1st, March 1998
Justice Minister G.L. Peiris has been directed by court to answer questions on whether he "deliberately suppressed his personal interest and effectation in the Hilton Settlements Agreement, and did not disclose the same to Parliament and thereby to the people?"
District Judge of Colombo Sarath Ambeypitiya making the order has directed Dr. Peiris to answer this question, among others, which are by way of interrogatories, within 10 days.
Among questions asked are those pertaining to whether Mr. Peiris was very closely associated with the former government, and visited the Rosmead Place residence of Mr. Anura Bandaranaike to advise or encourage him to crossover to the former (UNP) government?
This question is asked in the context that Dr. Peiris held several political appointments under the previous government.
The interrogatories have been filed in court by lawyers to the plaintiff Mr. Nihal Sri Amarasekera, who is suing the Minister of Justice and Constitutional Affairs in a money recovery case, claiming Rs. 300 million as damages.
Included in the interrogatories, court requires Dr. Peiris to answer, are questions whether "Dr. Peiris misused or abused parliamentary privilege to make a false statement for personal gain, and to cause injury to a member of the public arising out of personal interest or animosity."
The interrogatories attempt to ascertain whether Dr. Peiris deliberately, made efforts to imply that the plaintiff (Mr. Amarasekera) had suppressed conditions in the Hilton settlement. In the process, the questions also attempt to ascertain whether the minister by his conduct and statements humiliated the plaintiff in the public eye, by attempting to make out that the Hilton settlement reached through the efforts of Mr. Amarasekera was an irregular settlement.
The interrogatories also, by way of questions which are meant to be answered as either "yes" or "no'' requires Dr. Peiris to state whether he (Dr. Peiris) deliberately suppressed his personal interest and effectation from Parliament and the people.
This question is asked in the context that Dr. Peiris was a then member of the SEC, and therefore an effected party.
Dr. Peiris is being sued on the grounds that his illegal suspension of the Hilton Settlement Agreement (ostensibly in the interests of transparency) caused Hotel Developers Lanka Ltd., the owning company of Colombo Hilton Hotel to lose around Rs. 55 million by reason of the delay in the implementation of the Hilton Settlement Agreements concluded by the plaintiff.
Mr. Sri Amarasekera is a shareholder of HDL, and was instrumental in working out the Hilton Settlement Agreement with certain Japanese companies involved in the construction of the Hilton Hotel.
By Imran Vittachi
State terror — unleashed directly or by proxy on Sri Lanka from the late-1980s to mid-90s — was largely behind the recorded disappearances and presumed murders of thousands of its citizens, Presidential Commission probes have revealed.
National security enforcers and state-sanctioned death squads, operating under the UNP regime of the late President Ranasinghe Premadasa especially, were responsible for most of these mass disappearances and presumed killings, in which Sinhalese, Tamils and others alike were liquidated, separate President-appointed Commissions have found in newly released reports.
"It seems clear that political opponents of the then regime were eliminated under the guise of crushing the JVP," according to the Second Interim Report of the Commission of Inquiry into the Involuntary Removal or Disappearance of Persons in the Central, Northwestern, Northcentral and Uva Provinces made on October 12, 1995 — one of three commissions tasked by President Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga in November 1994 to probe into nationwide reports relating to missing persons.
"The very large number of killings in the Central Zone (which covers four Provinces) points to the fact that the removals and killings were with the knowledge and tacit approval of those in political power at the time."
From the South and Centre of the country to the North and East, perpetrators have generally gone unpunished, protected by brass in the Army, Police and other state security services who have covered their footprints and obstructed the course of justice by erecting a "blank wall" — even awarding them with promotions in certain instances — added the various commissions, citing evidence accumulated over nearly three years of investigations.
"A feature that struck most forcefully in our year's inquiries was the utmost care that has been taken, not only by individual perpetrators, but by the system itself, to prevent these occurrences from being reflected in the official records of the country...," said the Third Interim Report of the Commission of Inquiry dealing with the Western, Southern, and Sabaragamuwa Provinces made in March 1996.
"There is clear evidence of a conspiracy to keep these deaths/disappearances from being recorded in the official annals of the country."
