The Tamil National Alliance (TNA) accused the Sectoral Oversight Committee on National Security (SOCNS) of going back on its word concerning the policy framework of the Counter Terrorism Act (CTA).
TNA MP, President’s Counsel (PC), M.A. Sumanthiran alleged that the committee had not included their viewpoints in its entirety. “We had raised four concerns. Our concerns were to do with terms of detention, confessions used as evidence and on access to legal assistance from the time of arrest. In addition the concern was on the definition of terrorism,” he said.
He added that the committee agreed to Sumanthiran’s proposal with regard to amending the definition of terrorism. However, subsequent to the submission of the recommendations, the majority of the matters raised in the recommendations had reverted back to the former position in the original draft with only the aspect pertaining to the period of detention being addressed.
However, SOCNS said it had given priority to viewpoints expressed by Parliamentarian M.A. Sumanthiran, who was also a Committee Member.
The SOCNS response comes after Sumanthiran in a media communiqué expressing concerns over the Cabinet approval for the policy and legal framework for the CTA.
He had said that the TNA was shocked by the extent to which the draft framework had curtailed civil liberties, eroded judicial control over the state security apparatus and the staggering potential for abuse and torture.
“We are unequivocally committed to supporting a legal framework that would prevent and punish acts of terrorism in a manner that is lawful, in compliance with fundamental rights and the rule of law. To this end, we have engaged constructively in Parliament. We are therefore deeply perturbed by the turn the government’s latest draft has taken,” he had said.
Sumanthiran said that the issue would be raised at the next committee meeting.
However, the Committee chaired by MP Malith Jayathilake had previously forwarded their observations and recommendations in relation to the proposed CTA, the piece of legislation which is to replace the Prevention of Terrorism Act, to the office of Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe.
“At sessions held with our Committee, Sumanthiran especially made certain criticisms regarding the proposed CTA draft. When preparing our recommendations, we gave priority to his viewpoints. It consists of his comments,” Jayathilake said.
He added that Sumanthiran was personally involved in formulating our recommendations.
“Although there was another TNA MP in the Committee, only Sumanthiran was positively and actively involved. I consulted him twice or thrice during the process when the Committee met, we didn’t see any contradictions or problems at the time of submission. Technically and morally, he agreed with the recommendations. He made it clear he was in agreement with them,” Jayathilake explained.
He noted that Sumanthiran PC had observed that the preamble of the draft of the controversial bill was somewhat long, and called for it to be made precise. Previously, Sumanthiran had stated that the definition of ‘counter terrorism’ was unclear in the draft of the proposed bill. It is reported that the original definition of counter terrorism ran to over six pages. According to Sumanthiran, the TNA had suggested alternatives founded on international conventions in this regard.
Jayathilake whilst professing ignorance of the position of the TNA regarding the serious matter, noted that the Committee was not obliged to consult the TNA’s view regarding such. “This is politics. May be the TNA and Sumanthiran have different views on the issue. There are intra-Party conflicts between the mainstream of the Party and Sumanthiran,” he opined.
Jayathilake said he did not know if the content was subjected to change after submission to the Prime Minister’s office.