Colombo, March 6 (newsin.asia): The declaration of an island-wide State of Emergency in Sri Lanka on Tuesday to “redress an unsatisfactory security situation prevailing in certain parts of the country” became big news across the globe.
Locals received a flood of calls from friends and relations across world anxiously inquiring if they were safe.
But the reality in Sri Lanka was anything but the grim image projected by the Declaration of the State of Emergency and the media coverage it got.
Indeed, there had been a series of attacks on Muslim shops and mosques in a few towns in the vicinity of the Central Sri Lankan hill town of Kandy. But the violence was contained fairly quickly through the deployment of the Special Task Force and the army.
That said, it must be admitted that the arson and destruction of property of the hapless Muslim minority across towns would not have taken place if the local police had only acted swiftly, arrested and filed cases against a gang of Muslims who had killed a Sinhalese-Buddhist lorry driver in an incident of road rage in the town of Digana, near Kandy.
Foot dragging by the local police had led to Sinhalese mobs taking the law into their own hands and attacking and burning Muslim shops and stoning mosques in several small towns.
Eventually, 24 persons were arrested including 10 who had a role in the killing of the driver.
However, perhaps due to the fear that the communal virus might spread to other parts of South and Western Sri Lanka, where Muslim business establishments are located, or perhaps due to the criticism that law and order has been breaking down under the “National Unity Government”, Colombo took the extreme step of imposing a State of Emergency ,though by the time it was imposed on Tuesday, the situation had returned to normal in all the affected areas and there was no sign of the trouble spreading.
Perhaps the government did not want communal strife to spread when the 37 th. Session of the UN Human Rights Council was on in Geneva. The UNHRC session started on February 26 and will go on till March 23.
Frequent Use of State of Emergency
While the State of Emergency is a serious matter in the Western world, it has been a common instrument used by successive Sri Lankan governments to tackle even easily manageable cases of unrest.
It was way back in 1953 that the Dudley Senanayake government first imposed a State of Emergency to tackle a General Strike or Hartal. Subsequently, the SWRD Bandaranaike government declared one to tackle a labor strike.
Down the years, the Sirimavo Bandarnaike, J.R.Jayewardane and R.Premadasa governments had clamped Emergency to tackle Marxist and Tamil separatist terrorism, and other forms of civil unrest.
The war against the separatist Tamil Tigers led to Sri Lanka’s being under Emergency Regulations and the Public Security Ordinance for a number of years.
However, as part of the 2002-2004 peace process, the Chandrika Kumaratunga government lifted the State of Emergency in 2003. But with the breakdown of the peace process in 2004 and the assassination of former Foreign Minister Lakshman Kadirgamar by the Tamil Tigers in August 2005, Emergency Regulations were revived.
Eelam War IV which began in 2006 made the continuation of the State of Emergency necessary. The war ended in May 2009, but because of the state of uncertainty prevailing even after the end of the war, the State of Emergency was not lifted until 2011.
However, despite the lifting of the State of Emergency, equally potent or draconian laws such as the Prevention of Terrorism Act and the Public Security Ordinance remained.
As a writer in Groundviews put it: “The state has demonstrated an immense penchant towards emergency laws in responding to various kinds of crises such as communal riots, youth riots, even natural disasters and labor strikes.”
“Excessive use of Emergency Regulations for a long period of time has resulted in a complex and intricate system of legal framework which has in return blurred the distinction between normal laws and emergency laws.”
“Such an environment brews a sense of uncertainty in exercising one’s right to free speech and association.”
“The foundation of emergency regulations in Sri Lanka is two pillared. One pillar comprises of the Public Security Ordinance (PSO) 1947, a last piece of law ratified by the British in order to suppress and control political dissent. The other is the Prevention of Terrorism Act (PTA) of 1979, a temporary measure, yet remained in force forever since its enforcement.”
“Superimposition of state security over individual security in formulating national security policies has led to a disjuncture between the state and the individual, ensuing a negative bearing on the social capital. There is a depreciation of trust between individuals and the state,” the writer states.
(The featured image at the top shows Sri Lankan troops checking a civilian during war time State of Emergency)