15 April, 2024


The Constitution As A Cause For The Violence And Bloodshed

By Basil Fernando

Basil Fernando

Basil Fernando

As the possibility of an election has become a “hot topic” of the day, with it has emerged the problem of the 1978 Constitution and the system of the Executive Presidency, as a sharp point of contest and debate in Sri Lanka. In the midst of this unfolding scenario, President Rajapaksa, in a much publicized speech, stated that he would be willing, more than any other person, to abolish the executive presidency if, the TNA and the diaspora give an undertaking that they will not demand a separate state. In doing so, he has tried to create a justification for continuing with the executive presidency, as a measure to stand against any moves for a separate state.

Meanwhile, Athureliye Rathana Thero, Member of Parliament, representing the Jathika Hela Urumaya Party, which is a partner in the coalition government, stated in a highly represented public gathering that if it was not for the 1978 Constitution it was most likely that the former JVP leader Rohana Wijeweera and the LTTE leader Velupillai Piripaharan may have ended up as members of parliament and the bloodshed that the country experienced in the past three decades could have been avoided. He stated this at a meeting where a draft for an alternative constitution was submitted for public discussion. The view over-expressed by several speakers during this meeting was that the 1978 Constitution was introduced purely to achieve the individual ambitions of its originator, former President J.R. Jayawardena and, presently, it serves only the personal interests of the incumbent President Mahinda Rajapaksa and his family. Athureliey Rathana Thero, also publicly apologized for voting with the government in passing the 18th Amendment to the Constitution.

MahindaWhile there are many issues of importance in this debate, one particular aspect of interest to all is the public identification of causes for the violence in the past several decades. How far the 1978 Constitution contributed to creating the background for this violence and the ensuing bloodshed is an important issue not only from the point of view of the debate on a possible election but also for understanding vital societal issues in Sri Lanka.

As for the President, to state that he is the person who wants this Constitution to be abolished more than anyone else is an admission on his part, that this Constitution is an evil one that needs to be abolished. As to how an evil constitution could contribute to create and sustain a unitary form of government is beyond comprehension. Thus, the President’s own argument seems to sway in favour of that of his opponents – that there is no justification for not abolishing this Constitution.

Perhaps, the Sri Lankan electorate is beginning to understand how the extreme forms of violence that have prevailed in the country have been the creation of evil political manipulations of just a few persons enjoying the privileges of power and the possibilities of self-aggrandizement, purely for selfish gains. What this implies is that the people have been exposed to a politically criminal scheme to achieve the selfish aims of a few unscrupulous persons.

Perhaps this is a moment when the nation can come to a greater self-understanding of the factors that have caused this peril. If such a self-understanding could be achieved, a firm foundation would be created that would guide the people who, in the future, will try and resolve the nation’s problems.

The debate, therefore, is one about “arising out of a catastrophe”, and not about saving the country from a catastrophe, as President Rajapaksa wants to present it.

Athuraliye Rathana Thero also pointed out some of the ongoing consequences of this catastrophe; the lawlessness that prevails everywhere, causing Sri Lanka to be identified as one of the trading posts for narcotics and drugs, money laundering, the sex trade, and the like. The spread of drugs is causing devastation in the villages of Sri Lanka on one hand and on the other hand there are problems such as the deaths of several persons a week due to kidney ailments for which no solution has been found and a litany of many other such problems.

A constitution that causes lawlessness is the tragedy that the country is faced with. The selfish creators of the Constitution created lawlessness for their own “political survival”. This lawlessness has virtually destroyed the independence of Sri Lanka’s Judiciary and also the independence of the Legislature. Both these branches of government were a threat to the Executive Presidency. The people have thus been exposed to lose of the court as a place for resorting to settle their disputes and the parliament as a forum of public debate on matters that concern the nation. President Rajapaksa still argues that this is a necessary condition in order to maintain the unitary state. The Constitution also caused the displacement of all public institutions, including the premier institution for the enforcement of the rule of law, i.e. a competent and an independent policing system. Daily reports in the media reveal how low this institution has sunk.

