16th July 2000
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Family lawyer charged with child abuse

By Ayesha R. Rafiq
Three suspects including a lawyer in a child abuse case were remanded by the Gampaha Magistrate last week until tomorrow, when the case will be taken up for hearing.

The lawyer is being charged with sexual abuse of a client's son, while the client and his sister are charged with involvement in the incident.

The lawyer had appeared for the boy's father in a maintenance case in 1997 where his wife was claiming maintenance for their three children, as her husband had taken to living with another woman when the mother was working in West Asia. 

The suspect father had later however won custody of his son and stationed the son at his sister's house. The lawyer who also happened to be a friend of the father and used to pay frequent visits to the father's sister's house, had forcibly taken the boy to an abandoned house and sexually abused him on several occasions in the last two years.

The boy's mother had come to know last month of the abuse and visited the son at his school and taken him home with her.

On an entry made to the Women and Child Abuse Desk the suspects had been arrested and produced in courts, and the case is now pending.

She's back on track

The Supreme Court has ordered the state, the General Manager of Railways and another senior official to pay Rs, 130,000 as compensation to a female railway employee for wrongfully evicting her from Railway quarters.

The petitioner G. R. C.K. Jayaratne, who is a Railway employee had filed a Fundamental Rights application in the Supreme Court in 1998 alleging that she had been wrongfully denied government quarters to which she was entitled.

She said in June 1997 she had applied for government quarters allocated to the Railway Department as she was at the top of the waiting list, and the House Allocation Board of the Railway Department had allocated quarters for her. 

She said, however another female employee had appealed to the General Manager of Railways to allocate the apartment to her instead and had also appealed to Transport Minister A.H.M. Fowzie who directed the GMR to give her a hearing and submit a report. 

A committee subsequently went into the matter and ruled that the other applicant's claim was unfounded and that she was not in fact entitled.

The petitioner said she moved into her quarters on November 10, 1997, but the next day she was notified that on directions given by the Transport Minister her allocation was cancelled.

In December the General Manager of Railways had instructed the Chief Mechanical Engineer to evict her and recover a penal rent of Rs. 1500 per month from her salary.

The Supreme Court ruled that the petitioner was wrongfully denied the government quarters and wrongfully charged a penal rent. 

It was ordered that all penal rent recovered from the petitioner since November 11, 1997 be repaid to her, as well as Rs. 130,000 compensation of which Rs. 100,000 compensation be paid by the State. 

The General Manager of Railways was ordered to personally pay Rs. 25,000 as compensation and the Senior Administrative Officer of the Department of Railways to personally pay Rs. 5000 as compensation.

POW families on the warpath again

By Shelani de Silva
Families of soldiers held in LTTE (Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam) custody are to decide on a satyagraha next week calling on the Government to grant permission for the families to visit the POWs.

Over 2000 members belonging to the association of relatives of servicemen missing in action are to meet in Colombo on July 24 to decide on the action. The decision to either perform satyagraha or even march to Temple Trees will be taken at the meeting after consulting the members.

President of the association E. P. Nanayakkara told The Sunday Times that more than one thousand people want to visit the POWs.

'Although the President gave us the assurance that we would get permission nothing materialised. 

More than fifty people call me daily asking the association to take some action to urge the Government. 

"Now we have decided to either perform satyagragha or to have a peace march to Temple Trees and hand over a petition' he said.

He added that following the President's written permission for the relatives to visit the North, the association will write to the LTTE to arrange a date.

"We have to inform the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam officially and ask them how many of us will be allowed to visit the prisoners. 

"Although we have more than one thousand people we wont be allowed to take all of them. 

"We are positive that the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam will grant us the visit specially after promising us a visit a few weeks back," he said.

Parents gang up

By Tania Fernando
With the case of ten year old Amila Bandara, a student of Ashoka Kanishta Vidyalaya, Colombo 10, drawing a lot of publicity, a group of concerned parents have come together to form an association to protect the rights of students.

