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Words are inadequate to describe the evil implications of the proposed 18th Amendment to the constitution

Statement issued by the Asian Human Rights Commission

(August 31, Hong Kong, Sri Lanka Guardian) The Asian Human Rights Commission states that words are inadequate to express the magnitude of the folly contained in the suggested amendments to the Constitution of Sri Lanka by the Sri Lankan government. Given the availability of a two thirds majority for the government these amendments will be passed. However, these amendments will take Sri Lanka completely outside the orbits of constitutionalism as it is understood by a liberal democracy. It also takes Sri Lanka outside the possibilities of the maintenance of the supremacy of the law. The distinction of legality and illegality will now be abolished by the Constitution itself.

In fact, what is proposed is not some constitutional amendments but the abolition of constitutionalism altogether. What this implies for the people of Sri Lanka in the future is hard to imagine or to describe. However, that the future holds possibilities of enormous disasters and catastrophes due to these amendments is not difficult to predict.

The Asian Human Rights Commission has consistently condemned the 1978 Constitution as an authoritarian constitution. The authorship of that constitution belongs to J.R. Jayewardene who also had a two thirds majority in parliament at the time that constitution was passed. Abuse of the power of the two thirds majority resulted in the creation of a system of constitution in which the president was placed above the law. The judiciary and the parliament were relegated to a secondary position. Much of what happened as catastrophes in Sri Lanka was the result of that constitution amendment. Much of what is described today as catastrophes that happened to Sri Lanka because of the LTTE was, in fact, a product of the irresponsible constitutional changes which were made by the 1978 Constitution.

The Asian Human Rights Commission has stated over and over again that the subsequent history of Sri Lanka would have been very different had these constitutional changes not been made.

Unfortunately instead of overcoming the problems created by the 1978 Constitution the course of action that is now being taken by the government is to go even far beyond the scope of the follies contained in that constitution. By the proposed 'amendments' Sri Lanka will create the ugliest form of governance that exists in the world today. The comparisons with those ugly regimes of Idi Amin and Suharto will be understatements.

From the point of view of retaining the legal framework of Sri Lanka and the protection of citizens from now on there will be no possibilities within the framework of law for this purpose. How the citizens can find any further protection is difficult to imagine. The 1978 Constitution brought such catastrophes as mass forced disappearances in the south, north and the east and the numbers of those disappearances are equal to the worst scenarios in the world. What these new amendments will bring in terms of such use of forced disappearances, extrajudicial killings, and the abuse of power, illegal arrest and detention is beyond imagination.

All citizens of Sri Lanka will suffer the consequences of these amendments. The Asian Human Rights Commission in its report to the Human Rights Commission of last year declared that abysmal lawlessness prevails in Sri Lanka and the citizens have zero status. This situation will only become worse now.

The future of governance in Sri Lanka will depend on a security apparatus. It will not depend on the president, the parliament or the judiciary. The people will become the victims of the security apparatus, the worst type of which the world has witnessed in the last 100 years.

The 17th Amendment was proposed in 2001 as an attempt to introduce checks and balances to even a low degree in the 1978 Constitution. That possibility is now completely removed with the suggested changes which are proposed through these amendments. The 17th Amendment is thus reduced to a joke and the idea of checks and balances are forever being abandoned in Sri Lanka.

What will be the situation of a country that abandons the idea of the supremacy of the law, the idea of checks and balances, the separation of powers and the idea of binding power by various means to avoid corruption? When all these principles are removed Sri Lanka will be one of the countries were none of the basic principles accepted in civilised society can operate.

Despite of Sri Lanka being a signatory to the UN conventions all the basic principles on which those conventions have been founded are being abandoned through these amendments. Sri Lanka's obligations and these amendments are completely incompatible. In the future as a result of these amendments Sri Lanka's declarations of allegiance to the international community will be a total farce.

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