Fig Leaf

Sri Lanka has set an example of how governments abuse their powers.

By S.G. Jilanee | June 2020

Special powers for the use of force, are to governments, like human blood is to a tiger; once tasted, they refuse to back away, even long after their purpose had been achieved. Interestingly, such powers are invoked in the name of human rights which they ultimately abuse with impunity.

The Sri Lanka government is a case in point. When it enacted the Prevention of Terrorism Act (PTA), it made commitments to the international community to replace the abusive Act with legislation that respected its international human rights obligations. But according to Human Rights Watch, it has failed to abide by those commitments.

The cabinet of President Gotabaya Rajapaksa announced on January 4, 2020 that it would withdraw a proposed replacement law, reneging on pledges to the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) and the European Union.

Rajapaksa, who took office on November 18, 2019, has also taken other steps that threaten human rights protection in Sri Lanka. He appointed army commanders, implicated by the UN in attacks on civilians and its grave abuses during the civil war to the office of defence secretary and other senior positions.

Meanwhile, HRW’s South Asia director, Meenakshi Ganguli has observed that “President Gotabaya Rajapaksa and senior appointees linked to wartime abuses seem to be dismantling the human rights gains of recent years,” adding, “The EU, which offers Sri Lanka preferential trading terms in return for human rights guarantees, should demand the repeal of the Prevention of Terrorism Act.”

The PTA, introduced in 1978 as a temporary measure, has resulted in countless steps. In 2017, the UN special Rapporteur on human rights and counterterrorism found that the law “has fostered the endemic and systematic use of torture. Entire communities have been stigmatized and targeted for harassment and arbitrary arrest and detention.”

Read More