The result of these and other problems created by the Constitution is that genuinely free and fair elections become impossible. This is perhaps the reason why President Rajapaksa cannot agree to abolish the existing constitutional framework for the executive presidency, though he publicly declares that he wants to abolish it more than anyone else.

Perhaps, the nation is beginning to emerge out of the control of the propaganda machinery, which has been attributing all its levers as consequences of “the war”. The nation perhaps is beginning to see that “the war itself, was a product of the supreme law of the country” – the Constitution.

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  • 7

    Basil Fernando,

    I agree with you that the present constitution is an evil one created by an evil man but that is only one aspect of the problem. Seeds for the destruction of Sri Lanka were sown long before this constitution was in place. In fact it started soon after independence and escalated over the years.

    Even before this constitution evil acts of the state and rulers have taken place. Massive pogrom against Tamils in 1958. Brutal crushing of suspected JVPers in 1971 and several more evil actions of the state and the regimes in power have taken place before JR brought this autocratic constitution, which is perverted further by the Mar junta.

    The ill treatment of Tamils, Muslims and Christians is not caused by the constitution but by the mentality of the Sinhala ruling elite.

    Above all these is the root cause that is the Mahavamsa, which is warping the Sinhalese thinking along racial lines rather than along nation building with equality and fair play for all ethnic and religious communities.

    • 2

      Basil Fernando –

      RE: The Constitution As A Cause For The Violence And Bloodshed

      Is it The Constitution or FAMILY DYNASTY As A Cause For The Violence And Bloodshed?

      6/10/2014 News
      Sri Lanka: Threatened Journalists Form Network of Investigative Journalists


      16 October 2014
      Following threats by an organized group to stop an awards presentation ceremony to investigative journalists arranged by Transparency International Sri Lanka (TISL), those present formed themselves into an ‘Investigative Journalists Action Committee’ and requested the President and the government to hold an investigation immediately and arrest those responsible.

      Following is the full text of the statement.
      As media personnel who on invitation participated at the presentation of certificates for journalists trained on investigative journalism on 15th October 2014 at 10am at Hotel Janaki, Colombo, we are deeply disturbed by the threats leveled against us by an organized group calling themselves ‘Rata beragath deshapremi balakaya’. The group threatened to attack and even kill those who attended the meeting.

      As journalists who provide a yeomen’s service to the general public in the dissemination of information in our country, we are most concerned about the current restrictive and unsafe environment created for media personnel where they are unable to even attend an event organized to present certificates for training received to enhance their professional capabilities, without receiving death threats.

      When analyzing the series of events which took place from the time this meeting was confirmed, it is clear to us that State Security Forces were very much involved in the intimidation that followed. On 13th October Intelligence Officers have made several inquiries from the journalists involved in this program about the nature of the program. On the evening of 14th October phone calls were made to the venue informing them to cancel the meeting and to the participants asking them to refrain from attending.

      Furthermore, on the 14th evening threats were made to staff members of Transparency International Sri Lanka (TISL), Jayasiri Jayasekera, one of the trainers of this program as well as to Janoor Kichilan and Amadoru Amarajiva, both participating journalists, from the number 0756245489. Later in the night a text message generating from the number 0725436266 was once again sent to them and a few others from the group ‘Rata beragath deshapremi balakaya’ warning them against attending the event scheduled for the following day.

      Participants travelling to Colombo for the event continued to receive threatening calls throughout the night of the 14th and on the 15th morning. At around 10am on the 15th two individuals riding an unmarked motorbike threw a parcel with a notice marked “last warning” towards the entrance of the hotel in broad daylight. Due to this tense atmosphere the organizers were compelled to relocate the event at a safer location. While the event was going on at this new location calls were made to personal mobile phones of two of the organizers using the landline number 0112438359 asking them to reveal the name of the new location and threatening to kill them if they did not do so.

