- The crisis is caused by those who have now lost their offices
- There has been some progress in the struggle for justice initiated by this country
- Democracy has been manipulated so hideously for the benefit of politicians
In the wake of the controversial appointment of Mahinda Rajapaksa as the Prime Minister of Sri Lanka, the glimmer of hope for post-war reconciliation promised by the Sirisena-Wickremasinghe Government has waned. The Daily Mirror spoke to activists and critics who admitted there were delays in the transitional justice programme. However, they pointed out that the recent appointment may also mean that the entire process may come to a halt. They raised concerns about the implications of the undemocratic and unconstitutional appointment of a Prime Minister single-handedly by the executive president. They further raised questions about how the crisis would affect the judiciary, law enforcement and institutions such as the independent commissions and the Constitutional Council.
“RECONCILAITION MUST CONTINUE”
Executive Director of the National Peace Council of Sri Lanka, Dr. Jehan Perera stressed on the importance of the continuation of the reconciliation process initiated by the Sirisena-Wickramasinghe Government. “I know it (the reconciliation process) is an imperfect one and a slow one. But it is still better than any reconciliation process we have ever had in our country. I don’t want to see the country return to those who governed the country before 2015 when we all lived in fear,” he said.
We have always transferred power from one government to another in a peaceful and democratic manner almost always through elections and transparently
Dr. Jehan Perera
“We have always transferred power from one government to another in a peaceful and democratic manner almost always through elections and transparently. Here the appointment happened in the dead of the night- in the darkness- without the people knowing, even without the Government leaders knowing. This is a very dangerous precedent for the future,” he added “The people in this country fear the future,” he said.
“REVERSAL IN TERMS OF THE HUMAN RIGHTS SITUATION IF RAJAPASKSA SUCCEEDS”
Executive Director of the Center for Policy Alternatives, Dr. Paikiasothy Saravanamuttu, said that if Mahinda Rajapaksa proceeded the way he did prior to 2015, it would mean the country turning its back on the Human Rights Council, on the 30/1 resolution and entering into an antagonistic relationship with the UN. “On the other hand if they were to be more cooperative we could see whether there is a possibility of another resolution to watch these other institutions while they are being set up. But I think this is highly unlikely. So we may well face a reversal in terms of the human rights situation if Rajapasksa succeeds,” he said.
On the other hand if they were to be more cooperative we could see whether there is a possibility of another resolution to watch these other institutions while they are being set up
Dr. Paikiasothy Saravanamuttu
“The OMP has been set up and it continues with its work. The legislation for the office on reparation was passed. As far as the commission of justice and peace is concerned I understand that the Ranil Wickremesinghe cabinet approved the idea of going ahead with it. But the accountability mechanism will not happen because of the controversial issue regarding judges,” he added.
“LOOK FOR ALTERNATIVES”
Dr. Harini Amarasuriya, a member of the Public Representation Committee (PRC) and a senior lecturer at the Open University said that people should look for alternative means to ensure that the reconciliation process moves forward. “We know that these two parties are not going to do it. It’s very clear that that interests them in the least. It’s time we turn our backs on these two parties and look for alternatives or build up alternatives that can help us,’ she said.
“EMBLEMATIC CASES WILL COME TO A STANDSTILL”
Activist Shreen Abdul Saroor said that a culture of “buying parliamentarians” affects not just parliamentary democracy, but also justice and the due process.
She pointed out that there were a few emblematic cases such as the disappearance of Pradeep Ekneligoda, the students who were abducted by the Navy and were being investigated, but could come to a standstill if the former regime returns to power.
“There has been some progress in the struggle for justice initiated by this country. This will end,” she said.
She further highlighted that previously in rape cases for instance, which are taken up in the North, magistrates would be influenced by politicians. “However, during the last three years magistrates and District Court Judges worked without political interference and intimidation,” she said.
“The space that was created for the average citizen to have access to the judiciary would roll back immediately. People were so scared to trust the police before. It was the military that was in charge of law and order. That is what we see immediately after Mahinda Rajapaksa was appointed,” she added.
She further quizzed: “What is going to happen to the Constitutional Council? These are structures that did at least a bit of checks and balances. The Prime Minister sits in the Constitutional Council and we don’t know who the Prime Minister is now. Who will nominate the members to the independent commission?
“If the paramilitary groups which were part of the culture previously gets activated, how would any commissioner function independently?
“Politicians are selling our votes at a time when the people in the country are paralyzed by the way the executive president’s power has been used to appoint Mahinda Rajapaksa as the Prime Minister and prorogue Parliament. The speaker is unable to exercise his power though 118 parliamentarians have given their mandate. What is democracy in this country?” she quizzed.
“A TRAVESTY OF DEMOCRACY”
When asked about the current political crisis and its implications on Sri Lanka’s Human Rights record Feminists Researcher Chulani Kodikara questioned how Mahason Balakaya Leader Amith Weerasinghe was released on bail and highlighted the forcible take over of state media institutions and magistrate court judges being transferred,
“Why has this happened at this time? Does this have to do with some of the human rights cases? The justice process has been very slow in moving, but it has been moving in some cases such as the Ekneligoda Case, and the assassination of the Sunday Leader Editor,” she said.
