That the United National Party (UNP) has published a few ideas on the changes to the constitution they would bring about if they come to power is an indication that a serious critique that has been made about the 1978 Constitution, can no longer be ignored. As it is good to have even an inadequate debate on vital issues rather than nothing at all, it would be better not to ignore the UNP proposals but rather to utilise the occasion to raise all the vital issues that need to be addressed if the mess created by what retired Justice C.V. Wigneswaran charaterised as tomfoolery with the constitution, is to be brought to an end.
What has to be asserted clearly and unequivocally is the fundamental elements of the basic structure of the constitution. The notion of basic structure implies that certain permanent notions are entrenched in the constitution and that attempts by any government to change that basic structure will be resisted. The tomfoolery with the constitution became possible only because there was no agreement on such a basic structure and because the judiciary did not consider it their fundamental obligation to defend and to promote such a basic structure.
The basic structure of the constitution must recognise that the inalienable sovereignty of the people is guaranteed by the recognition of the following principles:
That Sri Lanka is a secular democratic republic where all persons are equal.
That the basic structure of the government envisaged in the constitution is organised on the principles of the rule of law.
The recognition of the principle of the separation of powers.
The recognition of the independence of the judiciary and the right of the judiciary to be the final arbiter on interpretations of the law and with the power of judicial review (as it existed before the 1972 Constitution).
The independence of the public institutions within the framework of the rule of law.
The recognition of human rights as expressed in the Universal Declaration on Human Rights, with the recognition that everyone is entitled to the enforceable right to a legal remedy for violations of rights.
That the peoples’ right to participation is guaranteed by free and fair elections held at fixed periods and through the freedom of expression.
That the public accountability of all public servants must be guaranteed through public hearings before state organs created by the Constitution.
That the character of the welfare state will be safeguarded.
The prime importance of agreeing on the basic structure
The making of a constitution or replacing a constitution is not just a matter of writing a new essay. It is an historical act. In an historical act addressing in the clearest terms possible the fundamental errors that have led to the present impasse need to be clearly expressed. A new constitution is a clear departure as well as a clear beginning.
Therefore it would require a prolonged and a sometimes painful discussion in order to enable a clear agreement being expressed through the basic laws of the country. This does not mean that all issues can be finally settled through a constitution. A constitution is a dynamic document and the problems of a nation are also dynamic. Resolving these problems is a perpetual preoccupation. However, there are basic and fundamental areas where the people recognise that things went wrong and that these must not be allowed reoccur. Therefore a thorough reflection of the past is an essential aspect of any serious attempt to develop the country’s basic law for the future.
The UNP in entering into this area of the national debate has done itself a favour. However, in the very preamble of its declaration on the basic constitutional issues it has done great harm to the credibility of this initiative by being an apologist for the 1978 Constitution. The UNP’s credibility will be tested by its capacity to unequivocally condemn the enormous harm caused by the 1978 Constitution and the practices which developed under that constitution. Accepting full responsibility for the catastrophic consequences caused by introducing this constitution is an essential step for establishing credibility for its initiative for constitutional reforms.
“….establishing a complete series of methods which will allow the controlling oligarchy……to get people to really like their servitude. This is the, it appears to me, the ultimate in malevolent revolutions”. –Aldous Huxley (The Ultimate Revolution)
In the course of his current Ugandatour, President Mahinda Rajapaksa was reportedly enchanted by the servile conduct of the Ugandans he came into speak to with. According to the political column of last Sunday’s Rivira, the Lankan President asked his Ugandan counterpart, “When we appear at them (Ugandans) it is clear that they have a very obedient nature. How did you handle to make them so obedient?” President Musevini’s response was that this servility was a relic of the Colonial ethos, when White Masters kept their Black and Brown Subjects in total subjugation.
In a democracy uncritical obedience is a unsafe vice. Despotic rule can’t survive without uncritical obedience. Colonial rulers treated colonised peoples as political infants incapable of handling independence. Tyrants too regard their subjects as eternal political-minors, incapable of dealing with freedom.
Foremost amongst the freedoms considered unsafe by actual and nascent despots is the appropriate to info, the freedom of the individuals to know what is happening in their personal nation. Over the years the Rajapaksas have managed to subdue most of the print media. At present, websites are their major targets. In this month alone, de facto banns were imposed on numerous web sites which includes Gossip Lanka and Lanka Eagle.
The Rajapaksa worry of a free of charge and critical media is comprehensible. The Siblings have a lot to hide.
Take land grabbing. At present this is a major dilemma confronting not just by the Tamil individuals of the North but also by the Sinhala people of the South. Parallel to the stealth campaign of demographic reengineering in the North, the Rajapaksas are conducting an even more secretive operation of class and partisan-political reengineering in the South. Their ultimate aim is to create a new demographic which will render tough any democratic/electoral resistance to Familial Rule.
In the North, private lands are getting expropriated to create new army camps and military cantonments. For instance, according to Parliamentarian MA Sumanthiran, the regime is utilizing the Land Acquisition Act to expropriate 6,400 acres of land to build a military cantonment in Jaffna: “….the notice says that the claimants are not traceable! The owners of these lands live just outdoors the so known as illegal Higher Safety Zone, in camps maintained by the government itself. They have lived there for over 25 years. And although their title to these lands were checked and cleared by a Committee appointed by the Supreme Court in 2006, they were not permitted to go and resettle on the false assertion that de-mining was not comprehensive. That it is false is demonstrated by the sight of soldiers cultivating these lands….. Now abruptly, the government has shown its true face: these lands will be taken and given to other folks to occupy, who will turn into voters in the North. Equivalent notices have been issued in the Kilinochchi Distrct also. In the Eastern Province, guidelines have gone out to obtain all the land that the military deems needed for its purposes”[i].
These cantonments and military bases are getting superimposed on a Tamil terrain to break the current ethnic contiguity of the North, thereby to render devolution not possible and to maintain Tamils in a continued state of subjection. Its other – and no significantly less important goal – is to make it possible for the Rajapaksas to win elections in the North, with a minimum quantity of violence and malpractices.
Most Sinhalese are indifferent to the situation of land-grabbing due to the fact they see it as a Tamil dilemma. The Rajapaksas would want this ignorance – and the consequent indifference – to last as lengthy as achievable. The plight of Colombo’s poor, who are facing the danger of becoming evicted from their houses en masse, has received some interest but the plight of the Sinhala peasants of Ampara who have been chased away from their classic lands is virtually unknown. In 2011, the Lankan Navy grabbed far more than 1,200 acres of land close to the tourist hot-spot ofPanama consequently thousands of Sinhala villagers of Shasthrawela, Ragamwela, Ulpassawela, Horowkanda and Ella lost their properties and their signifies of livelihood. A comparable fate has befallen the fisher-folk of Kalpitiya.
