The Government will not enact new laws to incorporate foreign judges and lawyers into a local judicial mechanism to address allegations of war crimes, Foreign Minister Mangala Samaraweera told a UN Human Rights Council side event in Geneva on Wednesday (1).
“But with or without foreign judges, the mechanism the Government comes up with will be credible,” the Foreign Minister vowed, in response to a question posed to the delegation on the controversial issue.
During his remarks, Minister Samaraweera did not rule out international participation in the judicial mechanism the Government was proposing to address allegations of grave violations of international law during the final stages of the war.
However his comments appeared to indicate that foreign jurists would not sit as judges in a future special court.
The remarks on the sidelines of the Human Rights Council session irked activists and Tamil lobby groups, since it appeared to be further affirmation of repeated Government statements with regard to the non-inclusion of foreign judges in a future special court. UNHRC Resolution 30/1 “affirms the importance” of the participation of Commonwealth and foreign judges, defence lawyers and authorised prosecutors and investigators in Sri Lanka’s judicial mechanism. But Minister Samaraweera has previously insisted that international participation can be assured in the mechanism in other ways, in terms of technical advice and forensic and legal expertise and consultation.
The Foreign Minister admitted that the controversy over foreign judges and the accountability in the Geneva resolution could be the “straw that breaks the camel’s back” in terms of the issues it could create for the Government.
“To be frank, this is the only problematic part. We seem to have general consensus on the reconciliation mechanisms in all other areas, except from a small section of extremists,” he acknowledged.
The Minister was addressing activists, Tamil lobby groups and representatives from state delegations during a side event organised by Sri Lanka’s Permanent Mission to the UN in Geneva on the Government’s reconciliation efforts. The side event, the second of its kind organized by the Sri Lankan mission on the sidelines of the Council session, generated broad interest. US Deputy Assistant Secretary of State Erin Barclay, who is leading the US delegation to the UNHRC 34th Session and several representatives from the US mission, participated in the side event.
PTA no longer operational: SCRM Chief
President Maithripala Sirisena had issued directives that the Prevention of Terrorism Act (PTA), Sri Lanka’s draconian anti-terror law was no longer to be used to charge suspects, Mano Tittawella, who heads the Government office coordinating reconciliation mechanisms said in Geneva on Wednesday.
“The old PTA is not operational anymore,” Secretary General of the Secretariat for Coordinating Reconciliation Mechanisms (SCRM) told participants at a discussion organized by the Government on the sidelines of the UNHRC session in Geneva.
Tittawella said that two arrests had been made recently under the PTA, but in both those cases the arrests were reversed and the suspects were charged under the normal laws.
The SCRM Chief admitted that the repeal of the PTA, a heavy handed law that activists and lawyers say seriously violates the rights of suspects arrested under the provisions, had taken longer than the Government originally anticipated. “The initial time-frame may have been a bit optimistic,” Tittawella said, responding to a question about how the Government had reneged on pledges made in September 2015 that the PTA would be repealed in three months.
The PTA will soon be repealed and replaced with new counter-terrorism legislation that in its final draft is “looking much better” in terms of its compliance with international standards, he added. The framework for the new Counter-Terrorism Act was currently under Parliamentary Oversight, he explained.
Foreign Minister Mangala Samaraweera also admitted that the first draft of the Counter-Terrorism Act framework had not been “in keeping with our objectives”.
However the observations by experts on the drafting committee and the Foreign Ministry had now been incorporated into the CTA framework, Samaraweera explained. “The new act is in line with international best practices, and will soon be re-presented to Cabinet,” he said. (FT)