YAHAPALANA AND THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA Part 12
Posted on September 25th, 2019

KAMALIKA PIERIS

AMERICAN BAR ASSOCIATION

American Bar Association (ABA) has made repeated attempts to register a Branch Association of the ABA in Sri Lanka.The first request was in January 2018, where    ABA said that it would be in the interests of the ABA to set up a Branch office in Sri Lanka. The activities of the Branch would be monitored by Sri Lanka‘s Ministry of Justice and the Attorney General’s Department.

In October 2018, the Hon. Attorney General had addressed a communication to the Ministry of Justice stating that the ABA has undertaken to hold a capacity building programme for judges and prosecutors and asked the Ministry to issue a certificate for the purpose. However, the letter was headed Official Letter of Authorization for the Establishment of a Branch office of the ABA in Sri Lanka”.

BASL wrote in October 2018 to the Ministry of Justice saying that the BASL strongly objects to the initial application to set up a Branch office. BASL does not see any need to register a Branch Association of the ABA in Sri Lanka. Nowhere in the world will a legal system allow or permit a foreign Bar Association to set up a branch office.

It is an unprecedented request and if allowed will have serious consequences on the independence of the legal profession and the sovereignty of the nation. If this application is allowed the ABA will have their own office and will start making comments and statements on internal matters which will have an impact on a sovereign Nation.

Bar Association of Sri Lanka (BASL) said that neither the Ministry nor the Attorney General’s Department represent the legal community.  BASL is the sole representative body recognized under our legal system as the body representing the legal profession.

the other ground upon which we would strongly object to the setting up of this branch office, added BASL, involves the question as to what the Ministry would do if other foreign Bar Associations make applications on similar lines. There are several countries with which Sri Lanka maintains close ties and what would be the position of the Ministry and the State if these countries make similar requests? The BASL strongly objects to the registering of a Branch Association of the ABA on the above basis.

 ABA then tried to come in as an NGO. ABA made a request to the Ministry of Justice, through a local legal firm, asking it to issue a letter to register the ABA here as an NGO. This request was also referred to the BASL which submitted its observations in April 2018. BASL said that this was an indirect means of establishing ABA presence in Sri Lanka “knowing very well that the application for registration as a branch association would fail”.

We strongly object to the application made on behalf of the ABA to register as a NGO. Unlike in the case of an ordinary NGO, the application in this instance has a serious impact on the legal profession and the very concept of sovereignty.

ABA and their legal representatives in Sri Lanka seek to justify the application to register as a NGO on the argument that the International Bar Association (IBA) wishes to provide assistance for training of Judges and prosecutors, continued BASL.

This is not the first time that such training has been provided by International Organizations. For more than 25 years entities such as the EU, USAID, UNDP and UNICEF had provided similar training and technical support to the legal profession in Sri Lanka. In all these instances, the issue of registration of such entity as a NGO did not arise. The support was provided through their local institutions. The respective institution would enter upon a MOU and provide assistance and training as agreed. If the ABA is genuinely interested in providing assistance and services what the ABA should do is to adopt the same mechanism.

BASL also observed that it is relevant to note that none of the above correspondence was directly addressed to the BASL. All correspondence in this regard was submitted by the Ministry of Justice. BASL also wrote to the National Secretariat for Non-Governmental Organizations, stating its objections.

Justice Minister Thalatha Atukorale   said that she had not agreed to establish of a branch of the American Bar Association in Sri Lanka. As the subject minister I have not granted permission for any such institution to be established in Sri Lanka,” she said in a statement.

The US Ambassador said in July 2019 that the   American Bar Association has no intention to establish a branch in Sri Lanka. US has not and will not interfere or become directly involved in Sri Lanka’s judiciary. However, US has sponsored training for Sri Lankan judges and lawyers at the request of the Sri Lankan government, she said.