      We are not naïve enough to believe that such actions could be carried out by civilians or civil groups. We very strongly state that these degrading and illegal actions were carried out by state sponsored elements. Those of us who have been involved in this profession for years know fully well that even during the height of the war journalists were not pursued, intimidated and persecuted on this scale.

      Since TISL and their staff were also threatened, they will probably stop doing training further. We are very much concerned as to who would provide training to Sri Lanka’s journalists hereafter.

      As citizens and journalists who respect the law of the land and media ethics, we will at no stage accept such lawlessness, irrespective of the power and the high standing of its perpetrators. We consider the labeling of journalists as LTTE supporters an insult of great magnitude especially considering the service rendered towards national security and exposing criminal activities by journalists. We challenge this cowardly group to come forward and prove this allegation without working behind hiding themselves.

      The threats we faced yesterday cannot be viewed as personal threats towards journalists. Rather it was a threat leveled against media freedom, citizen’s right to information and citizens’ democratic rights. We earnestly request His Excellency the President, the government, the Secretary to the Ministry of Defense as well as the Inspector General of Police and other relevant authorities to investigate into the matter urgently and arrest the perpetrators accountable.

      Amidst the dark clouds of threats and intimidation that journalists present formed an “Investigative Journalists Action Committee” to promote investigative journalism in Sri Lanka. These dark events have only fuelled our commitment and determination towards upholding and protecting all democratic rights including the freedom for media, freedom of publication, right to information and the right to association.
      Restricting media freedom plunges the entire society into darkness and creates an environment where lawlessness will rule. We implore our fellow citizens to stand against such intimidation and come forward to protect democracy and freedom.
      On behalf of the Investigative Journalists Action Committee,

      Janoor Kitchilan M. Liyanarachchi
      0777678381 0772981254

      Freedom of expression, militarisation, rule of law, Sri Lanka

    • 2

      Basil Fernando –

      RE: The Constitution As A Cause For The Violence And Bloodshed

      We underestimate what Sinhala, Tamils and Muslims want most: decent and just governance. Without the latter, there is no way to cultivate real citizens with a will to fight — and without will there is no training that matters.

      Read This:

      I.S. = Invasive Species
      OCT. 11, 2014

      Thomas L. Friedman


      AN Iraqi official recently told me this story: When the Islamic State, also known as ISIS, took over Mosul in the summer, the Sunni jihadist fighters in ISIS, many of whom were foreigners, went house to house. On the homes of Christians they marked “Nassarah,” an archaic Arabic term for Christians. But on the homes of Shiites they marked “Rafidha,” which means “those who reject” the Sunni line of authority as to who should be caliph, or leader of the Muslim community, after the death of the Prophet Muhammad. But here’s what was interesting, the Iraqi official said, the term “Rafidha” was largely unknown in Iraq to describe Shiites. It is a term used by Wahhabi fundamentalists in Saudi Arabia. “We did not know this word,” he told me. “This is not an Iraqi term.”

      I was intrigued by this story because it highlighted the degree to which ISIS operates just like an “invasive species” in the world of plants and animals. It is not native to either the Iraqi or Syrian ecosystems. It never before grew in their landscapes.

      I find it useful at times to use the natural world to illuminate trends in geopolitics and globalization, and this is one of them. The United States National Arboretum website notes that “invasive plant species thrive where the continuity of a natural ecosystem is breached and are abundant on disturbed sites like construction areas and road cuts. … In some situations these nonnative species cause serious ecological disturbances. In the worst cases, invasive plants … ruthlessly choke out other plant life. This puts extreme pressure on native plants and animals, and threatened species may succumb to this pressure. Ultimately, invasive plants alter habitats and reduce biodiversity.”

