Sunday Times (Sri Lanka)

Counter-terrorism draft: Handle with care



ast 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.

 ??  ??

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Sri Lanka