TULF blundered on PTA: Raviraj
A Tamil parliamentarian said this week the Tamil United Liberation Front (TULF) MPs had "blundered" in failing to oppose the Prevention of Terrorism Act (PTA). "This was a blunder by Tamil MPs," TNA MP N. Raviraj told a seminar on the PTA organised by the Centre for Human Rights and Development (CHRD) and the Centre for Policy Alternatives (CPA) held on July 19 - exactly 25 years to the day the controversial piece of legislation was enacted by Parliament.

TULF MPs abstained from voting on the Bill after the then President J.R. Jayewardene explained it was only a temporary measure to deal with terrorism, he said while joining many speakers who condemned the PTA and called for its repeal.

Dr. Rohan Edrisinha from the CPA said the PTA has been and still is used to stifle political opposition, trade union rights and oppress the people - rather than curb terrorist activities.

Fr. Paul Caspersz, a social justice campaigner who belonged to a group that signed a petition condemning the law a day after (July 20, 1979) it was enacted, said the Tamils have legitimate rights which are yet to be given to this day.

Ven. Punyasara, a Buddhist monk, said the law was used as an oppressive measure against the minorities. It was so draconian that even spouses of those kept in custody were unable to find where their husbands were being kept.

The PTA gave police the power to arrest any person, search homes without a warrant and detain people for periods of up to 18 months without trial. Jayatillake de Silva, a newspaper editor, said in the early 1980s he was asked to report to a local police station just to make a statement, but didn't return home for three years!

"I was asked to come to the police station to make a statement. They then detained me for a period of three years. My wife had a hard time trying to find out where I was being kept," he said, adding that the PTA had no respect for human rights.

The PTA was introduced as a temporary law and titled "The Prevention of Terrorism Act Temporary Provisions" to tackle acts of violence against the state. It was meant as a temporary measure and was to be removed from the statute book as soon as the threat abated. But 25 years later it still remains a law when so-called terrorists have turned into freedom fighters and are now negotiating with the state, speakers said.

Victims of ethnic violence get Rs. 70 m.
Government is to pay more than Rs. 70 million as compensation to people who were victims of ethnic violence in Sri Lanka during the 1981 to 1984 period. The Presidential Truth Commission on Ethnic Violence appointed by President Chandrika Kumaratunga has selected 949 cases and recommended payment of compensation.

The Commission has not recommended payment of any compensation in respect of 253 cases as the claims were outside the mandate of the Commission or there has been no proof or corroborative material in support of the claims made.

In respect of a further 37 cases, the Commission has recommended further investigations before the claims could be finalized. The Presidential Truth Commission Report prepared by former Chief Justice Suppiah Sharvananda, PC Sathyaloka Sasita Sahabandu and PC Mohamed Zuhair, elucidating upon the lack of responsibility shown by the then government towards the riots said that "there was not a single leader of Cabinet rank to at least appeal to the law-breakers to stop the violence, apart from the Government's failing to perform its fundamental obligations to protect the life and property of its citizens, even by recourse to force".

The Commission Report also read "the riots of 1983 were perhaps not something that the majority of Sinhala people wanted to happen or to participate in. Most of the witnesses who testified before us said that when they were attacked they were helped by their Sinhala neighbours, and many Sinhala homes gave them refuge".

Addressing a ceremony held on Friday to grant compensation to 30 out of 949 victims of the 1981-84 violence, President Kumaratunga said the nation and citizens of Sri Lanka should collectively accept the blame and make apology to the victims of the violence.

"I would like to assign myself the necessary task on behalf of the government and all citizens of Sri Lanka to extend that apology. It is still not late" the President said.

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