Last week we mentioned that the proposed Inland Revenue Act is being drafted abroad for consumption locally. Now, several versions of a new draft Counter-Terrorism Act (CTA) are floating around in the unreliable domain of cyberspace and do not lend credibility to the art of legislative drafting by this Government. The Government needs to put [...]


Counter-terrorism draft: Handle with care


Last week we mentioned that the proposed Inland Revenue Act is being drafted abroad for consumption locally. Now, several versions of a new draft Counter-Terrorism Act (CTA) are floating around in the unreliable domain of cyberspace and do not lend credibility to the art of legislative drafting by this Government.

The Government needs to put its stamp on the draft and publicly release that before presenting the Bill to Parliament so that there can be independent assessments. It is an irony beyond measure that international agencies, including the IMF and the European Union, before which the Government is genuflecting in a desperate bid to renew the EU GSP trade facility, are more privy to these drafting efforts rather than Sri Lankans themselves.

This Government is elected to power by the citizenry, not by international power brokers. As observed in the ‘Focus on Rights’ column by our legal columnist Kishali Pinto Jayawardena, the Government is responsible to its citizens, most importantly regarding the content of future laws that may impact upon those very citizens.

There is little doubt that Sri Lanka does need a counter-terrorism law, what with some 12,000 LTTE cadres who were simply let loose after the war ended. With a sulking Diaspora stoking fires, and geo-political uncertainties, a good counter-terrorism law with checks and balances is necessary. However, the question is how much a Government can resist using these laws to suppress legitimate democratic dissent when its provisions are not adequately tightly drafted? In the past, critics including journalists have been arrested and imposed stiff sentences purely for exercising the freedom of expression.

The revised version of the draft CTA brings over ‘terrorism related offences’ from the Prevention of Terrorism Act (PTA) to include ‘words either spoken or intended to be read or by signs’ etc which ‘causes or intends to cause the commission of acts of violence between different communities or racial or religious groups.’ This must be with intent to cause harm to the ‘territorial integrity or sovereignty of Sri Lanka or the peaceful coexistence of the people.’

A heavily criticised reference to ‘unity’ in that paragraph has been deleted. As accepted in the revised CTA draft itself, this is due to the fact that the term is vague. Nonetheless, that omission alone does not cure the equally vague meaning of other terms under which citizens had been imprisoned before. Meanwhile, the wide definition of ‘confidential information’ contained in the revised draft contradicts the Right To Information (RTI) Act both in spirit and substance. Does this contradiction not make a mockery of RTI?

The proposed regime establishes a Special Unit operating under the Inspector General of Police. A Superintendent of Police (SP) or higher in rank can call for information from banks and other financial institutions without an order from the Magistrate. This includes any financial service provided to any person, any financial transaction carried out by such person, details of bank accounts, fixed deposits, remittances, withdrawals and certified statements.Is the Government intending to set up another feared FCID?

The danger here if the Bill is rushed through the House without adequate legal scrutiny, a Government may be allowed to abuse its provisions far more than the PTA it seeks to replace. We must not forget the PTA was enacted also with those in power at the time optimistically promising that it will only be ‘temporary.’ Instead, its provisions came to replace the normal law for many decades. That past must not be repeated.

Ravi J: The silent hero
The drafting of new counter-terrorism laws brings us to the passing away this week of Capt. Ravi Jayewardene, an ‘Officer and Gentleman’. The only son of the late President J.R. Jayewardene, a political scion of modern-day Sri Lanka, ‘Ravi’ as he was simply called led a private life much in the shadow of his larger-than-life father. That was until 1983 and the July pogrom under his father’s watch — which was a watershed in the country’s contemporary history.

Ravi came forward to protect the President and advise him on counter-terrorism and national security matters, something the Head of State was unfamiliar with and which took centre-stage from economic development which was the Jayewardene Government’s priority at the time.

In one of the finest insights into J.R. Jayewardene, the son writing to the Sunday Times’ Millennium issue penned, inter-alia, the following words; “He was unable to comprehend the mind of the modern terrorist and the callous nature of the senseless slaughter that was his hallmark of accomplishment”. (Full article appears in ST2 section, Page 4). With his military background as a captain in the 2nd Battalion (Volunteers) Ceylon Light Infantry (CLI) in the Army, Ravi filled the void in the father’s new challenge.

Capt. Ravi Jayewardene is credited mostly with establishing the Special Task Force (STF), which distinguished itself in battle with the LTTE, mostly in the East. In tandem with then Defence Secretary Gen. Sepala Attygalla, they also formed several new regiments of the Sri Lanka Army. It were these new regiments that provided the men and material with the already established units to eventually overcome the ruthless, highly motivated LTTE in the battlefield. He changed the Armed Forces from a ‘spit and polish’ parade force into a professional combat team.

He provided the wherewithal to protect the defenceless villagers in the North-East regions who faced the brunt of the LTTE’s inhuman ethnic-cleansing campaigns through his ‘Graama Aaarakshaka’ programme which later developed to the Civil Defence Force. It is praiseworthy for former Defence Secretary Gotabaya Rajapaksa to have recognised Ravi Jayewardene’s contribution to Sri Lanka’s ‘war against terror’.

In all of this, Ravi Jayewardene maintained an extremely low profile, his unassuming, self-effacing nature perhaps inherited from his gracious mother, Elina. “The best security is no security,” he once said when asked why he had no phalanx of security guards of his own. His anonymity and self-confidence in weapons handling helped him look after himself.

He protected his father, the then President during a tumultuous period, the one blemish being when a grenade was lobbed at a meeting of the Government parliamentary group killing a minister and wounding several. There was never even a hint of abuse of power, and he opposed his father, privately, during the Indo-Lanka Accord of 1987.

Ravi Jayewardene followed his regimental (CLI) motto “Ich Dien” (I serve) both in active service and thereafter. His silent contribution to his motherland, which he so dearly loved, at a momentous period, was more eloquent than words could ever say. Indeed he was, the illustrious son of an illustrious father.

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