ECONOMYNEXT – Sri Lanka’s independent Human Rights Commission (HRC) Friday expressed its “deep concern” over President Maithripala Sirisena’s allegations against it and issued a three-page rebuttal taking him head on.
The HRC said Sirisena’s criticism that it called for a report on the deployment of Special Task Force at the Angunakolapellassa was unfounded as the move was well within the legal mandate of the commission tasked with ensuring the safety of prisoners.
Sirisena told parliament that the HRC was questioning the STF deployment at the prison and was acting in an obstructionist manner, a charge flatly denied by the HRC.
The HRC said it merely sought clarifications from the head of the STF about the move following concerns raised by some convicts about their safety with the deployment of police commandos at prisons.
“We must remind ourselves of the fact that many detainees have a reasonable fear of the deployment of external armed officers due to the violent series of events that took place in 2012 resulting in the murder of 27 detainees.
“Therefore, we would like to point out that in this instance, the Commission has undertaken its lawful mandate in a fair manner,” the statement said.
The then defence secretary Gotabhaya Rajapaksa had ordered STF troops to the Welikada prison where the 27 inmates were murdered in cold blood, according to a special commission of inquiry. However, the Sirisena-Wickremesinghe administration has failed to act on the commission findings.
The HRC also took exception to Sirisena accusing it of delaying the vetting of Sri Lankan troops deployed for United Nations peacekeeping operations.
Sirisena said the deaths of two Sri Lankan UN peacekeepers in Mali could have been avoided had the HRC cleared a new batch of soldiers to replace those who were staying an extended period abroad waiting for their replacements.
“We inform Your Excellency with great respect that it is absolutely incorrect to state that bringing back the Sri Lankan troops from Mali was delayed because of delays on the part of the Human Rights Commissions.
“The vetting process was suspended until a Standard Operating Procedure (SOP) was drafted, which was a unanimous decision made by all stakeholders (the military, the police, Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Ministry of Defence, Human Rights Commission of Sri Lanka and the United Nations).”
The decision was taken at a roundtable discussion held in June 2018 between all the parties in Colombo to solve a “multitude of issues” during the initial stages of the vetting process, the HRC said.
Sirisena argued that the HRC should protect the interests of the Sri Lankan government, a position challenged by the HRC which pointed out to Sirisena that they were expected to be an independent watchdog.
“Not only are we disheartened by the unjust criticism but are also discouraged,” the HRC said. “ We appreciate any just critique and consider it to be a step to further growth and betterment, which we believe will serve the country better.”
All Sri Lankan troops deployed on UN missions must be cleared of any atrocities or abuses during their service before they can join the UN blue berets. Earlier, the HTC had said there were delays in getting the required information from the military to clear soldiers nominated for UN missions.
(COLOMBO, February 8, 2019 - SB)