29 June, 2022


Practice Of Torture And Presidential Systems

By Laksiri Fernando

Dr. Laksiri Fernando

Dr. Laksiri Fernando

Recently, some opted to recommend the continuation of the executive presidential system in Sri Lanka, based on the ‘majoritarian’ examples of the Security Council and BRICS member countries. The argument went something like the following.

Of the five permanent members of the UN Security Council, a four (the US, Russia, China, France), except Britain, have executive presidential systems. Of the members of the emerging/pivotal powers represented in the BRICS, all (Brazil, Russia, India, China, and South Africa) except India have presidential systems.’

Based on simplistic and erroneous characterization of constitutional systems, it was argued that a presidential system is ‘intrinsically superior’ to a parliamentary system of government. That is what I thought as the flaw of the argument initially.

But it appears that the protagonist/s do have an argument about the ‘intrinsic superiority’ of the presidential system, at least in terms of Torture!

Torture Reports

This December 10th was not only the commemoration of the ‘Universal Declaration of Human Rights’ (UDHR), popularly known as the Human Rights Day, but also the 30 years of the ‘Convention against Torture’ (CAT) agreed upon in 1984. The importance of the day was particularly marked by two reports came out on these so-called ‘superior systems’ in the US and Brazil on Torture.

Lasantha just before he died

Lasantha just before he died

The report on the US came from its own Senate’s Select Committee on CIA’s Detention and Interrogation Program. The Report on Brazil came from the country’s National Truth Commission. It appears that these countries are better than the Sri Lankan presidential system and at least there was some room for their own mechanisms to go through these abhorrent practices and report them to the public. Has this been the case in Sri Lanka? Not exactly.

The reason is that Sri Lanka has one of the worst types of executive presidential systems in the world.

Let’s talk about the reports first. The report on US came after four years of research. According to reviewers, only a fraction of the henious crimes committed are actually reported in this executive summary report. There is more to come. However, the following shocking methods have been used by the CIA as interrogation techniques: (1) frozen to death (2) rectal feeding (3) insect use on body (4) sleep deprivation (5) threat to families (6) prolonged standing and (7) water boarding.

While it is true that the CIA misled and even misinformed the White House about what they were doing, it is at the same time clear from the report the culpability of the White House or its neglect. The report states, “CIA officers and CIA contractors who were found to have violated CIA policies or performed poorly were rarely held accountable or removed from positions of responsibility,”

Most glaring was the defence that came from President, George W. Bush, who held office during the torture program. He calld the CIA officials connected to it “patriots.” Doesn’t it sound familiar? His vice president, Dick Cheney, has since called the report “full of crap,” a “terrible piece of work” and “deeply flawed.”

It is true that Brazil’s torture report relates to the period of military hegemony between 1964 and 1985. But the military rule was a byproduct of the presidential rule prior to that. Presidential rule also continued even under the military hegemony. There was also a continuation of the practice of torture both before and after, under the direct presidential rule, although the present commission has not investigated those periods. In many developing countries, military rule often is the other side of the presidential rule. The ‘doctrine of national security’ has always been the underlying justification for either presidential system or military rule deviating from democracy.

The report documents 191 killings and 210 disappearances. Compared to what actually happened in Sri Lanka in recent times or throughout years one may consider the Brazilian case as a child’s play. The belatedly appointed Missing Persons’ Commission in Sri Lanka is already dealing with over 19,000 cases.

The methods of torture reported in the report in Brazil are not dissimilar to the US. Most damning is the revelation that in fact some of the perpetrators of torture techniques in Brazil were in fact trained by the CIA. The use of insects on victim’s bodies in particular were used in both countries although the time periods were different.

US, Brazil and Sri Lanka

Let me come back to a brief comparison of Sri Lanka with US and Brazil in terms of ‘intrinsic superiority.’ In both US and Brazil, a term of a President is only four years. In Sri Lanka, it has been six years from the beginning. In the US, no person could hold office for more than two terms. In Brazil, no person is allowed to run for the presidency for a consecutive third term. It is like in Russia. In Sri Lanka, after the 18th Amendment, a person could hold office or contest for a third term consecutively or for life. What an absurdity of democracy!

