Do you know what contents of the US SOFA Agreement with Sri Lanka is?
The Sunday Times released the full text of the Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA). Noteworthy is that the discussions have been with the US Embassy Colombo & the Sri Lankan Foreign Ministry with no inputs sought from the Ministry of Defense and completely disregarding the threats to Sri Lanka’s National Sovereignty & Security. Whoever approved this deserves to be tried for treason.
15 clauses were highlighted in the Sunday Times leaked version of the Draft Agreement of 28 August 2018 following last discussions in May 2018 between Yahapalana Foreign Minister Tilak Marapana in Washington.
As per the Agreement,
US Personnel will be referred to Members of US Department of Defense (US Military & Civilian Personnel)
All Members of US Department of Defense (US Military & Civilian Personnelto receive immunities & privileges.
US Contractors & Employees who are non-Sri Lankans who are under contract from US Department of Defense in connection with ship visits, training, exercises, humanitarian activities & other activities shall not receive any privileges & exemptions under SOFA.
There is a confusion in this 1stclause – while it says “US contractors” under contract to the US Department of Defense who are temporarily in present & their employees, the same sentence also says ‘not under contract with the US Department of Defense” – so the question is who will not receive privileges & be exempt under the agreement?
The US embassy is making the following proposals
- US personnel (US military & civilians of US Defense Dept) to be given privileges, exemptions & immunities equivalent to administrative & technical staff of a diplomatic mission under Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations of 18 April 1961.
- US military & civilians of US Defense Dept be allowed to enter & exit Sri Lanka with US identification, move in groups or individual and Sri Lanka must accept any US identification
- US military & civilians of US Defense Dept can drive any vehicle in Sri Lanka even without driving license.
- US military & civilians of US Defense Dept will wear uniforms on duty
- US military & civilians of US Defense Dept will carry arms on duty
- GoSL allows US Govt to exercise criminal jurisdiction over US personnel in Sri Lanka (2 parallel laws running in Sri Lanka)
- US Department of Defense & US Personnel will not pay any tax or similar charges in Sri Lanka – does this mean they can refuse to even pay tax if they travel on the Expressway?
- US Embassy also wants GoSL to cooperate & take measures to provide security & protection for US personnel, their property, equipment, records & official information in Sri Lanka (all this while US personnel is carrying arms & can travel anywhere in Sri Lanka)
- US military & civilians of US Defense Dept can IMPORT / EXPORT anything & be exempt from any inspection, license, other restrictions, customs, duties, taxes within Sri Lanka (exactly why are we having an ARMED FOREIGN FORCE in SRI LANKA US military & civilians of US Defense Dept vessels and vehicles can move FREELY within Sri Lanka and be exempted from any payment.
- US military & civilians of US Defense Dept vessels, aircrafts will NOT be subject to payment of LANDING FEES, PORT FEES, PILOTAGE charges, lighterage, harbor dues which will be in FACILITIES OWNED & OPERATED BY GoSL
- US military & civilians of US Defense Dept owned and operated aircrafts SHALL NOT BE SUBJECT to PAYMENT of NAVIGATION, OVERFLIGHT, TERMINAL or similar charges by Sri Lanka.
- US military & civilians of US Defense Dept aircrafts & vessels shall NOT BE inspected and Sri Lankans CANNOT board them
- US military & civilians of US Defense Dept can contract any material, supplies, equipment, services (including construction) to be furnished or undertaken in Sri Lanka without restriction and the guidelines and regulations applicable to them will be that of the US Govt not Sri Lanka
- US military & civilians of US Defense Dept acquisition of articles & services in Sri Lanka will not be subject to any taxes or similar charges
- US contractors TOO will not have to pay any tax or similar charges in Sri Lanka for activities under SOFA (what exactly are the activities?)
- US contractors can import into Sri Lanka & export out of Sri Lanka & use Sri Lanka’s any PERSONAL PROPERTY, equipment, supplies, material, technology, training or service under SOFA & shall be EXEMPT from any license, restrictions, customs duties, taxes or any other charges in Sri Lanka
- US contractors are to be given same treatment as US military & civilians of US Defense Dept for driving in Sri Lanka without license.
- US military & civilians of US Defense Dept shall enjoy freedom of movement & access to & use of mutually agreed transportation, storage, training & other facilities
- US military & civilians of US Defense Dept shall operate its own radio spectrum/telecommunications system and be FREE of COST to US by Sri Lanka
- GoSL waives any claims for damages to, loss of, or destruction of property or injury or death to personnel of either party’s armed forces or their civilian personnel arising out of performance of official duties (are we to turn Sri Lanka into a war zone) Third Party claims for damages or loss caused by US military & civilians of US Defense Dept will be according to US laws & regulations
- The new SOFA will supersede the one signed on 9 Feb & 16 May 1995 and entered into on 16 May 1995
- The US embassy proposes that GOSL & US Govt or their designated representatives may enter into implementing arrangements to carry out provisions of Agreement
- On agreement of proposals by US embassy and reply by Sri Lanka’s Foreign Ministry will be taken as AGREEMENT between the 2 Govts (this is seriously dangerous if a ministry is allowed to decide the destiny of an entire country & its populace by way of a letter the contents of which is not known to anyone)
That these proposals are even taken to a discussion is shocking without completely rejecting in its entirety.
ACSA was signed by Yahapalana in 2018 – even members of the Parliament does not know the contents of that. What is more surprising is that not one is demanding the document to be released or made available at least. Even the legal fraternity is silent.
Then we have the other damaging agreement MCC.
We may as well return to 1815 and sign the Kandyan Convention in a newer format and hand over Sri Lanka to US for another 200 years! Do we need politicians or parliament if they cannot stand up for Sri Lanka’s sovereignty?
By Shenali Waduge