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Asian Tribune is published by World Institute For Asian Studies|Powered by WIAS Vol. 12 No. 2904

CHA expresses concern on Medawachchiya check point

Sunil C. Perera in Colombo

Colombo, 29 May, ( The Consortium of Humanitarian Agencies (CHA) expresses its concern on the restrictions currently placed on the freedom of movement of Sri Lankans, particularly proceeding from areas such as Vavuniya and Mannar past the Medawachchiya check point.

While the CHA acknowledges that the government has the right to enforce restrictions on travel due to legitimate security concerns, it is clear that such restrictions cannot be arbitrary or directed towards members of one particular community only.

This principle has been repeatedly reiterated by the Supreme Court, particularly in Thavaneethan v Dissanayake ([2003] 1 SriLR 75, 91-92) where it was stated that the prevention by army personnel, of voters travelling from ‘uncleared’ areas to the ‘cleared’ areas prior to the 2001 Parliamentary General Election on grounds not connected to national security, infringed Article 14(1) (h) of the Constitution which secures the right to freedom of movement.

The current restrictions are to the effect that individuals, (including attorneys-at-law travelling for professional work) proceeding from Mannar/Vavuniya beyond the Medawachchiya checkpoint are prohibited from travelling in their own vehicles through the checkpoint even after undergoing full and comprehensive security checks of the vehicles and bodily searches of the individuals so travelling. In addition, travelers are
compelled to undergo continued checking at successive points resulting in the wastage of time and on occasion, harassment. The cost of items in Vavuniya has also greatly increased as a result of two or three days being spent in clearing food items through the checkpoint.

Bus travelers face particular difficulties in this regard. For example, bus passengers face the first security check at the Vavuniya bus stand, thereafter the second security threat at Eratperiyakulam and the third security check at Medawachchiya.

Passengers are required to disembark from the bus at these checkpoints and wait until the laborious process of checking is completed. At Medawachchiya, travelers are required to separately pay for the bus during the 1km between Medawachchiya checkpoint and the
bus stand. Other travelers need to hire separate vehicles to proceed from Medawachchiya.

Rates for all vehicle movement between these points and beyond have increased exponentially as a result of these security arrangements, causing extreme
financial and mental anguish to ordinary civilians. The amount of time during which passengers may be compelled to undergo checking may exceed two hours at particular times.

The CHA recommends that the government adopt the following measures to address this problem;

* Issue strict instructions to all army personnel manning these checkpoints that ordinary passengers should not be harassed unnecessarily during the checks carried out and have a responsible officer authorized to inquire into any complaints;

* Consider initiating discussions with citizens committees, religious bodies and so on as to the manner in which movement should be permitted beyond the Medawachchiya checkpoint in order to minimize peoples’ frustration while taking into account genuine security concerns.

* Increase personnel, infrastructure and expand the area for vehicle checks and transfer;

* Monitor and regulate the rates and fares of vehicles beyond the Medawachchiya checkpoint in order to en sure that no profiteering takes place

* Check and seal goods and the relevant vehicle at the first check-in point so as to minimize further checks en-route.

- Asian Tribune -

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