The reason for the short duration (four years) and term limit (two terms) is to prevent the power entrenchment for longer periods. Yet in any presidential system, the propensity to abuse power is enormous even during a shorter period. This is particularly true in a developing and a volatile society like Sri Lanka. It may appear that a powerful president stabilizes this type of a country in the short term. However, in the long term, a presidential rule not only fails to stabilize such a country, but also becomes a source for instability. It becomes a vicious cycle. Brazil is a clear example for this predicament.

Torture Connection

Let us come back to the question of the possible link/s between torture and a presidential system. Presidential systems are by and large authoritarian states. The link between the state and the government is very close whether it is commanded by a While House, a Blue House or a Temple Trees!

A president actually does not need to give direct orders for torture or other human rights violations. They happen under the aura of a President. The perpetrators know that they would be protected under the presidential rule. ‘Patriots,’ as Bush characterized them. Especially when there is a volatile situation in a country, different arms of the security establishment would undertake the ‘punishments,’ what we call human rights violations or torture, for the opponents, competitively. These can happen and have happened under the circumstances of war or even under ‘normal conditions.’ Yet they are human rights violations.

Take the example of what happened five years ago, in 2009, on January the 8th on the streets of a suburb in Colombo. A prominent journalist, Lasantha Wickrematunge was killed in broad daylight. He was supposed to be a friend of the President. But that did not absolve him from becoming a victim. Still the perpetrators are not punished or even found!

Take another example of what happened to Bharatha Lakshman Premachandra. He was a Senior Advisor to the President. Was he killed by the opposition? No. What happened to the perpetrators? They are protected within the presidential system. This incident not only revealed the ugly nature of the presidential system but also the rotten character of the electoral structure in Sri Lanka.


A presidential system is a tightly knit system, and Authoritarian, internally and/or externally. The external authoritarianism in the case of the US is more prominent. The separation of powers and/or checks and balances are often exercised in the breach. This is particularly the case in ‘blatant presidential systems’ like in Sri Lanka. However, I am of the opinion that the system should be abolished not only in Sri Lanka, but all over the world.

The world would be a better place to live with peace and harmony if the US is not a presidential system and governed by a parliamentary democracy. That system has been the mother of most of the world problems in recent past. This does not, however, mean that parliamentary democracy per se is the final solution. But it would pave the way forward for further democratization of the world.

Those who have recommend the continuation of the presidential system in Sri Lanka have given all bad examples like the US, Russia and China. Russia and China are more prominent for torture and human rights violations. These are the main culprits of world problems today. However, South Africa is not (really) a presidential system whether Sri Lanka takes that example or not.

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Latest comments

  • 5

    Why is there a preference in some countries for Executive presidency?

    It helps to expedite things bypassing due process. In the hands of the wrong person anything and everything is expedited and its powers abused.

    It makes the country leader lazy too as there is no one there to answer for his actions during Parliment question time.

    Its the ideal system for fast developing countries. Mahatir Mohamad, Lee Kwan and Surharto used it to develop their countries fast. Although it needs a benevolent dictator which I am now quite confident Ceylon will never produce (unless I take on the role).

    The British Westminster system is the most grounded, practical and hardest of all to implement. Its will take ages to approve infrastructure projects and so on, but at least things will be done the right way.

    • 0

      Dr. Laksiri Fernando

      RE:Practice Of Torture And Presidential Systems

      This can be a Chapter in the Common sense pamphlet?

      Is it ready? Done? Have you Contacted JVP? The Common Sense Opposition? Other writers?

      Just Do It!

      Story of the modern Hitler… Sprechen Sie Deutsch? Sinhala?


    • 1

      It must NOT be forgotten that Suharto was accused of eliminating as many as 3 million Communists and other left wing activists including union leaders when he took power, an act which had more than the blessing of the Great Satan.

      Tony Blair had no difficulty bypassing Parliament whenever he wanted, and today stands accused of being involved in the extensive torture programme put in place by GW Bush and Dick Cheney, the ‘great living humanists’ that quite a few amongst us seem to want to emulate.