Justice Minister Atukorale confirmed that in May 2019, two batches of senior judges had been to the US in August 2018 and April 2019 at the US taxpayers’ expense. A workshop for High Court judges was held at Taj Samudra, Colombo in Dec 2018. In July 2019 a group of Attorney General’s Department officials, attended a workshop in the US.  Members of Parliament said that this could be an attempt to influence the judiciary.

SDGAP

The US has initiated a Strengthening Democratic Governance and Accountability Project” (SDGAP) worth Rs 1.92 billion (USD 13 mn). The programme was launched in November 2016. This is first of its kind implemented in Sri Lanka, observed Shamindra Ferdinando. The project will be developed in close collaboration with the Sri Lanka Parliament, Independent Commissions and related Ministries.

This programme was implemented by the Maryland USA, based Development Alternatives Inc (DAI), in accordance with an agreement between Sri Lanka and the House Democracy Partnership of the US House of Representatives. The Sri Lanka Parliament and the House Democracy Partnership of the U.S. House of Representatives had in Washington D.C on September 14th,  launched a Collaboration Agreement to strengthen partnership between the two legislatures.

The purpose  of the project is to  reform Sri Lanka’s public sector. The project will help the Government of Sri Lanka to increase transparency and accountability, advance good governance reforms, and strengthen systems and processes for public accountability, financial management, policy development and implementation. The project also supports the government to strengthen communication with citizens, include the public in policy-making, and increase the participation of women in political processes.

The US embassy said that the SDGAP was subject to the laws and regulations of the United States, with oversight from Office of Inspector General, United States Agency for International Development (USAID).

PRASAD KARIYAWASAM

In June 2019 it transpired that  Prasad Kariyawasam has been appointed to Parliament as an International Affairs adviser to the Speaker. This is the first time in the history of Parliament that a Speaker has had the services of an international affairs advisor. MPs observed  that  there is no such position  as International Affairs adviser among the list of officials  in Parliament  and no other Speaker in Parliament has employed an International Affairs Advisor, that too using funds from a foreign country to pay for them.  Previously, international issues were handled by the Foreign Ministry and even the Minister in charge, the MPs said.

Speaker Karu Jayasuriya admitted that Kariyawasam was being paid by Development Alternatives Institute, (DAI) a foreign agency which is the implementing agency for USAID. The DAI currently obtains the services of two advisers to assist Parliament. They are former Additional Secretary to the Ministry of Public Administration G. Hettiarachchi and former Foreign Ministry Secretary Prasad Kariyawasam.

The Speaker explained that  USAID is funding different projects in  Parliament  through its contractor DAI. DAI had given Rs. 2,000 million for a programme called Parliamentary Diplomacy”, intended to foster close relations with other Parliaments worldwide, while also facilitating exchange programmes for MPs and Parliament staff.

The  Parliament  of Sri Lanka currently has connections with 50-60 other Parliaments throughout the world under Parliamentary Diplomacy. It is these programmes that facilitate MPs to travel to foreign countries to understand how Parliaments function there, to obtain scholarships and strengthen Parliamentary Democracy. Around 60-70 MPs here have already gone on foreign tours to learn about strengthening democracy using these same funds. These funds have also been used for Parliamentary Committees. The media wanted to know how this project benefited the country.

Kariyawasam ,  a former Foreign Ministry Secretary, is assisting in this programme, said the Speaker. Currently he is coordinating the Parliamentary Diplomacy group involving around 50-60 countries. He assists me in obtaining scholarships for parliamentarians, coordinating tours to learn about other parliaments etc. He is not paid by the Parliament.” . This mean that  he is being paid by the US Government, responded critics. And  there are suspicions that  this was privately done, they said. 

DAI had initially selected Karunathilaka Amunugama, another former Foreign Ministry secretary for the role of adviser, but he had passed away a day before commencing duties.  Kariyawasam was appointed as his replacement, said  MP Kiriella in June 2019.

In July 2019 Speaker Karu Jayasuriya announced that the salary of Prasad Kariyawasam, would be met from Parliament funds henceforth. The move is an acknowledgement that Kariyawasam’s pay, paid with funds from a US federal agency is wrong, said the media.