And, in the Tamil-dominated Northern and Eastern Provinces, while the LTTE and other regional militant groups committed their own share of excesses, the Armed Forces — particularly the Army and Special Task Force — were reported to have taken the lion's share.
"The fact is that the Army arrested people in large numbers. The Army can only answer to what happened to the corpus of those arrested. It was no use denying that they have nothing to do with these arrests," said the Presidential Commission, probing into reported cases of missing persons from the North and East, in its final recommendations.
"According to the evidence recorded, ninety percent of the removals was ascribed to the security forces — Army, Navy, Airforce and the Police,"
The commission added this was particularly evident, taking into account mass arrests carried out by the Army in 1990 at the Trincomalee Base Hospital and McHeyzer Stadium, in the midst of the outbreak of Eelam War II and a massacre of up to 100 policemen stationed on the East coast by the LTTE:
"The Army as a rule denied involvement in the arrests. They also claimed that records are missing. This has been the attitude of the Army Personnel from the top brass downwards."
This commission found that in Batticaloa District, from 1988 to 1996, 64 percent of arrests leading to involuntary removals or disappearances, which were reported in the area, could be attributed to the Army, while the Tamil Tigers were responsible for only two percent of these arrests. The commission also found that in Trincomalee District Tamils comprised approximately 500 out of 600 cases of disappearances reported from 1988 to 1995-96, and 1100 out of around 1200 cases reported in Batticaloa.
In their respective reports — which were published by the Government in September 1997 but released only last week — the three commissions called on President Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga and her People's Alliance Government to do a lot more to fulfil their electoral campaign pledge of punishing perpetrators of these widespread acts and adequately compensating victims' families
"The anguish and anxiety of the complainants, who keep asking us what happened after the inquiry, is understandable as no action appears to have been taken against the persons whom they have mentioned as responsible at the inquiries before this Commission," observed the commission handling inquiries in the Central, Northwestern, Northcentral, and Uva Provinces.
Soon after she entered office in 1994, President Kumaratunga appointed the three commissions to investigate across the country into such questions. The findings of the Northern and Eastern Province Commission, and the reports of the on-going commissions investigating involuntary removals and disappearances were released last week, along with other presidential commission reports into the alleged malpractice in government bodies, and the assassinations of former SLMP Leader Vijaya Kumaratunga, Lieutenant-General Kobbekaduwa, and Lalith Athulathmudali.
The release of reports on missing persons follows the US State Department's latest critical assessment of human rights in Sri Lanka. According to the State Department, in its worldwide human rights report, the situation here hasn't changed all that much since the PA took power:
"Impunity remains a serious problem. Since April 1995 at least 700 persons have been extrajudicially killed by the security forces or disappeared after taken into security forces custody and are presumed dead. As of year's end (1997) no member of the security forces had been convicted for any of these crimes. In the vast majority of cases where military personnel may have committed human rights violations, the Government has not identified those responsible and brought them to justice."
State adds in its report:
"There were approximately 350 confirmed cases of disappearance in 1996, 34 in 1995, and 10 in 1994... The Commander of the Army and the Inspector General of Police have both issued directives condemning disappearances and stating that perpetrators would be called to account. No security force personnel have been prosecuted to date."
Two elephants under musth at the National Zoological Garden are kept outside under the blazing sun, as masons and mahouts fear to approach the elephants and put up a shelter .
The Additional Director of the Zoo, D. Jayaratne, told 'The Sunday Times' that they cannot help out the two elephants which are under high stress due to musth and the extreme heat these days.
"The elephants were in a rage as we tried to put up the shelter, but since then no one is willing to do the job," said Mr. Jayaratne.
Meanwhile Animal Rights activists say that zoo authorities have acted in an irresponsible manner, and cited a previous incident when Raja, a majestic elephant which killed two of its mahouts when under musth. Eventually Raja was auctioned last month for Rs 950,000.
By Shane Seneviratne
A political row involving the governor of the North-Western Province, the UNP-controlled provincial council there and the Government Medical Officers' Association is threatening health services in the province and elsewhere.
The powerful GMOA on Friday warned it would launch a strike at the Kurunegala hospital from tomorrow and would extend it islandwide if the province's governor did not give the go ahead for the appointment of Dr. R. M. Rajamanthri as the Provincial Director of Health Services.