      • 0


        General skulduggery is ok. But not corruption. Certainly not at the level as it seems to be at present.

    • 2

      The basic framework of Buddhist ethics for rulers is set out in the ‘Ten Duties of the King’ (dasa-raja-dhamma):

      1. Dana — liberality, generosity, charity. The ruler should not have craving and attachment for wealth and property, but should give it away for the welfare of the people.

      2. Sila — a high and moral character. He should never destroy life, cheat, steal and exploit others, commit adultery, utter falsehood, or take intoxicating drinks.

      3. Pariccaga — sacrificing everything for the good of the people. He must be prepared to give up all personal comfort, name and fame, and even his life, in the interest of the people.

      4. Ajjava — honesty and integrity. He must be free from fear and favour in the discharge of his duties, must be sincere in his intentions, and must not deceive the public.

      5. Maddava — kindness and gentleness. He must possess a genial temperament.

      6. Tapa — austerity of habits. He must lead a simple life, and should not indulge in a life of luxury. He must have self-control.

      7. Akkodha — freedom from envy, ill-will, enmity. He should bear no grudge against anybody.

      8. Avihimsa — non-violence, which means not only that he should harm nobody, but that he should try to promote peace by avoiding and preventing war, and everything which involves violence and destruction of life.

      9. Khanti — patience, forbearance, tolerance, understanding. He must be able to bear hardships, difficulties and insults without losing his temper.

      10. Avirodha — non-opposition, non-obstruction, that is to say that he should not oppose the will of the people, should not obstruct any measures that are conducive to the welfare of the people. In other words he should rule in harmony with his people.

  • 2

    Shocking photo….
    This photo is very inappropriate for some readers especially, his family members!
    Advice CT to remove immediately!

  • 0

    Dear prof. Laksiri ,

    first , there is an error in your essay “Take the example of what happened five years ago, in 2009, on January the 8th on the streets of a suburb in Colombo. “

    this should be in 2008 not as 2009.
    SB Dissanayake and other low grade politicians are using South Korea , Singapore , Malasia et al countries to justify MR’s autocratic rule , they try to high light the “stability” phenomenon as the secret for those countries success , but conveniently forgetting the other “Stable” countries’ miserable state of affairs i.e Burma , Indonesia , Cambodia ,Vietnam et al.

    yes it is true , in any country that the system must be a solid one which can’t be manipulated by any individual , as for me there must be some thing else , the person who is aspiring to be the leader of any country , must be a genuine character , he/she must have an acceptable level of education , must not have a criminal record , must be a clean character, if there is an appropriate wetting(filtering)mechanism in place , half of the problems could have been averted in the first place .

    prof Laksiri , i would like to know about your thoughts of 2015 Geneva session ,will there be another resolution against the regime ? or will it be the continuation of the 2014 resolution ( formalities of its implementation )

    • 4

      Prof Laksiri, you can debate thousand intelligent people but it is impossible to debate one fool (Srilal)!

  • 1

    Has Dr Lucksiri migrated o Staten Island ??….Or is it Ferguson…

  • 1

    Prof. Laksiri Fernando’s thoughts and views are profoundly correct.
    I have listened to his interviews and they are very impressive. He impartially argues very well.

    Unfortunately many people those who are living in our country are sadly not very wise to understand scholars views.

    Prime factor is both printed and digital media are controlled by the Rajapaksa family. Hundreds of websites are blocked. True factor is rural people are incapable of reading and understanding English language news.

    Metropolitan people can not go through any important news because important and impartial websites are blocked.

    • 1

      “”True factor is rural people are incapable of reading and understanding English language news”

      That is exactly why SWRD made Sinhalese the Official language,to keep the majority Sinhalese rurals feel inferior,so that t hey can be easily manipulated against the other minorities which has today become a boon for the MR clan to continue with the help of the bald headed yellow robed fraternity and other racists.
      Things cannot go on for ever because the time will come very soon when on day the average rurals find that they have been taken for a ride down the chute into the s…t.
      That day would be Bastille day for the King MR’ his whole clan and hangers on.
      The coming Presidential election result would show that promise.

