The Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) which comprises 57 member states raised the issue of Sri Lanka’s COVID-19 cremations at the 46th United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) in Geneva on February 23. Speaking at the sixth meeting of the high level segment of the session, OIC Secretary General Yousef Al Othaimeen said the OIC is “concerned with the situation of Muslims in Sri Lanka as they are denied the right to be buried,” according to their faith.
Three days after this, on February 26, Sri Lankan authorities who had been dragging their feet on the matter for nearly 11 months, allowed burial for COVID 19 victims. This took place against a backdrop of the UNHRC preparing to pass a new resolution with clauses possibly drawn from the report presented by the United Nations High Commissioner for Human rights Michelle Bachelet which proposed punitive actions against Sri Lankans suspected of violation of human rights.
On the same day, Sri Lankan authorities informed the OIC that they had allowed burial also as a means to dispose the cadavers of those die of COVID 19. Why should Sri Lanka, as a sovereign country inform its decision to another country or a bloc of countries? This shows that the government has succumbed to the pressure by other countries when taking the decision on burial and the earlier decision to ban burial has not been taken on any scientific basis.
Similarly, on February 25, at the ongoing session of the UNHRC in Geneva, Indra Mani Pandey, India’s Permanent Representative to the UN, called upon Sri Lanka to fully implement the 13th amendment to the Constitution under which the provincial councils were established in 1987.
Leaders of the Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna (SLPP) government have been expressing views against the concept of devolution of power, 13th Amendment to the Constitution and the resultant provincial councils, ever since the last Presidential election. In fact, armed with the two thirds majority power in Parliament and probably with additional support from the Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna (JVP), the SLPP could very easily scrap the PC system. However, against a backdrop of Sri Lanka having sought India’s support to defeat the UNHRC resolution on it, it was reported on February 28 that President Gotabaya Rajapaksa has decided to conduct the provincial council elections in June this year and a meeting of all former provincial councilors of the ruling coalition has been scheduled to be held tomorrow. These matters indicate as to how faint the concept of sovereignty is for some countries.
Provincial councils were established as a solution to the ethnic problem and except for the LTTE almost all Tamil armed groups and political parties accept it back then. It was due to the pressure by the LTTE that the other Tamil groups and parties also started to seek new solutions, claiming that the provincial councils were inadequate. In fact, provincial councils were a good forum for the Tamils in the Northern and Eastern Provinces to discuss their problems related to economic and cultural development and find solutions,at least for some extent. However, when they got the opportunity to do so in 2013, they started to use it for their narrow political ends, forgetting their own people who were caught in a three decades long brutal war.
Provincial councils were became a political tool in the hands of the southern politicians as well. They used the system to groom their sons and daughters as politicians and to plunder the public coffers. Finally, the whole system met a snag which almost annulled the people’s representation in those councils for over three years since 2017 as a result of the then ruling party, the United National Party (UNP) desperately wanting to postpone the provincial council elections in order to prevent possible defeat at those elections.
They, in a legal but unethical manner brought in the mixed electoral system for provincial council elections, through a highly controversial amendment to the Provincial Councils Elections Act. With the mixed electoral system having run into controversies following the system having experimented for the first time at the 2018 local government elections, the elections for the provincial councils under the new system met a dead end.
The government must have a clear cut policy on the provincial council system and the related electoral system, without saying one thing to the people of this country and another to India. So long as the system is a part of the Constitution it must operate. Hence the decision to hold the election for provincial councils is appropriate. However, as we witnessed at the last local government elections, the new mixed electoral system doubles the number of councilors which is an utter waste of money. And, many local councils were not able to be constituted, subsequent to the 2018 elections, due to Opposition parties having more members than the ruling parties had, under the new system. Therefore, the government has to sort out the legal issues pertaining to the provincial council