When the state requires more than private land for development purposes, it is obligated to provide the owners with either compensation or alternate lands. This is how successive governments in Sri Lanka carried out themselves, by and large. The Rajapaksas have developed a different method land grabbing is becoming carried out, added-legally, making use of the military. The situation is hence ‘militarised’ and garbed in the protective-attire of ‘national security’. This way the owners can be threatened at will, the Sinhala-language media silenced and environmental laws and archaeological regulations ignored. For instance, in Ampara, “though sanctions have been imposed by the Forest Department, Archaeological Department, Coast Conservation Department and Central Environmental Authority on carrying out any improvement operate on forestlands, the Sri Lanka Navy claims that such formalities are entirely discarded when the Defence Ministry approves their projects. Speaking on the construction work carried out by the Navy in Panamain the Ampara District, Navy Spokesman Commander Kosala Warnakulasuriya stated that they have not followed any of these procedures nor would they require permission from the mentioned institutions as the building is becoming carried out on Defence Ministry land. ‘This is a Defence Ministry land and there is no necessity to get approval from any department to carry out any of our improvement function,’ claimed Warnakulasuriya[ii].
The Defence Ministry and the military are the law, not just in the Tamil-North, but even in the Sinhala-South. The ultimate objective of these acts of dispossession is to fill the Rajapaksa coffers, buttress the Rajapaksa dynastic project and render hard any powerful national resistance to Rajapaksa rule.
The Sinhala, Tamil and Muslim victims of land-grabbing have a issue and an opponent in common. Therefore coordinating their different acts of resistance into a single struggle tends to make perfect sense. However, rather of this essential and possible national campaign – ideally with the participation of the opposition parties – resistance is fragmented along regional/ ethnic/class lines.
The Siblings do not want the Sinhalese to understand that they are not immune to Rajapaksa-injustice. The Siblings do not want the Sinhalese to realise that the military, far from becoming ‘our boys’, are Rajapaksa tools (just as the Tigers served not the Tamil folks but Vellupillai Pirapaharan). The Siblings do not want their Sinhala, Tamil and Muslim victims to uncover the typical ground and mount a coordinated resistance. The Siblings want to atomise Lankans along ethnic, religious and class lines, to avoid a united opposition to familial rule from coming into getting. The only Sinhala-Tamil-Muslim unity they want to market is a unity in apathy and indifference.
The Rajapaksa project aims at the psychological reengineering of the Lankan people. They want an ignorant nation which equates distinction with danger. They want a men and women more concerned about hemlines or eating habits than land-grabbing or kid abuse. They want a nation seeped in mutual-suspicion and habituated into obedience.
They want a nation which, unconsciously, cooperates in its own subjugation and undoing.
By Colombo Telegraph – “No one particular, could be with the exception of Gothabaya Rajapaksa, but he’s the only particular person I can mention who considered a military victory was achievable. I was quite hard to say extremely close to Indian intelligence and an tremendous sum of time all through this process and never, ever did any Indian official hint that a military victory was achievable until mid 2008.
Then they started, I observed the change in Mr.M.K.Narayanan and others and gradually shift into the position that may be, state may be the government can wipe out the tigers military victory.”Norwegian peace envoy Erik Solheim said last week
“Sri Lankans try to manipulate every single day for whole this 10 years, for their business interest part of that they tried to manipulate all. We may be fool but no so foolish that we understand that they tried to manipulate.” Minster of the Environment and international Development Erik Solheim further said.
Sri Lankans try to manipulate every single day for whole this 10 years, for their business interest part of that they tried to manipulate all. We may be fool but no so foolish that we understand that they tried to manipulate.
Eric Solheim made this remarks last week in Oslo seminar followed by the launch of the evaluation report of the Norwegian Peace effort in Sri Lanka. Theevaluation has been performed by CMI in Bergen and the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS) in London, and deals with the Norwegian peace effort in Sri Lanka between 1997 and 2009.
Following is the full text of the speech made by Erik Solheim
Let me start by thanking Mr.Gunnar and his team for a very valuable and interesting report. I’ve not been able to study everything at this stage, we will go through it, all the big and small parts…the big and small issues which are covered by the report and see to what extent I can inform and to see what I can do to assist Sri Lanka in the future and more importantly how this can help Norwegian efforts in other peace processes.
Norway is involved in one way or other in may be 20 peace processes in world and very few of them, at the moment, not as a main actor as in Sri Lanka, but in supporting the parties and supporting other international actors in bringing peace so it’s very valuable to look into all these experiences which are experience, this may be the first time, certainly, it isn’t normal, that one involved in the peace process is commissioning a report in to all the positive and negatives of what happened.
Norway should have withdrawn from the peace process
I broadly agree with most comments made and had one major reservation and let me start with that. I think indeed that Norway should have withdrawn from the peace process when it was clear to everyone that the government of Sri Lanka wanted a final military victory.
Every one knew that, was no doubt in Washington, or Beijing, or Colombo or Vanni about that. No one was in doubt of that. Indeed at this point we should have withdrawn. I think it is extreme arrogant why, because the Tamil Tigers asked us to continue, the government of Sri Lanka at least, in some extent, asked us to continue. A complete civil society and all the peace groups in Sri Lanka asked us to continue. The United States of America asked us to continue. India asked us to continue. The European Union asked us to continue. Neither I nor Vidar Helgesen, should sit in Oslo and make the decision that when everyone else in the world asked Norway to do best under the most difficult circumstances, even when its war, even so many people are killed, we should try to withdraw.
. If Pirapaharan had not forced Tamil voters to abstain from elections in 2005 everyone knows that Ranil Wickramasinghe would have been elected the president, not Mahinda Rajapaksa, Everyone knows that. That would at least have been a major change in everything what happened after that.
I cannot disagree, more. I think it’s very arrogant because it’s putting Norway far above everything else. It’s about our reputation, not about what we’re asked to do. All those who are suffering from this war. Except for that major reservation, I agree a lot about what has been presented by Gunar hear.
If there is another, not major reservation, it is the following. We should be very cautious with determinism believing that the outcome of Sri Lankan events had to be what it actually was. Richard Armitage is at the first floor hear, I think he and myself agreed that the American Independence war by George Washington would have taken a completely different turn if George Washington had be hanged as a terrorist and the UK would have gone over at least 50 more years.
It was so close to a southern separation during the civil war in America in the 1860’s and was not far away. Very close. You can just make a few changes in a few of the battles or moving the election of 1860 away from the fall to the spring and the outcome would have been completely different.
If Pirapaharan had not forced Tamil voters to abstain from elections in 2005
This occurs in most important events in Earth’s history and the tendency by researchers by what actually is the end, had to be the end, I take a reservation with. Let’s mention a few of the “ifs” in the peace process of Sri Lanka. If Mr.Pirapaharan had not forced Tamil voters to abstain from elections in 2005 everyone knows that Ranil Wikremesinghe would have been elected as the president, not Mahinda Rajapaksa, Everyone knows that. That would at least have been a major change in everything what happened after that.