This association will protect students who are being abused in their schools and will support any parent or student irrespective of the school they attend, said Rohan Weerasooriya, a concerned parent who is behind the idea of setting up this association.

"This is not easy to do as very few parents are willing to come forward, since most of them are worried about whether their children will get harassed in their schools", he said.

The Women and Child Abuse Branch of the Police has intervened in the case of Amila Bandara who was alleged to have been assaulted by his class teacher, for having entered the wrong information in the record book.

Investigations are being conducted by the Women & Child Abuse Branch, whose officials have visited the school to take statements from the Principal and some of the students.

According to an official of the branch, the principal has claimed that the teacher in question is being warded at the Castle Street Hospital and has undergone an operation for cancer.

Some of the students claim that it was not a leg of a chair that was used, as alleged by Amila Bandara, but a piece of stick, the official said, adding that they have not visited the teacher to take her statement since she is in hospital, but will be doing so within the next couple of days.

The Child Abuse Branch has also requested the parents to present the boy for a physical examination to the Colombo National Hospital, but since the incident occurred a few weeks ago, the marks have faded except for a single one, an official said.

"I am willing do whatever is necessary to protect the safety of my child and other children too", the father, I M D Bandara said.

See also Teacher, cut that cane

Asbestos manufacturer carries on regardless

After numerous complaints to the Central Environmental Authority (CEA) from people in the area about the dust emanating from an asbestos factory, the CEA has intervened and requested that the factory adhere to environmental standards set by it.

In spite of instructions from the Central Environmental Authority that production in the factory be stopped, this asbestos manufacturer in the outskirts of Colombo continues business as usual.

Asbestos Cement Industries (ACI)., manufacturers of asbestos sheets continues production despite its licence having expired in March this year.

However, Mr. M Ganeshan, the Managing Director of ACI said that the CEA had given them a grace period of two months.

"We are in the process of installing a new system from India, and after that there wont be any dust escaping." he said.

Meanwhile the Director General of the CEA Lionel Jayasinghe said they have sent a letter to ACI indicating that its licence would not be renewed if it does not adhere to the standards set by them.

"We have given them a period of two to three months to install the new machinery", he said. 

Despite a warning on the asbestos bag which states it "contains asbestos fibres, avoid creating dust. Breathing asbestos dust may cause serious bodily harm," the ACI transports the waste to a dumping area in an open tractor causing spillage on the road.

Mr. Ganeshan said that the dust fibres that are dumped at the bare land close to their factory, will stop since they plan on recycling the fibres from it once the new machinery is installed.

According to some of the residents the ACI had constructed four or five cement silos, despite a letter sent to them by the CEA in December 1999, not to undertake any new construction without checking with the CEA.

However the CEA said that since there was a need to install the new machinery, it had agreed to this construction taking place.

Though this factory has been in operation for about 50 years, the CEA looked into health hazards and carried out various inspections only after complaints were received. 

The CEA had advised ACI that it had not conformed to the standards specified to it at a meeting held in March. The noise and dust pollution levels are above regulation levels. The maximum noise limits should be 63 decibels during the day and 50 decibels during the night.

Although residents who have complained to the CEA about having breathing difficulties and throat irritation caused by the pollution, the CEA seems to be powerless to ensure that the ACI confirm to all standards issued by them.

It is known that asbestos has been banned in other countries due to the health hazards it has caused. 

Asbestosis, lung cancer and mesothelioma are the three primary diseases associated with exposure to asbestos.

The likelihood of developing of one these diseases depends on the length of time and the exposure. People who are exposed more frequently over a long period of time are more at risk.

Even if not directly employed or in the environment, there are chances of a person getting any of the diseases through a person who may be in that environment.

However, Mr. Ganeshan said respirators are provided for all staff members, but there are times that they choose not to use them because they claim there is no dust.

He confirmed that up to now there has been only one case about two years ago, where they were taken to courts and compensation was paid to an employee.

