It was quite a sorry spectacle at the Temple of Justice this week; not so much the ceremonial sitting of a Chief Justice, but the presence of the Honourable Justices who had earlier collectively declared the man they had come to welcome, was, a pretender to the Throne, a usurper of that office. The fact [...]


Tragi-comedy in court: Police Raj taking over?


It was quite a sorry spectacle at the Temple of Justice this week; not so much the ceremonial sitting of a Chief Justice, but the presence of the Honourable Justices who had earlier collectively declared the man they had come to welcome, was, a pretender to the Throne, a usurper of that office. The fact that the Bar Association formally boycotted the function almost paled into insignificance when the highest court in the land had earlier referred an application by the Attorney General to review their previous determination to the alleged usurper’s care — and the media were shut out from this otherwise public function of a ceremonial sitting; all unprecedented in the 65-year history of independent Lanka. 

The Justices in their robes and wigs attending the ceremonial sitting was probably the last act of a theatrical tragi-comedy that has played out over the past three months. The curtain may not have come down entirely, but that the members of the Judiciary had to capitulate like this is the biggest tragedy. They, whom the citizens look up to, to defend the Independence of the Judiciary (from the Government) and the Rule of Law (for the citizens) had let the side down. Can one expect any better from the plebeians?

As these events unfolded in the pinnacle of justice, in Parliament, a law was being passed to detain a suspect in a police station for 48 hours without being produced before a Magistrate; and a Minister gave details of Rs. 17.5 million being voted to import chemicals and batons to combat anti-Government demonstrations. It is necessary to read these together and between the lines.

Our news pages report how in a virtual blitzkrieg, the UDA (Urban Development Authority), RDA (Road Development Authority) and the Police literally bulldozed their way into private properties along the Marine Drive between Kollupitiya and Bambalapitiya wards within the Colombo Municipal Council. Policemen escorted backhoes to knock down boundary walls without any prior notice to residents or the requisite legal authority. Residents spend sleepless nights now with their homes open to the elements.
It was yet another instance of Government showmanship that might was right – and to hell with the law of the land. The courts, the last bastion of hope of the citizen now stands emasculated.

The trust and confidence in independent courts stand severely tested in the face of this Government juggernaut.

Also, this week, the President and the Leader of the Opposition were at a popular Buddhist temple in Colombo for the ceremonial handing over of the Chuda Manikkaya, donated by Buddhists in Myanmar for the pinnacle of the Sela Chaithiya at the Mihintale Rajamaha Viharaya. Where are we headed? Towards a Dharmishta Raj or a Police Raj? The legal maxim, Res ipsa loquitur (the facts speak for themselves) should suffice to provide an answer.

Indo-Lanka ties uncertain and fragile

Amidst the dense fog blanketing the impeachment crisis, and the fall-out from it, several issues escaped the public’s attention. The controversial Divineguma law was passed in Parliament, while the public reeled in shock and grief over the medieval beheading of 24-year-old housemaid Rizana Nafeek in Saudi Arabia and the floods that killed nearly 50 people and destroyed property and crops. Thus the Indo-Lanka Joint Commission meeting in New Delhi this week to review bilateral relations between the two neighbouring countries went almost unnoticed.

Sri Lanka’s relations with India took a noticeable plunge following the latter’s negative vote at the UNHRC (United Nations Human Rights Council) in Geneva last year. Relations have been lukewarm at best, since. 
The official joint statement, the agreed minutes and the transcript of the media briefing are about all the news emanating from this meeting which is held at External Affairs Ministry level. After the disastrous one-sided statement of 2011 when the two sides last met in New Delhi (a statement India drafted and Sri Lanka had blindly acquiesced to even admitting to slow progress on post-LTTE conflict rehabilitation and reconciliation), this time round, there appears to have been just a little more scrutiny before the signing of the joint statement and the agreed minutes.

One of the significant aspects of the joint statement is the lack of any reference to the 13th Amendment. Unlike previously, there is no homily by the Indians on what has long been their platform on Sri Lanka policy (at the behest mainly of the Tamil Nadu lobby). Has India dropped this theme song? Is this a major change in its Sri Lanka policy? One might have thought so, or even given the Sri Lankan delegation the kudos for getting India to omit this continuing nuisance except that at the media briefing the Indian Minister announced that he had asked for “early progress on meaningful devolution building upon the 13th Amendment”. It seems the Sri Lankan Minister had not responded to this or if he did, we don’t know. However in answer to a journalist, the Sri Lanka Minister dismissed reports of a change to 13A and parried the question saying that there were varying opinions on 13A in Sri Lanka and that the Government has not decided on a definitive course of action, yet. 

Whether one ought not read too much meaning into 13A not being included in the joint statement is too early to say, but the fact remains that it was not included therein. This is particularly so, when the joint statement says in its preamble that “both sides comprehensively reviewed the whole gamut of bilateral relations”. Was that an over-statement by itself.

The 13th Amendment apart, one of the key outstanding issues with India is that of poaching by Indian fishermen in Sri Lankan territorial waters in the North. Unfortunately, the Sri Lankan delegation has not stood up to defend the Northern fishermen and the Sri Lanka Navy. On the other hand, the Indian delegation made its point by asking that humane treatment be extended to all fishermen. When more than 90 per cent of the poaching is by Indian fishermen in Sri Lankan waters, one can see how one-sided this is. There is no specific mention of hoards of Indian fishermen violating the International Maritime Boundary Line.

The concerns of the people of Sri Lanka over any possible environmental fallout in Sri Lanka from a nuclear accident at the controversial Kudankulam nuclear power plant in Tamil Nadu has been totally ignored with India merely slipping in an oblique comment about bilateral cooperation in the field of civil nuclear energy. No reassurances have also been given over the UNHRC or about the upcoming Commonwealth Summit in Colombo.

It is now time to have a Sri Lanka-China Joint Commission as well given this country’s current fast-track bilateral relations – with most of the goings-on going on below the public radar.

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