If Balasinham had not died of cancer, it may or may not have made a major difference; I think it would have made a major difference because after Balsinham’s death, the LTTE leadership made all the mistakes.
If Mr. Balasinham had not died of cancer, it may or may not have made a major difference; I think it would have made a major difference because after Mr. Balasinham’s death, the LTTE leadership made all the mistakes.
Prior to that they were quite clever both in the political and military field in the 3 years after Blasingam’s death, it was not one single meaningful political or military initiative from the Tamil Tigers.
Not one and there is no other way of explaining that influence of Balasingham’s disappear and Pirapaharan was alone to make decisions. So to say. If Karuna was not split, it was not, I think, in the invertible, it was basic from personal characteristics, not very nice, but it was what happened and it made an enormous change .
If Chandrika Kumaratunga or the other actors had to be able to move one or two months after the Tsunami, it was a completely new set up in Sri Lanka.
Tamil Tigers assisted the army. The army assisted Tamils. Was really a new beginning but it was drawn out, drawn out, the momentum was lost and basically nothing happened.
If we had been able to achieve a major change or development here I think everything would have been very different. Not necessarily, exactly what we had hoped for but it would have been very different. And I can continue with a number of other such if, So I think we have to judge historical events on the basis of the available information at that time, not when we know what happened. But that’s hard when we don’t know exactly what happened because what happened was not necessarily what had to happen. Then, let me add one or two other aspects. No one believed there was a military victory possible.
Gothabaya Rajapaksa the only exception
No one. May be with the exception of Gothabaya Rajapaksa but he’s the only person I can mention who thought a military victory was possible.
No one in Colombo thought it was possible, I was very hard to say very close to Indian intelligence and an enormous amount of time throughout this process and never, ever did any Indian official hint that a military victory was possible until mid 2008. Then they started, I observed the change in Mr.M.K.Narayanan and others and gradually shift into the position that may be, still may be the government can wipe out the tigers military victory.
If Karuna was not split, it was not, I think, in the invertible, it was basic from personal characteristics, not very nice, but it was what happened and it made an enormous change .
Before that no one thought it was possible, the United States thought it was impossible, USA, India and Colombo thought it was impossible so again complete change from what we all based the peace process on until that point.
Then coming to what can be learned. Because there are a number of these issues which are reflected in the report and also by Gunnar. Obviously have to be patient, that’s very obvious part of the peace process starting with the belief that this can be resolved in a few months time.
The Indians told us, please be patient, if you cannot be patient go away, get out of the way you will only complicate matters. This will take a decade at the minimum. So we learned to be patient and you need patience in any peace process.
Then you need to get the international context right, as was covered by Mr.Gunnar may be at the end the government won a military victory because it much better understood the international situation and tiger leadership. Mr.Rajapaksa understood it was basically possible to build up a coalition of China, Pakistan, Iran, and a number of new actors in the Sri Lankan context to get on one hand, military support from these new actors but on the other hand also using these new actors to put pressure on old actors in the sense that it would be very much more relaxing to see China coming in a more major way in Sri Lanka.
That was very clever international diplomacy by Rajapaksa out fuling that way the Tigers in … that way… so in the international context it’s very essential. Other issues the inclusiveness. Have to say that we were fighting throughout to particularly include the Muslim community in Sri Lanka in a much broader way in the peace process and to every one else that was not easy mainly because the Tamil Tigers were very reluctant to see a separate Muslim dimension to the struggle, but very very important in all peace processes to be as inclusive as possible.
The three main issues in my perspective in the peace process
Then I would come to the three main issues in my perspective in the peace process which we have to contemplate for future situations. Number one, the peace priority list is weather are there other ways to influence the Tamil Tigers leadership in a more effective way than we did. You may please recall Norway was the only access to Pirapakran. background, I met Pirapakaran may be ten times and absolutely no tiger in
If Chandrika Kumaranathuga or the other actors had to be able to move one or two months after the Tsunami, it was a completely new setup in Sri Lanka.
that background, none. During the peace process, except for Norwegians, Mr.Krish Paten from EU meet him onece, and Akashai from Japan, may be once, or twice, except for that it was just Norwegians. Mr.Lars combined thirty hours with during this peace process. He spoke only Tamil and my Tamil is limited so it was a relatively limited time. I think it was completely wrong …. That other actors did not want to speak to him unless he behaved well. The more people that need to speak to Pirapakaran the better.
The government would have been reluctant to that because that would have been a recognition of his role that I think the more the LTTE would have been opened up, the moel actors that would have been able to meet in a international community mole the more likely a success would have been.
That’s right what Gunnar said, when Balasingham negotiated to do so call Oslo declaration which they said LTTE will explore Federalism where Milinda and myself who wrote that document here in Oslo Balasingham accepted it and took it to Pirapakaran, he refused it. It was not public at that time but it is very clear he refused it. Because he was realizing to federalism. But still have been ……. or influence in LTTE Leadership. In reality that Mr.Pirapakaran, more that is the most, that is the number one crucial issue. Blasingham told me that please understand Mr.Pirapakaran is a war lord. he is not in a democratic society not understanding international community not understanding the base in Europe and USA.
Blasingham told me that please understand Mr.Pirapakaran is a war lord
He is ……. in a war load. May be studying the war lords, chins history in the early part of the …. the best parallel to study Pirapakaran, Balasingham hinted. Its not my idea. if that the case more have been done to open up their ice, their understanding of the world and should be have done that more on that matter I thing that was completely wrong that USA, Europe and anyone else ask me please you behave well very long period of time we will talk to you. So we should have talked to them all the time as much as possible 24 hours if possible. This is the number one status issues.
It may, People may thing that up on this from world assistant, stutterers, tactical experience, it may seen as very personal oriented but the reality was Pirapakaran was the LTTE, without Pirapakaran LTTE will have existed and all major decisions whatever type will be made by Pirapakaran. No one else. he will of course speak with some of the military leaders definitely consulting with Balasingham but ultimately he will make decisions and it was very hard, I never heard any Tamils giving and wanted advice to Mr.Pirapakaran I thing that would be very difficult to any Tamils to knock at door to going to Pirapakaran and say that you are on a wrong path you shouldn’t do this and that.Only person should do that Balasingham. Because he was 10 years senior.
Second issue very much covered by Gunnar. There are two parties in Colombo. UNP and SLFP they had a long long history of not working together. During most of the peace process Chandraka was the President Ranil Wikremesinghe was the Prime Minister and they were not speaking … and they were both believing that they are whatever they do possible to do in their my or in their situations.
. Blasingham told that please understand Pirapakaran is a war lord. he is not in a democratic society not understanding international community not understanding the base in Europe and USA.
Should have been done more on that regards. We felt that it was outside Norway mandate. We felt other mandate was to negotiate that those in power in Colombo where ever they are and the Tamil tigers and that intervening on that would be intervening mean that domestic affairs in State of Sri Lanka.
