Wednesday, April 28, 2010

'Order police' to show Prageeth - Missing journalist's wife files a petition

The Court of Appeal in Sri Lanka has decided to conduct an inquiry whether to order the police to find a missing journalist.

Sandhya Eknaligoda, the wife of the disappeared journalist Prageeth, has filed a petition seeking a court order to produce him before courts and release him.

KS Udayakumar reporting from Colombo said that Justice Ranjith Silva questioned how the court could order police to release Mr. Eknaligoda as there is no clue as to who is responsible for his disappearance.

The counsel for the petitioner then pointed out that the police whose duty is to protect every citizen in the country should be held responsible for the disappearance.

Prageeth, a columnist for Lankaenews web newspaper and a cartoonist, is missing since 24 January.

'Evidence provided'

Mrs. Eknaligoda told BBC Sandeshaya after the hearing that police did not inform her of progress, if any, of the investigation despite 'ample evidence' provided.

"For example they refuse to tell me whether they found the person who last called Prageeth," she said.

Sandhya Eknaligoda said police are already in the possession of the mobile phone number among other information required for further investigations.

"But police would not say whose number it is; they say the information will not be revealed claiming it might hamper the investigation."

Inspector General of Police (IGP) and other senior police officers are cited as the respondents by the petitioner.

Meanwhile, in a statement, the Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) said that the IGP must explain the circumstances of Prageeth Ekanaliyagoda's disappearance.

"There is no crime greater than a forced disappearance," the AHRC said.

"The point that has been raised repeatedly by Prageeth's wife throughout is that she suspects a government agency for being responsible for the loss of her husband. This is a serious allegation on the part of a family and such a complaint needs to be respected by any law enforcement agency or government," it added.

© BBC Sinhala

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Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Sri Lanka: Three terms for the President

By Sandun A. Jayasekara - The government may bring amendments to the Constitution within the next month to allow three terms for an executive President, a senior government source claimed today.

The Constitutional reforms the UPFA government expects to introduce on priority basis in the next few weeks will include the change of term of office a President is permitted to hold under the present Constitution, the senior Minister said.

“The change of the term of office of the President paving the way to hold more than two terms is not intended to give an opportunity to President Mahinda Rajapaksa but to strengthen democracy and stabilize the government,” the Minister said on condition of anonymity.

He said the government wants to introduce these electoral and constitutional reforms sooner rather than later and complete the process before November when President Rajapaksa takes oaths for his second term. The need of the hour is a stable and strong administration to take the country forward and achieve a speedy development and the amendments are aimed at achieving those goals, he added.

The new UPFA government is also planning to change the Preferential Representative System. Accordingly, the ward system will be introduced to the local government elections and a combination of the PR system and the First Past the Post system for the Provincial Council and Parliamentary elections.

The consent of the Eastern Province is necessary to introduce certain electoral reforms such as the ward system. The UPFA is in discussions with the Eastern Province Chief Minister Vinyagamurthi Muralidharan to get his cooperation for the amendments.

Some amendments need Two-Thirds majority and others a simple majority to get into the Statute book. More influential and critical amendments need the Supreme Court clearance and the approval by the people through a referendum.

With assistance of all constituent parties of the UPFA and the cooperation of the opposition members the government is determined to pass those urgent constitutional amendments before November.

The electoral reforms must go through and approve in Parliament before next year’s local government polls. The first election held in the country under the new electoral system will be the 2011 local government polls, he said.

The Minister ruled out the possibility to introduce a brand new Constitution in the near future and added that legislative and constitutional reforms would be brought through amendments to the existing law.

They include the reforms to the 17th Amendment to strengthen independent commissions with new Constitutional provisions as the present amendments have created more controversies than solutions for good governance, the Minister noted.

On the question of attracting 7 members from the opposition to fill the absolute Two Thirds majority in Parliament to pass the Constitutional amendments, he said several members of the UNP, SLMC and the TNA had already pledged their support to President Rajapaksa.

“We do not intend to disclose the names of these MPs. But they will vote with the government when the necessity arrives,” he claimed.

© Daily Mirror

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Wednesday, April 28, 2010

The IGP must explain the circumstances of Prageeth's disappearance - AHRC

Prageeth Ekanaliyagoda, a journalist, disappeared on the 4th January, 2010 and despite enormous efforts made by his family and friends, media groups and human rights organisations locally and internationally to bring this to the attention of the government. No serious investigation has been made into his disappearance.

Prageeth's wife, once again publically protested this weekend complaining that the state has remained silent on the issue and demanded to know the whereabouts of her husband. She has campaigned consistently since her husband disappearance demanding her rights as a wife and a citizen for a proper investigation. The government has failed to give a reasonable answer to her plea.

Ministers initially tried to create the impression that they have received information from the police about the actual circumstances surrounding the disappearance they would reveal the information to the public soon. The insinuation is that there is no state involvement in this disappearance; that it was the result of a private dispute, the police have, in fact, investigated and are aware of the 'real circumstances'. However, that position soon changed and the various promises to finalise the investigation soon, which was made in public when the journalists questioned the government spokesman, were not kept.

However, when on this weekend, the journalists contacted the police spokesman on Prageeth's disappearance and the current state of the investigations, the reply was that due to the elections the police did not have time to spare for this matter. This reply smacks of deep cynicism on the issue of forced disappearances. A forced disappearance is one of the most heinous of crimes and there is no duty for a law enforcement agency than to investigate such a serious matter. When they stated that, due to the election, Prageeth's disappearance could not be investigated the police are trying to create the impression that this is neither a matter of priority or great concern to anyone.

