Under international pressure, Sri Lankan president appoints legal experts to advise on anti-terror law

Sri Lanka President Gotabaya Rajapaksa has appointed three top retired legal experts to make recommendations on a controversial anti-terror law that some Western nations and international rights groups claim has been used to suppress minorities and silence dissent

Aug 26, 2021
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United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC)

Sri Lanka President Gotabaya Rajapaksa has appointed three top retired legal experts to make recommendations on a controversial anti-terror law that some Western nations and international rights groups claim has been used to suppress minorities and silence dissent.

The appointments were made under Section 13 of the Prevention of Terrorism Act (PTA), which the European parliament has demanded be repealed by Colombo.

The move comes ahead of next month’s United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) meeting where the Rajapaksa administration will have to explain some steps it has taken to address past human rights violations.

The advisory board comprises retired Chief Justice Asoka de Silva, retired High Court Judge A A R Heiyanthuduwa and retired Solicitor General Suhada Gamalath as members, the President’s Media Division (PMD) said quoting Director-General of Legal Affairs at the Presidential Secretariat Harigupta Rohanadeera.

The advisory board is expected to make recommendations and advise the president on investigation, release, granting of bail and future action related to the persons imprisoned on charges of terrorist activity and detained under detention orders, the PMD said in a statement.

“Hitherto, the persons who have been imprisoned had no opportunity to make representations on their rights since an advisory board has not been established for a long time,” it said, according to ECONOMYNEXT.

Rohanadeera further said that the prisoners will be allowed to submit their issues with the appointment of the advisory board.

Facing threats of losing a European Union trade concession that has kept Sri Lanka’s key export sectors alive, and possible targeted sanctions, the country has been moving forward with some steps to address concerns over alleged rights abuses and undermining of the rule of law.

Since the European Parliament adopted a resolution in June to consider withdrawing the over 500 million US dollar worth trade concession, President Rajapaksa’s administration has taken a step back on its stance of engaging the international community which had pushed Sri Lanka to address some key human rights concerns.

The European parliament’s key demand was to repeal the PTA, claiming the legislation has been systematically used for arbitrary arrests and the detention of minority groups in Sri Lanka.

A Geneva resolution in March allowed the United Nations “to collect, consolidate, analyze and preserve information and evidence, and to develop possible strategies for future accountability processes for gross violations of human rights or serious violations of international humanitarian law in Sri Lanka, to advocate for victims and survivors, and to support relevant judicial and other proceedings.”

Some countries have already imposed targeted sanctions on some former military officials who have been accused of human rights violations said to have been committed in the final weeks of Sri Lanka’s 26-year war, that ended with the government forces crushing the terrorist outfit Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) and liquidating its top leadership.

Rajapaksa, in the run-up to the presidential election in 2019, vowed not to give in to the demands of Western nations, the EU, and the United Nations to address alleged human rights violations in the past.  He claimed the allegations were biased, based on uncorroborated facts, and propagated by the Tamil diaspora.

(SAM)
 

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