The Office of the Prime Minister has been directed by the Right To Information Commission to produce the latest draft of the proposed Counter-Terror Act (CTA) following a request made by a regional activist group, the Mannar Womens’ Development Federation in an appeal filed under the RTI Act.
This direction was made during an appeal hearing by the Commission last week at which the State was represented by the Attorney General and senior officers of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Prime Minister’s Office. The Colombo Telegraph learns that state authorities had been reminded by the Commission of their primary duty to ensure that people are not kept in the dark about what laws are proposed and that the Government’s own commitments to the Open Government Programme required that draft laws be publicly released and discussed prior to tabling in Parliament.
Earlier, the Office of the Prime Minister released the draft of the Reparations Bill in the same appeal filed by the activists asking for copies of proposals and/ or draft legislation and/ or concept notes and/ or documentation relevant to the commitments made by the Government of Sri Lanka on transitional justice mechanisms under the RTI Act.
The Commission had stated that the RTI Act specifically includes ‘draft legislation’ in the definition of what information can be asked for in Section 43 of the Act and that the Government was particularly bound to respond to RTI requests of that nature.
This week, the Cabinet approved a draft Counter-Terror law but the public remained unaware of its contents. Newspaper reports have stated that Higher Education Minister Wijayadasa Rajapakshe had objected to its contents and insisted that confessions made to police officers by alleged suspects is retained as a basis to convict the suspects.
Numerous reports by the Human Rights Commission of Sri Lanka and international fact finding missions have disclosed that a great number of these confessions are obtained through torture and that the present practice of requiring the suspect to prove that torture had taken place was not practical. Though the struggle to reform the proposed CTA so that torture is not encouraged was successful in that the draft presented to Cabinet had omitted that clause, the Colombo Telegraph understands that an influential coterie of Ministers backed by President Maithripala Sirisena are not in favour of that move.