In addition to organizing  programmes in Parliament, it appears that Prasad Kariyawasam had  also arranged for the  ambassadors of countries belonging to the Organization of Islamic Cooperation Countries (OIC) to come to Parliament to meet the Speaker. The diplomats included those from Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Egypt, Indonesia, Iran, Iraq, Libya, Kuwait, Malaysia, Oman, Pakistan, Palestine, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and Turkey. Director of the State Intelligence Service (SIS) and the Director of Military Intelligence were also present. MPs questioned the  meeting. 

The task of summoning Colombo-based diplomats  is the sole responsibility of the Foreign Minister or his Ministry Secretary. It is also the responsibility of the President or the Prime Minister, particularly during exigencies. The intelligence chief of the country, who knows all the intelligence and secret information, including investigations that are ongoing, was summoned for the meeting, along with the IGP. Summoning the intelligence chief in front of foreign envoys has not been done by any other Speaker.

Speaker replied I convened a meeting of envoys of these Muslim countries in Parliament to brief them on the latest situation. The IGP came for this meeting, along with other senior officers. Meeting was to brief the envoys of the Muslim countries and ease their fears. The meeting was held with good intentions to explain the current situation and give a guarantee on security. There was no leaking of state secrets.” Would it not have been better to ask the Foreign Ministry to invite  these envoys should there be a need, countered MPs. This clearly shows that Kariyawasam was running a parallel operation.

VISIT OF MIKE POMPEO

US Secretary of State, Mike Pompeo was to travel to Sri Lanka on a short visit, in June 2019, scheduled between his Delhi trip and travel to Osaka. Pompeo was accompanying President Trump for the G-20 summit in Osaka. The purpose of  Pompeo’s visit (book-ended between visits to New Delhi and Osaka, Japan) will be to pressure Sri Lanka into signing up on the utterly one-sided Status of Forces Agreement, said analysts.

But he did not come, He cancelled his visit. The reason given by the embassy was that his travel schedule did not permit a stopover in Sri Lanka. Pompeo  hopes to travel to Sri Lanka at a later date.”

The real reason, analysts agree, was the rising local sentiments against an American military base in Sri Lanka, the  growing protests here against the US seeking to finalize Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA). The government had come under fire from the  opposition over the Status of Forces (SOFA) Agreement, which would give the US forces unrestricted access to Sri Lankan facilities as well as diplomatic immunity.

President Sirisena it appears was going to avoid meeting Pompeo. He was planning to be away from Sri Lanka  for the three and half hours  Pompeo would be in Sri Lanka . Sirisena was to travel to Cambodia and Laos. This move coupled together with planned protests during his visit compelled the US Embassy to advise Pompeo it was not the best time. With Pompeo calling off his visit, so did President Sirisena.

The cancellation of the Pompeo visit can be considered a victory for Sri Lanka. However, though Sri Lanka may have won this  small  battle, they have certainly not  won the war.

ELECTIONS COMMISSION OF SRI LANKA

The Election Commission of Sri Lanka had received assistance from the  International Foundation for Electoral Reforms, a USA funded  organization, to provide much required assistance to upgrade its technology. The project was done through USAID. The role played in this by Vasu Mohan, regional director for Asia Pacific, was questioned. Media reported that Chairman, Elections Commission had strongly defended the US project  and said that Vasu Mohan was a Sri Lankan.

HUMAN RIGHTS IN SOUTH ASIA

US State Department announced its South Asia subcommittee will hold a hearing on “Human Rights in South Asia”  in October 2019.  The Subcommittee will review the treatment of the Rohingya by the government of Burma (Myanmar) and credible accusations that this minority is subject to ethnic cleansing and genocide. The Subcommittee had the opportunity to review this situation in July as the plight of the Rohingya affects both the South and Southeast Asia regions,” Congressman Brad Sherman said in a statement posted on his personal blog. Officials in the meeting will also focus on the human rights situation in Sri Lanka and Pakistan.