Mr.Fox that UK’s Minister of Defence, he just left his post, made so called FOX agreement in late 1990s you should cover that. There was lots of efforts that Indian and others to bring by two parties together but should have been Norway should have forced to …. may be we should have done that more to ask both parties to do like India and UN to do it, would have been very very difficult. Very critical issue I do not know what extend discuss it the peace agreement was in the beginning before the cease fire agreement should more effort have been done bring Chandrika into that. Because that was done right after Ranil Wikremesighe made political victory he was on the political assurance, very strong and very popular at that point. Chandrika was as you said sidelined.
Should more have been done to bring Chandrika in to that agreement
That’s true, should more have been done to bring her in to that agreement at the beginning, mover mental that has been lost but it is a critical issue of course if there has been a two party agreement in Colombo with their LTTE that would have made enormous different that’s very clear. But I think that was outside to Norway to archive it. May be we should have been done more to try to convince others to act will be lots, possibly has been done more. The last issue like to bring that also coved the issue of communication. Its true that Norway became very unpopular at least that peace process has lasted long partially in …… Nationalists Sinhala groups, that’s very clear. I thing that main reason for that with optics whenever someone saw Mr.Pirapakaran or LTTE …. to Norwegians because no one else going there, so other, I will be there or Ambassador or Johan or someone else, I mean if Pirapakaran or Balasingham or Tamilselvan, whether it was on TV normally the Norwegian with his side, it gave important to Sri Lankans that Norway was very close to LTTE. Since no one else LTTE did this. This was optical reason was why this became an issue.. but still we should have discussed, may be better media strategy. However of course, that party not wanted Norway to have a high profile. they wanted to be a process between that LTTE and the government they wanted us to make comments particularly when they have agreed some things but did not want Norway to be seen as speaking behalf of its self… defending its own role on this on media and that.. that clearly told that was what the parties want to see and still I mean is an issue, definitely need more consideration whether it should have play that or done more on this. Other issue in commutation is their one group. I am very clear we should have done more to reach out to the Buddhist clergy in Colombo in Sri Lanka and Mahanayaka in Kandy and others, the very important spiritual leaders in Sri Lanka. We were clearly adviced by Chandrika Kumaratunga not to spend too much time on the Buddhist clergy. So this not our idea, she was telling not to do it,. We wanted to do, but told not to do.. …… itself and don’t interview in this … leave that to us. At least to that inside today we should have done more to reach out to the Buddhist clergy because of their loyalist on the Sinhala side was so so important. so these are some of the issues for discussion. There are many big and small at the end two big one that finding of the issues of the peace process was should more have been done to reach out to Pirapakaran to get him at end to accept a federal states. that other was should more have been done bring together UNP and SLFP, Ranil and Chandrika, if we have been able to do very different or one or other this too, that would have been a completely different process these are the two essential questions.
If you want to receive support from USA will you kill any USA president?
I don’t think that war on terror was a main problem here, On one hand LTTE made enormous mistakes, the reason why the war on terror became so important in Sri Lanka was that LTTE made high profile assassinations against Sri Lankan politicians, it gave them nothing on any political or military point of view. Why in hell killing Rajiv Gandhi. Animus blander, if you want to receive support from USA, will you kill any US president? India was the main source of support to Tamil Tigers, why then killed? Rajiv Gandhi was a outstanding Indian Prime Minister.This was animus mistake, Whenever Pirapakaran told us stop killing, he keep (strikes) his words, that’s more than I can say that Sri Lankan Sinhala politician,
I am very clear we should have done more to reach out to the Buddhist clergy in Colombo and Mahanayaka in Kandy and others. The very important spiritual leaders in Sri Lanka, we were clearly adviced by Chandrika Kumarathunga not to spend too much time on the Buddhist clergy
Pirapakan always did. One example right after Mahinda elected president, LTTE started huge number of killing against Sri Lankan army soldiers then we went to Pirapakaran he promised to stop it. He stopped it. There was no killing by LTTE then the Government started killing different Tamils. Then too LTTE responded. Government that point insisting the killing. LTTE did not start the peace process at the weak point. They started the peace process at the peak of power. LTTE was ever powerful at 2000 and 2001.
LTTE did not start the peace process at the weak point
LTTE was too close to capture Jaffna peninsula, LTTE distorted Bandaranayaka airport in Colombo, bringing the economics of Sri Lankan state to zero. There was a peak of the power they started peace process, We Norway had good relation with Government in Washington and Norway embassy in Oslo. Their is not one critical remarks what so ever on WikiLeaks on Norwegian role on peace process. There USA cannot do it, will not do it, its very common Norway doing it. We have been …… bringing ….. killing by Sri Lankan state, I will give you ample of examples, MP. Pararajasingham good friend of mine was killed in Xmas day in a Christian church, Obviously this was by Sri Lankan state.One of the main famous Editor in Colombo Lasantha Wickaramatunga, another friend of us through peace process known very well killed by state of Sri Lanka.
Absolutely there is no doubt about that, that should be condemned and who was responsible for this crime should be brought to courts.
It was absolutely right to regret the ban of LTTE the point of views of Norway, how could you play as a mediator if band one organization you should talk to that group is impossible, I thing that banning the LTTE is not a good idea, because I … to that …..that much …. that overwhelmed by LTTE to political come forward bringing them out in the light discussing with them and trying to convince top leadership that has to informs them self.That is the reason why took prevalence that in Europe very clear on so many occasion we not able to stop this kind of terrorist killing that provoke the EU.
Sri Lankans try to manipulate every single day for whole this 10 years
Sri Lankans try to manipulate every single day for whole this 10 years, for their business interest, part of that they tried to manipulate all. We may be fool but no so foolish that we understand that they tried to manipulate.
I still believe that this peace process should have taken a different cost… so I don’t think too high expectation may be from the beginning much more easy, but it was not right to do it, Expectations has gone very differently I thing it was right.
India though out had VETO power over the peace process, Milinda and myself went to Delhil many time but I don’t know how many times has been at the airport and New Delhi meetings whith Indian Intelligence and others, there was no major steps on the peace process what so ever taken without informing India same times they tacis excess may have disagreed India was throughout Informed.
That was very simple, they want that view, India for most important friend in Sri Lanka. USA is important also, for USA India and Sri Lanka is a co-Interest.
USA never ever realize their relationship with India, for example for Sri Lanka. If India on board, ultimately USA basically flow. Even what nation’s …… to SLMM they give a list of the national they will aspect we will respect from that.
This piece is a response to Ms. Shenali D. Waduge’s recent article “The Existential Fears of Buddhists in Sri Lanka must be given high priority and addressed without delay” published on August 13th, in Lankaweb. Having read the article and the even more dangerous comments it gathered, I could not help myself but feel outrage at each line, or should I say each word, I had the misfortune to read.
