An early warning
January 8, 2013: The Beginning of Sri Lanka’s Year Zero
On the 8th of January, the President of Sri Lanka will address a proposal to parliament to remove the incumbent Chief Justice Shirani Bandaranayake, based on a report by a Parliamentary Select Committee (PSC). The entire PSC process has been declared unconstitutional and null and void by the Supreme Court of the country. For two days, the illegal proposal will be debated in the parliament and on the 11th it will be put to a vote. The government has the required majority to get it through the parliament. Immediately after passing the resolution, the Chief Justice of Sri Lanka will be removed by force and will be prevented from entering into the Supreme Court premises. A new Chief Justice will be appointed.
In all likelihood, in the course of these events, she will be arrested on some pretext. As there a strong resistance to this, many persons, including members of the legal community, including some judges, are very likely to be arrested. Many persons from political and civil society organizations will also be arrested or otherwise dealt with.
As Sri Lanka has a fearsome tradition of using forced disappearances, torture and ill treatment, arbitrary arrests and illegal detention to deal with any opposition to the government, the government will, in all likelihood, resort to such practices.
The new Chief Justice will not be easily accepted by the legal fraternity, and the protests will be suppressed ruthlessly. This has become a quite a common practice in Sri Lanka.
Thus, by passing the resolution to remove the Chief Justice of Sri Lanka, the government will usher in a period of serious repression, which they will have no capacity to control. As it has happened in such times before, for example in 1971 after JVP uprising; 1980 after the general stike;1983 racial riots; 1988 -1991, generally referred to as period of terror; and the suppression which took place in the North and East from 1983 to May 2009, there can be serious acts of repression.
The state media will be used to attack the removed Chief Justice, the legal fraternity and all those who oppose these moves by the government. All free media will continue to be suppressed.
The most marked difference from the earlier periods of repression will be the open undermining of the judicial role in Sri Lanka. There will be serious monitoring of the judiciary and those judges who act to uphold the rule of law will particularly be exposed to reprisals. Creating serious divisions in the judiciary – so as to prevent future actions against the government on the basis of rules – will be a major feature of this period of repression, which makes it worse than the earlier periods of state repression.
As the judicial role is displaced, the most dominant institution of Sri Lanka will be the Ministry of Defense. The paramilitary forces, such as the Special Task Force (STF) and the intelligence services – which, in the recent times, have acquired enormous experience in repression and enjoy immunity – will play the major role in social control. As the rule of law is relegated into an unimportant position, the activities of the Ministry of Defense will not be deterred by legal rules.
The Asian Human Rights Commission wishes to draw everyone’s attention to the events that are to unfold in the coming few days as the government moves to remove the Chief Justice through a legal process that the Supreme Court of Sri Lanka has declared to be illegal. The government will also proceed to appoint a new Chief Justice, the appointment of whom will be invalid from the start, as the removal of the incumbent Chief Justice is illegal. Under these circumstances, the government will unleash repression to force these decisions on the people.
The AHRC issues this statement as an urgent alert and a warning to all, to caution everyone about the situation that will unavoidably arise under these circumstances. We wish to draw attention to the events that began in Cambodia in 1975, a period which is known as the year zero; the events that unfolded in Indonesia in 1965, which lasted for decades, causing enormous destruction to the life and liberties of people; the period that began in Myanmar with Ne Win’s military coup in 1962, the consequences of which have lasted for many decades; several military coups in Pakistan, which displaced the rule of law system; the period under Ferdinand Marcos in the Philippines; and many other catastrophic political situations that several nations in Asia have faced.
Sri Lanka now enters into a similar period.
Sri Lanka’s tragedy has not received attention in the international media, in the same way that most of these tragedies did not receive attention at the time they were beginning. Such a lack of notice by the rest of the world was one of the reasons that enabled such political catastrophes to cause such havoc on the people of those countries. We urge the international media to take notice of what is taking place in Sri Lanka and thus avoid complicity in such a situation.
Above all, we urge the people of Sri Lanka to take note of what is taking place and to do all that they can to avoid this catastrophe falling on themselves, even at this last moment.
We urge the international human rights movement to do their utmost to assist Sri Lanka in this moment. To not do so would be to be guilty of complicity with what is to come.
We urge everyone also to give maximum publicity to this statement.
Bijo Francis Basil Fernando
The Executive Director Director of Policy and Programmes
Asian Human Rights Commission