Say­ing No to Emer­gency Laws

With lack of clar­ity at the end of a pro­longed state of emer­gency, Sri Lanka con­tin­ues to strug­gle un­der the façade of peace and free­dom.

Southasia - - Region - By Fah­mida Ashraf

Since the end of the civil war in May 2009, the Sri Lankan govern­ment was un­der do­mes­tic and in­ter­na­tional pres­sures for re­mov­ing the emer­gency reg­u­la­tions as a step to­wards nor­mal­i­sa­tion and national rec­on­cil­i­a­tion process in the coun­try. The Sri Lankan govern­ment ar­gued that emer­gency reg­u­la­tions were re­quired to con­trol the come­back of LTTE ‘ rem­nants.’ Re­cently, while re­peal­ing the emer­gency reg­u­la­tions the govern­ment re­jected the im­pres­sion that it was do­ing so un­der in­ter­na­tional pres­sure, but rather be­cause the se­cu­rity sit­u­a­tion in the coun­try had im­proved and the LTTE had been de­stroyed. The Sri Lankan Pres­i­dent, Mahinda Ra­japaksa, an­nounced the lift­ing of the State of Emer­gency on Au­gust 25. In his state­ment in the par­lia­ment Pres­i­dent Ra­japaksa said, ‘There have been no ter­ror­ist ac­tiv­i­ties since the end of the war in May 2009 … I am sat­is­fied that an ex­ten­sion of emer­gency is not re­quired any more so I in­form (the par­lia­ment) that we will not ex­tend the emer­gency any more.’

The emer­gency reg­u­la­tions com­prise two pil­lars - one is the Pub­lic Se­cu­rity Or­di­nance (PSO) 1947; and the other is Pre­ven­tion of Ter­ror­ism Act (PTA) 1979. The reg­u­la­tions im­posed since 1983 gave the state and govern­ment au­thor­i­ties over­ar­ch­ing pow­ers of search and ar­rest re­sult­ing in ar­bi­trary de­ten­tions, tor­ture and en­forced de­ten­tions. Dur­ing the state of emer­gency, var­i­ous in­ter­na­tional hu­man rights or­gan­i­sa­tions re­ported that thou­sands of peo­ple had been de­tained in of­fi­cial and un­of­fi­cial de­ten­tion cen­tres with­out trial. Hu­man Rights Watch (HRW) in its Fe­bru­ary 2010 re­port doc­u­mented the de­ten­tion with­out trial of ‘more than 11,000 peo­ple’ sus­pected of af­fil­i­a­tions with the LTTE. Even af­ter the end of the civil war in May 2009, ac­cord­ing to a HRW re­port, nearly 3,000 sus­pects were be­ing de­tained. Adding to this were en­forced dis­ap­pear­ances of a large num­ber of peo­ple, still to be ac­counted for, sus­pected of hav­ing links with LTTE.

The lift­ing of the emer­gency reg­u­la­tions has been wel­comed by state of­fi­cials. UPFA Gen­eral Sec­re­tary and Pe­tro­leum In­dus­tries Min­is­ter, Susil Pre­ma­jayan­tha, said that the govern­ment by lift­ing the emer­gency has shown ‘its gen­uine will­ing­ness to give peace div­i­dends to the peo­ple.’ Se­nior Min­is­ter for Hu­man Re­sources, D. E. W. Gu­nasek­era, said that the de­ci­sion of the govern­ment ‘would strengthen the demo­cratic process and the con­fi­dence of the peo­ple.’ Con­struc­tion and En­gi­neer­ing Ser­vices Min­is­ter, Ni­mal Weer­awansa, wel­com­ing the re­peal­ing of emer­gency reg­u­la­tions said that the de­ci­sion ‘proved that Sri Lanka is a peace­ful coun­try which has as­sured the demo­cratic rights of the civil so­ci­ety.’