The one and only sentence on which I agree with in Ms. Waduge’s article is when she says that “A spectre is haunting Sri Lanka”. As for the rest of the article, I could only feel disgusted at each argumentative point that was developed in it. According to the author, Sri Lanka is on the verge of getting overrun by Muslims. Sri Lanka is indeed on the verge of getting overrun but not by Muslims. The island is actually about to get overrun by ethno-religious detractors who, instead of talking in their own name, are talking in the name of both the Sinhalese and the Buddhist communities. Unfortunately, one cannot label the author, her article and its like-minded readers as ultra-nationalists or racists anymore because their so-called “existential fears” go beyond any possible form of extremism. In fact, it goes to the extent of becoming pure idiocy; a desperate behaviour that will end up labelling Sri Lanka in the worse possible manner in the eyes of the international community, with repercussions that might last for quite some time –especially among its allies in the Middle East. And, in this sensitive post-war transition, this is the last thing Sri Lanka needs right now. Not to mention that the UN HRC is to meet in Geneva next month; shifting the international focus on Sri Lanka once more before the CHOGM Summit this November.
To Ms. Waduge and her followers, I wish to say that, being a Sinhalese and a Buddhist myself, the only time I feared for survival in my beloved country was when it went through a three decade long protracted civil war. A war which tore apart communities that once used to live together, in peace and harmony. A war in which every Sri Lankan lost one of their own –irrespective of their religion or ethnicity. A war that I never want to see happen again because of the narrow-mindedness of a few. And yet, given the recent incidents and hate speeches displayed on the public sphere (especially through the media), I now fear that the peace we have all been longing for will never see the light due to idiotic and disrespectful behaviours such as the recent Grandpass incident; behaviours which I must confess are quite “brilliantly” illustrated in the irrational figures laid out throughout the said article.
In fact, before talking about Buddhism, one should perhaps start to read, learn, and may be even practice its deeper philosophy. If Ms. Waduge did so, she would know that there is no such a thing as “mine” in Buddhism. She would also know that Lord Buddha never claimed Sri Lanka, or any other country for that matter, to be a Buddhist land. Mostly, she would know that what Lord Buddha tried to preach us with much emphasize were universal values such as respect, forgiveness and above all compassion among all living beings. So before blaming other communities and religions of overrunning Buddhism, one should perhaps get his/her own communal and religious values/practices straight. That, for me, would be the most effective way to preserve ones culture, religion and traditions without harming others. But unfortunately, I also know that this perspective of mine might not change the mindset of a few in our society who suffer from an ethno-religious inferiority complex of its own.
According to the author, “The territory and space of Islam is non-negotiable and if Islam is non-negotiable what is wrong with others saying the same?” Well, despite the fact that the said statement does not speak for all our Muslims friends, what is wrong here is to assume that others’ mistakes give you the legitimacy and credibility to replicate the same mistakes. If one wishes to set up a constructive example, one should always think and behave with a stronger sense of rationality; a rationality that does not intent of fulfilling one’s own need to the detriment of others.
I do not intent to comment on the factual examples on which the author naively –or not- bases her theory. These facts, I believe, are not only distorted but also taken out of their context. Indeed, while going through these comparative facts, delivered with quite a level of distortion throughout Ms. Waduge’s article, I could not help myself but wonder how any foreign incident/attack which occurred against the Buddhist community had anything to do with Sri Lankans of Muslim religion. I personally am starting to feel tired of reading this type of idiotic comments that are doing no good to our country and certainly not to our people. Perhaps, it is time for us to mature our own thinking process and start behaving as responsible citizens; citizens who are supposed to be working on rebuilding a nation, not destroying it. Bad people are everywhere, Ms. Waduge. That’s no news to anyone. But one cannot, and should certainly not, generalize a specific mindset or incident which occurred due to the behaviour of a few to an entire community. This will only end up in wrongfully labelling the said community and wrongfully labelling ourselves at the same time.
Correct me if I am wrong but currently, Sri Lanka is facing major concerns –both internationally and nationally. Wasting our time on these idiotic matters only takes us further away from addressing the actual post-war issues faced by our country; such as: access to quality education, lack of an effective foreign policy, socio-economic development, reconciliation, restoration of trust between communities; among others.
Ms. Waduge, from a Buddhist to another Buddhist, let me end up with a quote of Lord Buddha, which I strongly invite you to meditate on: “Holding on to anger is like grasping a hot coal with the intent of throwing it at someone else; you are the one who gets burned.”
Review of Narrative of Justice: told through stories of torture victims, 400 cases of torture from Sri Lanka, By Basil Fernando, published in 2013 by the Asian Human Rights Commission.
My first impression was that I was overwhelmed because of the sheer number of cases and the diversity of the ways in which people were tortured. What started sinking into me was the question, “What has happened as a result of all this? Has society taken notice of it?” How can people possibly stay indifferent after reading this?
Let this book sink into the consciousness of the people. Let people start talking about it. And as they start talking about it, they will find difficulty accepting that this happened in their midst. This is not something they can erase by saying it happened in the past. It is something which is very much there and will continue as a transgenerational trauma for the people.
These narratives of trauma will seriously affect the fabric of society even 50 years from now and affect how people become immune to happenings around them; until and unless there is accountability and people decide to act.
It has been seen that until and unless we start accounting for trauma happening in our midst, it starts affecting every trade, every core, every part of society in different ways, and becomes a part of society like a cancer or virus and grow and grow. And until and unless people are made accountable – and I don’t mean accountable in the legal sense, I mean accountable in the moral sense, accountable in the sense of accepting it – it would be very difficult to call Sri Lanka a mature society at any time in the near future. If we see societies, in their growth and their evolution, they come to a point when they have to take accountability for their wrongs before they can become mature. We see that for any society to call itself a developed or mature society, at some point they have to account for the wrongs they have closed their eyes to. For example, America had to deal with the issues of slavery and the Vietnam War before they could cross over to the next phase.
To me, what I am reading in this book is appalling, it is abhorrent. I am an Indian, but when I see that this has happened right across from me, it makes me feel, ‘My God, how can we stay indifferent to it?’
The maturity of a society is a very important issue. What you find when you read through these cases is that the events relating to which such serious acts of torture have been done are trivialities. Somebody loses some small thing and then a person is brought to the police station. Without even asking them a single question, that person is tortured. Sometimes they are beaten, hung on a beam and, in recent cases, chili is put on their private parts and eyes. These acts are done by average law enforcement officers. Looking at this treatment from the point of view of a human being, we understand that there is something radically wrong. They do not seem to feel critical, they do not ask, ‘Should I do this kind of thing?’ Nobody seems to be asking that question.
We are not seeing something new. The only thing about this book is that it has recorded something that has been going on for a long time, virtually since a policing system was established. In the modern sense, a policing system comes into being in Sri Lanka only with the British. They celebrated their 146thth anniversary for the formal start of the policing system recently. Ever since that time, there has been a big contradiction involved. On the one hand, this is the way through which you introduce the idea of justice; if a murder takes place, there should be justice in court. Justice meaning justice for the victim, and also justice for the accused. On the other hand, at that very same point, law enforcement agencies began to do very stupid things and seriously affected the legal process. This has gone on for so long.
