The Sunday Times Editorial

1st September 1996

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Right of appeal

With Cabinet approval being recently given for Sri Lanka to ratify the op tional protocol to the international covenant on civil and political rights, Sri Lankans could now go beyond our shores to appeal against violations of fundamental or human rights.

In 1972 the new Republican Constitution had abolished the right of appeal to the Privy Council in Britain. That was the final break from the British Crown and many claimed we became fully independent only in 1972. Most Sri Lankans welcomed it. After all who wanted some old British judges in the House of Lords to deliberate over and decide on legal issues arising in far-flung Sri Lanka. But as time went on and especially after the introduction of the powerful Executive Presidency, we saw blatant attempts by politicians to subvert the judiciary through a politicisation of superior courts. A few citizens who found themselves pitted against the high and mighty of the powerful state, stood little chance of getting justice.

In so far as fundamental rights of the citizens were concerned, the 1978 Constitution of the UNP produced an important evolution from the 1972 UF Constitution, in that it made fundamental rights justifiable. Things were not confined to nice words in a document called the constitution. An aggrieved Sri Lankan could actually go to courts and seek remedial action. An increasing number of fundamental rights cases since 1978 was the brighter side of Sri Lanka's human rights record. But by 1988 or so emergency regulations were the order of the day and extra-judicial killings the order of the night. That was the other bloody, ugly sign of the coin. But laws some claim are silent when there is a clash of arms. The UNP said it then and the PA condemned it at that time. Now it is the other way about. The silver-lining through this dark period was the Fundamental Right to go for redress to the Supreme Court of your country.

With the ratification of this optional protocol among other things there are fears of a flood of applications from LTTE quarters on fundamental or human rights issues. So be it. Let them also feel that justice will be ultimately done to them.

The issue of human rights is not a domestic matter any more. It is international. As much as terrorism is no longer a domestic issue, human rights issues in one country concerns the international community because the reality of it all is that we now live in a global village. We commend the government for taking this progressive step in ratifying the protocol and also agree with the Civil Rights Movement of Sri Lanka that states that it is hoped that in practice it will not be necessary for anyone to resort to this procedure. "To this end, the instances where our laws and practices diverge from our obligations under the covenant must be identified and remedied."

Political culture

Petty party politics has crept in and polluted several important areas of human life. Now it seems to be creeping into religion also.

On Friday and yesterday ugly scenes were witnessed in Negombo when PA and UNP supporters clashed apparently over a Catholic Church ceremony to mark the golden jubilee of the UNP. Two people were killed, a parish priest was allegedly threatened, pandals were smashed up and tyres were burnt in a church premises resulting in the place of worship being closed.

Party politics has caused enough divisions in this country. We are paying a horrible price for racial division. We must not allow violent conflicts between religions or within any religion. All religions have the vision of uniting and building, not dividing or destroying. Party politics would be sheer poision for any religion.

All religions have a clear role to spiritualize politics and lift it above self-interest rather than allowing any politicization of religion. It is widely known that two rival Negombo area politicos have been involved in several violent feuds in the past two years. There are allegations that these politicos or their gangs were responsible for the disgraceful incidents in Negombo. If so church authorities and others must crack down on such self-seeking elements who use religion for their personal gains. They cannot be allowed to turn a place of worship into a den of thieves.

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