National security has become a prominent theme in the election campaign. Easter Sunday attacks have forced the voters to rethink of candidates and to assess pros and cons of each, in terms of national security.
By now, it is a known fact that there were security loopholes, paving way to Easter Sunday attacks, even when there had been enough intelligence reports giving early warnings of the attacks. Government is under attack for compromising national security, and ‘betrayal of intelligence units’ by prosecuting some of them for criminal involvements. In this context, strengthening of the security sector appears to be the need of the hour. However, the weight given to national security seems to have contradictions with security of individuals, or technically speaking, human security.
National security and human security are two different concepts, despite their apparent similarity. To clarify the point, let me remind you of a popular Facebook post which appeared a few days back, which claimed; if there were white vans, only eight would have been dead, while over 250 lives would have been safe, meaning that Easter Sunday attacks could have been prevented if white van rulers were in power. The eight figures here obviously mean the cases of journalists and other individuals either killed or had disappeared during Rajapaksa regime.
The security sector of any country needs reforms from time to time, especially after a period of violent conflict, as a security sector may lose its formalities in such drastic circumstances which compels for desperate measures. Although Security Sector Reforms (SSR) were a must at the end of war, Sri Lanka did not go through proper security sector reforms, yet ended up in sublimation of the military forces. No proper attempt was taken even on demobilization and reintegration of security personnel.
According to UN,SSR means “a process of assessment, review and implementation as well as monitoring and evaluation led by national authorities that has as its goal the enhancement of effective and accountable security for the State and its people without discrimination and with full respect for human rights and the rule of law”. I must emphasize that all the terms in this sentence are crucial and exist therein for a reason.
"Therefore, promotions of national security during Presidential election campaigns are to be assessed, giving due consideration as to how it would promote human security, and guarantee rights of individuals"
Security sector reforms after a protracted conflict is a political and technical process of improving both state security and human security. It endeavours to improve both national security and the security of the people. If national security (or state security) means the security of the people in the country, there is no necessity to re-emphasize the security of people. Generally, these two terms have different, and sometimes even contradicting meanings. This is exactly the rhetoric that we see inside the above-said Facebook post. The thinking behind the post is that authorities could have violated the rights of individuals (and even kill or make them disappear) while defending national security, and that we should approve it.
Human security approach, on the other hand, emphasizes human rights of citizens, and demands security for individuals and communities. It is a people-centred approach, as opposed to state-centred approach, demanding the right to live with dignity, and to exercise basic freedoms without fear. This approach is particularly relevant to countries recovering from conflicts, and during peace-building processes, as security sector should be reformed in such a way as to recognize and honour the rights of citizens.
Accountability is one other important aspect of security sector reforms. Unaccountable security sectors may engage in various unlawful and illegal activities posing threats to security of individuals and communities. Accountability of Sri Lankan security sector is still in question in international and local fora, on various allegations of their involvements in criminal activities including abductions and killings.
If a security sector is properly operating, it should give equal weight to national security as well as human security. It should not compromise human security for national security, and should not promote national security at the expense of violating rights of individuals. Unfortunately this approach has never been promoted in the security sector in Sri Lanka, and the exact opposite is being promoted in the election campaign.
If the security establishments in a country are blatantly violating rights of individuals under the pretext of national security, then what is the use of national security? Many authoritarian regimes justify their crimes maintaining that they are promoting national security. A country may become a powerful nation while blatantly breaching rights of individuals. A classic example is Hitler’s Nazi Germany, which was powerful enough to challenge the entire world, yet killing thousands of Jews who were its own citizens.
"If a security sector is properly operating, it should give equal weight to national security and human security"
Claims of promotion of national security should carefully be analysed in this context, as blind promotions of state security may ultimately lead to situations where human rights and dignity of citizens degrade. Such blind promotions may also operate as a ‘blank cheque’ for exploitative politicians, giving them opportunities to justify breaches and crimes under the pretext of national security. This is particularly relevant to a social context where military personnel are made sublimed and enjoy impunity. This happened during and after the war, and it is now happening again after the Easter Sunday attacks.
Accountability is a crucial component of a security sector, as it is maintained with tax money of the citizens, and answerable to the community. The rhetoric of national security further permit unaccountable security sectors to suppress their unlawful activities under the pretext of state security and state secrecy. A society infected with communalism and communal violence provide a better background for justification of violations of rights of individuals belonging to minority communities and those who hold dissenting views. Tamil community experienced such inconveniences during the war, and now ordinary Muslims are experiencing similar difficulties as a result of security measures based on communal differences. This has also created a xenophobic environment where even a kitchen-knife of a Muslim household would be perceived as a security threat, and arrested during
"Accountability is a crucial component of a security sector, as it is maintained with tax money of the citizens, and answerable to the community"
An accountable security sector should be able to treat all individuals without discrimination and with full respect for human rights while they observe the rule of law. Non-discrimination, respect of human rights and rule of law are things we are lacking even with ordinary police force in the country. If properly followed, all these components keep a security sector under the law, not above the law. Blind promotions of ‘national security’ may ultimately undermine individual, human security, keeping security sector above the law, and further promote existing culture of impunity.
Therefore, promotions of national security during Presidential election campaigns are to be assessed, giving due consideration as to how it would promote human security, and guarantee rights of individuals. Worst case scenario is that we will end up with a strong national defence system where safety of individuals and dignity of human life is at stake.