Five SJB Leaders Up in Arms Against Champika’s 43 Brigade

By Gagani Weerakoon | Published: 2:00 AM Jan 23 2021
Ceylon Politics Five SJB Leaders Up in Arms Against Champika’s 43 Brigade
By Gagani Weerakoon

A three-member Commission of Inquiry (CoI) has been appointed to probe, inquire into and report or take necessary action on findings of preceding Commissions or Committees on alleged human rights violations, serious violations of International Humanitarian Law (IHL) and other such offences in Sri Lanka.

President Gotabaya Rajapaksa appointed the Committee through an Extraordinary Gazette Notification published on 21 January.The Commission, chaired by Supreme Court (SC) Justice A.H.M.D. Nawaz, consists of retired IGP Chandra Fernando and retired District Secretary Nimal Abeysiri.

The Commissioners are tasked with- Finding out whether preceding Commissions of Inquiry and Committees which were appointed to look into human rights violations have revealed any human rights violations, serious violations of international humanitarian law and other such serious offences.

Identifying what the findings are of the said Commissions and Committees related to the serious violations of human rights, serious violations of international humanitarian laws, and other such offences and whether recommendations have been made on how to deal with the said facts.

Looking into the manner in which those recommendations have been implemented so far in terms of the existing law and what steps need to be taken to implement those recommendations further in line with the present Government policy.

Overseeing if necessary action is being taken. They are authorised to conduct investigations and inquiries and to transmit the interim reports to the President when necessary.

President Rajapaksa has directed the Commission to submit the final report with its investigations, inquiries, and recommendations within a period of six months.

The appointments came weeks before the 46th session of the United Nations Human Rights Council which is scheduled to be held from 22 February to 19 March 2021.

Gazette Notification stated that although a decision was taken by Sri Lanka to withdraw from co-sponsorship of 40/1 Resolution in March 2019 on Reconciliation, Accountability and Promotion of Human Rights in Sri Lanka and its preceding resolutions 30/1 of October 2015 and 34/1 of March 2017 – which was announced at the 43rd session of the UN Human Rights Council held on 26 and 27 February 2020, the policy of the Government is to continue to work with the United Nations and its agencies to achieve accountability and human resource development for achieving sustainable peace and reconciliation.

Sri Lanka is committed to ensure that other issues remain to be resolved through democratic and legal processes and to make institutional reforms where necessary to ensure justice and reconciliation, it said further.

“It has been identified as a fundamental requirement to pursue a non-aligned foreign policy that protects the sovereignty of Sri Lanka in achieving the objectives stated in the Government Policy Statement.”

As the preceding Commissions of Inquiry and Committees have reported that certain human rights-related and other offences had taken place and have made various recommendations, the President decided to appoint a Commission of Inquiry to investigate and inquire into and report or take necessary action in this regard.

UNP stalwarts missing 

The newly appointed UNP leaders and office-bearers assumed duties last Thursday and the ceremony was limited to a very short list of guests. It was held according to the quarantine laws and giving priority to religious observances. Party’s new General Secretary Range Bandara, Deputy Leader Ruwan Wijewardene and Assistant Leader Akila Viraj Kariyawasam first visited the Buddha statue at the Sirikotha party headquarters and then offered flowers to the statue. The new office-bearers’ appointment letters were signed after the religious observance. 

Party Leader Ranil Wickremesinghe was also present at the Sirikotha party headquarters and Wijewardene handed over the appointment letters signed by the new bureaucracy to the leader. Wickremesinghe congratulated everyone and said, “Now that everyone has new responsibilities, let’s work to make the party shine without thinking about powers or party positions,” whilst taking the lead to the place where the statues at the party headquarters were.

The staff who, went there paid floral tributes to the statues. Advising the office-bearers, Wickremesinghe said that the UNP should raise the voice of the people outside Parliament.

The new General Secretary then pledged that he would work for the victory of the party with unity and all the officials joined him in making that pledge.

“As a party we now have a huge role to play outside Parliament. That responsibility will be handed over to the new bureaucracy. As a party that represents the public, we cannot continue to be involved in the COVID-19 pandemic. Therefore, we need to take the lead in educating the people about this menace. I’m surprised that the Media did not raise any questions,” Wickremesinghe said while addressing the function.

