Supreme Court steps in

Published : Oct 24, 2008 00:00 IST

THE Supreme Court ruling in May on the eviction from Colombo last year of Tamils from the North and the East came on a petition filed by the Centre for Policy Alternatives (CPA). The court pronounced that future evictions should not take place unless they are in accordance with the law and on the basis of a judicial order.

The order was pronounced by a three-member Bench headed by the Chief Justice in the fundamental rights application filed by the CPA and its Executive Director, Dr. Paikiasothy Saravanamuttu, on the mass eviction of Tamils from Colombo on June 7, 2007. The court had passed an interim order on the matter the next day itself under Article 12(1) and (2) and 14(1)(h). Further leave to proceed was granted on the basis of Article 11, 13(1) and (2) of the Constitution on July 27, 2007. The court held that by issuing the interim order it recognised that there was an infringement under Article 11, 12(1) and (2), 13(1) and (2) and 14 (1)(h).

The petitioners argued that evicting Tamils from Colombo was wrongful, unlawful and illegal and violated the fundamental rights of the persons so evicted. Subsequent to the interim order of the Supreme Court, many of the people evicted were brought back by the police to their lodging houses. On June 10, 2007, Prime Minister Ratnasiri Wickremanayake expressed regrets on the floor of Parliament to the hundreds of Tamils for their eviction from the city, saying it was a big mistake by the government.

Article 11 of the Constitution provides that no person shall be subjected to torture or to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment. Article 12 provides that all citizens are equal before the law and ensures that no citizen shall be discriminated against on grounds specified in the Constitution. Articles 13(1) and (2) provide protection from arbitrary arrest and detention. Article 14(1)(h) provides for freedom of movement and the right to choose ones residence within Sri Lanka.

Separately, in July this year, the three-member Bench directed that the high-level committee appointed by it for the purpose be publicised adequately so that the people concerned could seek remedy and advice from the committee and unwanted inquiries, arrests and inconveniences could be averted. The court was delivering its judgment on a fundamental rights petition by the Ceylon Workers Congress (CWC) against the indiscriminate arrests of Tamils in and around Colombo.

The Supreme Court Bench, chaired by Chief Justice Sarath N. Silva and with Justices Shirani Thilakawardena and Sri Bawan as members, pointed to the fact that 1,200 Tamils, arrested on suspicion under the Prevention of Terrorism Act (PTA) and Emergency Regulations, were kept in the Welikada prison. It directed that necessary welfare measures be taken in respect of the detainees and that legal assistance be given and intervention be made for the early release of those who were innocent. It also directed the petitioners and the Attorney Generals Department to institute measures through the Special Magistrates Court functioning at the Welikada prison for the release and other welfare of the detainees. The Bench also directed that Tamil police officers be posted to the Welikada Magistrate Court.

The court ordered that the Attorney Generals Department appoint a state solicitor and asked the petitioners to present themselves and arrange attorneys to appear for the detainees. It also ordered that all detainees against whom there was no evidence to file indictments should be released without delay.

The high-level committee comprised representatives of the Attorney General, the IGP and the CWC. The CWCs representatives in the committee are its vice-presidents R. Yogarajan and Manimuthu. The Bench also ordered the IGP to print and distribute immediately, in all three languages, a format prepared by the Attorney Generals Department for the registration of residents with the police so that many of the problems encountered by the residents could be avoided.

B. Muralidhar Reddy
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