By Thilini Rathnayake –
In the past few months Sri Lankans witnessed several incidents from Human Rights violations to poor financial decision makings by the government.
On the Poson Poya day the president pardoned Duminda Silva, a convict on death row. Former MP Duminda Silva was sentenced to death along with four others in 2016 for shooting dead a politician and 3 others. Article 34(1) of the Constitution of the Democratic Socialist Republic of Sri Lanka empowers president to grant pardon. Article 34(1) states as follows:
The President may in the case of any offender convicted of any offence in any court within the Republic of Sri Lanka –
(a) grant a pardon, either free or subject to lawful conditions;
(b) grant any respite, either indefinite for such period as the President may think fit, of the execution of any sentence passed on such offender;
(c) substitute a less severe form of punishment for any punishment imposed on such offender; or
(d) remit the whole or any part of any punishment imposed or of any penalty or forfeiture otherwise due to the Republic on account of such offence:
Provided that where any offender shall have been condemned to suffer death by the sentence of any court, the President shall cause a report to be made to him by the Judge who tried the case and shall forward such report to the Attorney-General with instructions that after the Attorney-General has advised thereon, the report shall be sent together with the Attorney-General’s advice to the Minister in charge of the subject of Justice, who shall forward the report with his recommendation to the President.
It is clear that the president is not given absolute power to grant pardon to convicts on death row. Article lays down a clear process to be followed by the president. This is to ensure that such pardon is not granted in an arbitrary manner. Therefore, the citizens of the country have a right to know whether the due process was followed when granting the pardon to Duminda Silva. The Bar Association of Sri Lanka has pointed out if the pardon was not granted in accordance of Article 34(1) of the constitution, the presidential pardon granted to Duminda Silva would be “unreasonable and arbitrary and will result in erosion to the Rule of Law and result in a loss of public confidence in respect of the administration of justice”.
It is highly doubtful whether this process has been followed by the president in granting pardon and the decision has undermined Rule of Law. Tirantha Walaliyadda PC has rightfully pointed out that “The judiciary, law enforcement, and the Bar comprise the backbone of the democratic system. A judiciary without a conscience is a judiciary no more. It becomes a piece of machinery and in terms of the State, it becomes an instrument of State power to be manipulated at will” (‘Murder of the Judiciary’/Colombo Telegraph/September 1, 2012).
Another controversy is the legality of Basil Rajapaksa’s entry in to the parliament. Similar attempts previously had been rejected by the Supreme Court of Sri Lanka. Legal professionals have argued that vacancies arising in the National List must be filled cautiously and such appointments shall be limited to the names in the original nominations paper.
The Financial Crisis of Sri Lanka is not different to the Human Rights Situation in Sri Lanka. Recently The Central Bank printed the highest amount of money recorded in a single day, a whopping Rs. 208.45 Billion which took the total treasury bill stock held by Central Bank to over a Trillion Rupees. It is clear from the numbers that Sri Lanka is facing the worst economic crisis with heavy debts.
At this backdrop, Sri Lankan government looks like a one big happy family. When the majority of the government are members of one family, Democracy is highly questionable.
Since independence, Sri Lankans have been victims of personality based politics and it is high time we move to policy/issues based politics. We have tolerated corrupted politicians for too long and we are suffering as a nation due to the poor decisions we made at elections. It is high time we speak up for our rights and question who’s in power. It is high time to understand that sovereignty lies with us as citizens of Sri Lanka. Democracy is a struggle that never ends and as Alan Moore says “People shouldn’t be afraid of their government. Governments should be afraid of their people. According to Martin Luther King, Jr The ultimate tragedy is not the oppression and cruelty by the bad people but the silence over that by the good people.
*Thilini Rathnayake, Attorney-at-Law, LLB (Hons)