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These blog postings do not necessarily represent the views of all members of the Advisory Council.

30/09/2010

Rights group point at Sri Lanka for the worlds largest mass detention

At the end of Sri Lanka's war in May 2009, approximately 10,000 suspected Tamil Tiger combatants were detained by the Sri Lankan government in secret facilities, off limits to the ICRC and other forms of independent monitoring. Serious allegations of sexual abuse, enforced disappearance and torture were leaked out.

The ICJ describes it as 'the largest mass administrative detention anywhere in the world' - the equivalent of 20 Guantanamo Bays. Donor silence (even though most donors claim to be democratic, pro human rights governments) allows this detention, flouting international laws and conventions, to continue. Further details are provided in their report on the situation.

Nearly 2,000 prisoners have been released over the past 16 months, but 8,000 Tamils remain in dismal conditions without charge or trial. This mistreatment is incompatible with the political reconciliation needed for durable peace.

NB This mass, systematic detention without due process, along with the gross misconduct of the war has led to the phrase 'the Sri Lanka option' - used by other regimes fighting counter-insurgency.

27/09/2010

UN must abandon appeasement of authoritarianism in Sri Lanka and Myanmar

An Oral Statement to the 15th Session of the Human Rights Council by the Asian Legal Resource Centre (ALRC), a non-governmental organization with general consultative status

September 20, 2010
Document id: ALRC-COS-15-16-2010
Speaker: Norman Voss

Thank you, Mr. President,

The Asian Legal Resource Centre (ALRC) is extremely concerned by the giant steps down the path to autocracy being taken in Sri Lanka, and the serious impact that this will have on human rights.

Despite the recent end to the conflict, the country now faces its darkest days. On September 8th, 2010, the 18th Amendment to the Constitution was railroaded through Parliament, preventing the filing of objections with the Supreme Court or public debate through a referendum.

This unconstitutional amendment removes the two-term limit on the incumbent Executive President, granting him total immunity, while changes to the 17th Amendment bring all public institutions under his direct control.

The amendment removes key powers from the Elections Commission, eliminating future free and fair elections. It greatly damages the independence of the judiciary and clearly spells the end of liberal democracy in Sri Lanka. It abolishes the Constitutional Council, allowing the President to control all public appointments. The Sri Lankan representative has tried to sweep this under the carpet by claiming it is an internal matter. Amazingly, he admits that this will "simplify the appointment of commissions." This it will, by sacrificing their independence.

It is expected that corruption will now flourish, key freedoms will be greatly restricted and grave human rights violations will increase further, with even less prospect for justice to be served or impunity prevented.

The ALRC has made written submissions to this session concerning Myanmarii, highlighting the irrelevance of efforts so far by the Council, given this country’s lack of functioning normative or institutional frameworks. Recommendations that may be pertinent in other settings are in the case of Myanmar meaningless.

What then can be done in the 2011 Review to allow the Council to have any positive impact in the majority of countries in Asia, in which human rights are widely abused, notably authoritarian countries such as Sri Lanka or Myanmar? Clearly, the exponents of a cooperation-only approach are either, at best deluded, or even insincere about their support for human rights. The ALRC urges the Council to take the opportunity of the upcoming Review to find innovative ways to engender tangible improvements on the ground and abandon its current appeasement of even the worst violators.

Thank you.


Webcast video: http://webcast.un.org/ramgen/ondemand/conferences/unhrc/fifteenth/hrc100920pm1-eng.rm?start=00:30:58&end=00:33:14

.................

i) The 18th Amendment Bill should have required a special majority of Parliament together with the approval of the people of Sri Lanka through a referendum. The Bill had been referred to the Supreme Court of Sri Lanka to decide on its constitutionality. Without allowing sufficient time for the filing of objections by the public, the Supreme Court sent its decision to the Speaker of the House stating that the amendment can be passed with a two thirds majority, meaning that no referendum was needed. The ALRC strongly disagrees with the Supreme court’s decision and is of the opinion that the Bill is, in toto, unconstitutional. In brief, the Bill proposed:
a) the removal of the two-term limit imposed on a person who has held the office of President, by Article 31(2),
b) to abolish the Constitutional Council and set up a Parliamentary Council whose observations would be sought in making appointments to the offices and Commissioners mentioned in the 17th Amendment;
c) to take away certain powers of the Elections Commission;
d) the inclusion of several provisions of a transitional character;
e) to repeal Chapter VIIA and amendment to Article 107 of the Constitution through the provisions in Clause 4, which would greatly damage the independence of the Judiciary;
f) to amend Article 155G, which is in conflict with Article 55. This will have an impact of diminishing the independence of the Police

Further details at: http://www.ahrchk.net/statements/mainfile.php/2010statements/2805/

ii) Please see the ALRC’s written submissions on Myanmar here: http://www.alrc.net/doc/mainfile.php/hrc15/630/ and http://www.alrc.net/doc/mainfile.php/hrc15/631/

# # #

About the ALRC: The Asian Legal Resource Centre is an independent regional non-governmental organisation holding general consultative status with the Economic and Social Council of the United Nations. It is the sister organisation of the Asian Human Rights Commission. The Hong Kong-based group seeks to strengthen and encourage positive action on legal and human rights issues at the local and national levels throughout Asia.

25/09/2010

Is Colombo's middle class waking up?

An Article by the Asian Human Rights Commission
Basil Fernando

"We in Colombo also now have to become like people living in the North and East in our outlook. We no longer know what is what, which is which, whether we are coming or going", a lawyer friend of mine living in Colombo, a told me today. He was trying to reflect the mood of the people after the passing of the 18th Amendment. The aftermath of the violent conflict against the LTTE, which promised peace, has not brought peace of mind to the people living in Colombo. There is new kind of unease, the loss of the very ground on which people stood and a fear of things to come.

If the government expected an easy time due to not having the fear of facing elections and contesters for power, it seems that they miscalculated rather badly, for elections alone are not the only way parties come to power and stay there. They are also a way of life. It is like having the monsoon or the full moon. If these things do not appear at regular intervals people fear that something is going wrong. When familiar patterns and routines go amiss, the people are at a loss. It is not that elections make any substantial change in their lives, but the brief moment when you feel that you can change things is a human expectation for those who are used to it. The middle class in particular is very much fond of their habits.

Some things can be faked but it is dangerous to make them appear as fakes. The old fox Jayewardene who took away most of the substance of democracy from Sri Lankans made sure that all the appearances were kept intact. Sirimavo Bandaranayake’s coalition governments foolishly took away the wigs from judges and that caused such an upset that the minister of justice and his secretary later lost their civil rights. But Jayewardene virtually destroyed the independence of the judiciary while keeping all the outward appearances correct. Not many found fault with him.