In a hard-hitting statement, the GMOA charged that Governor Hector Arawwawala was blocking or delaying the appointment of Dr. Rajamanthri for reasons that were linked to petty party politics and vindictiveness.
Dr. Rajamanthri as acting director is known to have worked closely with Provincial Health Minister Johnston Fernando.
Mr. Fernando also told The Sunday Times yesterday he felt the governor's refusal to confirm Dr. Rajamanthri as the provincial director was linked to party political motives. He charged that Central Government Health Minister Nimal Siripala de Silva was trying to scuttle the projects started by him in the province merely because the council was controlled by the opposition UNP.
"We are receiving step-motherly treatment without a provincial director or health secretary," Mr. Fernando said, appealing to President Kumaratunga to intervene.
Governor Arawwawala was not available for comment on the crisis, though The Sunday Times gave 12 telephone calls to him. We were told that he was either busy on the other line or had gone out.
Harassment at checkpoints
By Frederica Jansz
Joubert Gnanamuttu, on February 13 got into a bus at Bullers Road to go to Rajagiriya. While the bus was proceeding it had been stopped at an army checkpoint and everyone was asked to get down.
Along with the others, Gnanamuttu had produced his ID card, driving license and student identity card. He was however asked to produce a police report. He replied that he did not carry it with him but did possess a copy at his residence. The bus was then asked to move on while Gnanamuttu was detained. The time was around 7.45 am.
Almost two hours later a jeep arrived with two men in civvies who took him away to the Cinnamon Gardens police station. There Gnanamuttu was questioned by a sergeant. His diary, money and some documents which he had were then taken away and he was put into a police cell. He had no access to the officer-in-charge at the police station and was not given a phone call that he requested.
At about 12.30 on the same day, Gnanamuttu was told he needed to be photographed and was then taken away with two Tamil girls and a Burgher boy who was also being held because the police could not determine if his name was Tamil or otherwise.
They were then taken to the Bambalapitiya Police Station. They were kept there unilt 3 pm with no food nor were their photographs taken as they were then informed the police photographer had not turned up.
Gnanamuttu was then told he would have to return to the Cinnamon GardensPolice Station. Back at Cinnamon Gardens Police Station he was fingerprinted and given back his belongings except the National IdentityCard.
About 4 pm the same day, Gnanamuttu was put into a jeep and taken to Hulftsdorp Magistrates Court. No explanations were given. At the courts, a lawyer offered to appear for Gnanamuttu asking a fee of Rs. 1500/-. Gnanamuttu said he did not have the money and he did not want the lawyer to appear for him. However the lawyer had in his possession Gnanamuttu's identity card obviously handed to him by the police sergeant. The lawyer did finally appear for Gnanamuttu saying he could be paid later.
The judge ordered that Gnanamuttu re-appear in Court on February 20. Gnanamuttu was told he could sign a personal bond and be released .This he did.
On the 20th when he re-appeared in Court he was verbally abused by the lawyer who had forcibly represented him.
This time he was represented by a lawyer from the Human Rights Commission. He was discharged when the magistrate said he did not know why he had been detained in the first place.
Security checkpoints in and around the city of Colombo have become the bane of all citizens, particularly if you are a Tamil. Your identification is scrutinized meticulously while if the person concerned happens to be from the north or east an intense interrogation follows.
Such questions do not apply only to Tamils but to many Sinhalese and other communities whose birthplace is registered as being in the north or the east. On the other hand, security personnel at checkpoints have been forced to check more thoroughly since the recent bombings in Colombo.
It does seem difficult in the circumstances to draw a fine line between a more dignified approach that would not hurt and humiliate civilians. After all it is important to remember that such checks are an integral commodity of a country in conflict. To heap blame on security forces personnel would also appear unfair.
An Amnesty International report released in January this year, said thousands of Tamil people have been arrested including scores of possible prisoners of conscience, during security operations in all parts of the country.
Around 1,600 people have been detained without charge or trial under the Prevention of Terrorism Act or Emergency Regulations. 600 of them in 1997 had been held for more than a year. According to the report, torture and ill-treatment have been widespread, particularly in military custody in the North and East.