The ceremony was limited only to the speeches of the General Secretary and the Leader, later the group joined for a tea party. Everyone discussed the current political situation. 

The journalists inquired about the absence of Ravi Karunanayake, Arjuna Ranatunga, Navin Dissanayake, Daya Gamage and Sagala Ratnayake for the event and Bandara replied saying, “So you have to ask them.”

It was revealed that Gamage and Ratnayake had informed the leader that they could not come as they had urgent prior engagements. 

“Why did you say that taking over the Government at this stage equals to contracting COVID-19,” a journalist asked Wickremesinghe.

“Why, don’t you ask about spreading COVID-19 into the country? The Media institutions in other countries always question the Government regarding the vaccine and when it will be imported. What is the plan or whether the agreements were signed? Our Media institutions do not speak a word about it. Is the Media dumb?” the journalists smiled and said nothing.

After Wickremesinghe returned to his office, other members of the party also entered the room to discuss the party’s future trajectory and the current situation in the country.

“A number of countries in the South Asian region are importing the Oxford AstraZeneca vaccine from India through the COVAX Fund. Sri Lanka has not reached to that level to import the vaccine,” Wijewardene said.

“The Government has no plans. Three companies have requested permission to import the vaccine. The Government has not yet given its approval for that. One of those companies said that the vaccines could be stored in their warehouses if they were given the opportunity to enter into an agreement with the COVAX Fund. A stockpile of vaccines is in Pune and Hyderabad, India. The company also noted that it would have enough space to store vaccines. So, the Government has to store these vaccines and send an aircraft to get the vaccines. One of the companies also has said it will import them and distribute them through Expo Lanka. The Government is doing nothing but procrastinating,’” said Wickremesinghe.

“As countries around the world build warehousing facilities to store the vaccine, our Government is now negotiating to sign agreements with COVAX. After the agreement, COVAX will ask which vaccine will be purchased. The Government said they are buying AstraZeneca from India. Because of that India sent a pile of vaccines to countries such as the Maldives, Bhutan, Bangladesh and Nepal last week,” Vajira Abeywardena said.

“Sometimes the reason that India keeps on ignoring to send the vaccine because they want the East Container Terminal of Colombo Port,” Bandara said aloud making others laugh.

“Yes, yes, even though the medicines are sent, they have to be unloaded at the East Container Terminal,” Sandith Samarasinghe added.

“Our Government tried to sell the East Container Terminal and this Government has only carried out that agreement further,” Prof. Ashu Marasinghe also said.

“No, we were not trying to sell it. We were trying to obtain a loan from Japan to develop the East Container Terminal. Later, the Japanese Government told us to get India involved in the operations. As a result of the agreement reached, 49% of the East Container Terminal now belongs to Adani Company, and we only sought a 40-year concessional loan from Japan. According to the loan, we only have to start paying the loan for 28 years from 12 years from the day the loan was granted and that too at a 1 per cent interest. In the end, we only paid off our debts. We have to give part of the terminal to Adani Company as we have said no to loans,” Wickremesinghe grieved. 

The leader instructed the party’s media unit to issue a Media release detailing the UNP Government handling the East Container Terminal during their tenure and the Memorandum of Understanding signed by the Government. Accordingly, the relevant Media release had been sent to all Media institutions by noon on Thursday.

“While Joe Biden assumed duties as the newly elected President of US the selling rate of the Sri Lankan Rupee hit Rs 198,” Samarasinghe said.

SJB seniors meet Champika

Seniors at Samagi Jana Balawegaya (SJB) that had met condemned the establishment of Patali Champika Ranawake’s ‘43 Brigade’  and said it is not in accordance with the party constitution.  

SJB seniors Ranjith Maddumabandara, Tissa Attanayake, Imthiaz Bakir Markar, Kabir Hashim and Thalatha Atukorale held a discussion with Ranawake in Parliament to discuss the matter. 

During the discussion Ranawake had said that his intention of establishing this movement is to get the support from professionals who are hesitant to work with SJB directly. He had claimed that when the time comes, the SJB could get their support, taking ‘Viyath Maga’ as an example. 

However, no one agreed with Ranawake’s explanation. They argued that there is no need to establish a new force outside SJB as the party has provided the freedom to its members to engage in their political activities freely. 

