The ICT Agency (ICTA) led efforts to get Sri Lanka ratify the UN Electronic Communications Convention bore fruit, when Sri Lanka’s Permanent Representative to the UN in New York Dr Rohan Perera deposited the Instrument of Ratification in New York recently. This is sequel to approval from the Cabinet of Ministers obtained in June. The Cabinet approval authorized the Ministry of Foreign Affairs to deposit the Instrument of Ratification at the UN Treaty Office so as to ensure Sri Lanka’s entry into this only UN Convention on the subject of international e-Commerce and on the use of cross-border e-Contracts.
With its ratification Sri Lanka becomes the first country in South Asia and 2nd country after Singapore to become a State Party to the Convention. Countries like Australia, Thailand, Vietnam and China are already preparing domestic legislation to ratify this Convention. However, Sri Lanka’s ratification of this important UN Convention was possible because the country already has the required domestic legislation, namely the Electronic Transactions Act No. 19 of 2006, which is based on this UN Convention. The Convention will enter into force for Sri Lanka on 1st February 2016.
ICTA’s Legal Advisor Jayantha Fernando said: “The UN Electronic Communications Convention, also known as the UN Convention on the Use of Electronic Communications in International Contracts, builds on the legal principles contained in other UNCITRAL Model Law on Electronic Commerce (1996), and makes it more relevant to the Internet era”.
“Sri Lanka’s ratification of this Convention will ensure greater legal certainty for e-Commerce and e-Business providers who wish to use Sri Lankan law as the applicable law and ensure international validity for such e-Contracts. The Convention also ensures legal validity for other international legal instruments as well as cross-border funds transfers, enhancing the ability of Sri Lanka to fast track its move towards paperless trade facilitation”, Fernando further said.
Electronic authentication methods
A UN Information Service Press Release, issued in Vienna datelined 9th July 2015, stated that “Sri Lanka announced its ratification of the Convention during the 48th annual session of the United Nations Commission on International Trade Law (UNCITRAL) held in Vienna, Austria”. The UN Press Release further elaborated stating: “The UN Electronic Communications Convention aims to enhance legal certainty and commercial predictability where electronic communications are used in relation to international contracts. The Convention addresses, among other things, the determination of a party’s location in an electronic environment; the time and place of dispatch and receipt of electronic communications; and the use of automated message systems for contract formation.
It also provides the criteria to be used for establishing functional equivalence between electronic communications and paper documents – including “original” paper documents – as well as between electronic authentication methods and hand-written signatures. In doing so, the UN Electronic Communications Convention builds on the fundamental legal principles and provisions contained in other UNCITRAL texts on electronic commerce, namely the UNCITRAL Model Law on Electronic Commerce, already adopted in about 140 jurisdictions across more than 60 countries”.
Sri Lanka in revival
At the 48th Annual Session of UNCITRAL held this week, Sri Lanka’s Ambassador in Austria and Permanent Representative to the UN in Vienna, A. L. Abdul Azeez made an elaborate country statement, said: “Sri Lanka with a recorded history of 2500 years is today a country in revival. Democratic values, echoing transparency, accountability together with principles of good governance are the key pillars on which our country is moving forward today, where the true potential of Information and Communication Technologies (ICTs) is being maximized for the benefit of its people”.
Speaking further, Ambassador Aziz said: “it is important to record the significant advancements made by Sri Lanka in the field of ICTs. For several years Sri Lanka ranks No. 1 in South Asia in the Networked Readiness Index (NRI), published jointly by the World Economic Forum and INSEAD in France. Last year, Sri Lanka’s ranking in the UN e-Government Readiness Index jumped 41 places bringing it to the No. 1 position in South Asia. This was a land-mark achievement for our country”.
“Substantial investments have already been made in the deployment of ICTs for technological and institutional transformation of key sectors of the economy under the internationally acclaimed ‘e-Sri Lanka Development initiative’, supported by the World Bank. Peace, growth and equity were our goals”. “A large number of government services are now available on line to citizens through our country portal (LankaGate), facilitated by the Information and Communication Technology Agency (ICTA). Visitors to Sri Lanka can obtain visas on the Internet – the facilitating legal framework, e-Government and e-Commerce is in place”, the Ambassador stated.
Ambassador Azeez went on to say: “Sri Lanka is committed towards harnessing the full potential of ICT and using the highly educated human resource for the development of our country. Through e-Government led reforms we will work towards greater transparency, efficiency and accountability. With access to latest mobile broadband technologies across the country, Sri Lanka’s Internet expansion has been exponential. It is our firm belief that our people should be able to use the Internet with freedom and confidence”.
“As part of our Government’s 100 day program we have ensured that access to free Wifi is a citizen’s right. This free Wifi program which brought together all operators into one platform is already functioning in several key locations across the country. We hope to have a thousand hotspots active in public places in the coming months. We believe that access to high quality internet is a pre-requisite to enabling freedom of expression, enhancing the skills of our people and ensuring socio economic growth,” the Ambassador noted.
Azeez further noted: “Whilst providing enhanced access to the Internet, my country is eager to combat criminal activities on the Internet. A lot of policy and institutional measures have been adopted in Sri Lanka. The Computer Crimes Act No. 24 of 2007 and our national Sri Lanka CERT are internationally recognized. In February 2015, Sri Lanka was invited to join the Budapest Cyber Crime Convention by the Council of Europe and we acceded to this Convention on 29th May 2015. In this overall context I consider it timely that my country ratified the UN Electronic Communications Convention, the only Convention on the subject of electronic commerce prepared by UNCITRAL”.
Support from UNCITRAL
Elaborating on the historical adoption of UNCTRAL texts by Sri Lanka, the Ambassador Azeez said: “Sri Lanka has had a long history of supporting the work of UNCITRAL and adopting its legal texts. We ratified the New York Convention in 1962 and in the formulation and enactment of our Arbitration Act (1995), Sri Lanka adopted the features of the ‘UNCITRAL Model Law on International Commercial Arbitration (1985)’. In the formulation of our Secured Transactions Act (2009) we have used the features of the UNCITRAL Legislative Guide on Secured Transactions (2007), becoming one of the first to do so.
During the early drafting stages of our Electronic Transactions Act No. 19 of 2006, Sri Lanka had the opportunity of sending a delegation to take part in the Sessions of UNCITRAL Working Group on e-Commerce, which negotiated UN Electronic Communications Convention. This delegation consisted of the Legal Draftsperson of Sri Lanka and ICTA’s Legal Advisor. Due to our active participation in these sessions, Sri Lanka greatly benefited from the work of UNCITRAL as well as expertise from the UNCITRAL, to which we are thankful to UNCITRAL”.
“Sri Lanka has also benefited from support extended to us by UNCITRAL Regional Centre for Asia and the Pacific, based in Incheon, Republic of Korea. In September 2014, Sri Lanka was able to co-host the first ever UNCITRAL South Asia Conference, covering the subjects of ‘Electronic Commerce and Secured Transactions’, thanks to the generous support and leadership of the UNCITRAL Regional Centre for Asia and Pacific. International experts from China, India, Japan, Australia, Singapore, Iran, Vietnam, Maldives and Nepal as well as representatives from UNCITRAL, the World Bank Group, UN ESCAP and the Hague Conference on Private International Law, addressed this conference. We wish to place our deep appreciation for the committed support and leadership provided to countries in the Asian region by the UNCITRAL Regional Centre, thanks to the generosity and the goodwill extended by the Government of Republic of Korea”, Ambassador concluded.