  • 0

    Water Boarding was cool I thought.
    It was better than drone attacks where unaccounted millions have died.

    Water boarding must be continued to be practiced by the USA as it will limit the number of death.
    So far nobody have died from it.
    Justice scalia too approved it.

    next resolution in Geneva is against the USA or the Republican Party of Bush/Cheny and Rumsfeld team ??????????

  • 1

    No country has carried out planned organised torture (of Muslims it so happens) on the scale of the USofA. When the greatly redacted torture report was published, Dick Cheney himself let it be known that the President was well aware of what was going on at the time, and the report itself was therefore a non-event. No person has been named and is due to be tried in a court of law for activities which are illegal in the US. Previously when the odious pictures from Abu Gharaib appeared Rumsfeld revealed that the worst ones had been kept secret. A few soldiers, privates and NCOs were punished. The Medical profession too has been utterly tainted by the activities of two US Psychologists who put the scheme in place for the princely sum of US$ 180 million.

    Yet it is this very same evil regime, democratically elected, that continues today still protecting the criminals, who will NEVER have their day in court as they are US citizens. What is most unpalatable is the fact that this criminal bunch hogs the world stage accusing others nations and their leaders of similar crimes.

    Laksiri has omitted the fact that some 53 nations were co-opted into this criminal endeavour, including RW’s Sri Lanka. Did the Sri Lankan parliament know about this at the time ?

  • 2

    Where is Journalist Sivaram name in this article?
    Also how many thousands Innocent Tamils in detention , torture without any charges under state emergency law any why you didn’t mention in your article?

    • 0


      Yes, I admit, I could have mentioned Sivaram. I have met him and he was a nice gentleman. He was kidnapped in April 2005 and his body was found not so far away from the Parliament area, shot in the head and with a beaten body. However the two ceases I have cited are recent ones and with connections with the President (a ‘friend’ and an advisor) with a message to pass.

  • 1

    In hurry to defend the SI CC, which is badly loosing minute by minute, a proof has been attempted to make America as the world most terror country.

    The confusion is obvious when Lasantha and Premachadra, which day light rivalry fights and murders, are brought here to show as torture victims. This is fouling the dictionary meaning of torture by a learned professor. Torturing take place in closed door, by a powerful government apparatus. All the diaspora living countries have enough evident of how the Lankan government has been torturing from 1958 and putting the blame on the one standing on the road.

    Torture is obvious in dictator countries, especially where leftist communist are in power. It is naive attempt to try to show the democratic countries as dangerous countries because there are presidents. Sadly there are no statics cited. One’s own creative writing!

    These Sinhala Intellectuals fool the Sinhala Buddhist by showing the pot and elephant are equal. So, they are bringing the CIA case to compare with Lankan torture. America is an easy target for lazy leftist. Though CIA is authorized to do many things without revealing them to Congress, they always find a way to question CIA. So CIA designs its techniques not to leave any permanent effect that can be traced back to the original incident. We village boys always had a habit of catching bugs and throw it at our sisters. They cry loud and go and complain to parents, and then we laugh to make the parents angrier. This what the CIA might have been playing with the Al Qaeda terrorist. Lankan army, after entering into the house where Tamils women are alone, rape them, to hide the rape, plant dynamite into the private parts and blast them while the victims are alive. Those who are writing for hobby are comparing the American bug games to Lankan’s unimaginable, un-writable, cruel physical methods, which many time kills. There are nowhere in the in the world they pluck the eyes and kills prisoners.

    They tell a 1000 lies. They can come out with 1000 false proof. Sinhala Intellectuals do not know how to rule a country. They are corrupted inside the womb. When the Sinhala Intellectual come out, they so naturally corrupt the things, ideas, life, air, water….. anything that might come into their contract. JR, Sirima, Hitler, Mussolini, DS, Bandaranaye all came out of parliamentary systems. Clinton, Obama, Lincoln, FDR …. all came out of presidential systems.

    “Naai vaalai nimiththa mudiyaathu”(Dog’s tail cannot be straightened). Sinhala Intellectuals cannot be taught to govern a country. Tamils have to go alone. They should not try to fix or take part in fixing the Sinhala Intellectuals.

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