      I can’t think of a better way to understand ISIS. It is a coalition. One part consists of Sunni Muslim jihadist fighters from all over the world: Chechnya, Libya, Britain, France, Australia and especially Saudi Arabia. They spread so far, so fast, despite their relatively small numbers, because the disturbed Iraqi and Syrian societies enabled these foreign jihadists to forge alliances with secular, native-born, Iraqi and Syrian Sunni tribesmen and former Baathist army officers, whose grievances were less religious and more about how Iraq and Syria were governed.

      Today, ISIS — the foreigners and locals together — is putting pressure on all of Iraq’s and Syria’s native species with the avowed goal of reducing the diversity of these once polycultural societies and turning them into bleak, dark, jihadist, Sunni fundamentalist monocultures.

      It is easy to see how ISIS spread. Think about the life of a 50-year-old Iraqi Sunni male from Mosul. He first got drafted to fight in the eight-year Iran-Iraq war that ended in 1988. Then he had to fight in the Persian Gulf war I after Saddam Hussein invaded Kuwait. Then he lived under a decade of U.N. sanctions that broke Iraq’s middle class. Then he had to endure the years of chaos that followed the U.S. invasion, which ended with a corrupt, brutal, pro-Iranian Shiite regime in Baghdad led by Nuri Kamal al-Maliki that did all it could to keep Sunnis poor and powerless. This was the fractured political ecosystem in which ISIS found fertile ground.

      Continue reading the main storyContinue reading the main storyContinue reading the main story
      How do you deal with an invasive species? The National Arboretum says you should “use systemic herbicides carefully” (President Obama’s air war), while also constantly working to strengthen and “preserve healthy native plant habitats” (Obama’s effort to forge a national unity government in Baghdad with Shiites, Sunnis and Kurds together).

      Generally speaking, though, over the years in Iraq and Afghanistan we have overspent on herbicides (guns and training) and underinvested in the best bulwark against invasive species (noncorrupt, just governance). We should be pressing the Iraqi government, which is rich with cash, to focus on delivering to every Iraqi still under its control 24 hours of electricity a day, a job, better schools, more personal security and a sense that no matter what sect they’re from the game is not rigged against them and their voice will count. That is how you strengthen an ecosystem against invasive species.

      Continue reading the main story

      Malaouna 5 days ago
      Is this really what passes for journalism in the New York Times? Serously, beyond the first paragraph, Friedman engages in a folksy,…
      Jerry Frey 5 days ago
      “On the homes of Christians they marked “Nassarah,” an archaic Arabic term for Christians.””Islam is at War with the Oldest ReligionsAncient…
      Cunn9305 5 days ago
      Islamic fundamentalist nihilism is simple to defineSuch plenary diversions are irrelevant.They convert .. or they kill.The reason matters…
      “It was misgovernance which drove Iraqis to contemplate a relationship with ISIS with the view that it was less detrimental to their interests than their own (Shiite-led) government,” explained Sarah Chayes, a senior associate at the Carnegie Endowment who is a former U.S. adviser in Afghanistan and author of the upcoming “Thieves of State: Why Corruption Threatens Global Security.” The Iraqi Army we built was seen by many Iraqi Sunnis “as the enforcer of a kleptocratic network.” That army got “sucked dry by the cronies of Maliki so it became a hollow shell that couldn’t withstand the first bullet.”

      The goal of ISIS now is to draw us in, get us to bomb Sunni towns and drive the non-ISIS Sunnis away from America and closer to ISIS, “because,” notes Chayes, “ISIS knows it can’t survive without the support of these non-ISIS Sunnis.”

      We always overestimate military training and force and underestimate what Arabs and Afghans want most: decent and just governance. Without the latter, there is no way to cultivate real citizens with a will to fight — and without will there is no training that matters.

      Ask any general — or gardener.