Furthermore there was even propaganda that claimed that as Prageeth Ekanaliyagoda is not an important journalist and therefore his disappearance is not a matter of significance. There is no issue about superior inferior citizens when the issue of a person's basic rights comes to be questioned. The fact of the matter is that a Sri Lankan citizen has disappeared. It is clearly stated in international law that the obligation of explaining the disappearance lies with the state. It is not an option for the state to select cases for investigation when grave crimes are involved.

There is no crime greater than a forced disappearance. The point that has been raised repeatedly by Prageeth's wife throughout is that she suspects a government agency for being responsible for the loss of her husband. This is a serious allegation on the part of a family and such a complaint needs to be respected by any law enforcement agency or government. It is only by a credible investigation that such an allegation could be proved or disproved.

However, the behaviour of the state in trying to prevent the investigation into the matter clearly shows that there is a deliberate attempt to hush up this investigation. So their silence on the matter is a deliberate silence which indicates the intention on the part of the government to sweep this matter under the carpet so that it might be forgotten.

If the matter of a forced disappearances is forgotten then virtually the issue of citizenship in a country becomes meaningless. Today a serious question raised by this forced disappearances and the response of the government and the policing system is that there is hardly any meaning in citizenship except for those who are willing to completely abandon their rights on behalf of the patronage of the politicians in the ruling regime. This system of patronage has spread so deeply to the effect that those who do not enjoy such patronage also do not have the right to justice.

Thus the forced disappearance of Prageeth Ekanaliyagoda and the poor response from the government is an indication of a serious crisis relating to the protection of rights of individuals in Sri Lankan society. Already the country has catastrophically fallen into lawlessness and the rule of law system has been seriously jeopardised. The present attitude towards disappearances is even indicative of a greater collapse to come which is becoming increasingly visible. Under these circumstances the fear goes deeper and the meaning of anything is being undermined.

It is the duty of all citizens to face up to the gravity of the problem. The issue is not about the views of a particular journalist or about his status. The issue is about the causing of a disappearance which no person in a government or a society has any right to do. It is this problem that the citizens of the country and those concerned with the human liberty of citizens in Sri Lanka should now face and address.

© Asian Human Rights Commission

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Wednesday, April 28, 2010

UN calls for war crimes tribunal into Sri Lanka

More than a year after Sri Lanka launched its final offensive against the Tamil Tiger rebels, pressure continues to mount for an international tribunal into alleged war crimes. U-N Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon plans to appoint a panel of experts to look into a tribunal something the Sri Lankan government says is unwarranted and uncalled for. Now Australian lawyers are joining forces with the International Commission of Jurists to take witness statements and prepare evidence for any war crimes tribunal. They say they hope it will help demonstrate the need for a full investigation and help protect those who might be subject to further human rights abuses.

Presenter: Joanna McCarthy
Speaker: John Dowd, President of the International Commission of Jurists Australia; Anne Marie Doueihy, co-chair of the Sri Lanka project on behalf of the NSW Young Lawyers Committee.

MCCARTHY: The final weeks of Sri Lanka's civil war saw up to 40-thousand civilians killed, according to the United Nations spokesman in Colombo. Sri Lanka's government has long rejected calls for a war crimes tribunal. It says no civilians were harmed by government forces. That hasn't stopped the United Nations from setting up an advisory panel, and now young Australian lawyers are also getting involved.

DOWD: After discussions with the young lawyers we found that they wanted to help with the terrible consequences of the problems in Sri Lanka from the collapse of the LTTE, and since, and also the problems beforehand. And we devised this scheme to take evidence to make sure that it's recorded and is available for war crimes tribunals when they're setup.

MCCARTHY: Lawyers will conduct interviews in Australia and around the region with witnesses to the conflict, including refugees.

DOWD: Since the Sri Lankan government won't do it for crimes which obviously the government may be partly responsible, then we want to persuade the international community that there is a necessity to do this, and once it's established, whenever it's established, this evidence will be taken, recorded and available for that. The secondary purpose is of course to deter people who are now in Sri Lanka who are looking after people or not looking after them in concentration camps and prison camps to make sure that they understand that if anything goes wrong that nemesis is there.

MCCARTHY: Anne Marie Doueihy is the co-chair of the project on behalf of the NSW Young Lawyers Committee:

DOUEIHY: The interest has been great because of the need to prevent these types of crimes from occurring in the future, and I suppose the human side of lawyers and the need to fight for I suppose peace, and the need to prevent and prevent these things from occurring in the future and to save lives.

MCCARTHY: Sri Lanka's President Mahinda Rajapaksa says a war crimes tribunal is unwarranted and uncalled for. He's told Ban Ki Moon that appointing a panel is an interference in Sri Lanka's internal affairs, and will force Sri Lanka to take necessary and appropriate action. It's not clear what that will be, but his comments reflect the common criticism in Sri Lanka that any tribunal would be an imposition from the west. John Dowd?

DOWD: It's not a western imposition for a country that is supposed to have rule of law. They've got a legal system they inherited from the British, they've got a constitution that provides for the rule of law, this is not a western concept as such, tribunals are tribunals, and war crimes are war crimes. And that's an international matter involving everyone of the 208 members of the United Nations.

© ABC - Radio Australia

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