But the Rajapakse regime not only wants all power to themselves they also want to make it appear that they have all the power. They not only want make elections a mere ritual without substance but they want to make them appear so. Jayewardene knew that it not wise to disturb Colombo’s middle class. The Rajapakses, on the other hand do not feel happy unless Colombo’s middle class stand to attention whenever they appear before them. They want not only to be big but also to appear big. To feel that way, they are trampling very openly on elections and courts. The two things that Colombo’s middle class attach some importance to.

That perhaps may prove to be too much of a mistake.

# # #

About AHRC: The Asian Human Rights Commission is a regional non-governmental organisation monitoring and lobbying human rights issues in Asia. The Hong Kong-based group was founded in 1984.



AHRC New Weekly Digest - an easy way to receive all your Human Rights news in just one weekly email - subscribe here.
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998 Canton Road, Kowloon, Hongkong S.A.R.
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facebook/twitter/youtube: humanrightsasia

23/09/2010

Investors and multinationals should take the constitutional amendment as a signal to "Sell Sri Lanka" investments

The following article has been written by an informed non Sri Lankan businessman who has interests in Sri Lanka - he is concerned about the implications of the constitutional amendment passed last week. His identity is concealed to ensure his safety.

I have read many pleas from concerned citizen groups, journalists, policy groups and the opposition parties about the dangerous amendments to our country’s constitution. But one in particular stood out - a strong call to action made by the Anglican Bishop of Colombo, “It is therefore imperative that Parliament rejects this Bill, and that all who value democratic freedom in the country voice their objection to it.” Now, how often do you hear the most senior Bishop of a country use the word “imperative”?

Indeed, there are several disastrous sections of the amendment (a neat summary is made by Charu Lattu Hogg from London’s Chatham House) and I support the Bishop's call to reject the Bill and urge others to do the same.

[By the way, one wonders why the array of (very well paid) international advisors to the GoSL haven’t been able to exert their influence and avert this damaging course of action. Bell Pottinger, the PR agency to past “bully boys” (such as General Pinochet) are one such organisation].

So why am I, a businessman concerned? What is the cost of the constitutional amendment, and who is going to pay? Well, I am concerned, because one by one, all the measures of a civilized society are being abandoned. This creates a huge risk for potential foreign investors, at a time when the country desperately needs economic growth and to tackle the debt crisis. The weak judicial system should be noted by investors to avoid the kind of problems that BP had in Russia (the chief executive had to leave the country without the backing of the local judiciary). In these situations, companies need significant benefits to outweigh the disadvantages of the lack of a rule of law. I'm not sure Sri Lanka can offer those benefits. Just ask Siemens or BAE. Before long, mid range players will also back out. (Local businesses who want to continue trading, have to adapt to the situation by bribing government officials. For Global 500 companies this is not a viable way to do business).

Last week, Forbes speculated on a decline in the Sri Lankan economy, highlighting the policies of the current president as the culprit. Some investors are becoming worried about the recent constitutional amendments. One analyst, Benjamin Griffith, Caravan Capital Management, a global frontier fund for high net worth individuals is now looking at Sri Lanka as a long term risk.

The same article recounts past volatility in the Sri Lankan stock market during intense periods in the civil war. It quite rightly points out that the war came to a bloody an end last year, but the root causes of the conflict have not been addressed. Some say that a future insurrection could be on its way including bombings in the Capital, Colombo.

My fear is that the economic future looks bleak for all Sri Lankan's (not just the ethnically and politically marginalized) due to a re-think on foreign investment and having to pay for the huge debts that the government has built up; Greece will tell you about the problems of large debts and pilfered assets. My last thought is for the ordinary men, women and children who will bear the brunt of the impending economic crisis in Sri Lanka.

22/09/2010

The Sri Lankan Tamils locked out of their homeland

Residents in Sampur, Trincomalee have been ejected from their land to make way for a coal power plant. This article published by The Samosa provides context to the situation and is also replicated below.

Monday, 20 September 2010
By Nina de la Preugne

The people of Sampur are beginning to despair that they will ever go back to their land. More than a year after the defeat of the separatist Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), Tamils and Muslims cannot return to their homes because the area remains what the government calls a High Security Zone (HSZ). Displaced by the war in 2006, the inhabitants of Sampur, near Trincomalee in northeast Sri Lanka, came back last year to find themselves locked out of their own land. Barbed wire and checkpoints now stand between them and their birthplace.

“I lived in Sampur all my life, my village was inside what is now the High Security Zone. Our ancestors were living here for 300 years, since British rule. We feel a huge loss for our community. We lost our land,” says Kanakasingam, a 68-year-old farmer.

“It is like we are put behind bars, because what we really want is to go across these barriers that prevent us from reaching home. And it is so close."

High Security Zones are militarised areas created by the authorities during the long civil war between the national government and the LTTE, in strategic areas where the separatists were likely to attack or develop military advantage. Prior to 2006, the LTTE’s Trincomalee district headquarters were situated in Sampur. It was also an important base for its navy, the Sea Tigers, as Sampur offered a strategic vantage point to launch operations in the Trincomalee bay. In April 2006, as fighting resumed between the army and the LTTE following a bomb attack in Colombo, Sampur became a key battleground and the population fled. The army won the battle and the LTTE moved to Vanni, but Sampur was classified as an HSZ and was used by the Sri Lankan navy as a fortified base, preventing the population from moving back.

Despite the end of the war in May 2009, the area remains an HSZ and the government is planning to build a coal power plant within the zone. According to Mr Nageswaran, the president of a welfare association for the displaced Tamils, the government is reluctant to declassify the area for fear of the LTTE regrouping, as Trincomalee was always an important location for the movement and independent elements of the terrorist organisation are still present in the region. He also believes authorities want to resettle Sinhalese people in Sampur as part of a wider plan to shift the ethnic balance of the region.

The government’s motives behind the HSZ do not concern Tamils alone – the Muslim population of Sampur is worried as well. Although Muslims were persecuted by the LTTE during the 1990s, Tamil and Muslim civilians were all displaced when fighting resumed in 2006.

“When we came back, we saw the houses destroyed. No one got anything in the end. Both Tamils’ and Muslims’ houses were robbed by the government forces. We worked together to rebuild. We have to face the government together on the land issue,” says Rajazaly, a 43-year-old teacher.

“We all want our land back. It was seized by force,” he adds.

Rajazaly too is convinced the authorities are planning on resettling Sinhalese people on his family land, and he explains that although the war is over, most people are still living in fear because of Sinhalese dominance.

“We have no protection, army or police forces of our own. The government forces are all Sinhalese. We don’t expect help from them. The government considers Muslims and Tamils to be unimportant; it tries to destroy our identities. One of the Hindu temples was destroyed by Sinhalese people recently, probably with the support of the army. Next it will be the mosques”, he says.

