- Monday, 18 January 2016
ALL MANIFESTATIONS OF HATE SPEECH MUST BE BANNED BY LAW
The sudden display of “Sinha le” posters and stickers in public places, private motor vehicles including buses and three wheelers, and on social media, gives the appearance of being part of an organized political campaign that seeks to exploit nationalist emotions. The term “Sinhale” was used during the period of Western colonial invasion that began in the 16th century to represent that part of the country that remained free of colonial rule. However, today it being given the meaning of “Sinhala blood” by being broken into two parts as “Sinha Le” with the second part being depicted in red. While the word “Sinhale” is part of the country’s historical tradition, its current usage through posters, sticker, social media and on properties of ethnic and religious minorities is a form of severe intimidation to them. When these words are spray painted on their properties it constitutes hate speech which is prohibited in international law to which Sri Lanka is signatory.
The National Peace Council is mindful of the aggressive campaign against the ethnic and religious minorities, in particular the Muslims in the period immediately prior to 2015. In some instances it resulted in extreme violence where sections of towns were subjected to arson attacks. This hate campaign was led by Buddhist clergy belonging to the Bodhu Bala Sena (BBS) and supported by a section of the former government, which ensured that they obtained impunity. However, racism and intolerance based on blood ties are not part of the Buddhist ethos. Therefore the motivating force behind the “Sinhale” campaign has to be partisan politics that seeks to use narrow ethnic nationalism to its advantage.
- Saturday, 16 January 2016
PRESIDENT’S PARDON SETS TONE FOR SPIRIT OF TRANSITION PROCESS
President Maithripala Sirisena gave concrete expression to his ideals of healing Sri Lanka’s post war wounds when he utilized his presidential powers to pardon a former member of the LTTE Sivarajah Jeneevan who had been convicted and imprisoned for having attempted to assassinate him in 2005 when he was Minister of Mahaweli Development. This symbolic and healing gesture coincided with the first year anniversary of his becoming President.
Jenivan was arrested on April 23, 2006 and sentenced to 10 years rigorous imprisonment by Polonnaruwa High Court over nine years later on July 3, 2015. The National Peace Council is of the view that the State has the right to charge those who indulge in crimes irrespective of how long the time since the commission of the crime. However, it is not necessary that persons who are accused should be remanded for an indefinite period because they are alleged to have committed a crime unless they are a continuing threat to others. We note in this context that there has been great controversy for the past several years over the continued detention without charge or without trial of over two hundred alleged LTTE members. We urge that they be either charged and subjected to the legal process, or released without further delay.
As a co-signatory to the resolution of the UN Human Rights in Geneva in October last year, Sri Lanka is required to ensure accountability for serious human rights violations and war crimes. The government is presently supporting a consultation process with the general population in regard to its proposed four-fold mechanism to ensure truth seeking, judicial accountability, reparations and to clarify the issue of missing persons. We believe that the legal process needs to be followed with regard to the country’s past and present, as in the case of Sivarajah Jeneevan though in a more expedited manner in the spirit of the President’s healing gesture.
- Monday, 11 January 2016
The government set the stage for the drafting of a new constitution when Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe presented a resolution to Parliament on January 9 that would convene it as a constitutional assembly. The timing was symbolically important as this was the date that marked the commencement of President Maithripala Sirisena’s second year in office. President Sirisena was also in Parliament to make a special address to Parliament. The president’s commitment to stripping himself of the extraordinary powers of the presidency from the very beginning of his first term is without parallel in modern history. Within five months of his presidential election victory he ensured the passage of the 19th Amendment which, as a first step, reduced the powers of the presidency which he would henceforth wield. Now with the convening of parliament as a constitutional assembly he is paving the way for the total abolition of the office he holds.
It is significant that the government did not press for a vote on the resolution that sets up parliament to be a constitutional assembly. Instead it heeded the views expressed by those in the opposition who wished to make amendments to the resolution presented by the prime minister. Constitutional reforms of the past were driven by governments that excluded those who were from the opposition, either purposely or because the opposition refused to cooperate. The past constitutional reforms were partisan exercises by the ruling party, both to impose their visions of the future as well as to gain petty advantages even while claiming they were engaging in reform in the national interest. However, this time around the government is trying to make the constitutional reform process to be a consensual one. Most areas of reform are indeed ones on which there is a great deal of national consensus.
- Thursday, 07 January 2016
The government has been responsive to public pressure in multifold ways. It amended the budget in 16 different areas due to protests by trade unions and affected groups even though the budget deficit grew by more billions. It is investigating a case of abduction by one of its members. It has been responsive to concerns expressed by civil society about the absence of participation in both the constitutional reform and transitional justice processes. Prime Minister, Ranil Wickremesinghe has appointed a 24-member committee from political and civil society to obtain views on constitutional reforms from the public. This Committee will seek oral and written submissions from the public and a report will handed to a Cabinet Sub Committee on Constitutional Reforms. In addition Foreign Minister Mangala Samaraweera has appointed an 11 member committee to discuss and provide input on issues pertaining to the Geneva process.
It is important in a democracy that the people believe their government is prepared to both listen to them and change its decisions accordingly. On the other hand, the government has to balance the national interest as against the interests of specific groups, and to look at short term in relation to long term interests both for itself and the country. Embedded in both the constitutional reform process and the transitional justice process are potentially explosive issues which can be exploited by extreme nationalists and opposition parties for political gain. Even at present the issues highlighted in the resolution of the UN Human Rights Council that Sri Lanka co-sponsored in Geneva, which relate also to truth seeking, reparations and institutional reforms, are being distorted as being solely about war crimes and taking war heroes to The Hague for trial by international tribunals.