Back the media motion, editors appeal to MPs

Amidst government moves to block an all-party motion on media reforms being taken up in parliament, The Editors' Guild has appealed to all MPs to support the motion which they say will bring the Sri Lanka's media laws in line with laws practised in liberal democracies. 

The Editors' Guild appeal says:

"We seek your support to Motion No. 218/99 presently on the Order Book of Parliament. 

"The Motion deals with four issues, i.e. the repeal of criminal defamation laws as they exist today, which Members of Parliament are only too aware have been used all too frequently in recent years.

"No true modern democracy practises this archaic law introduced during the colonial era. According to the Commonwealth Press Union, the other countries that practise it are Singapore, Uganda, Ghana, Tonga, Bangladesh, Cameroon, Swaziland, Gambia, Sierra Leone, Nigeria, Samoa and Malaysia.

"Do legislators from Sri Lanka wish to be lumped with them, or be with the true democracies of this world?

"The replacement of the Press Council is part of this motion. The Guild, mindful of its own responsibilities that go together with its demands for greater liberalisation of the media, is taking steps to quickly establish a Press Complaints Commission that would act as a body receiving public complaints against the Media.

"This commission would be in the lines of the UK Press Complaints Commission which enforces a Code of Ethics for Journalists in order to maintain the highest professional and ethical standards.

"The codification of laws relating to sub judice and Contempt of Court will not only help journalists and judge to ascertain the parameters in this area of the law, it will assist legislators as well.

"The introduction of a Freedom of Information Act (or an Access to Information Act), is the trend towards open Government in the democratic world.

"Information is the oxygen of democracy. If the voters are to be participatory members in Government and take a meaningful part in its administration, they must have access to information. It is only bad governments that require secrecy to survive.

"As Amartya Sen, the Bengali born Nobel prize-winning economist observed earlier this year, there has not been a substantial frame in a country with a democratic form of Government and a relatively free press. Information allows people to scrutinise the actions of Government, and is the basis for proper, informed discussion of those actions.

"Our own Justice C.G. Weeramantry in his book 'Justice Without Frontiers', says that, 'it is essential that there be legislation guaranteeing the right to information not only to the media, but also to the interested members of the public'.

"The Editors Guild welcomed the appointment of a Select Committee of Parliament on the Legislative and Regulatory Framework Relating to Media, but its inordinate delay, its procrastination in proposing reforms to archaic media laws has caused some concern among us.

"The Guild urges all members of this Parliament to support legislation that would usher in media freedom that prevail in modern liberal democracies elsewhere in the world, but not in Sri Lanka."

The all party media-motion

The all party media-motion signed by Opposition UNP leader Ranil Wickreme-singhe, Srimani Athulath-mudali, D Sitddarthan, P P Devaraj, M Chandrakumar, S Sivathasan,A M D Rajan, Vasudeva Nanayakkara and A Adaikkalanathan, says:

Whereas the basis assumption in a liberal democratic polity is that Government shall be based on the consent of the governed, and the consent of the governed implies not only that consent be free but also that it shall be grounded on adequate information and discussion, aided by the widest possible dissemination of information by diverse sources;

And whereas freedom of speech and of the press lie at the foundation of all democratic organizations, in that the journalist performs an important role in facilitating vigorous and informed deliberation on public interest issues ;

And whereas it is acknowledged that media laws in the country stand in need of reform ;

And whereas in pursuance of this call for media reform, the Government appointed a Committee headed by, Mr. R K W Goonesekera to look into the issues in questions and the resultant Goonese-kera Committee Report called for changes to be made to existing law in order to bring Sri Lankan Law closer to international obligations imposed by the International Covenant of Civil and Political Rights ;

And whereas it is acknowledged that while citizens irrespective of position or power should be provided with an effective remedy when defamed, the law of criminal defamation as it presently appears in Section 479 of the Penal Code should be repealed in its entirety and replaced by a provision that is in line with modern trends in defamation laws as are reflected in the jurisprudence of the European Court and the Supreme Court of the United States of America ;

