Saturday, April 9, 2011

President's family 'dominates' Sri Lanka

Minister GL Peiris (L) with US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton (file photo)

The US annual report on human rights says that the government of Sri Lanka, a multi-party democracy, is dominated by the president’s family.

“Two of the brothers hold key executive branch posts as defense secretary and minister of economic development, while a third brother is the speaker of parliament,” says the report.

The elections in which President Mahinda Rajapaksa and his coalition came into power in 2010 are described as “problematic” by the report quoting independent observers.

The US has also accused the Sri Lanka government “and its agents” of serious human rights violations.

“Security forces committed arbitrary and unlawful killings,” the report said, and “disappearance continued to be a problem.”

The report, however, noted that the total number of such incidents has declined.
The climate of fear among the minority populations as well as those marginalised such as HIV/AIDS sufferers is another serious concern raised in the report. 

“Official impunity was a problem; there were no public indications or reports that civilian or military courts convicted any military or police members for human rights violations,” it said.
The deterioration of the judicial independence is another serious concern, according to US State Department.
“The judiciary was subject to executive influence, and the government infringed on citizen’s privacy rights.”
The report also noted that the presidential commission chaired by retired justice Mahanama Thillekeratne is yet to hand over its final report although commission’s mandate ended on 16 March. 

It says that there has been no progress in investigations into the killing of Sunday Leader editor, Lasantha Wickrematunga and the disappearance of LankaeNews journalist Prageeth Ekneligoda.
CJ Asoka de Silva

While Mr Wickremathunga was shot dead in Colombo on 08 January 2009, Mr Ekneligoda is missing since he left the office on 24 January, 2010.
The report also notes the lack of progress of investigations over the attack on Siyatha television on 30 July, burning the studios and injuring two employees.
"Witnesses reported similarities in the manner in which this attack was carried out and the January 2009 attack on MTV/MBC studios, and some local groups suspected Ministry of Defense personnel were behind the attack," it said.
The US report on Sri Lanka’s human rights record in 2010 says that academics in Sri Lanka were intimidated into practicing self-censorship.
“The administration of a university in Colombo prevented the UN from holding an event on school premises that highlighted a number of human rights defenders as part of a celebration of International Human Rights Day in December.”
The US has also accused the government of being “not transparent” in the tendering and procurement process for government contracts. 

“Senior officials served as corporate officers of several quasi-public corporations, including Lanka Logistics and Technologies, which the government established in 2007 and designated as the sole procurement agency for all military equipment,” said the report.
“Critics alleged that large kickbacks were paid during the awarding of certain defense contracts.”
But a military court in Sri Lanka found former army commander Sarath Fonseka guilty of corruption in arms procurement, leading to his losing of the parliamentary seat.
It has later transpired that the military court has not kept any records of the proceedings prompting legal experts to question the legality of the verdict.
The US also questions the criteria for granting presidential amnesty to prisoners quoting unsubstantiated reports of “payments to government officials in return” to release 1,312 prisoners in September. 
The inability of the Sri Lanka Human Rights Commission (SLHRC) use its wide powers to pursue human rights abuses is another serious concern raised by the report.
“Rather than taking an investigative approach to determining the facts and details of human rights cases, the SLHRC instead took a more tribunal-like approach, weighing only the evidence brought to it in deciding whether to pursue a case,” it said.

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