The fact is that, at the moment, people are immune, and not necessarily due to fear. Fear may play a part due to insurgencies in recent times, but police torture did not begin with insurgencies. Endemic police torture began much earlier.
When the book was published, we were not revealing anything that anybody didn’t know. The book puts in print form what many people haven noted. They may not have noted it in detail because people tend not to look at some issues, so the book gives an enormous amount of details.
The book is, first of all, a collective. When you read an individual torture case, the human mind brushes it aside. It is very difficult to stay with it. The next thing we do is deny its significance. We say, ‘Oh, it was an individual case,’ or we somehow rationalize that the person deserved it. This book puts cases together, which makes many people say, ‘All these people who were tortured, they did not deserve it.’ There are so many cases, so many – I was trying to see why they were tortured; it seemed to be for trivial reasons, it didn’t make sense. They could have used simple questions. ‘Did you do this?’ ‘Did this happen?’ People are tortured about the most trivial, most inane things.
A book like this makes it very difficult for people to discount and dismiss torture. Torture rests on the denial of society. I would say that the more we have thicker, fatter book, the more we have collectives, the more it will shake the conscience of people because you sometimes need a big impact in order to shake people up. Individual cases, five cases or ten cases do not do that; but if you have five hundred cases, one thousand cases, then it shakes you up. Simply speaking, it makes you ask, ‘What is happening in our society?’
Even the most pessimistic person would say that at least 90% of the people in these cases did not do anything close to deserving this treatment. The most common reason I have seen for the acceptance of torture is the belief that the tortured person was probably a thief or a terrorist, or in some other way somehow deserved it.
This kind of a book cuts across that whole argument without explicitly saying so.
Another issue is the overall effect on society from the behaviour of the police. Here you have a seriously disturbed police/society relationship. To my understanding, it is not something that is going to go away, because it has been established on a mass level.
In societies that have such a mass level of torture by the police, there is a serious rupture in the law enforcement and in the concepts of justice and society, because most people only see justice through the prism of the police.
If I look at police torture behaviorally, one of the things I notice is that when policemen torture regularly it becomes a part of them and even when they are just talking, even in inane conversations, there is some aspect of torture coming through.
When I was asked by the courts in India to do interviews in prisons and detention centers, I would often have the following experience: I would be interviewing and making some progress. A police officer would enter the room just to find out what was happening and I would say we were talking. (Whether it was a suspect or a witness, it was immaterial.) He would say something to the effect of, “Oh, they haven’t told you everything yet?” and he would go and slap them hard. It would happen right in front of me and I became quite particular about sitting in such a way that I was blocking the door so that they wouldn’t be able to go to the person straight away. They would move so fast after asking whether the witness or suspect had told me everything.
This interaction would be about several things: the person has wasted my time, police time, and he has no right to do so; and a slap or a hit is something that is very natural, so why shouldn’t I? This officer, not someone who has been involved in the interrogation or investigation, would think that because he has slapped the person I was interviewing, that person would tell me everything. And since I can’t and won’t slap – I was known to the police as a gentleman talker, they would laugh about it – this would somehow be the last straw that would make the person talk.
And then the officer would immediately turn back into themselves, and they would say, “Dr. Mithra, why don’t we go and have a cup of tea? I have given them something to think about.” He would turn to the person and say, “We are coming back in five minutes and I am going to show you what I can do.”
It would ruin everything. Whether the interviewed person is innocent or guilty, no person deserves to be slapped or talked to like that. It has become a part of these police officers. Slapping has become a very routine thing for them. They cannot talk without slapping.
The same thing happens to policemen who have had no formal training, who are corrupt, and where the system for the rule of law has completely fallen apart. There is no notion of what they are supposed to do with a suspect or a victim, except that they need to use brute force in order to get at whatever they want; and they seldom want the truth. People who search for the truth know that violence is divorced from truth. Violence and truth never go together. With these policemen, violence has become an integral part of them.
These people, when they are called up – if a cycle has been lost or something similar – automatically start with violence. That is a sign of a sick police force and its sick relationship with society.
Any sane society needs to look at it very seriously. The situation is comparable to India and Pakistan, where the police is also very sick.
What we see from the police is a very mechanical and reflexive reaction to suspects and how they should be dealt with.
It is possible to deduce some things from the behavior of a policeman who assaults interviewees, as mentioned above. Firstly, it is clear that he is not a thinking being. He is not observing anything. A rational person who wants to know what is happening would ask how it is going, would ask if he could talk to me privately. These officers would do none of that. They would just walk in and slap. It is a person who is not a thinking being, who has no value for truth, and who is not compassionate at all. Interestingly, when I would talk to them about compassion, they would say that a policeman should not be compassionate. I would say that you can be tough and yet compassionate.
What we are seeing is a model. A model has been inbuilt into these people with certain ideals. An ideal, for example, of not being compassionate. ‘If I am to achieve anything, I should not be compassionate. I should be tough, physically tough.’ It’s a kind of model within which thinking has no place.
Thinking has been replaced with violence. There is no place for thinking, exploring, finding out. I think that the police force should be able to think clearly. It scares me because, for police who cannot think clearly, the only recourse left to them is violence and to go about things in a tragic way.
The second issue is compassion and it is very interesting that, in many interviews with suspects, they disclose information only if someone is talking to them compassionately. It doesn’t mean condoning anything. I have to be tough and go about finding information, but I can understand why they may have done something, how they may have been brought up. Many people share more when they speak to someone who they think respects them. Police officers, particularly the ones in charge of interrogation, may do well to learn this principle. Then torture would go down significantly and they would be much better at solving their cases.
The above idea of teaching interview skills is, of course, in line with our ideals; the ideals of rationality. However, if we try to understand what has happened to create a situation like this, some other problems come to mind. Although we say that, from the point of view of proper training, there have been no interview and other skills taught, there has actually been a kind of training going on. It is a training that is based on officers from the earlier generation; when a young man comes to work, he is trained like an apprentice. On the job training.
They are brainwashed and conditioned into accepting certain ideals, which should be brought to the surface more. They believe that when they are dealing with criminals, they need to give up the idea that violence is bad. In this particular job, they tell themselves, violence is valid. There is a big contradiction in their whole philosophy. The law enforcement officer is supposed to eliminate violence in the whole of society. But they have an idea that that can be done only through violence.
What is the cultural model here? We are not dealing with abnormal people or anything like that. We are dealing conditioned people who have gone through a long period of training – a different kind of training, true – but with different kinds of ideals.
The training in the South Asian context has primarily been about law and order. It has never been about investigation. The police have neither been taught nor know that their goal is supposed to be to value truth. The younger officer always learns about torture from his senior officer. He sees that the only thing that can save his skin is a confession. It doesn’t matter whether the person confessing has done anything or not, they just want the confession.