If ’43 Brigade’ is needed to be connected to SJB, then permission of the Central Committee should be obtained, the seniors pointed out. 

Then Ranawake requested them to send a SJB representative to explain the matter to his group members. They agreed to that with one condition which is not to call ’43 brigade’ until the Central Committee takes a decision. 

Ranawake had to agree with this condition.

However, he violated the agreement and called the movement again last week. 

It is reported that SJB seniors are not happy about Ranawake’s double faced behaviour.  There are discussions in SJB as to whether there will be a progress for the party with someone like Ranawake.

Abrupt end of Easter Commission 

There were lots of talks regarding the sudden conclusion of the sittings of Presidential Commission of Inquiry (PCoI) into the 21 April, 2019, Easter Sunday bombings without recording the testimonies of several key suspects linked to the Easter Sunday bombings.

Former President Maithripala Sirisena appointed the five- member PCoI in September 2019 to investigate the Easter Sunday bombings and its term was extended on several occasions. Last December, its term was extended until 31 January.

The PCoI did not hear evidence for nearly three weeks and an official said that the PCoI members were currently in the process of preparing its final report. However, it was later reported that Shani Abeysekera, former Director of the CID, was scheduled to testify before the PCoI on 19 January.

Several other witnesses were also scheduled to testify before the PCoI in the morning of 19 January. But in the evening the PCoI informed media that Abeysekera would not appear before the PCoI to testify as his health condition was not good.  Instead, a PCoI official said that Abeysekera would testify at a later date.

However, in the night of the same day, 19 January, the Media officer attached to the PCoI informed that the Commission had concluded its hearings. He further said the PCoI hopes to submit its final report to the President before 31 January.

The manner in which the PCoI appointed to investigate the Easter Sunday bombings has concluded its hearings has created a great deal of controversy in the society. Most importantly, several suspects alleged of being directly involved in the bombings have not testified before the PCoI.

In particular, one of the three suspects against who cases were filed by a USA court, Mohamed Naufer alias Naufer Moulavi, was not summoned to testify before the PCoI.  Former Director of the State Intelligence Service (SIS), Senior DIG Nilantha Jayawardena, testifying before the PCoI, said that information had come to light that the mastermind behind the Easter Sunday bombings was not National Thowheed Jama’at (NTJ) leader Zaharan Hashim but Naufer Moulavi.

In addition, the other two suspects indicted by the USA, Ahmed Milhan Hayatu Mohamed and Mohamed Anwar Ahmed Riskan, had not been summoned to testify before the PCoI.

The PCoI also sought to obtain secret evidence of the widows and relatives of suicide bombers, who testified before the PCoI. The PCoI stated that exposing the testimony of such witnesses to the media could hamper further investigations, but the testimony of Abdul Cadre Fatima Hadiya, the widow of NTJ leader Zaharan, had been published on several websites and it is unknown whether the PCoI took actions to find out how her evidence reached some Media.

The PCoI also took action to obtain some of the evidence of officials of the Security Forces who testified before the Commission without the presence of Media. Officials from the Attorney General’s (AG’s) Department, which assists the PCoI in leading evidence, requested members of the PCoI to obtain such evidence in secret. They stated that Media exposure of such testimonies could pose a direct threat to national security.

However, Rizvee Mufti, President of the All Ceylon Jamiyyathl Ulama (ACJU), who came to testify before the PCoI last December, had brought in some parcels containing gifts to the PCoI and it raised eyebrows of many. Mufti and some others, who came with him, were seen carrying nearly 20 parcels into the PCoI premises in a background where no outside party was allowed to take anything inside the premises. Next day, the PCoI announced that member of it had not accepted the gifts, but did not take any action to warn the ACJU for doing so.

Also, although a total of 1,588 persons made statements to the Police Unit attached to the PCoI, only 439 of them testified before the Commission.

Evidence that of Sergeant Nandalal of the CID, who is suspected to have had links with Army Mohideen, one of the key suspects behind the Easter Sunday bombings, the sister of former Minister Rishad Bathiudeen, who rented out her house in Wattala to the suicide bombers, and Army Mohideen, were not led before the PCoI.

By Gagani Weerakoon | Published: 2:00 AM Jan 23 2021

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