ISSN 2330-717X

Sri Lanka To Set Up Rehabilitation Centers For Extremists – Analysis

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Courts could order one year of de-radicalization or rehabilitation in lieu of detention

Sri Lankan President Gotabaya Rajapaksa has promulgated new regulations under the Prevention of Terrorism (PTA) Act for the de-radicalization of those holding violent extremist ideologies. Rehabilitation centers will be set up to eliminate radical, destructive and ideological convictions. Courts can order a year’s rehabilitation in these centers instead of detention.

It is not specifically meant for Islamic radicals but radicals of all kinds.

A Extraordinary Gazette dated March 12  says that these provisions will apply to those who surrender to law enforcement officials or are taken into custody on suspicion of holding radical or extremist views on religion or who causes or intends to cause acts of violence or religious, racial, or communal disharmony or feelings of ill will or hostility between different communities.

Reintegration centers will be set up under these regulations with the approval of the Secretary to the Ministry of Defense which will function under the Commissioner-General of Rehabilitation.

In cases where the Attorney General (AG) is of the opinion based to the nature of the offence committed, a suspect can be rehabilitated at a center in lieu of instituting criminal proceedings against him, they will be produced before a Magistrate with the written approval of the AG and the Magistrate can refer the suspect for rehabilitation for a period not exceeding one year.

At the end of the specified period, based on a report from the Commissioner-General of Rehabilitation on the nature and progress of the rehabilitation, they will either be released or be subject to a further period of rehabilitation.

The Commissioner-General of Rehabilitation will be required to provide those in rehabilitation with psychosocial assistance and vocational and other training to ensure that such a person is integrated back to the community and to the society once they leave the centers.

The Commissioner-General of Rehabilitation will also be required every three months to forward to the Secretary to the Ministry of Defense a report on the nature and the progress of the rehabilitation program carried out in respect of each person. The Secretary shall submit such a report to the Minister.

The officer in charge of each center will have the authority to grant permission to parents, relations or guardians as the case may be of those under rehabilitation once every two weeks.

Where a person who enters a rehabilitation center acts in a manner that is disruptive to the program or detrimental to the interests of the others under rehabilitation at the center, they will have the order for rehabilitation revoked and will be referred to the AG to consider whether such person can be indicted in lieu of rehabilitation.

The office of the Commissioner General of Rehabilitation was set up after the end of the war against the Tamil Tigers in mid-2009 to rehabilitate 12,000 Tiger cadres who did not committed grave crimes but had been indoctrinated on separatism and violent extremism. The camps were closed after rehabilitation.

Muslims Protest Against Bans  

Meanwhile leading Muslim personalities M.M. Zuhair, Latheef Farook, Mass L. Usuf and Mansoor Dahlan issued a statement against the government proposal to ban the burqa and Madrassa (Islamic schools).

The statement says that some observations and recommendations of the Commission’s report, though good in parts, can be seen as an attempted assault on Islam for the heinous crimes of a dozen suicide bombers. The right to the freedom stated in Article 10 is ‘assured to all religions’ under Article 9. No one, not even Presidential Commissions can invite or promote the State or any limb of the Executive or Judiciary to violate the freedom guaranteed under Article 10. This protection is guaranteed notwithstanding any national security concerns, as the law stands today.

In this constitutionally protected background, the statement made on Saturday by a Government Minister that he has signed and gazetted his order banning the right of women to wear burqa-styled dress and that Madrasas will also be banned soon, stands condemned as a violation of Article 10 read with Article 9 of the Constitution.

In addition to the violation of the Constitution, the first of the two constitutes an unlawful (because Minister has no power to do so) attack on the honor and reputation of women as declared in Article 17 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), an international treaty to which Sri Lanka is a party.

That too so soon after, women the world over having celebrated women’s day! The second one violates Article 18(4) of the ICCPR, “The State Parties to the present Covenant undertake to have respect for the liberty of parents and when applicable, legal guardians to ensure the religious and moral education of their children in conformity with their own convictions.” Several other violations can also be envisaged.

Articles 9 and 10 of our Constitution cannot be restricted on national security or other grounds unlike other fundamental rights protected by the Constitution. No one can violate the oath taken to uphold the Constitution. It does not appear that the Minister has obtained the advice of the Attorney General before the alleged signing of the purported ban.

Coincidentally regarding the banning of the face cover the UK representative has taken the clear position at the third informal pre-UNHCR discussions that banning face veils would ‘stigmatize marginalized Muslim women’ in Sri Lanka.

It is sad to see the Sri Lankan authorities are struggling hard to add to the list of Sri Lanka’s alleged violations of human rights laws already drafted, inter alia in preamble para 14 at the UNHCR and which draft has already called for the ‘prosecution of all those responsible for the violations of human rights laws’. That could possibly include all those aiding, abetting and approving such gross violations. It could, by September next year, extend to adding the violators names, and wrongfully their families as it happened to the present Army Commander, into the visa prohibited lists of States virtually prosecuting Sri Lanka in international fora.

National security concerns are no doubt vital but must not be used as Trojan horses to roll out measures against Islam that may eventually radicalize the Muslim community that had never attempted to disturb the territorial integrity of the country or any of its lawfully elected governments.

M.M. Zuhair is a former MP and a leading lawyer, Latheef Farook is a leading commentator and author; Mass L. Usuf is an Attorney-at-Law and advocacy columnist; Mansoor Dahlan is a theology scholar.

Pakistan’ Displeasure

The Pakistan High Commissioner in Sri Lanka Maj. Gen (Rtd) Saad Khattak tweeted his displeasure about the ban on the Niqab.

“The likely ban on Niqab #SriLanka will only serve as injury to the feelings of ordinary Sri Lankan Muslims and Muslims across the globe. At today’s economically difficult time due to Pandemic and other image related challenges faced by the country. At international fora, such divisive steps in the name of Security, besides accentuating economic difficulties, will only serve as fillip to further strengthen wider apprehensions about fundamental human rights of minorities in the country,” he tweeted.

Doesn’t Serve Lanka’s Interest in UNHRC   

That Sri Lanka is promulgating such draconian measures even as it is facing a hostile draft resolution in the UN Human Rights Council has come as a surprise to liberals. Sri Lanka has been cultivating the Muslim countries in the 47-member of UNHRC with the help of Pakistan. But as on date, its chances of defeating the resolution moved by UK and the Western bloc, appear to be dim and therefore may be open to legal action under universal jurisdiction as proposed by the draft resolution.

P. K. Balachandran

P. K. Balachandran

P. K. Balachandran is a senior Indian journalist working in Sri Lanka for local and international media and has been writing on South Asian issues for the past 21 years.

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