And whereas it is necessary to repeal the stringent and unfair provisions of Section 14, 15 and 16 of the Press Council Law No. 5 of 1973, which are contrary to established fair principles of freedom of information and criminal liability ;

And whereas it is also expedient to consider the codification of the law applicable to Contempt of Court including Sub Judice, as the present common law rules are inchoate, resulting in the media having to engage in self censorship that militates against full and fair dissemination of information ;

And whereas it is necessary that the media and the public should have a general right of access to government and official information which right is secured by a Freedom of Information Act or an Access to Information Act as the case maybe, excluding only certain defined and clearly drawn categories that require protection in the interests of the state or in the interests of medical and commercial secrecy in line with the said Freedom of Information Act or Access to Information Act as exists in several Commonwealth Countries including all the states of Australia, New Zealand and Canada and the United States of America ;

And whereas it is expedient to consider the establishment of a statutory Medial Council to replace the Press Council, which Media Council shall be representative of the Government, the Leader of the Opposition in Parliament, the Media, professional bodies and other concerned public interest organizations, with the majority of none-governmental members ;And whereas the said Media Council should be empowered by law to direct newspapers, where considered necessary after due inquiry, to publish clarification's and/or apologies and/or corrections in respect of errant publications, in instances where newspapers do not voluntarily agree to publish such clarifications and/or apologies and/or corrections;

This House resolves that the Government takes early action to introduce appropriate legislation in Parliament for the purposes of giving legal effect to the matters referred to above.

Child NGOs buckle war effort, says NMAT

The National Movement Against Terrorism has criticised the recent anti-war campaign carried out by the Save The Children U.K. and Norway, saying it discourages youth from joining the forces. 

"There should be a thorough investigation into the activities of the "so-called Save The Children campaign, their TV propaganda programmes and into the identity of their campaign personnel," the NMAT said in a in a statement.

In an open challenge to Pauline Taylor McKeown of Save The Children UK and Markus Aksland of Save The Children Norway, the NMAT calls them for a public discussion and a joint media conference at a mutually agreeable venue.

"We wish to ask the duo Mc Keown and Aksland how UK would have dealt with them if they had dared to carry out this very same campaign amongst the British School children, during its war with Hitler."

The NMAT charged that millions of dollars had been spent by the two NGOs to undermine the recruitment campaign of the Government Armed Forces and to ensure the smooth continuity of the terror campaign of the LTTE.

According to the NMAT the objective of Save The Children is to conduct a high-powered well-funded continuous campaign to ensure that future generations of Sinhala children will not stand upto defend their motherland, while simultaneously dampening the national enthusiasm towards the war effort, and the soldiers.

It also said that since child conscription was a speciality of the LTTE (and no one else), Save the Children should take their work to the "uncleared domain of Prabhakaran".

NJC conference on reforms will go on

By Shelani de Silva
The National Joint Committee which was refused permission by the BMICH to hold a conference to discuss the proposed constitutional reforms, has decided to go ahead with plans to hold the meeting at a different venue.

The conference will now be held at the National Youth Services Council premises in Maharagama. The BMICH director refused permission for the conference to be attended by leading Buddhist prelates and hundreds of members of the Maha Sangha, on the basis that the meeting was of political nature and said the venue was not available for such meetings.

The NJC charged the refusal was politically motivated with President Kumaratunga, the chairperson of the BMICH board, having a hand in it.

Secretary of the NJC Dr. Piyasena Dissanayake told The Sunday Times that the conference would discuss constitutional amendments and the position of the Sinhala people.

'We have been informed the protection of the Budhasasana has not been mentioned in the new draft constitution. This is a very serious issue. The tradition has been that the Buddhasasana has always been given prominence. But the new draft has no reference to it. This has serious implications for the future of the country' said Dr. Dissanayake adding that they would call upon the Government to take into consideration the Sinhala people's view.


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