There is a formula that is used in investigations. Fa + L = C, where Fa, ‘force of assertion’ plus L, ‘leverage’, equals a confession. In that, the more force the officer applies onto a person, the more likely that the officer will get a confession for himself. And the officer learns that this is how he can do well at his job, how he can excel, so he feels he needs that confession at any cost. Truth is actually the biggest casualty and nobody bothers about that.
Once they have the confession they have to move onto another case, but the goal is just that, the confession. The role model for that officer is the senior police officer. You can see that the senior police officer has been trained by his senior officer and, if you asked them, they would say that nowhere along the way has anybody taught them the rules of scientific investigation or about how to conduct interviews and interrogations. These things are not known to us in the South Asian context. I have observed training sessions in several police academies and when I asked the trainees and officers which model they use for investigation, they would say, ‘What models are you talking about?’ There are well established models that are used by other police forces but they are not used much in South Asia.
For example, there is a model called the Reid model. It is a seven stage process where you lead a suspect through different stages to see whether they have done it or not, and at the end the closest you can come to is ‘yes, there is a possibility that he may have done it.’ You leave it there because you know that there is a possibility that you may be wrong. This is an area that is highly subjective, emotions are very volatile, and where your bias can affect you. What you see from this book is that there is nothing remotely like this used when dealing with suspects – or rather, in dealing with any person who is called to the police station. What they actually do is completely crude and, in a way, inhuman and barbaric. What scares me is that these officers are actually bigger criminals than the criminals outside. So are people going to say that they are managing their society with these people? Because someone whose thinking is warped can’t solve problems, someone who has no compassion for people should not be doing such an important job. How can a sane society be expected to have a police force like this? That is the question.
What this book does is to provide a considerable amount of evidence on a cultural model.
It establishes how normative it is, how deeply it has gone in, and it completely ridicules the idea that torture is linked with terrorism, ethnic violence or any other serious issue from which society faces danger. I mean, does society face a danger from someone who is suspected of stealing a bicycle? It is ridiculous. If you are taking torture to that level, it completely debunks this idea that torture is essential for maintaining society, for protecting it from terror or anything like that.
This is plain inhuman violence that they are doing to their own people.
The title of this book is Narrative of Justice. It is essentially a narrative of the absence of justice in the process of investigating crime. If we take it deeper, in the cultural model, something further gets revealed. In most of the cases, people are taken in for trivial matters. But then what we find is that, when it comes to serious crimes, these very same people don’t use the same method. There is almost an indifference to dealing with crime. Taking two examples from Sri Lanka: A DIG of police has now been arrested because he took three million rupees to kill a businessman, who had taken some 30 million rupees from another businessman. That businessman hired a policeman to assassinate the other. Another example: there was another case where one politician, along with a gang of drug addicts, shot at a group of people, including a prominent politician, and five people died. He is still a Member of Parliament.
In both serious criminal cases, nobody used violence on them.
The police keep a certain façade of doing some activities, filing cases, getting some confessions, and then putting them on paper. Whether, after three or four years, someone is acquitted etc., nobody is bothered. In virtually all these 400 cases, there are no trials. They don’t go that far. They aren’t bothered. They have to pass through the moment when there is a report of a crime. Some reports have to be filed about it so they get their promotion and they can remain in their job. If they don’t, they get into trouble. Within this cultural model, justice seems to be completely absent, and that is more shocking.
Torture is most often not used in serious crimes; rather, it is used for when someone is suspected of a petty crime. For serious crimes, crimes of mass violence or political crimes, the police hold off until and unless they feel that they have sufficient backing in case things go wrong. They tread carefully in those cases. When it comes to small crimes, most police officers are much more bothered about the numbers. They always say that there should only be a small number of crimes in their area – and by crimes they mean petty crimes. That is something that they think they can reduce by creating a climate of fear.
One of the most common things they say in India is, ‘They are no longer scared of us.’ They confessed and lamented about that to me when I was working there. ‘People are no longer scared of us.’ Making people scared of them has been the most dominant tool in their hands, and the more they use that indiscriminately, the more they are successful police officers in their own eyes.
It is partly about the numbers. The more they do it to a larger number of people, the more that they are successful police officers in their own eyes. Their self-image is much better if they have done it to a larger number of people.
In a police officer’s thinking, it would go like this: today, if I have slapped 10 boys, then I have done my job. But if I say that I have slapped one person who is involved in political crimes, then that doesn’t fit very well. So how many people have I slapped, how many people have I beaten, how many people have I put fear into? This is one of the primary ways a police officer actually retains their self-esteem in our countries. The number here matters a great deal.
We are dealing with something very serious. Something very deep, culturally; even the model of how police measure themselves. However they were beforehand, once they enter this work and become integrated into the system, their own self-image undergoes a transformation.
They have to slap, beat, torture people in order to be good at their job, and this is the way they to be a successful police officer. This is what is told to the new people who join by their seniors.
It is a police force who cannot actually be part of a sane society in any way. They cannot talk without violence; they cannot talk without slapping or hitting. A police force that cannot talk properly is a very sick police force.
What we are actually confronted by in this book and other evidence is the need for a complete shift of orientation in the policing system. In other words, it is not about crime investigation that you have to first agree on. First they must ask, ‘What is this for? What are the social objectives this serves?’ When those objectives are changed, then new kinds of models develop, people are trained and people operate within that model.
But we have created a certain model years ago, maybe by accident. Maybe they couldn’t run a system – when these systems were introduced by the British, they were a colonizing power and they had limited resources, and their own thinking was limited in their own countries, where there wasn’t policing as it is today. We should approach this problem by searching for what the cultural model is here and why, rather than to find a few patches of this or that solution. What is first needed is a societal discussion.
In India, there are two kinds of police stations. Some are old police stations, and some are the new ones coming up. How do you separate the two? The old ones only have police barracks. Why? Because during the British times, colonial times, and after, it was felt that it was best to separate the police from the local people as much as possible. If they were closer to the local people, they would be more compassionate. That was not allowed. Changing that idea in India has been a very tough issue. We still have some who say, ‘No, it should be separate, they should not be allowed to meet.’ Even today, some think that police are not supposed to mix and deal with people except for the purposes of spying and collecting information. They are not really supposed to try to understand because that is supposed to make you very subjective and very weak inside. You have a situation in the whole of South Asia in which there is a very deep rooted malady, where the police force is trained to produce only fear and psychosis in the population. That is what needs to be attacked in order to create a sane society. The longer it remains, the longer society remains unable to heal.
This book goes further than the police and goes into insights into the overall society. There are things that, in the modern sense, would be called ‘insanity’ and we somehow pretend to accept them, pretend not to notice, and we carry on. There is something sick and deep, and this can be the beginnings of a discussion with this kind of evidence placed in front of people. This requires very serious thinking about the society itself.
When the police is unable to discharge its functions, the society is one step closer to cracking down again, closer to anarchy, tribalism, baying for the blood of people, like what you see happening in Dehli recently with all the mass demonstrations taking place. Nobody trusts the police; everybody sees them as corrupt.
