith Noyhar’s battered face, the Colombo Telegraph raised the question about Fonseka’s alleged involvement in attacks on media persons, including the killing of Lasantha Wickrematunga.
The general opinion within the journalistic community is that no investigations have been made by the yahapalana government into the killing of Lasantha Wickremetunga, and the assaults on Keith Noyhar, Upali Tennakoon and Namal Perera because these were carried out on the orders of a prominent yahapalana partner. Fonseka has not yet been appointed to parliament by the UNP. Once the appointment takes place, the mumblings of resentment within the journalistic community are definitely going to increase.
Furthermore before appointing Sarath Fonseka to parliament, Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe should have the courtesy to explain to the journalistic community whether he was lying to parliament on January 9, 2009 – the day after Lasantha was killed – when he said that an army team reporting directly Fonseka was responsible for Lasantha’s murder. What the then opposition leader said in parliament was that Lasantha Wickrematunga was killed by a group over which the government of the country had no control. He stated that according to the constitution, the cabinet should rule the country and be responsible to parliament and if there is any part of the government over which the cabinet has no control, that impinges directly on the powers of parliament as well. He stated that the attack on the Sirasa TV station and the killing of Lasantha Wickrematunga indicated that there was an element that the government could not control.
He also said that the armed forces were saying that because of the disreputable activities of a few people in the intelligence services, the good name of the armed forces were being sullied. “That is the section over which the government has no control. The Prime Minister has no control over this element which is responsible only to the army commander and through the army commander to the defence secretary.” The leader of the opposition further said that all operational groups should be placed under the DIG of the area or the Colombo Coordinating Officer and that motorcycle teams should never be allowed to act without such oversight. The opposition leader warned that without such supervision, this uncontrolled element will hit the government as well without stopping at the opposition and the media. Ranil Wickremesinghe also said that they are asking for an international investigation into Lasantha Wickrematunga’s killing.
Many journalists would feel that this is an ideal time for Ranil Wickremesinghe to call for that international inquiry. If war crimes tribunals are going to be set up to try members of our armed forces for killing terrorists, why not an international investigation into the killing of a top journalist?
Foreign money for jam
Many commentators have expressed serious misgivings about the scheme the government has launched to allow inward remittances to Sri Lanka from investors including undisclosed investors with no questions asked. This was supposed to be the first step in turning this country into a financial hub where people come to park their surplus money. These were in the form of deposits with no fixed terms and money could be put in and taken out at will and so long as the money is in Sri Lanka, the depositors will be paid an interest rate of 2% per annum. The government is already supposed to have got something like 1.2 billion USD under this scheme from foreign depositors.
Even though it is said that these deposits are accepted on a ‘no questions asked’ policy, in practice since the laws have not yet been changed, bankers have said that they are adhering to the existing laws and in fact asking questions before accepting deposits. So one may assume that whatever money that has come in, may not be black money – at least not for the moment. However commentators have expressed worries that Sri Lanka’s stated keenness not to ask questions in a situation where the trend everywhere else is to ask questions would attract disreputable characters looking for ‘friendly’ countries willing to launder their money for them.
The experience of the yahapalana government itself over the past one year should give them enough reason to be cautious. Of all the treasury bonds issued by Sri Lanka, about 12% were held by foreign investors. This 12% was a ceiling above which no foreign investments could be made in bonds. Last year, the percentage of treasury bonds held by foreigners went down sharply and is now just above 6%. The government was so embarrassed by the headlong flight of foreign money from the bond market that they even reduced the ceiling to 10%. Even after reducing the ceiling, there is still a lot of slack left which can be filled by foreign investors at interest rates between 6 to 7%. About half of the investors in Sri Lanka bonds were Americans with about 30% taken by Europe and the remaining 20% by various Asian countries. Now all of them have been withdrawing their money and the trend has continued this year as well.
The last dollar denominated sovereign bond issued by the present government was at an interest of between 6 to 7%. Since that is what the Sri Lanka government is willing to pay for foreign money, why would any depositor be willing to park his money here for 2% unless there was some unseen benefit for the depositor? Bonds have fixed periods whereas these ‘no questions asked’ deposits don’t, but bonds too can be sold and the money recovered if the investor wants to. This is one reason why many people have suspicions about the money coming in. There is also the problem that just as easily as this money comes in, it can also be withdrawn depending on the needs of the depositor. And any such withdrawal will cause immense instability in the economy.
The CSN mass arrests
Carlton Sports Network has been mired in controversy from the time it was set up. Widely believed to be owned by the Rajapaksa family, this writer too has heard various stories about the manner in which they obtained cricket broadcasting rights by telling the state owned TV stations to stay away so as to ensure that the rights are award to CSN. The new government even slapped a rupees one billion tax on CSN as a punitive measure as soon as they assumed power. They have moreover been investigating CSN for the past one year and the premises of this TV station have been raided on numerous occasions and its directors and employees questioned. Now after one year of investigations, they have arrested past and sitting directors of CSN en masse along with Yoshitha Rajapaksa who is said to have been the ‘Chairman’ of CSN even though he is not on the board of directors.
According to a media release issued by the police spokesman, they have been remanded under Section 32 of the Penal Code and Section 109(5) of the Criminal Procedure Code. What section 32 of the Penal Code says is that “When a criminal act is done by several persons in furtherance of the common intention of all, each of such persons is liable for that act in the same manner as if it were done by him alone.”
Section 109(05) of the Criminal Procedure Code says “If from information received or otherwise an officer in charge of a police station or inquirer has reason to suspect the commission of a cognizable offence or to apprehend a breach of the peace he shall forthwith send a report of the same to the Magistrate’s Court having jurisdiction in respect of such offence, or, in the case of an officer in charge of police station, to his own immediate superior, and shall proceed in person to the spot to investigate the facts and circumstances of the case and to take such measures as may be necessary for the discovery and arrest of the offender.”
If CSN has been investigated for one year, it is profoundly dissatisfactory when arrests are made only under such omnibus provisions giving general powers to the police to arrest and investigate. It is not as if these people were fugitives who were evading arrest. All of them were present in the country and presenting themselves to give statements to the police when called upon. In such circumstances, the police should have something concrete in hand before making these arrests. The excuse that the police had filed more than 20 reports before the Magistrate’s courts pertaining to this case means nothing. The police simply inform courts that they are carrying out an investigation into such and such matter. Sometimes they seek an order from the courts to examine phone records and the like, but most often they simply report that they are investigating one thing or another without asking the courts for any help. When that happens, the Magistrate can only acknowledge it. No examination of the merits of the investigation is done at that stage.
The fact is that all these people were arrested the day before CSN was going to make their first news broadcast in their programme to shift from being a dedicated sports channel into a news channel. When a mass arrest of TV station personnel takes place, it has to be on specific grounds so that the media will be assured that this is not a witch hunt. Because CSN gives good coverage to Mahinda Rajapaksa they would no doubt have attracted a good viewership as a news channel. The rest of the private media has to be convinced that this is not an attempt to destroy a pro-opposition media organisation. While we have heard stories to the effect that the state media was prevented from making bids for cricket broadcasting rights for the benefit of CSN, that does not explain why other private TV channels which have very deep pockets also did not win the cricket broadcasting rights. There is no way for the government to prevail upon a private TV channel not to put in bids for lucrative cricket broadcasting rights. So there are many unanswered questions over the mass arrests of CSN personnel.


One Response to “Zeid Al Hussein’s supervisory role in SL”

  1. Susantha Wijesinghe Says:




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