January 21, 2020
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    Selective interference following a democratic regime change

    December 06, 2019

    Foreign Relations Minister Dinesh Gunawardena speaks to the media in Colombo on Wednesday on the Swiss Embassy issue. State Foreign Relations Minister Susil Premajayantha and Foreign Relations Ministry Secretary Ravinatha Aryasinha are also in the picture In the last century, many third world nations attempting to free from Colonial shackles faced military invasions and other forms of aggressive threats. Today, the same pattern continues unabated, but with the use of new strategies of arm-twisting, intimidation, interference and diplomatic threats.

    The newly elected government of President Gotabaya Rajapaksa could hardly take the first step after elections, naked interference on Sri Lankan sovereignty, constitution and judicial system by Western nations with vested interests commenced.Three recent incidents are proofs of Western interference. First came the issue of alleged abduction and intimidation of a female Sri Lankan employee attached to the Swiss Embassy in Colombo. Then came the British Conservative Party’s stance with regard to its reference to Sri Lanka in its election manifesto, that “We will continue to support international initiatives to achieve reconciliation, stability and justice across the world, and in the former conflict zones such as Cyprus, Sri Lanka and the Middle East, where we maintain our support for a two-state solution.”

    Although we do not want to comment on the judiciary of another country, the Swiss Federal Court ruling that the Tamil Tigers are not a criminal organisation is surprising, to say the least. The Swiss Court acquitted 12 people of charges filed by the Office of the Attorney General (OAG). In its indictment, the OAG had accused the people of violating the Swiss Penal Code by raising funds for the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) between 1999 and 2009. After its nine-year investigation, the OAG suspected the accused of financially supporting the World Tamil Coordinating Committee (WTCC).

    The Swiss incident – not the Federal Court verdict, but the incident in Sri Lanka – warranted the Colombo Chief Magistrate Lanka Jayaratne to issue an order barring the female Sri Lankan employee Garliar Barrister Francis attached to the Swiss Embassy in Colombo from leaving the country without giving a statement to the CID. This legal requirement became essential as the Swiss Embassy refused either the police or medical doctors in Sri Lanka any access to the Sri Lankan employee currently ‘under the Swiss Embassy protection’.

    Violation of diplomatic protocol

    The action of the Swiss Embassy is totally in violation of diplomatic protocol. The Vienna Convention, to which both Sri Lanka and Switzerland are signatories cover diplomatic immunity for Diplomats and that immunity cannot be extended to a national of the host country.

    Foreign Relations Minister Dinesh Gunawardena disclosed that Swiss Ambassador had requested permission to take the Swiss embassy staffer to Switzerland. Ambassador wanted to fly the alleged victim and her family to Switzerland on an ambulance aircraft, citing health issues. Minister Gunawardena patiently pointed out to the naïve diplomat that Sri Lankan nationals could not be allowed to leave the country without even verification of their identity using either NIC or a passport and, especially without even obtaining a statement.

    The judge issued another order to the embassy employee to give a statement to the CID before December 9. Senior State Counsel Janaka Bandara appearing on behalf of the CID told court the investigation had been initiated by the CID, following a complaint lodged by the Swiss Ambassador to Sri Lanka to the acting IGP through the Foreign Ministry that a Sri Lankan female employee of the said embassy had been abducted in a white car on November 25 and questioned her after threatening her and molesting.

    The Ambassador said that the woman had been questioned with regard to the issuance of visa to CID Inspector Nishantha Silva Candappah who left the country for Switzerland on November 23.

    One of the main requirements for a public official to get a Swiss visa is to provide evidence of leave approval from the public office. This is all the more essential for a police officer to travel abroad. The Swiss Embassy is yet to answer how the visa was issued to Nishantha Silva Candappah without proof of leave approval.

    Furthermore, the Senior State counsel said the embassy had not cooperated with the CID officers who visited there to obtain a statement from the employee Garliar Barrister Francis. He further said, when the CID officers visited the woman’s home, there was no one and when they visited the bank where her husband was employed, they had been told that he had not reported to work.

    Foreign Secretary Ravinatha Aryasinha said that the Ambassador was presented with clear evidence that the sequence of events and timeline of the alleged incident, as formally presented by the Swiss Mission on behalf of the alleged victim to the CID, did not in any way correspond with the actual movements of the alleged victim on that date, as borne out by witness interviews and technical evidence, including Uber records, CCTV footage, telephone records and the GPS data.

    The Swiss Embassy must be aware of the legal requirement that it is essential to get a statement of a victim to probe a crime. The Senior State Counsel informed the court that the abduction of an embassy employee was a serious matter and obtaining a statement from the alleged victim to ascertain whether it was true or not was imperative. Hiding of evidence, witnesses or victims is indeed an act of aiding and abetting a crime.

    Dr. Deepika Udagama of Human Rights Commission of Sri Lanka (HRCSL) also acknowledged that investigators should be given access to the local employee of Switzerland Embassy allegedly abducted close to the diplomatic mission in posh Colombo 7.

    Access to the alleged victim

    Alleging that the assailants had sought information on Inspector Nishantha Silva of the Criminal Investigation Department, given political asylum in Switzerland, Swiss Ambassador Hanspeter Mock steadfastly refused either to hand over the victim to the police or allow the investigators to question her. Asked whether the police could proceed with investigations without access to the alleged victim, Dr. Udagama said, “The HRCSL position is that an effective investigation required the cooperation and participation of all relevant parties – the victim, any witnesses etc.”

    Dr. Udagama called for a conducive and safe environment for the conducting of investigations so that all parties would be confident of the impartiality of the investigation. However, Switzerland has reiterated that its Colombo mission’s employee abducted on November 25 couldn’t be questioned on health grounds.The Court has the power to appoint a Judiciary Medical Officer to examine the victim to ascertain her health condition and report to the Court.

    The statements issued by the Swiss Embassy in Colombo and Berne have more legal holes than one finds in Swiss cheese. It is the responsibility of Swiss Embassy as well as Swiss authorities to extend the fullest cooperation to Sri Lanka government and its law enforcement agencies to uncover the drama behind this unsavoury episode and build trust and confidence between the two countries.

     

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