*Dr. Rajat Mitra is an internationally reputed Indian Psychologist
Presidency, of course is the problem! We are all concerned about the day to day happenings in the country, not so much of the Deraniyagala killing, but mostly of the Weliweriya shooting at present. The latter has overtaken by the former. But we should not lose sight of the larger picture and the key structural issues behind our predicament, if we need to genuinely seek solutions to our problems. Only passing comments on structural issues, either way, might not be sufficient. What we are facing is a systemic crisis without any exaggeration.
The President has not come up with any apology or even a statement after the brutal Weliweriya shooting. After all he is the Commander in Chief of the Armed Forces (not his brother!) in addition to being the Head of State and the Head of Government. It is unlikely that he would, except perhaps through his Secretary. That is the ‘immunity’ he enjoys under the Presidential Constitution. This is not to say that a statement or even an apology would ameliorate the situation.
‘Family bandyism’ of the Rajapaksas or MR’s split personality (smile and thuggery) might explain the specific nature of the regime, but not the generic character of the regime-system. Anyway, his personality has changed a lot after becoming the President and particularly after the end of the war. Perhaps it has lot to do with the happenings at the last stages of the war. There appears to be a serious deterioration in the ethical and moral premises of the regime and the personality.
The way the regime operates today is not so much different to the regimes operated under the presidential system previously, with some variations, except that the present situation is much worse than before. We are familiar with the way the situation of the ethnic pogrom against the Tamils was handled in July 1983 under JR Jayewardene regime. That propelled the beginning of the brutal war for two and a half decades. We are also familiar with the way the second insurrection was quelled in 1989/90 under the Premadasa regime not to speak of other atrocities. Of course the uprising had to be suppressed but not the killings of Wijeweera or others after taken into custody. The Matale grave yard is supposed to belong to that period. It is only recently that some security personnel of the former President CBK finally were convicted harassing and assaulting two prominent artists those days. Perhaps only sane President was DB Wijetunga for a brief period! But even he was insane in his utterances like denying any ethnic conflict in the country.
Are those just questions of personalities? I don’t think so. I would argue that the presidential system was primarily responsible of course along with the personalities involved. Parliamentary systems also could become degenerated and Prime Ministers also could act like authoritarian Presidents. Margaret Thatcher might be the best recent past example. But that is not a structural condition. It is also possible that ‘family bandyism’ exists even under a parliamentary system unless other measures are not taken and unless the political culture is changed. That is also our past experience before 1978.
Parliamentarianism and Presidentialism are not polar opposites. But there is a fundamental difference in terms of representative democracy and that matters most for accountability, transparency, responsibility and finally for democracy itself. We use representative democracy because direct democracy is not practical and also perhaps people are not interested. In a parliamentary democracy people elect a general assembly called Parliament for primarily legislative purposes and an executive emerges or selected within that which is again responsible for that Parliament. This is the best system.
The executive is crucial in the state structure, whether parliamentary or presidential, because it is the body which guides and directs the bureaucracy and the armed forces which can easily trample on people’s human rights and whose services (in the case of bureaucracy) are crucial in delivering or not delivering necessary services to the people including ‘clean water’ in the case of Weliweriya!
The judiciary could be structurally independent in both systems; however the tendency to trample on the judiciary is high (or almost certain in some countries) under the presidential system than in a parliamentary democracy. Sri Lanka is a clear example for both.
In a presidential system, there are two (confusing) electoral processes. One is to elect a Parliament primarily for legislative purposes. Then there is another process to elect a President for executive purposes directly by the people. Superficially, this may appear more democratic, but that is not the case. The distance between the people and the President is so vast and not punctuated by intermediary process. A President’s responsibility to Parliament is only nominal if at all. This is the dangerous aspect of a presidential system which can easily create authoritarianism or much worse as he/she controls the military and the bureaucracy. I am only outlining the barebones in this article.
In a parliamentary system, the executive functions are pinned down to extensive procedures and these procedures are effective unless there is something basically wrong in party politics. In a presidential system there may be some procedures (i.e. COPE in Sri Lanka) but those procedures may or may not be effective. Most Presidents might be laughing at them.
The main point is that there are inbuilt structural reasons for any presidential system to become authoritarian unless there are strong constitutional traditions in a country. This is the very reason why even the US presidential system was criticised by Woodrow Wilson although he didn’t make any attempt to change it! Presidential system in the US was an evolution, but when it was introduced in other countries the very purpose was to have a strong government or a strongly ruler disregarding the rule of law and human rights. The following was what JR Jayewardene said about democratic freedoms and rule of law when he argued for a presidential system in the country (Selected Speeches, 1944-1973, p. 91).
A democratic system of Government includes what are termed democratic freedoms, the freedom to vote, freedom of opposition, freedom of speech and writing, and the rule of law, among other freedoms. Do these freedoms alone satisfy the people? I do not think so.
Usually there is no denial on the part of anyone who believes or defends a presidential system that there would be a democratic deficit as a result of a presidential system. In the case of Sri Lanka, however, this deficit is colossal. The shooting at Weliweriya and the Presidential system are interlinked. As the popular saying goes, ‘there is no point in shouting that the snake is biting (kanavo, kanavo!),’ if you put the fellow inside your sarong.
There is another constitutional factor relevant to Weliweriya shooting. Who is the Member of Parliament for the Weliweriya area? What was he doing? No one can answer this question I believe. In the previous representative system, it belonged to the Gampaha seat and it was SD Bandaranaike who represented the people in the area in Parliament in 1977. Those days there was a close connection between the people and the parliamentary representative and in any local issue, the MP intervened or mediated. This has almost completely disappeared to the thin air under the present Presidential Constitution. I recollect during my young days in the Moratuwa electorate how close and how responsible the MPs behaved with the people. This is the same where I live now in Australia, the electorate called the Green Way. In Sri Lanka, this has changed to create an authoritarian system even MPs divorced from the people not to speak of the President.
When the presidential system was introduced to Sri Lanka it was mainly defended on the basis of an economic argument. I happened to interview President Jayewardene in April 1993 and he opined that it was also created to defend the country from possible separatism that time. He said that there was a call to ‘do a de Gaulle.’ But the experience has proved otherwise. The country became ripped apart after the introduction of the presidential system. One may argue whether this is a direct result or not. It may be true that the presidential system perhaps facilitated the defeating of the LTTE quickly, but at a particular cost to democracy. The saying goes that ‘when you fall into the pit you have to come out from the same opening.’
President Rajapaksa has gone beyond de Galle or Jayewardene. In fact he has virtually ‘done a Mugabe’ with the 18th Amendment. With the massive military and the bureaucracy under his beck and call he hopes to continue to be the ruler of this country like President Mugabe in Zimbabwe unless it is stopped through a broad and a strong opposition through democratic campaigning. What is important is to end the vicious cycle of violence and violations by terminating the presidential system by an authentic parliamentary system with a fair system of devolution of power.