Colombo, July 16: In the light of the trenchant criticism of the draft Sri Lankan bill on counter-terrorism by the UN Special Rapporteur on Counter-terrorism Ben Emmerson, the Tamil National Alliance (TNA) has said that it expects the government to stick to the pledges it had made to the Tamils at the Sectoral Committee on National Security, writes P.K.Balachandran in Daily Express.
TNA spokesman and MP from Jaffna district M.A. Sumanthiran said that the Sectoral Committee on National Security was told that (a) a suspect in a terror case will be allowed to have a lawyer to help him during initial interrogation; (2) that confessions made to a police officer will not be admissible in court; (3) the permissible period of detention prior to legal detention will be reduced; (4) the definition of terrorism will conform to the draft UN definition of terrorism.
The UN draft definition of terrorism which has been on the negotiating table of the Comprehensive Convention since 2002, says that a person will have committed a terrorist act if he or she by any means, unlawfully and intentionally, causes: (a) the death or serious bodily injury to any person; or serious damage to public or private property, including a place of public use, a State or government facility, a public transportation system, an infrastructure facility or the environment; or (b) damages property, places, facilities, or systems resulting or likely to result in major economic loss, when the purpose of the conduct, by its nature or context, is to intimidate a population, or to compel a Government or an international organization to do or abstain from doing any act.
However, it adds that “nothing in this Convention shall affect other rights, obligations and responsibilities of States, peoples and individuals under international law, in particular the purposes and principles of the Charter of the United Nations, and international humanitarian law; the activities of armed forces during an armed conflict as those terms are understood under international humanitarian law, which are governed by that law, are not governed by this Convention; the activities undertaken by the military forces of a State in the exercise of their official duties, inasmuch as they are governed other rules of international law, are not governed by this Convention.
The draft definition also says that nothing in this article condones or makes lawful otherwise unlawful acts, nor precludes prosecution under other laws.
“If the assurances made at the Sectoral Committee are not implemented, it will be a serious matter,” Sumanthiran asserted.
He was asked for his reaction to Justice Minister Wijeyadasa Rajapakshe’s comment saying that the UN Special Rapporteur’s remarks do not carry weight because the law is to be made in Sri Lanka by its parliament and not by others.
Emmerson had said the present draft counter-terror law, if enacted, would violate the human rights of terrorism suspects.
In his press statement the UN official had said: “Foremost among these is a provision preserving the admissibility of confessions made to a police officer while in custody. In a country with such a grave and widespread problem of torture and ill-treatment in custody, the only means by which counter-terrorism legislation could conform to international human rights standards would be the prohibition altogether of the use of confessions made to the police.”
Emmerson said there were also problems with the definition of terrorism. These posed the risk that the legislation could be used in circumstances far removed from acts of real terrorism, or used against minorities or human rights defenders. This could happen in a discriminatory and sectarian manner.
“The progress of this legislation to date has been painfully slow, and this has, in turn, delayed the wider package of transitional justice measures that Sri Lanka committed to deliver two years ago. It is difficult to resist the conclusion that this inertia reflects the continuing influence of certain vested interests in the security sector, who are resistant to change, and to accountability,” he said.
(The image featured at the top shows pleads for the release of her son indefinitely detained under PTA)