A National Human Rights Commission has remained dormant almost since legislation was passed last July to set it up. Spokesmen from this office assert that there are abuses of the human rights law being conducted at present.
Yet the official arm of the NHRC seems strangely convoluted as it can produce no records on the number of arrests, detentions and disappearances, claiming vaguely that the office receives unofficial complaints that cannot be suitably recorded.
In September last year, the government announced that Sri Lanka would ratify the (First) Optional Protocol to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. Meanwhile the report of the Presidential Commission of Inquiry into Involuntary Removal of Persons has yet not been made public.
Although investigations were initiated into several incidents of human rights violations including 'disappearances', torture and killing of at least 31 people in Colombo in mid 1995, no headway appears to have been made as the alleged perpetrators have yet not been brought to trial.
Amnesty International has repeatedly expressed concern at grave human rights violations and at the government's failure despite its stated commitment, to bring perpetrators of human rights violations to justice.
Most security personnel at checkpoints are unfortunately not informed by the higher authorities that a police certificate is required only if you are a Tamil from the northern or eastern province. Many resident Tamils from Colombo are constancy harassed as a result, while angry law enforcement officers demand they produce this document.
Both the IGP W. B. Rajaguru and Chandrananda de Silva, Defence Secretary have allegedly reiterated that this document is necessary only for those living outside Colombo and its suburbs.
Yet no apparent effort is being made to inform security personnel who in turn insist that they are only doing their job. 'The Sunday Times' made repeated attempts to contact Mr. Rajaguru and Mr. de Silva but were unable to do so.
While all this is no doubt a necessary precaution, many complain, saying they wish there could be a more dignified approach.Security personnel protest that the checks are being done to protect civilians. "We ourselves are placed in danger," they said, fully aware that they too are prime targets for a rebel attack.
The methods used however are no doubt questionable violating fundamental human rights law. Similar to the situation in the North and East, in Colombo today the situation remains tense and uncertain.
People's houses are checked regularly, while many are rounded-up and taken away for questioning. Some are later released while others are not.
By S.S Selvanayagam
Interpreters in the Judicial Service are crying out against what they see as an injustice done to them by the Public Administration Ministry.
An official of a judicial interpreters' union said that by a recent circular the Ministry had pruned their salaries to bring them on par with other interpreters in the public service.
He said this was unjust as judicial interpreters needed to have special abilities such as spontaneous translation in court without reference to a glossary or a dictionary.
In addition, they also had to help out in other areas such as court documents and schedules of judges - additional special work that other interpreters did not have to do. On this basis judicial interpreters had a right to claim a higher salary which they had been getting since 1983, he said calling for the withdrawal of the pay cut.
By Arshad M. Hadjirin
Plans for the construction of an ultra modern city in the south, were rejected by environmentalists, and archaeologists, some of whom were removed from the Southern Development Authority last week.
It is learnt that environmentalists, archaeologists and some other experts were removed as they kept objecting to the project, saying that it was ill-conceived, with very little research done on the environmental hazards it could create.
"The City of Ruhunupura will bring back the once flourishing city of the south, which was vandalised and neglected by foreign invaders," Deputy Director General of SDA Niro Dahanayake told The Sunday Times. A member of the Wildlife and Nature Protection Society of Sri Lanka, H. Jayasena strongly opposing the project said Ruhunupura would be close to some of the most protected areas of the country and that the development plans would affect wildlife conservation.
Mr. Jayasena said an international airport right next to Yala National Park, could be detrimental to the life patterns of animals, especially elephants, which are already facing extinction.
"Even the Nairobi Airport is situated next to a wildlife sanctuary," was the immediate counter riposte of the SDA, who also said that they are willing to accept any alternative if they are constructive. "Ruhunupura is still at the conceptual stage, and it will be a city for 2100," Mr. Dahanayake said adding that their dreams are big.
Ruhunupura, the modern city around Hambantota, will have a massive land area of 68,000 square kilometres with Walawe river as the western border, Kirindi Oya the eastern, Udawalawe the northern, and Indian Ocean the southern border. According to nature lovers, the area encompasses many archaeological, cultural, and natural reserves, making it difficult to go for mass urbanisation. But Mr. Dahanayake believes such a development is possible and that a modern airport, and a harbour at Hambantota, would make a difference.
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