By Chandani Kirinde
The Government will not take instructions from the United Nations on how the new Counter-Terrorism Bill is drafted and will go ahead with the bill approved by the Cabinet, Justice Minister Wijeyadasa Rajapakshe said yesterday.
“The laws have to be made here and they have to be approved by our Parliament. We cannot have others doing it for us,” Minister Rajapakshe said.
He was responding to comments made by Ben Emmerson, the UN’s Special Rapporteur on the “promotion and protection of human rights and fundamental freedoms while countering terrorism”. Mr. Emmerson said on Friday that the Government wanted to engage in a process of constructive dialogue to improve the draft legislation before it was presented in Parliament.
The UN official said the Foreign Affairs Ministry had undertaken to consult his team in Geneva within the next two weeks to start a dialogue to identify the flaws in the current draft, and put them right. The contradictory claims come after a stormy meeting between Minister Rajapakshe and the UN Rapporteur.
Mr. Emmerson and Minister Rajapakshe met on Tuesday during the UN envoy’s our day visit to Sri Lanka. They clashed over several issues including the proposed new legislation. While the UN Rapporteur had insisted that the new draft must meet “contemporary international best practices” in anti-terror laws, Minister Rajapakshe had retorted that in Britain, the home country of Mr. Emmerson, Prime Minister Theresa May was planning to change human rights laws to punish terror suspects and keep them longer in prison.
When asked about the acrimonious meeting with Sri Lanka’s Justice Minister, Mr. Emmerson said he did not wish to comment on “private conversations” but was strongly critical of the proposed Counter-Terrorism Act, a copy of which was given to him prior to his visit to Sri Lanka.He said that many of those who spoke to him expressed dismay at the lack of ministerial, parliamentary or public consultation over the proposals. “Indeed, even the Human Rights Commission has not been informed or consulted on the draft framework.”
Mr. Emmerson said the present draft made some significant improvements to the current anti-terror law, the Prevention of Terrorism Act (PTA). These include allowing unfettered access to detainees and abolish the Attorney-General’s right of veto over the grant of bail and also create an improved framework for administrative and pre-trial detention, with greater scope for independent judicial review.
He said he, however, saw a number of central flaws in the current draft which, if enacted, would violate the human rights of terrorism suspects.
“Foremost among these is a provision preserving the admissibility of confessions made to a police officer while in custody. In a country with such a grave and widespread problem of torture and ill-treatment in custody, the only means by which counter-terrorism legislation could conform to international human rights standards would be the prohibition altogether of the use of confessions made to the police,” he said.
The UN envoy said there were also problems with the definition of terrorism. These problems posed the risk that the legislation could be used in circumstances far removed from acts of real terrorism, or used against minorities or human rights defenders. This could happen in a discriminatory and sectarian manner.
“The progress of this legislation to date has been painfully slow, and this has, in turn, delayed the wider package of transitional justice measures that Sri Lanka committed to deliver two years ago. It is difficult to resist the conclusion that this inertia reflects the continuing influence of certain vested interests in the security sector, who are resistant to change, and to accountability,” the UN official said.