Officially however, Sampur remains an HSZ because of the planned power plant development. Dr K Vigneswaran, an adviser to the Eastern Provincial Council Minister, says the plans to build the coal power plant were initiated long before 2006 and the displacement of the population, but believes the eviction procedure is not settled yet.

“People have to be displaced for the construction of the coal plant, but they should be resettled properly and given compensation,” he says.

According to Mr Nageswaran, 500 families have still not been resettled and live in four camps near the HSZ. Although they were given private land by the government, it is infertile and far from the sea.

“Our traditional area, we were living many years there. The paddy cultivation [for rice] was done there. We don’t have land for cultivation anymore, and with no easy access to the sea to fish, it is difficult to survive,” says Mr Nageswaran.

To earn a small income, men are forced to travel long distances to work as helpers for other fishermen or paddy cultivators. Women, many of them widows, cannot afford the travel costs or leave behind their children to find jobs. Schools are far away and often overcrowded. To them, it is the feeling of having to settle for a half-solution and the lack of interest by the government and the international community that is hardest to swallow. The government’s Divisional Secretariat estimates that because they have been given private land, they no longer qualify as Internally Displaced People (IDPs), taking them off the radar of international bodies.

“The UNHCR [UN High Commissioner for Refugees] is more concerned with IDPs in the North,” adds Mr Nageswaran.

In the meantime, haphazardly built shelters are all the displaced people can afford to live in, and ‘village’ resembles a refugee camp rather than a viable long-term solution.

“How are we supposed to build anything? We have no real source of income. We wanted to create our own school for our children so they don’t have to travel, but the government did not support our initiative,” Mr Nageswaran explains.

The cemetery situated near his village of origin in Sampur is also inaccessible to the villagers, preventing them from visiting the tombs of their ancestors. The government gave them a new location to bury their relatives, but it will not replace the traditional site’s ancestral heritage.

The fate of Sampur’s inhabitants is symbolic of the government’s development policy in the region. Although the authorities invest to rebuild infrastructure and boost the business capacity of the East coast of Sri Lanka, these redevelopment plans seem to exclude the local population. Chinese workers can be seen leading and working on construction sites around Trincomalee, mending the road and building bridges that will one day allow faster travel between Sampur and Trincomalee harbour. Although the authorities promise the land will be given to whoever is interested, there is a fear among the local population that it will end up mainly in the hands of Sinhalese businessmen from Colombo and the South, who will then employ Sinhalese staff in the hotels and other tourist businesses that will soon dot the coastline. Dr Vigneswaran agrees it is a risk, but does not want to put the blame on the Sinhalese authorities alone.

“Not one cent has come from the [Tamil] diaspora. They are not investing. Why doesn’t the diaspora invest here, buy the land, give jobs to their fellow Tamils?”

20/09/2010

Why invite the Human Rights organisations now?

Hypocrisy and irony take on another meaning when one considers the latest PR tactic employed by the GoSL to position its domestic enquiry – the LLRC – as a credible investigation on the international stage. The very government that has been found wanting on numerous accounts of human rights violations and war crimes has now invited International Human Rights bodies to speak to the lessons learnt and reconciliation commission (LLRC).

What is the “touch” of respectability are they trying to seek? And what has motivated their actions at this point of time? What PR spin are they trying to draw on by hoping these groups will accept this invitation? President Rajapaksa is scheduled to meet with the United Nations later this month. Is this his attempt to pull a rabbit-out-of -the-hat and look sanctimonious in the eyes of the UN or is the GoSL hoping that they can use the representations of these human rights bodies in a selective and erroneous manner as they have done with past representations to the LLRC as with Ambassador Dhanapala?

Earlier this year, in a very clever PR move, the GoSL announced the set up of the LLRC the evening before Sri Lankan Minister of External Affairs, G. L Peiris was to visit the US and meet with Secretary of State, Hilary Clinton. Its hard not to conclude that this was timed to take the heat off the meeting between Pieris and Clinton, by pulling the first rabbit and playing down the demands for an independent enquiry. Furthermore, the GoSL in its customary fashion selectively used Hilary Clinton’s comments for its own propaganda.

So back to the most recent PR ruse; why doesn’t the GoSL first attempt to adhere to the international conventions that have been violated time and again and then invite the relevant human rights bodies to give their input on how to improve implementation? After all, the very Human Rights organizations that have been invited to make representations have already given their ‘views’ and have only been demanding enforcement of the numerous human rights and humanitarian conventions for the last 50 years! Why ignore their repeated calls over the last 18 months for humanitarian and human rights conditions to be improved and then invite them to give their views to the commission?

The harm done by the deliberate misuse of Secretary Clinton’s ill prepared comments should not be repeated on this occasion by the human rights bodies that have been ‘invited’ to present to the LLRC. Surely the only reaction that the GoSL can expect from these highly respected international actors will be a recital of the very same demands they have been making over the past 18 months? The demands which include;

1. The persons who should be heard first and foremost are victims and survivors. They would not come because of lack of witness protection- Without effective witness protection by law and by actual means, truth will remain buried.

2. International groups were denied access to the affected areas and had been denied from speaking to the victims and survivors. Without such access, what is it that Human rights groups can say, to the commission. Human Rights Groups must ask for access to victims and survivors and an environment that is safe for victims, before they could talk to the commission.

3. No criminal inquiries are been made into any of the violations- what monitoring role can Human Rights groups play under such circumstances. Intimidation on local human rights groups must be removed before international groups should make representations. Local human rights groups that try to make any genuine inquiry are under threat. What can international human rights groups do under these circumstances?

In the context of all these dubious tactics, impartiality of the LLRC has to be questioned . How in reality will the GoSL respond if found guilty of war crimes ? Particularly if the finger is pointed at the President? We all know about the war crimes of the Tamil Tigers but, as two wrongs do not make a right, what will the response of the Government be? Are we not dealing in fairy tales here? Is it ever possible for GoSL to produce a commission that is impartial?

Let’s not fall for this trick.

18/09/2010

UN Panel of Sri Lanka Experts commences work

On September 16th, the Secretary-General held his first meeting with the Panel of Experts established to advise him on the issue of accountability with regard to alleged violations of international humanitarian and human rights law during the final stages of the conflict in Sri Lanka. This meeting marks the formal commencement of the Panel’s four-month mandate. The Secretary-General is pleased that the Panel is fully underway and looks forward to receiving its advice. The Secretary-General is committed through his focus on this issue to contribute to lasting peace and reconciliation in Sri Lanka.

