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Lanka passes bill to protect victims of crimes, witnesses

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Colombo: Sri Lanka has approved a bill for the protection of victims and witnesses of crimes, seen as reflection of the new government’s will to implement reforms.

Fulfilling a long-held international demand for justice and human rights accountability in the country, the law is believed to encourage more witnesses to speak up – an important requirement to end the culture of impunity.

The law provides for compensation to witnesses cooperating with investigations and punitive action against those who would harass victims or witnesses to a crime.

Sri Lanka faced US-backed UN Human Rights Council resolutions on rights accountability for three consecutive years since 2012. The 2014 resolution mandated the setting up of an international investigation into alleged human rights abuses during the last phase of the nearly three decade-long civil war that wiped out the LTTE leadership.

Former president Mahinda Rajapaksa’s government had been contemplating to introduce the bill under international pressure.

This and other action put in place by the new Maithripala Sirisena government reflects its will to implement reforms to improve accountability and human rights.

The Parliament also approved a legislation which makes it mandatory to carry 80 per cent pictorial warnings on cigarette packs. It was passed without a vote yesterday.

President Sirisena’s opposition coalition had pledged to implement the legislation within the first 100 days of coming to power.

Sirisena, who was the common opposition challenger to the incumbent Rajapaksa in the bitter presidential election held in January, accused the latter of siding with tobacco companies and preventing him as the then Health Minister from bringing in the legislation.

The tobacco dealers are permitted a grace period until June 1 to comply with the new Act.

The Act would be further amended to direct the display of pictorial warnings at the cigarette sales outlets too, Health Minister Rajitha Senaratne told the Parliament.

Senaratne said attention must be given to the health budget costs for the government rather than the revenues raised by the state from tobacco sales.

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