De­spite the wel­come state­ments, as re­ported by Sri Lankan me­dia, the re­peal­ing of the emer­gency reg­u­la­tions has not re­sulted in a ma­jor po­lit­i­cal change. Many of the ‘dra­co­nian laws’ still ex­ist in the form of a ‘new set of rules’ is­sued by Pres­i­dent Ra­japaksa just a few days af­ter he an­nounced the lift­ing of emer­gency reg­u­la­tions on Au­gust 25. Un­der the new set of rules most of the reg­u­la­tions un­der PTA are still in force. Pres­i­dent Ra­japaksa is­sued four procla­ma­tions on Au­gust 29 which in­clude the con­tin­u­a­tion of the ban on LTTE and de­ten­tion of Tamils as ‘Tamil sus­pects’ in the re­ha­bil­i­ta­tion camps. Pres­i­dent Ra­japaksa is­sued a sec­ond procla­ma­tion on Septem­ber 3, declar­ing the state-owned Cey­lon Elec­tric­ity Board (CEB) as the ‘es­sen­tial ser­vice’ thus ban­ning strikes by CEB unions and its em­ploy­ees.

Those en­gag­ing in strikes or in­cit­ing oth­ers for strikes will have to face stiff pun­ish­ment. Pres­i­dent Ra­japaksa in­formed the par­lia­ment on Septem­ber 7, that he has is­sued a third or­di­nance un­der the Pub­lic Se­cu­rity Act (PSA) di­rect­ing the three armed forces

to de­ploy of­fi­cials in all 25 districts of the coun­try ‘for the de­ter­mi­na­tion of pub­lic or­der.’ The PSA gives sweep­ing pow­ers to the mil­i­tary for search and ar­rest and also al­lows the govern­ment to main­tain ‘wartime se­cu­rity check­points and street pa­trols.’

The re-in­tro­duc­tion of the emer­gency reg­u­la­tions in the form of new laws has gen­er­ated sus­pi­cions, uncer­tainty and crit­i­cism by the in­ter­na­tional com­mu­nity. Amnesty In­ter­na­tional stated, ‘The Sri Lankan govern­ment must fol­low up its re­peal of the State of Emer­gency by re­mov­ing re­pres­sive leg­is­la­tion such as the Pre­ven­tion of Ter­ror­ism Act.’ Brad Adams, Di­rec­tor, HRW, in his state­ment is­sued on Septem­ber 7, said, ‘Gov­ern­ments that have called for the re­peal of the emer­gency pow­ers should not be fooled by this cyn­i­cal “bait and switch”.’ Mr J. C. Welia­muna, Ex­ec­u­tive Di­rec­tor of Trans­parency In­ter­na­tional in Sri Lanka com­mented on Septem­ber 19, ‘the Pres­i­dent has with­drawn the Emer­gency Procla­ma­tion but has made mea­sures to keep the “emer­gency le­gal regime” go­ing. I do not think there is ev­i­dence to es­tab­lish that the govern­ment has taken any steps to re­move the “emer­gency hang-up,” though the emer­gency has lapsed.’

Do­mes­ti­cally, the de­ceit­ful move by the govern­ment has caused sus­pi­cions and mis­trust. Sri Lanka’s former At­tor­ney Gen­eral, Mo­han Peiris, while speak­ing to re­porters said, ‘the laps­ing of the emer­gency reg­u­la­tions will not mean a change in de­ten­tion prac­tices.’ While con­demn­ing the govern­ment’s de­ci­sion the Cen­tre for Pol­icy Al­ter­na­tives (CPA), an independent or­gan­i­sa­tion in Sri Lanka, in its state­ment is­sued on Septem­ber 23, said, ‘We be­lieve that the re-in­tro­duc­tion of reg­u­la­tions of this na­ture … is dis­hon­est and wholly in­con­gru­ent with the Pres­i­dent’s prom­ises to Par- lia­ment.’ The dis­il­lu­sion­ment is quite ob­vi­ous by the state­ment of the Tamil National Al­liance (TNA) Mem­ber of Par­lia­ment, M.A. Su­man­thi­ran who cat­e­gor­i­cally said on Septem­ber 4, that TNA ‘will chal­lenge the new reg­u­la­tions in a court of law soon.’ The govern­ment is hold­ing talks with the TNA for find­ing a po­lit­i­cal so­lu­tion to the prob­lem in the North­ern and East­ern re­gion but the govern­ment’s re-in­tro­duc­tion of ‘dra­co­nian’ emer­gency laws will have a neg­a­tive im­pact on the di­a­logue process.

If the Ra­japaksa govern­ment is com­mit­ted to its ef­forts for nor­mal­i­sa­tion and national rec­on­cil­i­a­tion in Sri Lanka, there is a need to act ra­tio­nally and not in­dulge in pol­icy moves which de­velop sus­pi­cions, in­se­cu­rity and mis­trust.

Will emer­gency reg­u­la­tions ever end?

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