The National Peace Council (NPC)

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PERMITTING PROTEST IS PART OF DEMOCRACY -- Media Release 07-02-2013

A protest to be held in Colombo, intended to culminate in the handing over of a petition to the UN office, organized by northern civic groups under the banner of the Families of Disappeared, and supported by the National Peace Council, was blocked by the police in Vavuniya in the North.  According to participants, the reason given by the Police was that they could not guarantee the safety of the travelers in the night. The family members were surrounded by Police and did not allow them to leave. The buses they were going to travel on were blocked by Police trucks.  When contacted by the organizers, the Inspector General of Police had said he was not aware of what had transpired and shown polite interest.

The fact that there are many thousands of missing persons in Sri Lanka is known within Sri Lanka and internationally.  The Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission appointed by the President has called for special investigatory mechanisms to be set up to investigate into this problem.  Therefore, by blocking a protest regarding a problem that is not secret makes little or no sense at all from a democratic perspective.  It was both a denial of the right of movement and the right of free expression, both of which are basic to the democratic system of government.

While the family members were deprived of the psychological satisfaction of handing over their petition to the UN office on behalf of their missing loved ones, this petition can be handed over in a less public manner.  In fact it only adds to the negative image of the government that is prevalent internationally.

The US government has already expressed its concerns about “reports that hundreds of Sri Lankan family members of the disappeared were blocked in Vavuniya by Sri Lankan authorities while traveling to Colombo.  These family members are calling for information about their missing loved ones.  The Embassy calls upon Sri Lankan authorities to allow free movement of these citizens.  The right to freely express opinions is universal and protected under Sri Lankan and international law.”

The government might have been concerned that permitting this protest to take place unhindered would open the floodgates and encourage similar public protests.  However, the National Peace Council holds to the conviction that public protest is a sign that democracy is alive in a country.  The suppression of public protest is a warning that democracy is not present or is on the wane.  Those in the government who blocked the protest of the Families of the Disappeared should not be congratulating themselves but should realize the counter-productive nature of their actions.  The blockade gives the impression that the government is evading its obligations as a democratic government bound to follow the Humanitarian Law and the Laws of War set out in the Geneva Convention.

At the present time there is an increasing demand by extremist factions who racially and religiously discriminate against others and want to see that no freedom or space is provided for minority voices.  The National Peace Council calls on the government to uphold democratic values as its highest priority.  In the modern world, a country without democracy is a blot on humanity.  President Mahinda Rajapaksa would know this well, having been a person who himself carried files of missing persons secretly to Geneva to lobby with the UN Human Rights Committee when he was in the political opposition nearly two decades ago.

Governing Council

The National Peace Council is an independent and non partisan organization that works towards a negotiated political solution to the ethnic conflict in Sri Lanka. It has a vision of a peaceful and prosperous Sri Lanka in which the freedom, human rights and democratic rights of all the communities are respected. The policy of the National Peace Council is determined by its Governing Council of 20 members who are drawn from diverse walks of life and belong to all the main ethnic and religious communities in the country.

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