Sunday Observer Online


Sunday, 25 October 2015





Marriage Proposals
Government Gazette

* In-fighting again in SLFP

* Paranagama denies and affirms

SLFP-UNP ‘power sharing’ strategy for L-G polls

A heated verbal battle broke out at the SLFP parliamentary group meeting with President Maithripala Sirisena last Monday evening over another gathering held earlier at MP Gamini Lokuge’s house in Colombo.

The person who stirred up the hornets’ nest was Minister S.B. Dissanayake who lashed out at certain SLFP MPs for holding what he called a “conspiratorial meeting” at Lokuge’s house.

Dissanayake alleged that Udaya Gammanpila, Dinesh Gunawardena, Bandula Gunawardena and Prasanna Ranatunga met at Lokuge’s house and plotted the formation of a new and separate political alliance to contest the Local Government election.

The Minister said the group had discussed forming an alliance under Dinesh Gunawardena’s leadership outside the SLFP and even outside the old, now faltering UPFA structure.

Dissanayake accused the SLFP MPs who were present at the Lokúgé meeting of attempting to create a division in the party.

At this point, MP Gamini Lokuge, the politician who facilitated that controversial meeting, denied any such ‘conspiracy’.

As he sat down, Prasanna Ranatunga responded angrily to the accusations made by his party senior, Dissanayake.

“Yes there was a meeting. But it had nothing to do with forming a separate political alliance.

However, the party members who attended the meeting requested us to contest under a new alliance as they were not happy with certain decisions made by our MPs,” Ranatunga said directing his criticism at the party MPs who had entered into a national unity government with the UNP.

Irked by Ranatunga’s remark, Dissanayake reiterated that a group of conspirators were attempting to destroy the party.

“How can you say that? People rejected you and you entered Parliament through the backdoor. You went behind the President and got a ‘charity’ ministerial portfolio.

And then you said Mahinda Rajapaksa was responsible for the election defeat.

You were the one who caused great damage to the party by joining the UNP in 2001 when you had issues with Madam Kumaratunga,” Ranatunga slammed Dissanayake. He also urged President Sirisena, who was chairing the meeting, to be cautious of such ‘unscrupulous’ characters.

Finally, it was President Sirisena who intervened to resolve the verbal battle between the two MPs. The President said, “Let bygones be bygones. Everyone should now work towards the betterment of the party.”

He said the party should focus on securing a victory at the forthcoming Local Government election and differences of opinion should be set aside. The President said that the next Local Government election would be held under the new electoral system. It was also an indication that the election might get delayed by a few more months.

It is now clear that the SLFP has plans to contest the election separately, while distancing itself from the UPFA coalition.

As party insiders point out, the party is not in a position to secure an electoral victory on its own, only a few months after its defeat at a crucial national level election.

As a way of addressing this issue, the party has decided to arrive at an understanding with the UNP on running Local Government bodies in the same ‘national unity government’ format. Under this plan, the UNP and the SLFP will jointly run the administration of Local Government bodies and the party that obtains the highest vote in each Local Government body will command more responsibilities in the administration.

However, it is still not clear whether the UNP, which holds a certain edge over other parties at the Local Government polls, would give its green light for such a plan.

Wimal’s passports

UPFA Parliamentarian and National Freedom Front leader Wimal Weerawansa was caught in his own immigration tangle in the wee hours of last Friday as he was about to board a flight to Dubai and on to Rome.

The immigration counter at the airport found that the passport the parliamentarian presented on departure was invalid. They later found out that the parliamentarian had obtained a new passport, after cancelling his old one. However, the Parliamentarian had come to the airport on Friday with his old passport with the relevant visa also issued for his old passport. This left the immigration authorities at the airport in a state of confusion.

The MP, however, had an excuse. He said he obtained a new passport as he thought his old passport was lost.

After obtaining the new passport, the MP had found his ‘lost passport’ and he had used that for this foreign trip.

Although the parliamentarian, whose wife is also caught in an identity tangle, argued that it was a ‘genuine mistake’, the authorities wanted to further inquire into the matter as using two passports was an offence under the present legal system in Sri Lanka.

The MP had obtained his first diplomatic passport in 2011 and had applied for another diplomatic passport in 2012 citing that he lost his previous passport. He had travelled to many countries using this passport till 2014.

This was the first time he attempted to travel overseas this year. The Criminal Investigation Department (CID) questioned the parliamentarian on the matter for a few hours.

Weerawansa was not allowed to leave the country as he had flouted immigration laws by obtaining s visa for an invalid passport. He was arrested and later produced before the Negombo Magistrate’s Court.