“What is the great hurry? There was an election in 2015. Why not wait for the next elections and see what the people have to say? We have ceded our sovereign power to our elected members. If our Prime Minister (I am even willing to concede here) and President don’t want Parliament to meet what does that mean? Whose interests will this prorogation serve?” she quizzed.
Referring to Members of Parliament crossing over for money she said it was a travesty of democracy. “Whose money is this? I am aghast and so upset. I casted my vote not for the people to cross over for millions of money. In my opinion this is a fundamental human rights violation,” she said.
“IT’S BAD NEWS FOR HUMAN RIGHTS”
Political Scientist Prof. Jayadeva Uyangoda said that Sri Lanka had entered a phase of democratic setbacks. “The democratization process is being reversed. It will be very difficult to restore public confidence in politicians, democratic processes and institutions,” he said.
It’s a pity that no one is challenging this before the Supreme Court. This shows that people also don’t have trust in the Supreme Court
“When we have a change in Government outside the framework of the Constitution, it’s bad news for human rights,” he said.
He went onto add that the violation of the Constitution by the President is being “politically justified, not legally”. “That is where the danger lies. The Constitution is interpreted in the way they want. There is an arbitrary interpretation of the Constitution outside the normal principles found in constitutional interpretation,” he said.
“It’s a pity that no one is challenging this before the Supreme Court. This shows that people also don’t have trust in the Supreme Court,” he added.
“MR REIGME CURTAILED FREEDON OF EXPRESSION”
Prof. Chandragupta Thenuwara, the former President of the Federation University Teachers’ Associations (FUTA) said: “We care about who our Prime Minister is because we have memories of what the Mahinda Rajapaksa regime did to us by manipulating and abducting people, harassing and killing journalists and curtailing freedom of expression. Mahinda Rajapaksa must retire from politics. We thought we have a President who protects people’s human rights. But he has shown that he is only protecting his ego.”
“NO POLITICAL OR CONSTITUTIONAL CRISIS”
Famous Artist and Attorney-at-Law Douglas Siriwardane said that since violence did not ensue the appointment of Mahinda Rajapaksa as the Prime Minister it meant that the people had awaited such a change.
“No one has gone to court regarding this. Ranil Wickremesinghe’s allies have not sought the assistance of the judiciary, instead they have made this out to be a political dispute,” he said.
Killing one or two, who have been informants, can be justified based on the greater good for the country- to end the war and bring peace. This is not a crime
“When the appointment made by the executive president has been gazetted and a letter of removal has been sent to the former Prime Minister, then there is only one Prime Minister. The Prime Minister is the one who is sworn before the President. There is no political or constitutional crisis that has arisen by the appointment. The crisis is caused by those who have now lost their offices,” he said.
He further said that under the coalition Government there was corruption as opposed to their slogan of fighting corruption and being anti-corrupt. “The Bond scam ripped off the country. The price of oil and interest rates increased. Taxes were imposed on imports, foreign income and savings. There was no action to equalise the burden on the people and provide them with relief,” he said. Asked about human rights abuses that the purported Prime Minister (Mahinda Rajapaksa) has been accused of, he said that even enemies have the fundamental right to life. However, he said: “Killing one or two, who have been informants, can be justified based on the greater good for the country- to end the war and bring peace. This is not a crime. These vans also abducted goons attached to the underworld,” he said.
Last Sunday, a protest was held by the People’s Movement for Justice and Democracy at the Liberty Roundabout where protesters from around the country condemned the illegal and arbitrary appointment of Mahinda Rajapaksa as the Prime Minister and demanded for democracy, justice, and equality.
“We have not seen justice”
“Since the end of the war we have been fighting and advocating for transitional justice, but until now we have not seen justice not learned of any truth. So we have no hope on those wielding power. I don’t believe they will ensure our transitional justice,” said Buhari Mohamed, a youth from Batticaloa.
‘White vans will come”
“During the past few years the President agreed to a resolution. But nothing in that resolution has been implemented fully. We fear that the white vans will come again and that there would be disappearances. People would be arrested arbitrary,” said Sister Nicholas from Vavuniya.
“We want justice”
“We are here for democracy. The court cases that were filed would be lost. We want justice delivered and there should be peace in the country,” said L. Bogahawatte from Matara.
“Parliament should be reconvene”
“Given that Parliamentary supremacy should reign supreme, we see that MPs are being bought and sold. It’s like an auction and MPs are shamelessly switching sides. Our democracy is being pulled into an abyss. Parliament should be reconvened. This crisis should be resolved,” said Kumudini Samuel.
“I’m here to express my anger”
“Democracy has been manipulated so hideously for the benefit of politicians. I’m here to express my anger at the manner in which my vote is being sold and for the rights of the children’s future,” said Tania Bartlett, a teacher.
“Democracy is now a politrick”
- Sister Angela
“The President has broken the promises he made. We saw leadership qualities in him and he promised to serve the society. But he has broken all those promises. Democracy is now a politrick,” said Sister Angela Fernando from Dehiwala.