By R. M. B. Senanayake
(October 29, Colombo, Sri Lanka Guardian) The European Union passed a Resolution last week faulting our alleged failures in the enforcement of democratic freedoms and human rights. The Government Ministerial spokesman referred to the need to uphold national sovereignty. But does the upholding of national sovereignty not mean also the protection of fundamental rights and human rights provided for in our Constitution? Doesn’t national sovereignty in here in the people. Can national sovereignty exclude the peoples’ fundamental rights? Can we adopt the posture of injured innocence?
The government is justified in refusing an investigation by the EU but is an investigation required for the government to set matters right. But are there serious lapses in human rights and fundamental freedoms or not? Who is behind the death threats to the Editor of the Sunday Leader? The government gets a bad name because of the impotency and incapability of the Police. The CID is reported to have asked the editor of a media website to disclose the source of his information. But hasn’t the Supreme Court in the Manik De Silva case upheld the journalists privilege not to disclose his sources of information, a right recognized in democratic countries. Can the war be still used as a justification for curtailing or abolishing any fundamental rights or due process of law.
Allegations were made all along against the EPDP and the Karuna faction re the abductions, extra-judicial killings and illegal disappearances which took place both in the North and the South? It is these allegations that the EU Reports are now citing for withholding the GSP Plus. Allegations against some ex-Air Force officers made in Parliament are also referred to. All these allegations are referred to in the three reports published by the EU and on the basis of which the EU adopted the Resolution last week.
The GSP Plus concession allows preferential duty and even no duty access to our garments ceramics and other products to the EU. Who can deny t he importance of this concession for our garment, ceramics and other lesser manufactured exports to the EU? Can we compete in the EU market with the products of other countries without this concession? Won’t there be job losses among a vulnerable group- the women workers of our country. Won’t we lose much needed foreign exchange from such exports?
What then must be done? Facing the reality is the beginning of wisdom. Facts don’t change because our opinions about them differ. They have an objective reality. There is no relativism in truth. But some government Ministers seem keen to defend the indefensible. Nor would it do to promise action plans which will deal with the issues in the future. What is needed is to face the reality and take immediate action to restore the credibility of the government.
The EU Resolution pinpoints where attention is urgently required. "250 000 Tamil civilians are being held in camps for screening and resettlement, where there are serious concerns about overcrowding and inadequate access to clean water, sanitation and medical facilities and where they have no freedom of movement". No one denies that the government is improving the conditions of the IDPs in the Camps. But can’t something be done about their freedom of movement? How moral is it to deny freedom to a large mass of people merely because of suspicion they are LTTE supporters or were active members of the LTTE. In other post conflict situations even ex-combatants were given an amnesty. How long can people be held against their will in camps denying their right to freedom without following due process of law? Can’t they be monitored and supervised by the Armed Forces when they go back to their villages or wherever else they want to go back to? Cant they be asked to report to the local police station or Army camp periodically? Maybe it is not the best way but in life second best solutions often have to be adopted. It costs nothing to the government to grant them this limited freedom under supervision, while chasing after hardcore LTTE members who are still hiding among them. However valid is the end it does not justify the means. The individual cannot be sacrificed for the good of society and any curtailment of individual rights must be only in terms of due process of the law. These are fundamental democratic procedures that cannot be curtailed.
.We urgently need to restore the independence of our governing institutions. The Police cannot do their work according to their conscience as long as there is interference from above. Nor can they be held responsible. So the best option is to set up the independent Police Commission. -Sri Lanka Guardian
By R. M. B. Senanayake