The State of human rights in Sri Lanka in 2009

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Abysmal lawlessness & zero status of citizens

From its work over the last 15 years, the Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) has concluded that what exists in Sri Lanka today is a situation of abysmal lawlessness, resulting in the zero status of citizens. The word “abysmal” is here used in its ordinary meaning to mean limitless, bottomless, immeasurably bad and wretched to the point of despair. Lawlessness of this sort differs from simple illegality or disregard for law, which to differing degrees can happen anywhere. Lawlessness is abysmal when law ceases to be a reference. What would normally be crime ceases to be thought of crime and lawlessness becomes routine. This kind of abysmal lawlessness manifests itself in “arrests”, “detentions”, and “trials” that require no legal justification.

Under these circumstances, the idea of legal remedy or redress also ceases to have any meaning. All legal systems are built around the idea of legal redress.  Laws and procedures are meant to make redress possible, to one degree or another. Abysmal lawlessness implies a complete loss of the linkage between redress and whatever that may be called law.

The situation of abysmal lawlessness will not be changed through the victory over the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) that the military finally achieved this year. The suppressing of violence does not in itself guarantee that human rights will be better protected. In fact, the military victory can easily be utilized to further strengthen authoritarianism and to suppress democracy and the rule of law even more.

With this perspective, this chapter of the AHRC’s 2009 report is organized according to the following themes: the lost meaning of legality; the predominance of the security apparatus; the disappearance of truth through propaganda; the superman controller; destroyed public institutions; and, the zero status of citizens. The material for the chapter has been drawn and adapted from the AHRC’s statements and other appeals as well as articles by the organisations’ director, Basil Fernando, on online websites, including the Sri Lanka Guardian and Ground Views, and also some outside sources, which are cited in the text.