Foreign Ministry hails move | Sunday Observer

Foreign Ministry hails move

Sri Lanka’s Foreign Ministry welcomed the withdrawal of an arrest warrant issued on former Defence Attache Brigadier Priyanka Fernando by a UK court yesterday.

A senior official of the Foreign Ministry said, “We don’t want to interfere with the British legal system but it was a welcome gesture that the court has upheld the principles of international law and that diplomatic immunity should have applied to the Sri Lankan officer”.

The arrest warrant on the former diplomat was withdrawn following the intervention of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) of UK without a court hearing, the Guardian reported.

After UK’s Foreign and Commonwealth Office intervened and explained the diplomatic status of Brigadier Fernando, the Chief Magistrate, Emma Arbuthnot took over the case which was heard at the Westminster Magistrate’s Court. According to the Guardian, she had told the Westminster Magistrate’s Court that 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”.

The case was filed by a protester and three others after the Defence Attache made an offensive (throat slitting) gesture at them in front of Sri Lanka’s High Commission in London on Independence Day last year.

A diplomatic source said that the protesters behaved provocatively but the gesture was unnecessary. He said the case was timed with the upcoming sessions of the UN Human Rights Commission in Geneva. After the video footage of the gesture went viral, UK’s FCO lodged a formal protest and Brigadier Fernando was recalled. Neither the Foreign Ministry nor Brigadier Fernando was notified of the case that was heard in absentia and the former Defence Attache was convicted last week at the Westminster Magistrate’s Court and an arrest warrant was issued.

Subsequently, the Foreign Secretary Ravinatha Aryasinha summoned the British High Commissioner in Colombo James Dauris saying that diplomatic immunity should apply to Sri Lankan foreign officers and that this case set a very bad precedent.

Counsel appearing for Brigadier Fernando had called to re-open the case using a rarely used Section when there was a mistake. The Chief Magistrate had withdrawn the arrest warrant and postponed the case for March 1 for a full hearing to ‘resolve the legal confusion’.