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Sri Lanka's Defence Secretary claims time is needed to combat coronavirus as case numbers rise

Defence Secretary Kamal Gunaratne

Sri Lankan Defence Secretary Kamal Gunaratne and accused war criminal has told the public that it may take some time to eliminate the coronavirus and stressed the role of the military in this.

This statement follows a drastic escalation in reported coronavirus cases with 38,000 cases and 183 deaths reported as of the 23 December.

Sri Lanka’s heavily militarised COVID-19 response

Alleged war criminal, Shavendra Silva, is the head of the National Operation Centre for Prevention of COVID-19 Outbreak (NOCPCO) which was created to prevent the spread of the disease. This followed a pattern of the Rajapaksa government of military appointments to key public sector positions, including to the Ministry of Health, the Director-General of the Disaster Management Centre and the Director-General of the Customs Department.

Earlier this year Boram Jang, Legal Advisor at the International Commission of Jurists Asia & the Pacific Programme raised concerns about the limited oversight over Sri Lankas Military.

“Sri Lanka’s involvement of the military at every level, with limited parliamentary and civilian oversight, raises serious human rights and rule of law concerns”

“Having the military to oversee public health policy and to act as the State’s first responders also normalises military occupation, exacerbates the existing ethnic divides, and further deteriorates human rights in Sri Lanka”, he added.

Sri Lanka’s overcrowded prisons

Earlier this month Amnesty International released a report condemning the lethal violence used by Sri Lanka’s police against prisoners agitating against inadequate safeguards at Mahara Prison Complex. At least 8 prisoners were killed during this incident.

Tamils across the North-East have continued to protest the detention of Tamil political prisoners and demanding their release. Earlier this year, Sellapillai Mahendran, the longest-serving Tamil political prisoner died in prison. A further 64 Tamil political prisoners, imprisoned at Welikada prison have tested positive for the coronavirus.


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