Leader of the United National Party, Ranil Wickremesinghe, criticised Sri Lanka’s militarised response to the COVID-19 pandemic noting that it is being led by the head of Sri Lanka’s army, Shavendra Silva.
Silva, who faces numerous accusations of war crimes and has been subject to a US travel ban, has faced harsh criticism for his response to the pandemic including over the abuse of garment factory workers. The UK has faced increasing calls to impose Magnitsky style sanctions on Silva for his role in the final phase of the conflict during which he oversaw the Sri Lankan army’s notorious 58th division. Silva is accused of overseeing “summary executions; the shelling of hospital and food lines; the white phosphorus against civilians; rape and sexual violence; and enforced disappearances”.
Commenting on the militarisation of Sri Lanka Wickremesinghe stated:
“The Army Commander is a department head. Only the Cabinet of Ministers can issue directives to ministry secretaries, who in turn issue directives to department heads. The Cabinet has to answer Parliament in return. That is how things should be done. But now, the Army Commander is the Head of the COVID-19 control task force. He takes decisions regarding that, not the Cabinet or the Premier. He even speaks at the economic forums. What is the Government doing by assigning the Army Commander to everything like this?"
He further added:
“In a democratic country, there is political authority represented by the President, the Premier and the Cabinet. There is also the civil authority, from Ministry Secretaries downwards. The military is coming after that. But now, it is literary the Military which is running the country and taking important decisions”.
Despite disagreeing on Silva’s role in the pandemic response, Wickremesinghe maintained:
“I have no problem with Shavendra Silva. He is my friend, and he has helped me a lot. But this is a different scenario. Appointing him to everything in the country is a way to pave the path for semi militarization”.
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