Soon after Weerawansa was arrested, three of his Parliamentary colleagues, namely Jayantha Samaraweera, Udaya Gammanpila and Niroshan Premarathne left Colombo to ‘rescue’ their friend from the CID. They also accompanied him to the Negombo Magistrate’s Court where the parliamentarian was released on bail.

Paranagama denial

When former President Rajapaksa appointed the Commission headed by former High Court judge Maxwell Paranagama to look into the missing persons’ issue, many believed that the findings of the Commission would be in favour of the former President and the military forces which operated under him.

However, the findings of the report, which were tabled in Parliament last week, proved that the Commission had carried out its duties in a fair and impartial manner, giving a fair overview of what happened during the final phase of the war.

While denying genocide claims made by many Tamil Diaspora groups and certain politicians in the North, the Commission identified a series of incidents that needed further investigations.

The Paranagama Commission also denied the statistics concerning civilian casualties presented by the UN experts’ panel, popularly known as the Darusman committee.

The Paranagama Commission asserted that the 40,000 deaths claim, presented by the Darusman report, had no basis in fact and that the actual figure was much lesser than that.

The Commission rejected the suggestion that civilians were either targeted directly or indiscriminately by the SL Army as a part of an alleged ‘genocidal plan’. Its executive report added that “Commission finds that the Darusman Report, as well as other reports, has taken a particularly narrow and restricted view of the obligation upon the GOSL to prosecute international crimes.”

“The LTTE was principally responsible for the loss of civilian life during the final phase of the armed conflict through their actions which included taking 300,000 to 330,000 civilian hostages, implementing a strategy of killing Tamil civilians to suit their military aims, using civilians as a strategic human buffer leading to considerable loss of civilian life, using hostages to dig trenches and build fortifications thereby exposing them to harm, sacrificing countless civilians hostages to keep the LTTE leadership in power, arming hostages and forcing them into the front line leading to the deaths of large numbers, forcing a great number of children to man the front lines; deliberately preventing civilians, under their effective control, from fleeting to areas away from the fighting and executing civilian hostages for attempting to escape their captivity; shelling civilian hostages in order that the LTTE might assign those deaths to the SLA for media purposes to provoke international humanitarian intervention; placing their heavy weaponry amid civilians making it inevitable that there would be civilian casualties; killing civilians through the use of suicide bombers; placing mines and other explosive devices that resulted in civilian deaths; causing the deaths of civilians who drowned in an attempt to flee their LTTE captors; and adopting a practice whereby a significant number of its cadres fought in civilian clothes, thus blurring the distinction between combatants and civilians inevitably leading to civilian deaths.”

The Commission accepted that shelling by the SLA undoubtedly led to a significant number of civilian deaths, “but the Commission stresses that this was an inevitable consequence of the LTTE’s refusal to permit civilians to leave their control in order to use them both as a shield and a pool for recruitment, even when the GOSL permitted a ceasefire on April 12.

No government could be expected to permit young children to be forced into the front lines without taking all available measures to put an end to such ruthless exploitation of a civilian population.”

Channel 4

The Paranagama Commission, however, also had some sting for the past regime. The Commission’s Report adds:

“The Commission is of the view that the material shown in Channel 4 - shorn of its theatrical and dramatic presentation and of the occasionally extravagant language used - does show, however, that there was material enough to justify a judge-led investigation,” the Paranagama commission said.

The Paranagama report, however, has been treated with mixed reactions by the government MPs. While some MPs commended the report for its impartial and comprehensive nature, some MPs were of the view that the report had the potential of creating far reaching problems. One of the key figures of the government who held this idea was Minister Rajitha Senaratne, the official Cabinet spokesman.

Addressing the weekly Cabinet briefing at the Government Information Department auditorium on Thursday, Senaratne explained the complexities wedded to the Paranagama report.

“If the Paranagama Report was released before passing the Geneva Resolution, the Resolution could have been much more negative than the current one. The Paranagama report is much more serious than the UN Report,” Dr. Senaratne said.

To justify his logic, Minister Senaratne said the Paranagama Report specifically referred to incidents such as the White Flag, Channel 4, Isipriya murder and Charles murder stating they should be investigated.

“But the Geneva Resolution has not named anything specific. The 20th Clause of the Resolution very clearly says everything will be done with the consent of the Sri Lankan government and only with the agreement of the Sri Lankan Government. Therefore, there is no reason to worry. If Sri Lanka does not agree, nothing can be done.”

War crimes

The timing of the reports was a main topic of discussion when the Government Parliamentary group met in Parliament on the same day the Commission reports were tabled. Some of them raised questions as to why the Udalagama and Paranagama Commission reports were not tabled in Parliament before the adoption of the UNHRC Resolution on Sri Lanka.