17/09/2010

A senior journalist and rights activist on the 18th Amendment

Lakshman Gunasekera is a senior journalist in Sri Lanka, former Editor of the Sunday Observer and head of the Sri Lanka Chapter of the South Asia Free Media Association . He was recently interviewed by Groundviews at a protest rally in Colombo on the 18th Amendment. Speaking as chapter head of the socially committed journalist group he expressed great alarm about the current trend with the increasing dictatorial governance tendencies.

He highlights that any recognition and agreement that there needed to be reforms has only not been addressed but made far worse with the further politicization that is taking place. As a media person he was outraged by the process of rushing through this amendment with "the person on the street" barely knowing anything about this. Gunasekera pleads "Where is the democracy?, Where is the sovereignty of the people? ...development can only proceed with democracy."

You can listen to the interview here

16/09/2010

Colombo refuses visa to NGO official

TamilNet released the following news item on Wednesday, 15 September

The Sri Lankan Government has ordered Daniel Horgan, security coordination officer of Nonviolent Peaceforce, a foreign NGO, to leave Sri Lanka immediately, the Sinhala language Divaina newspaper said in an article. The order was made when Horgan sent in his papers seeking renewal of his visa to continue his work in Sri Lanka.

In July, government also deported a Canadian national who functioned as the director of the Nonviolent Peaceforce organization and Ali Palh Ahamed, a Pakistani national attached to the organization to leave Sri Lanka.

Accordingly, steps were taken to ensure that both the Canadian and Pakistani nationals will not be able to return to Sri Lanka again in future for any matter.

Nonviolent Peaceforce is an unarmed, professional civilian peacekeeping force that is invited to work in conflict zones worldwide. With international headquarters in Brussels, Nonviolent Peaceforce has worked in the conflict areas of Sri Lanka extensively. Among other activities, it works with local groups to foster dialogue among parties in conflict, provide a proactive presence and safe spaces for civilians, and develop local capacity to prevent violence. Its staff includes veterans of conflict zones and experienced peacekeepers.

The Divaina newspaper article claimed that, the Intelligence units has obtained information that the Nonviolent Peaceforce has been involved in certain internal affairs with related to Sri Lanka which has been seen as detrimental against Sri Lanka’s sovereignty.

15/09/2010

Tyrants dont like to be laughed at!

At this time when many are fearful about the future of Sri Lanka, we hope the recent blog about the Govt of Sri Lanka's censorship of that revolution-inciting magazine, the Economist, allows you at least a brief smile!

As Walter Wink, the world famous non-violent advocate advises: "The Powers That Be literally stand on their dignity. Nothing takes away their potency faster than deft lampooning. By refusing to be awed by their power, the powerless are emboldened to seize the initiative, even where structural change is not possible."

So "deft lampooning" of the oppressive regime in Sri Lanka is something that we will need to do more of given there may be less space for more direct work, at least for those living in Sri Lanka.

This blog is out first attempt and we aim to get better. But we need your help too so please send us your ideas! Dont censor - just send. We will record all, use as many as we can and share the rest with others who might do be able to use them too. And just giving ourselves the permission to think in this manner - as neither victim nor aggressor - will be good for us given the tendency of Sri Lankans to flip from one to the other.

Best wishes,
The Campaign Team

PS For the Buddhists, Hindus or Muslims amongst our readers, what are the equivalent teachings from these traditions? There have been tyrants all over the world and societies have progressively learnt now to contain and then neutralise them. If you don't believe this read Amartya Sen's "Development as Freedom". Sri Lanka is now lagging well behind this development curve today and needs all the spiritual wisdom it can get, so please share any relevant spiritual guidance from your tradition.

14/09/2010

Media misrepresentation of Sri Lanka's internal Commission

On June 22nd, Ban Ki Moon announced an independent panel to advise on "accountability issues" arising from the final stages of the conflict between government forces and the Tamil Tigers. The Sri Lankan government responded angrily, stating its 'sovereignty was being threatened' and proceeded to set up its own commission of inquiry - Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission (LLRC) - despite the fact that all previous commissions have been slated by international observers for their lack of credibility.

The hearings for the LLRC commenced on July 10th and one of the oral submissions came from Dr Jayantha Dhanapala, former UN Under Secretary General. Controversy arose when the Presidential Media Unit and Ministry of Defence reported Dhanapala's submission in a selective and erroneous manner. Groundviews exclusively carried Dr Dhanapala's response to the inaccurate media reports of his submission and details the full series of events that followed.

For the time-poor among our readers, we've pulled out some of the pertinent statements from Dhanapala's submission as detailed below.

The recent history of Presidential Commissions has been a dismal and uninspiring one.

We have the Udalagama Commission which was aborted and we have a number of Commission Reports which have not been implemented.

Nevertheless, the personal stature of all of you as Commissioners and the integrity that is widely respected of yourselves encourages me to appear before you and speak in order that our country can enjoy a future of peace and reconciliation.

May I also say at the outset that I believe that your Commission has been appointed one year too late.

Nevertheless, and despite the fact that your mandate is a narrow one, artificially framed by certain time constraints, I believe that you will rise above the blame game that is common in the politics of Sri Lanka and ensure that a foundation is laid for
a future of a stable, a durable peace and a reconciliation with all segments of our population."

"I think the lessons that we have to learn from the past are both positive lessons and negative lessons.

I think that the conflict that has ravaged our country is not only the result of the perversity and the venality of the LTTE and its leader Prabakaran, but also the cumulative effect of bad governance on the part of successive Governments in Sri Lanka.

Our inability to manage our own internal affairs has led to foreign intervention but more seriously has led to the taking of arms by a desperate group of our citizens.

I think we need to rectify this bad governance and the first and foremost task before us is to undertake constitutional reform in order to ensure that we have adequate devolution of power.

We have already missed several opportunities in the past; we have had an APRC functioning for quite some time but its report is still languishing in obscurity and needs to be presented to the public of Sri Lanka for discussion.

We need to have State reform; we need to have rule of law established; we need to ensure non discrimination amongst our citizens; we need to have – as I said before – devolution of power and a tolerance of dissent and a strengthening of democratic
institutions. "

"The other issue that I think important for us to make some kind of innovative move drawing from the experience of having been in conflict with the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam is the issue of the responsibility to protect concept. This is a concept
that you will recall was embraced in the UN General Assembly’s Summit of 2005, the 60th UN General Assembly when the Heads of States adopted the responsibility to protect concept which basically means that the primary responsibility for the
protection of civilians lies with the Government of that state. But if a Government is either unwilling because it is a dictatorship or unable because it is a failed state to exercise its sovereign authority to protect its own civilians then that authority passes
to the international community but subject to the fact that it has to be approved by the Security Council through a resolution. "

13/09/2010

Lion king Rajapaksa, tiger tamer, ruler of Sri Lanka ....and frightened of The Economist?!

