COLOMBO: The Tamil National Alliance (TNA) is happy that the Sri Lankan parliament has passed the Victims of Crimes and Witnesses Protection Act at long last. But it insists that the Act will be only as good as it is implemented.
R.Sampanthan, who leads the TNA in parliament, told Express here on Saturday that the inordinate delay in passing the bill, which had been talked about for years, has made the Tamils skeptical about its implementation in letter and spirit.
“If victims and witnesses are not sure of protection, they will not come forward to testify,” he pointed out.
A Witness Protection Act was suggested to Sri Lanka by the International Independent Group of Eminent Persons (IIGEP) chaired by Justice P.N.Bhagwati of India. The IIGEP had overseen the work of the Udalagama Commission which investigated some serious human rights violations by the Lankan armed forces in 2005-2006 in Trincomalee district. But attempts to get the bill through parliament got bogged down due to a lack of commitment, Sampanthan said.
The Act, which was passed unanimously on Thursday, envisages the establishment of: a National Authority for the protection of victims of crime and witnesses; a Board of Management; a Protection Division in the Lankan police; and a high level Advisory Council.
Among those involved in the National Authority will be experts in criminology, nominees of the Attorney General, the Inspector General of Police, and the Minister of Justice. The Advisory Board will comprise the Chief Justice, the Attorney General, the President of the Bar Association of Sri Lanka, Social activists, and the Inspector General of Police.
Jail terms for threatening or intimidating victims or witnesses range from three to ten years. There will be compensation for victims of crimes and also a fund for aiding victims and witnesses.
Commenting on the draft bill, human rights activists said that the structure of the institutions reflect the omnipresence of the State and its personnel, thus reducing the system’s independence.
Suresh Premachandran, spokesman of the TNA, said that if government is serious about victims and witnesses protection, it should first scrap the Prevention of Terrorism Act which allows arbitrary detention for long periods.