Responding to their questions, Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe said tabling the Udalagama and Paranagama reports in Parliament after the UNHRC Resolution was “strategically advantageous” to the country. The Prime Minister also told the Government MP group that these reports have extensively dealt with individual cases and made recommendations.

Minister Rajitha Senaratne, speaking at the group meeting, had said that the public should be made aware of the parametres and the composition of the war crimes inquiry mechanism.

“If there is an involvement of foreign judges and prosecutors,” the minister said, “that should be done in line with the country’s existing laws.” President Sirisena, on several occasions, reiterated that the war crimes inquiry mechanism will be set up within the parametres of the country’s constitution and legal framework.

Paranagama speaks

Retired High Court Judge Paranagama, the chief architect of the report, however insists his report does not level any charges against the government.

“In our findings, we have highlighted specific incidents that need further investigations. Only an investigation of that nature will prove whether there have been war crimes during the final phase of the war. We have gone a step beyond the LLRC and come up with some important findings. It is up to the political leadership of the country to investigate such matters and take further action,” Paranagama told the Sunday Observer, stating that “some elements have already misinterpreted the findings of the report to suit their political objectives”.

“The same applies to the finding on the Channel 4 documentary. We do not say the Channel 4 documentary is correct. We have only arrived at the conclusion that there is enough grounds for further investigation,” he said.

Judge Paranagama, however, did not fail to dub the final phase of war against the LTTE as a ‘humanitarian operation’ aimed at rescuing nearly 300,000 people who were under the LTTE’s control. “But that does not mean that transgressions did not take place,” the senior judge explained.

The Paranagama Commission also suggests the formation of an independent High Court and a Truth and Reconciliation Commission to address accountability and reconciliation.

When asked whether the special ‘independent High Court’ should have provisions for a hybrid Bench – as suggested by the UN Human Rights Chief – Paranagama said that “the matter lies in the hands of the political authorities of the country”.

Shedding more light in this regard, the Paranagama Commission report identifies the Gambian model as a ‘successful experiment’. The Commission pointed out that a court, known as Special Division of the Supreme Court of Gambia, was set up in 1981 following an upheaval in which many died. That court included judges from the Commonwealth.

“This was a court that met both national and international concerns,” he pointed out. In the event of Sri Lanka establishing a ‘purely domestic tribunal’ without the participation of foreign judges, the panel opined, “there should be international technical assistance and observer”. It called for making core crimes applicable in “non-international armed conflicts” part of Sri Lankan law. Otherwise, there could be “no effective domestic mechanism”.

MR and Noguchi

When Motoo Noguchi of the Supreme Public Prosecutor’s Office of Japan visited Sri Lanka last week, he also met former President Mahinda Rajapaksa at the latter’s personal residence in Colombo. During the meeting, the former President was accompanied by former External Affairs Minister Prof. G.L. Pieris.

Noguchi is no stranger to the Rajapaksa administration. In fact, he was invited by the government of former President Rajapaksa to serve in an advisory capacity to assist the Commission on Missing Persons headed by Maxwell Paranagama. The invitation for him to visit Sri Lanka was first extended by former President Rajapaksa’s government which was desperate for ‘international support’ during its last stages.

According to the former President’s Media Secretary Rohan Welivita, Rajapaksa and Noguchi discussed a range of issues connected with current initiatives for reconciliation and accountability.Rajapaksa, while appreciating his insights, pointed out the fundamental difference between the Sri Lankan and Cambodian contexts, and referred to the salient features of the Sri Lankan situation, the basic element of which was the eradication of terrorism and the availability of the opportunity today for all citizens of Sri Lanka irrespective ethnic identity, to live in an atmosphere of peace and tranquility. He described in some detail the challenges which confronted his government and the strategies which he put in place to overcome them.Noguchi, in response, expressed appreciation of the invitation which had been extended to him by the Rajapaksa’s government to serve in an advisory capacity to assist the Commission on Missing Persons headed by Maxwell Paranagama.

The former President specifically clarified that the intention of his government, in response to a written request by Chairman Paranagama was to secure for the benefit of the Sri Lankan Commission the expertise of several international experts including Noguchi.

He emphasised that the role of these experts was to serve as resource persons in dealing with complex issues of international humanitarian law and international human rights law which arose in the course of the work of the Commission.

Rajapaksa said that the appointment of foreign experts as judges exercising judicial power in respect of the Sri Lankan armed forces and other Sri Lankan citizens was at no time contemplated by his government because it was politically unacceptable to our people and also because it involved conflict with basic provisions of the constitution of Sri Lanka. Noguchi agreed that the best course of action was to have judicial mechanisms manned by Sri Lanka’s own nationals.


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