Reports suggest that the latest edition of the Economist has been detained by customs at Colombo airport to prevent its distribution. Most likely explanation is because the issue contains a story criticizing the 18th Amendment: ‘Sri Lanka’s constitutional amendment: Eighteenth time unlucky’. Read the full article here

Last month an article about post-conflict development in Sri Lanka ( ‘Rebuilding ,but at a cost’) was also detained in similar fashion. The article highlighted the uneven distribution of land in the North-East and the displacement of people living in a ‘high-security’ zone which is now a construction site for a power plant supported by Indian investment. The article also speculated that a ‘crackdown on the opposition might be under way’.  Read the full article here

These are illustrations of the ever-tightening government stranglehold on the press. 

When asked about the detention of The Economist, Lakshman Hulugalle (Director General of the Media Centre for National Security) spoke more generally to the Sri Lankan Sunday Times. He said that the government’s policy was to detain foreign publications if they were ‘harmful to national security.’

These incidents are not the first time distribution of the Economist has been prevented. The Sunday Times reported in May of this year that two issues of the weekly publication had been detained on arrival in Sri Lanka. Customs sent the copies to to the government’s Information Department instead of distributing them. The customs authorities did not give any reason for the detention according to the publications’s distributor. Both these issues (22nd and 29th May) included articles about the year anniversary of the fighting with the LTTE and the continued existence of IDP camps. The same thing reportedly happened to a number of issues of the Economist during the conflict in 2009, again with issues that contained stories on Sri Lanka- but it is hard to find out exactly how many times this has happened. To our knowledge, the detained issues described above were never distributed. But again this is difficult to ascertain. If anyone in or outside of Sri Lanka has information on this, please do get in contact with us

Why the world must stop Sri Lanka's decline

Sonali Samarasinghe has written a powerful comment on last weeks Constitutional Amendment and explained why the world should take note. Sonali is an award winning investigative reporter and editor, and a former Nieman Fellow at Harvard University. She fled Sri Lanka after her late husband, Lasantha Wickrematunge, with whom she worked, was killed and she was subjected to death threats.

Increasing the presidential term hastens a dictatorship

NEW YORK, NY. — On Wednesday, Sri Lanka’s Parliament overwhelmingly passed an urgent bill removing term limits for the president. The constitutional amendment also gave the president unlimited power over judicial, police and other public service appointments and removed constitutional safeguards over the electoral process.

The amendments abolished the Constitutional Council established to ensure the independence of appointments, transfers and removal of persons to the Judiciary and to the police, bribery, finance, elections and human rights commissions. The independent oversight body has been replaced by a toothless Parliamentary Council whose observations the President must seek but need not act upon in making these key appointments.

Sri Lanka is a country rapidly in decline. After the conclusion of its 27-year-long civil war in May last year, President Mahinda Rajapakse was handed a second term in office by a grateful and war-weary electorate. It might have been the turning of a new page. It wasn’t. Instead the country has hurtled towards a dictatorship that has now been constitutionalised, and it seems that the incumbent president has missed the message.

Riding on a wave of popularity and a rare two-thirds majority in parliament – which he obtained with the help of a weak opposition and wily political maneuvering — Rajapakse has now acted swiftly to constitutionalize and consolidate his power. Hence, this week's urgent bill.

Indeed Rajapakse, who as president enjoys immunity from prosecution, has been nothing if not timely and opportune in his politics. In 2005, he came in on a platform of war promising to eradicate Tamil Tiger terrorism. By May 2009 he had done that. Despite clamping down on human rights and achieving only modest economic growth, Rajapakse’s re-election victory in January 2010 — an election held almost two years ahead of schedule and just eight months after his military victory — was not surprising.

Thousands of civilians died in the military offensive. Video evidence emerged of soldiers summarily executing detainees, amid strenuous denials of such action by the government. Sri Lanka’s former army commander, Gen. Sarath Fonseka — the man who led Sri Lanka’s army to victory — went on record saying orders were given to shoot Tiger leaders attempting to surrender, a statement he later retracted.

Fonseka challenged Rajapakse in the January election, alleging blatant nepotism in Rajapakse's first term and citing the fact that after assuming office in 2005 the president appointed three of his brothers to high office. Sri Lanka is now governed by the Rajapakse brothers and their offspring who hold powerful cabinet positions. Other Rajapakse relatives also control large numbers of important offices, including diplomatic missions and state owned businesses.

Just six days after Rajapakse's re-election, Fonseka was arrested and court martialled, presumably for fear he would turn whistle-blower.

The government’s justification of the indiscriminate aerial bombardment of the north and east during the last stages of the military offensive and the resulting civilian death toll was that it was necessary to end the war. However, this May the International Crisis Group called for a U.N. investigation into the final bloody months of the war, stating in a report it had “reasonable grounds to believe that the Sri Lankan Security Forces committed war crimes.”

Sri Lanka has fiercely resisted any inquiry led by foreign authorities, stating that it would conduct its own investigations under a "Reconciliation and Lessons Learned" commission. Many have no faith in such homegrown inquiries that have been more about the reinforcement of the government viewpoint, denial, botching evidence and creating confusion rather than genuine investigation. Sri Lanka has yet to seriously investigate the murder of 15 journalists since Rajapakse’s government took office.

Meanwhile, Rajapakse’s supporters maintain that the removal of the two-term limit this week will shore up a number of choices as candidates in a presidential poll. Yet the repeal of provisions ensuring an independent elections commission will only serve to undermine free and fair elections and make the incumbent president more powerful. With the elections commission no longer having power to issue directions preventing political parties from exploiting state resources to run their campaigns, the incumbent president will have unfettered access to public property to the exclusion of all other candidates. The new amendments also place a duty on both the public and private media to comply with directions issued by the elections commission — a commission over which the incumbent president has absolute control.

Under the new amendments, Rajapakse must attend parliament every three months, a provision his supporters argue will increase accountability. In fact, such a move will only serve to increase presidential power, manipulation and interference in the parliamentary process and remove any semblance of the independence of parliament and the separation of powers.

Certainly for a country that has seen some of the bloodiest years of its 27-year civil war under the present regime, the culture of impunity, the fear propaganda, the persecution intimidation, murder and muzzling of the press is nothing new.

Why must the world take action now?

Because the subversion of democratic mechanisms and violence against democratic institutions continues unabated in a time of peace. Inventive in its attacks it has employed blogs, websites and mass emails to personally vilify any journalist, political opponent or human rights activist it sees as a threat to its rule. This government promised change once the war ended. Instead, nothing has changed.

Rajapakse has now aligned his formerly westward-looking country with China, Iran, Pakistan and Libya, and repeatedly lashed out at the West for criticizing his shameful human-rights record. And, despite the successful end of the civil war, the Rajapakse regime has offered nothing to the Tamil minority. Their aspirations and grievances have once more been swept under the carpet.