PPD IN KANDY

The Ministry of Development Strategies and International Trade together with the USAID-SAIL project hosted a Public-Private Dialogue (PPD) on Global Trade for businessman in the Kandy District on Friday 23rd August 2019 at Hotel Suisse, Kandy.

USAID launched the four-year SAIL project in October 2016to support economic reforms and promote Foreign Direct Investment in Sri Lanka. SAIL provides policy and institutional support to improve the business enabling environment and promote investment in Sri Lanka.

The event titled, Kandy in the Global Economy ,how can the district maximize benefits and minimize risks?” was the second in a series of district-level PPDs being held to increase general awareness and understanding of trade, and obtain the views of wider and more representative groups of stakeholders across the country. The event was the first to be held outside Colombo and there were over 120 participants from ministries, government agencies, the business community, trade chambers, the private sector and other key stakeholders.

GALAGODAATTE GNANASARA THERA

Before 2012, Galagodaatte Gnanasara  thera was completely unknown to the public.  Journalist Chandraprema said even he never knew such a monk existed. When Gnanasara’s name came up in the public domain for the first time with the anti-Halal campaign of 2013,  journalists  had confused him with Gangaramaya’s Ven. Galaboda Gnanissara. That was how unknown Gnanasara was at that time, said Chandraprema.

However, the monk was known to the USA. Galagodaatte Gnanasara thera was given  a five- year multiple entry visa  to USA, in 2011 sometime after  he had begun a  campaign of hatred and incitement of violence, on religious issues

We assumed that he had entered the USA on the kind of single entry visitor’s visa that ordinary mortals like us get after answering a whole string of questions and producing copious documentation. Now it turns out that he had a five- year multiple entry visa which had been granted to him in 2011, elaborated Chandraprema.

On what basis did Gnanasara qualify for a five year multiple entry visa to the USA as far back as 2011? Asked Chandraprema. How is it that the US embassy issued a five-year multiple entry visa to an unknown monk whose only claim to fame at that time was having pleaded guilty to a change of drunk driving and having disrupted meetings of the Anti-War Front? For a Buddhist monk to plead guilty to a charge of drunk driving was very unusual and was probably the first time that such a thing occurred in Sri Lanka’s history.

Then in 2014 the visa was cancelled. The US authorities appear to have panicked that if this monk made another visit to the USA on this visa in the middle of all this controversy, their role in all this mayhem would be badly exposed, said Chandraprema.

ANURADHAPURA ARCHAEOLOGY MUSEUM

The Archaeological Museum of Anuradhapura, was reopened after renovation In September 2019.The preservation of artifacts at the Anuradhapura Archaeological Museum was funded by a $150,000 grant from the U.S. Embassy in Colombo through the Ambassador’s Fund for Cultural Preservation (AFCP). In addition, the Central Cultural Fund and the Treasury’s Consolidated Fund had also contributed to the funding of the renovation activities.

The Ambassadors Fund for Cultural Preservation (AFCP) funding system has helped to preserve and protect sites and building structures in the country such as the Dutch Forts of Batticaloa and Galle and also the Archaeological museum laboratories, said the  embassy. There is a AFCP site at monasteries at Payagala.

In response to a request made by the Archeology Department the U.S. Embassy in Sri Lanka, as part of its continuing efforts to preserve Sri Lanka’s cultural and religious heritage provided the $150,000 grant in 2015 to improve the storage and preservation of artifacts at the Anuradhapura Archaeological Museum. The U.S. Embassy previously supported the Museum, one of Sri Lanka’s most visited, with grants in 2009 and 2012.

The AFCP grants to Anuradhapura Archaeology museum project included $30,000 to help catalogue the museum collection, $40,000 to conserve the museum collection and train the archaeology staff and, $150,000 to create a safe environment for conserved artifacts. Experts from the Metropolitan University for Arts in New York City have trained the Department of Archaeology Conservation staff to apply preventive conservation treatment to important objects since 2016. US Embassy was delighted to be able to help preserve Sri Lanka’s dynamic heritage. (Continued)

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