UK arrest warrant for Sri Lanka attache over throatcut gestures revoked

Before the hearing, an FCO spokesperson said: “The FCO, which is not a party to these legal proceedings, has been contacted by Westminster magistrates court seeking clarification of the brigadier’s diplomatic status in the UK at the time of the incident. The FCO is providing documentation to assist the court.” (Colombo Gazette) Fernando was filmed making cut-throat gestures aimed at Tamil protesters outside the Sri Lankan high commission in London on 4 February 2018. Demonstrators were highlighting concerns about human rights violations against Sri Lanka’s Tamil minority. Footage of the incident went viral on YouTube. An arrest warrant for a former Sri Lankan military attache, convicted of public order offences after making cut-throat gestures at protesters, has been revoked without a court hearing following Foreign Office involvement, the Guardian newspaper reported.The private prosecution of Brig Priyanka Fernando has degenerated into extraordinary legal confusion, forcing the chief magistrate, Emma Arbuthnot, to take control of the case. Carter said that even if the brigadier had enjoyed immunity for official functions, that would not protect him from prosecution for what was clearly not authorised activity.Nick Wayne, counsel for Fernando, suggested using section 142 of the Magistrates Court Act 1980, a rarely used power to reopen cases where a mistake has been made.Belinda McRae, counsel for the FCO, confirmed that the court had been given a certificate explaining Fernando’s diplomatic status. The chief magistrate adjourned the case until 1 March for a full hearing to resolve the legal confusion. Last week the brigadier was convicted in his absence at Westminster magistrates court of two offences under section 4A and section 5 of the Public Order Act which involve using threatening words or behaviour likely to cause harassment, alarm or distress. The court also issued an arrest warrant for Fernando, who remains in Sri Lanka.The conviction appears to have triggered a stream of diplomatic exchanges, with the UK ambassador in Sri Lanka called in for meetings.After consultations with the FCO over the status and extent of Fernando’s diplomatic immunity, the chief magistrate abruptly withdrew the arrest warrant – a decision made without a public hearing. At the hearing on Friday, Fernando was, for the first time, represented in court. Peter Carter QC, for the protesters, outlined a series of “rather unusual” options to deal with the case, including determining the diplomatic status of Fernando. Following his provocative gesture, the Sri Lankan government condemned Fernando for behaving in an “offensive manner” and suspended him from his job. The Foreign Office (FCO) also protested; Fernando left the UK shortly afterwards.Majuran Sathananthan and four others involved in the Tamil protest initiated a private prosecution against Fernando arguing that his behaviour caused them “harassment, alarm and distress” and constituted public order offences. They were represented by Paul Heron, of the Public Interest Law Centre (PILC). On Friday, she told Westminster magistrates court there had been a catalogue of “disappointing” issues and she did not know how such a sensitive case could have gone to trial without it “ever coming across my desk”. read more

Syria UNICEF helps open schools for children UNArab League official holds meetings

Addressing a media briefing in Geneva, a UNICEF spokesperson, Marixie Mercado, reported that according to Syrian Government estimates some 2,072 schools – out of 22,000 across the country – have been damaged or destroyed, and over 600 are occupied by displaced persons. She also noted that UNICEF had completed repairs in 64 schools in Deraa, Rural Damascus and Lattakia, while another 100 schools would be rehabilitated within the coming days and weeks. The Syrian Government was also moving internally displaced persons (IDPs) out of some schools and into alternative sites, such as unused public buildings, in order to prepare for the school year which is set to commence on 16 September, Ms. Mercado said, adding that it was “extremely important” that children returned to school as a way of providing stability and respite from the conflict. More than 18,000 people, mostly civilians, have died since the uprising against President Bashar al-Assad began some 18 months ago. Amidst reports of an escalation in violence in recent weeks in many towns and villages, as well as the country’s two biggest cities, Damascus and Aleppo, UN agencies now estimate that some 2.5 million Syrians are in urgent need of humanitarian assistance. Syria’s neighbouring countries have also been affected by the crisis, as hundreds of thousands of refugees have spilled over the borders and into refugee camps in Jordan, Lebanon, and Turkey. Pointing to the situation in Jordan’s Za’atari refugee camp, where half of the estimated 28,000 refugees are children, Ms. Mercado said that UNICEF was busy registering those of school age while working to build an educational facility that could accommodate up to 5,000 pupils. In the interim, she continued, students were being taught in temporary learning spaces, including tents, as the school year in Jordan had already begun last week. In Lebanon, schools will accept an estimated 32,000 Syrian refugee children in the country’s public school system when classes begin on 24 September, though absorption capacity remains a concern. UNICEF will be providing those children with education kits, remedial education, recreational and psychosocial activities. At the same time, the UN agency was undertaking the construction of 10 temporary schools in the country’s Al Qaim refugee camp where 1,250 children are already being sheltered. Against that backdrop, a spokesperson for the new Joint Special Representative of the United Nations and the League of Arab States on the Syrian crisis, Lakhdar Brahimi, confirmed today that the UN-Arab League official met separately in the Syrian capital of Damascus with the Ambassador of Russia and the Charge d’Affaires of China, while Mr. Brahimi met with the Iranian Ambassador on Thursday. The spokesperson further noted that Mr. Brahimi was scheduled to meet with Syria’s President Bashar al-Assad on Saturday morning. read more