His government has demonstrated that it has neither the vision nor the empathy to bring about a just and lasting solution to the Tamil question. Instead, Sri Lankans have become inured to the pervasive Sinhala Buddhist supremacist racism the Rajapakse government brought to the country in order to win over the majority.

If Sri Lanka does not reach out to that section of the population that has been deeply wounded — if there is no accountability — it will only serve to breed a new generation of sullen youths with sympathetic and considerably more active operatives amongst the Tamil Diaspora. A future war may not be confined by Sri Lanka’s borders.

Rajapakse’s priorities are now to attract foreign investment and increase trade while defending his army and his political family against allegations of war crimes. He is using his large majority and the enormous powers vested in his administration for just that — to perpetuate authoritarianism and the culture of impunity while obliterating any remnants of a free media. He has relegated civil and political rights to the realm of irrelevant at best or subversive at worst.

Apart from losing European Union trade concessions this August until the country makes progress on human rights, Sri Lanka has been able to avoid U.N. scrutiny and cleverly stave off any international pressure, using its diplomatic influence with countries like China.

Sri Lanka's government recently announced that it would invite outside investors to its Chinese assisted multi-billion-dollar post-war infrastructure program. China is Sri Lanka’s largest infrastructure lender.

Geopolitics is playing its part. With its many trade and military interests now concentrated in the Indian Ocean, the U.S. too is keen to see strategically placed Sri Lanka not slip entirely into China’s arms.

Here’s the caveat. Sri Lanka’s handling of its civil war must not be seen as a model of success for combating terrorism or a perfect model of counter insurgency but rather a harsh lesson like Hiroshima or Agent Orange. If the ruling regime is allowed to go on unabated, it will soon have a far more deadly, more organized and inevitably more global terrorist movement on its hands.

For this alone the world must act now.

By Sonali Samarasinghe
This article was published in the Global Post

11/09/2010

Why the FCO’s Human Rights Report matters

When Robin Cook launched the Foreign Office’s annual human rights report in 1997, many of us working with lobby groups breathed a sigh of relief. The FCO was finally going to put in print the British Government’s concerns over international human rights abuses. Not only did the report highlight incidents of torture and oppression around the globe, it also served to influence MPs and businesses about which countries were ethical trade partners. For a time, the FCO’s various desk officers were noticeably more enthusiastic about consulting with and receiving information from those NGOs campaigning on behalf of human rights.

I was Director of English PEN’s Writers in Prison Committee (WiPC) from 1991 to 2006 and our hey-day, as far as influencing British Government foreign policy, was undoubtedly the period between 2001 and 2005 when representatives from all the major NGOs were invited to join the FCO’s Freedom of Expression panel. We worked closely with two brilliant and deeply committed leaders of the human rights policy department, Jon Benjamin and his deputy Chris Bowers.

Following Cook’s death it was disappointing to see the Human Rights shrink in size from a hefty 310 pages in 2004 to a meagre 190 pages in 2009. In case you are in any doubt, this is not because human rights abuses around the world dramatically abated during those five years.

Now the print version is to be cut altogether. Given the British Government’s widespread consultation with NGOs, and their eager provision of information, it is hard to believe that the official time and expense used to research details of abuses is suddenly considered unsustainable.

But it is the inevitable fallout from this downplaying of British human rights policy that is the most calamitous. I am currently a director of the Sri Lanka Campaign. An organisation that lobbies for an end to human rights violations and campaigns for a lasting peace in Sri Lanka based on justice and reconciliation. As with PEN, the importance of our work rests on the country in question’s knowledge that they are coming under international scrutiny. True, the British government doesn’t curry much favour with Sri Lanka at present, but just its inclusion in the FCO’s 2009 list of 22 ‘Countries of Concern’ will have caused embarrassment to President Mahinda Rajapaksa and his government. Outside scrutiny certainly helped the case of Tamil journalist Jayaprakash Sittampalam Tissainayagam (‘Tissa’) who was targeted for reporting on the country’s brutal civil war and sentenced to twenty years in prison. After an international outcry, Tissa was released on 3 May 2010, suggesting that the Sri Lankan government remains sensitive to external criticism.

Outing a bully is always effective and the FCO’s report excelled at that. More often than not, an authoritarian regime will temper its abuses when these are publicised or it becomes aware that it is being watched.

Undeniably, there was terrible bloodshed during the Saffron Revolution in Burma in 2007 and in the post-election demonstrations in Iran last year, but just imagine how much worse this would have been if there had not been the widespread protests from Western governments.

In 2002 and 2003 I attended the trials of political prisoners in Belarus and Uzbekistan, respectively, on behalf of PEN, and in subsequent years PEN sent observers to trials in Egypt and Turkey. These missions were part-funded by the Foreign Office’s human rights policy department and we were often accompanied by representatives of the British Embassy in the respective country. Because of the diplomatic attention, the accused either received lesser sentences than expected or were acquitted altogether. Their stories were often included in the FCO’s human rights report.

Is this all to be lost in the blind pursuit of commercial interests? If the UK takes its eyes off the ball, by cutting £560,000 a year from its monitoring of human rights failures around the world, I have no doubt that atrocities will escalate and that the end result will be multiple casualties around the world.

Human Rights are universal and the British government has a moral responsibility to continue its championing of these rights. David Miliband has noted that the report has “saved lives”. I can attest to that.

Lucy Popescu

Lucy Popescu’s latest book The Good Tourist is about human rights and ethical travel. She is a Director of the Sri Lanka Campaign and former Director of English PEN’s Writers in Prison Committee.

09/09/2010

University academics: Statement on the Proposed 18th Amendment to the Constitution

University academics have released a statement on the Proposed 18th Amendment to the Constitution as follows:

We, the undersigned academics attached to different universities in Sri Lanka, call upon the government to re-consider the proposed 18th Amendment to the Constitution for the reasons set out below.

Constitutional reforms, like elections, go to the heart of what it means to be a democracy in the modern-day world. Any changes that are introduced to a country’s constitution should be undertaken after due deliberation and consultation while having at its centre, the will of the People. In a pluralistic society such as Sri Lanka, ascertaining the will of the People can be a time-consuming and complex exercise. While the will of the People must be given due consideration, the essential features of a democracy, such as the rule of law, accountability of the government and transparency must be preserved and promoted through any constitutional reform.

By choosing to amend the constitution through an urgent bill the entire process of reform has been expedited, if not short-circuited, and no room has been left for any kind of public debate let alone public consultation. Under a Constitution that explicitly recognizes the “Sovereignty of the People” that process is not acceptable, especially when no convincing reasons have been given as to the need to expedite this process. Indeed, the most distressing aspect to this whole process is the lack of interest in government ranks on the need to raise awareness, let alone build consensus, among the general public on the need for such urgent reform.

