Pillay progresses amidst protests

Tuesday, 27 August 2013 00:20 -     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}

  • Meets Hakeem, Vasu, CJ and AG
  • Rise of religious extremism and fate of PTA take priority at Hakeem, Vasu talks
  • Weliweriya and legal reforms including fast-tracking ex-combatant trials discussed
  • Monks lead demonstration outside UN compound against visiting envoy
By Uditha Jayasinghe and Dharisha Bastians Talking tough as expected, United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay yesterday placed heavy focus on the rise of religious extremism in Sri Lanka and the Government’s failure to roll back the contentious Prevention of Terrorism Act (PTA) during successive discussions with Senior Ministers in Colombo. The UN Envoy also questioned Government progress on institutional and legal reforms pertaining to detainees, victim and witness protection, fast-tracking ex-combatant cases and steps taken to enact the Right to Information Act. Following her arrival in Sri Lanka on Sunday, Pillay met with the Chief Justice, Attorney General and Justice Minister Rauf Hakeem before making a delayed exit from the Supreme Court complex to meet National Languages and Social Integration Minister Vasudeva Nanayakkara last morning. Pillay remained tight-lipped during her exit from Hakeem’s office despite being mobbed by media. Subsequently the Justice Minister held a trilingual press conference and debriefed reporters on the wide-ranging discussions that had taken place. Hakeem acknowledged that issues relating to accountability and criminal justice as well as on legal and institutional reforms related to the Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission (LLRC) report and the National Human Rights Action Plan were touched upon. “I have explained in detail the steps that have been taken both by my Ministry as well as the other State agencies, which have been tasked with the responsibility of implementing those recommendations. In addition to that, she also posed a few politically-related issues pertaining to the recent incidents of intolerance, particularly religious intolerance by attacks on mosques and the like, where again I explained to her the collective position of all Ministers representing the Muslim community in Government, where we have released a statement calling on the President to take decisive action against the perpetrators of these issues which amount to hate crime and also explained to her the steps taken by my colleague Vasudeva Nanayakkara to introduce hate speech as a criminal offence under the Penal Code, which has been presented as a Cabinet paper,” he told media Discussions had also revolved around recommendations made in the LLRC regarding legal and institutional reform. Hakeem had assured Pillay that the Victim and Witness Protection Bill has been submitted to Cabinet for the second time after some refinement of the Act as suggested by the Attorney General’s Department. When the High Commissioner raised the Right to Information Act, which the Government has been unenthusiastic about, Hakeem had pointed out that a draft had been handed over to the Media Ministry and it was now their responsibility to enact it. Shootings in Weliweriya were also brought up, Hakeem noted, with details being given on ongoing investigations and the latest step of putting the Police under a new ministry. “There were also other questions relating to detainees, the abolition of the PTA (Prevention of Terrorism Act), regarding which we have stated the Government policy, that we will be compelled to retain the PTA for the time being as we still have national security concerns and that statute will remain in our statute book until we decide that the time is right, if at all, to abolish it forever,” he added. Hakeem went on to say that Government officials had also explained to her in detail about special attention being taken by the Ministry to speedily dispose of pending cases pertaining to ex-combatants, some of whom are already in judicial custody while others are being held under special PTA provisions. “We have shown her our commitment to try and dispose of these cases as speedily as possible including special courts that we have been able to sanction. I think she was happy with our responses, the fact that we are able to engage with her so freely is a great source of pride to us.” During her meeting with Minister Nanayakkara, the Minister briefed the UN Human Rights Chief on the proposed anti-hate legislation introduced by his Ministry and also explained the Government’s latest attempt to consult on devolution with the recently constituted Parliamentary Select Committee. He also told High Commissioner Pillay that his Ministry was focused on changing the northern signage to ensure the demography of the Northern Province was represented. “I explained to her that for the sake of national unity, we will do anything,” Nanayakkara reportedly told the media following his discussions with the UN Envoy. Minister Nanayakkara explained that in the event of a TNA win in the Northern Provincial Council elections, the 13th Amendment would be reinforced, despite recent Government plans to dilute the provisions of the legislation. Having briefed Pillay on the work of his Ministry, Nanayakkara told reporters: “I don’t know if she is happy or not with what I had to say.”