The substance of the proposed reforms is also problematic. History provides many examples of the need to limit not only power, but also access to power. The limit to the number of terms that the head of the executive can hold has emerged as a best practice, through those bitter lessons. The introduction of the Parliamentary Council instead of the Constitutional Council is not satisfactory as it contains no clauses to promote accountability on the part of the President in whose hands come to be concentrated the power to make several key appointments that promote governance, accountability and due process of law.

This is the first attempt at constitutional reform in the post-war era of our country. We hope that it would therefore signal a break from the constitutional reform experiences of the past, where powerful executive Presidents “reformed” the constitution to serve their personal political agendas.

We therefore call upon the government to re-consider their decision to introduce constitutional reforms in such a hasty and ad-hoc manner and to open avenues for greater participation and consultation before setting in motion a process that is of utmost importance to the political culture of Sri Lanka.

* C. R. Abayasekara (University of Peradeniya)
* Suresh De Mel (University of Peradeniya)
* Nirmal Ranjith Devasiri (University of Colombo)
* Priyan Dias (University of Moratuwa)
* Asoka N. I. Ekanayaka (University of Peradeniya)
* Avanka Fernando (University of Colombo)
* Hans Gray (University of Moratuwa)
* Dileni Gunewardena (University of Peradeniya)
* Janaki Jayawardane (University of Colombo)
* S. I. Keethaponcalan (University of Colombo)
* Amarakeerthi Liyanage (University of Peradeniya)
* Dinesha Samararatne (University of Colombo)
* Vasanthi Thevanesam (University of Peradeniya)
* Ruvan Weerasinghe (University of Colombo)
* P. Wickramagamage (University of Peradeniya)
* Carmen Wickramagamage (University of Peradeniya)

08/09/2010

Voices on the proposed 18th Amendment

Civil Society and Human Rights groups are appalled by the proposed 18th Amendment to the Sri Lankan Constitution which will remove the restriction on the two terms a person can serve as President, repeal the Constitutional Council, and give the President more power over commissions, including the National Police Commission.
You can view the main points of the proposed 18th Amendment to the Sri Lankan Constitution here

The Asian Human Rights Commission suggests that the proposed amendments would abolish constitutionalism altogether:
What this implies for the people of Sri Lanka in the future is hard to imagine or to describe. However, that the future holds possibilities of enormous disasters and catastrophes due to these amendments is not difficult to predict.
Despite Sri Lanka being a signatory to the UN conventions all the basic principles on which those conventions have been founded are being abandoned through these amendments. Sri Lanka's obligations and these amendments are completely incompatible.

In an exclusive video interview for Groundviews, Rohan Edrisinha, who lectures at the Law Faculty, University of Colombo and is also a Director at the Centre for Policy Alternatives flags serious concerns over the 18th Amendment and highlights various irregularities regarding the process in which the Amendment was introduced. He claims that few outside government even had access to the proposed Amendment before it was sent to the Supreme Court. Even a number of moderate Sri Lankans, who have learned over the decades to keep silent when it comes to criticising the Government, are up in arms.

The Right Reverend Duleep de Chickera, the Bishop of Colombo, has issued A Plea to Withdraw the Eighteenth Amendment claiming that it will lead to the destructive erosion of democracy. In his statement the Bishop noted:
Many sections of the population are deeply alarmed at the possible repercussions the proposed 18th Amendment to the Constitution will have on our system of democratic governance. The nature of partisan politics is such that this will no doubt be a step backwards. It will inevitably lead to a further, dangerous politicisation of our national institutions and a speedier, destructive erosion of our already fragile democratic culture. It is therefore imperative that Parliament rejects this Bill, and that all who value democratic freedom in the country voice their objection to it.

NfR, the Exile Network for Media and Human Rights in Sri Lanka condemned the proposed amendments in the strongest terms and point out that the amendments are incompatible with Sri Lanka’s obligations to international human rights standards as stipulated by UN charter and conventions. They have called for the proposed Constitutional Amendment to be placed before a referendum and [that] the consent of the people be obtained before the provisions of the proposed Amendment become law. Sri Lankans have a choice. To allow their country to descend into an elected dynasty or, worse, a dictatorship or they can call upon members of Parliament to exercise their right to vote against the Bill.

The Civil Rights Movement & The Friday Forum have issued an appeal:
We have witnessed thirty years of armed conflict and the erosion of democratic values entrenched in the first post-independence Constitution. The end of the armed conflict brought with it high expectations of a just peace, strengthened democracy and development. The proposed changes to the Constitution do not merely disappoint these expectations, but in themselves give rise to grave apprehensions. Click here to read the appeal

What happened to Ban Ki-Moon in Sri Lanka? (hint; not much)

The failing of the UN towards the Tamils in Sri Lanka is both shameful and predictable. This is a conflict that continues to receive virtually no global media coverage despite up to 40,000 Tamils being massacred last year:

During the Vietnam conflict, the US military developed some creative ways to increase the numbers of Viet Cong insurgents it claimed to have killed. “If they’re dead, they’re Viet Cong,” meant that any Vietnamese killed by American soldiers would automatically count as enemy fighters.

Sri Lanka’s defence secretary, Gotabhaya Rajapaksa, has taken such creative accounting to new heights. The United Nations reported that at least 7,000 civilians were killed and tens of thousands wounded during the final months of the brutal conflict with the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam, which ended in May 2009. But Gotabhaya has repeatedly cast aspersions on the idea that there were any civilian casualties.

In his recent statement before a Sri Lankan commission looking at lessons learned from the war, Gotabhaya claimed that injured Tigers “changed their uniforms into civilian clothes” and that the Tigers must have suffered at least 6,000 dead and 30,000 injured – suggesting those counted as civilian casualties were really just Tamil Tiger fighters who had shed their uniforms.

As for the widespread war crimes and human rights abuses by both sides reported both during and after the conflict by various UN agencies, the US state department and human rights organisations, the defence secretary seems to be suffering from severe amnesia. He told the Lessons Learned Commission: “No complaints about human rights violations or abuses by the army were brought to my notice. None at all.”


By Antony Loewenstein
An advisor to the Sri Lanka Campaign
http://antonyloewenstein.com/

04/09/2010

NfR condemns proposed 18th amendment to the constitution

NfR Press release/ 03 September 2010

NfR, the Exile Network for Media and Human Rights in Sri Lanka joins democratic forces in Sri Lanka in opposing the proposed 18th amendment to the constitution of Sri Lanka. Condemning this amendment as the final step in establishing a constitutional dictatorship in Sri Lanka NfR urge international democratic forces to voice their opposition in strongest terms in solidarity with democratic aspirations of the Sri Lankan people.

President Mahinda Rajapakse was elected by the people on the basis of the pledges given by him to the electorate that he would abolish the Presidency as the Constitution of 1978 gave the holder of that post too much power. Now that he is in power he has proposed the 18th Amendment to the Constitution which provides more power to the President. It enables the President to contest for the Presidency as many times as he wishes and has also removed the restrictions on the powers of the President placed by the 17th Amendment which created a Constitutional Council. This Council is now to be replaced by another body which negates the whole purpose for which the 17th Amendment was passed. Henceforth the President will be able to appoint his henchman to any and every key position in the administration of the country. Consequently there has arisen a situation which could lead to disastrous consequences to good governance in the country.

In fact while the 1978 Constitution was condemned for placing the President of the country beyond the reach of the law, the proposed amendment has gone beyond that and has made him an absolute despot. The citizens of the country would in future have no protection from the framework of the laws of the land.

Now that the government has the support of two thirds of the members of the Parliament, it could jolly well have used this support to solve the causes that led to the ethnic conflict in the country and put an end to the problems of the Tamils once and for all. This opportunity has now been squandered and the support it has is being used to ensure that the President gets absolute control of the of the country suppressing all the cherished democratic freedoms.

The supremacy of the law, the concept of checks and balances, separations of power, etc. are all going to be things of the past. Sri Lanka’s obligations to international human rights standards as stipulated by UN charter and conventions and the provisions of the proposed constitutional amendment are going to be completely incompatible.

NfR condemns the provisions of the proposed amendments to the Constitution in strongest terms and hopes the Courts will come to the rescue of the people and declare that the proposed Constitutional Amendment should be placed before a referendum and the consent of the people obtained before the provisions of the proposed Amendment become law.

Steering Committee
Iqbal MCM ( The Netherlands), Lionel Bopage ( Australia), Nadarasa Sarawanan (Norway), Nadarajah Kuruparan(UK) Padmi Liyanage (Germany), Raveendran Pradeepan (France), Rudhramoorthy Cheran (Canada), Saman Wagaarachchi ( USA), Sunanda Deshapriya ( Switzerland)
Networking for Rights – Sri Lanka,

03/09/2010

The 18th Amendment is destroying democracy ...

... by manipulation of the democratic process itself

A statement published by the Asian Human Rights Commission, September 2nd, 2010

A simple way of understanding the 18th Amendment is to compare it to the situation in the United States of America. The president of the United States is elected for a term of four years and is entitled to remain in power for a maximum of two terms. This is an absolute limit. Suppose this limit was removed and a US president could contest the election and remain in power for an indefinite period of time. What difference would that make to the entire system of governance in the country; to understand that we have to go into the principle of this absolute limitation.

The principle is that any person who is vested with extraordinary powers should be subjected to limitations and the principle behind that is that no human being is worthy of absolute trust. No one will be trusted with power absolutely. Entrusting power must be accompanied with the placing of limitations to that power. The limitation of two terms was made on that basis. Behind this is the whole notion of binding power. Power should be bound otherwise power can destroy the very things it is supposed to protect.

A nation can be destroyed by the political power of one person. The idea of checks and balances within a presidential system is connected to the placing of limitations on the terms of the presidency. If in the United States the president can remain in power for an indefinite period of time that would affect every institution within the country. The president is only one component of the power of the state. There are so many components that have to function independently if the state has to function correctly, to provide security for the people in order govern in such a way that a society can be managed for its own benefit.

When the head of a state has the possibility of remaining in power indefinitely he will interfere with all the other units; the Attorney General's Department, the courts, the police, the public service and all other independent components of power. All those components that deliver services will be interfered with when one person has unlimited power.

If the president of the United States of America can be elected indefinitely it would turn the entire system upside down. The system simply cannot function anymore. The ruling individual will become the nation and the nation will be subordinate to this ruling individual rather than this ruling individual serving the nation. This is the whole conception of power that is at stake. The 18th Amendment is challenging one of the most sacred notions that has been developed by civilisation: that power must be bound, power must be limited and that this is the only way to preserve the sovereignty of the people, the independence of the nation and that the power of the individual will not become a destructive force.

The discussion on the 18th Amendment with this, at this stage is simply irrelevant. If there is a president that is able to stay in power indefinitely whether there will be an 18th Amendment or not is simply irrelevant. It will be dealt with by the president in the same way it was dealt with in the past.

The issue at the moment is not so much on the 17th Amendment but rather the issue of the time limits to the power of the president. If this principle is taken away Sri Lanka will be pushed together with those nations where all principles have been abandoned. In 1978 one of the constitutional experts declared that Sri Lanka was going in the same path as the Central African Republic where Jean Bedel Bokassa introduced a constitution with absolute power. Today it has taken a further step downwards. We cannot remain as a civilised nation if a limit on presidential power is not imposed.

This is not about an individual, this is about a nation. Is the nation more important than a particular individual or not? This is what is at stake. It is a moment of enormous importance and a step taken in the wrong direction can plunge Sri Lanka into political anarchy for many years to come.

Fundamental aspects of democracy that cannot be changed even with a two thirds majority and referendums

One of the lessons that have been learned from history by democratic nations is that under certain historical circumstances democracy itself can be used in order to destroy democracy. The emergence of Adolf Hitler through popular vote and the subsequent developments brought home to the population in Germany that there were limitations in their past understanding of constitutionalism and this led to the leaving of room for persons with tyrannical ambitions to subvert the whole process of democracy and turn it into fascism.

In the post world war period one of the serious concerns of the German people was to find ways to prevent the possibility of the manipulation of democratic forces to destroy democracy itself. The entire constitutional law was rethought and new mechanisms were developed to prevent the recurrence of this possibility.

One of the fundamental notions developed was that there are certain fundamental aspects of democracy which should be written into a constitution and these aspects cannot be changed even by a two thirds majority or a referendum.

A major weakness of the 1978 Constitution was that it created room for the easy manipulation of the constitution by the use of a two thirds majority in parliament and by referendum. As J.R. Jayewardene was moved by authoritarian ambitions it was not to his benefit to incorporate the developments of democratic nations relating to this important aspect. Thus, the 1978 Constitution left room for the destruction of democracy itself by the manipulation of the two thirds majority and the referendum process.

The limitations on the terms of the presidency and provisions for checks and balances against the abuse of power should be kept as an unchallengeable and unchangeable part of a democratic constitution.

The text of the drafted 18th Amendment can be downloaded here.

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About AHRC: The Asian Human Rights Commission is a regional non-governmental organisation monitoring and lobbying human rights issues in Asia. The Hong Kong-based group was founded in 1984.