  • 6

    Thiru, how right you are.The first inhabitants were the off loads of South India.Those people were the progeny of the people in the south. The Sinhala developed off that language the Indians brought, so did the Tamil as known today.
    Until may be Mahinda Thera arrived the religion was Hindu.

    Elara did not die in a fight but was murdered. Gemunu was 1/3 Elara’s age.Gemunu regretted that killing and built Ruwanweliseya.

  • 6

    The Constitution per se is not a cause for violence and bloodshed. The present constitution could have been used for great good and good ideas could have been implemented very quickly circumventing red tape. However it’s power has been used for crime, corruption and dictatorship under which all races suffer.

  • 1

    What an excellent analysis with regard to 1978 constitution and it’s effects on the SL population.
    However if the comments by Thiru, Andryas Appu and Pau are l included in the analysis definitely it will take SL a longway which in turn will lead to an upward turning point provided all the parties and majority of the supporters agree and vote sensibily next year.

    I am sure the souls of founding leaders of India will be proud of Basil Fenando for contributing to peace in South Asia.
    On the other hand their souls will be disturbed if they hear the news of BARA ‘s proposed sudden visit to India. The omen is bad for South Asia’s peace. The first omen is taking away the voting right ofFSF.

    • 0

      …..”I am sure the souls of founding leaders of India will be proud of Basil Fenando for contributing to peace in South Asia.”

      Interesting comment.[Edited out]

      • 0

        CT, by editing out my comment you changed the entire context of what I was trying to say.

    • 0

      These comments and the pseudonym of the writer sound suspiciously like [Edited out]

  • 3

    Lack of patriotic feeling among the political leaders now and in the past is main cause of all the evils that has engulfed our country. Freethinker

  • 3

    having compiled loads of information against SL together with the assistance of Cassoack wearing kind, this Fernandi guy points the finger at the Constitution.

    Oh !! [Edited out]

    • 3


      We know you speak Sinhalese but we don’t: Can you please translate the last line?

  • 0

    President as late as yesterday told the Opposition in no uncertain terms, that they should not betray the country,

    He challenged the Opposition to go the inhabitants and tell them to sack him through the Ballot Box.

    If this Presidency is as bad as these intelligentsia portrays and . even Reverend Ratnasara seems to fear, so powerful and detrimental to the inhabitants, would the President ask for the Opposition to front up to the inhabitants for a ballot even before his term ends?.

    How more Democratic this President is?.

    Will the US or any other President volunteer for an early Election if the disgruntled Opposition tries to stitch up deals with Foreigners to the detriment of the Nation and its majority inhabitants?..

  • 0

    This article agrees with:
    ’During the past year or two, so many top professionals in every conceivable profession in Sri Lanka have suggested to me that I should write a book on how the politicians of Sri Lanka have ruined our nation ever since independence.
    By accident of birth, those who made the proposal represented every spectrum of society from the poorest of the poor to the wealthy. We were all educated at the University of Ceylon, the only seat of higher learning in our time. Thereafter we proceeded to the best of universities in the world for our postgraduate studies. Most of us are now in retirement and the shadows are getting to lengthen in our lives. We all live in material comfort bystandrds applied to SriLanka. However we wonder what will be left for thenext generation ifour politicians continue to ruin our nation’’ – Note by the author, The Politics of Sri Lanka – The Provincial Council Elections of 1999, T.D.S.A.Dissanayaka(former SriLankan diplomat) , February 4th 1999

  • 1

    the Sri Lankan electorate is beginning to understand how the extreme forms of violence that have prevailed in the country have been the creation of evil political manipulations of just a few persons enjoying the privileges of power and the possibilities of self-aggrandizement

    I think this is a very naive statement, failing to realize that there are vast social forces that operate inexorably, of which some well-placed politicians profit.

    The problems of the country started long ago, with the Sinhalese and the Tamils trying to get power from the British raj. This struggle, at first peaceful, became ethnically polarized and violent, with the upper-class land-owning Colombo Tamil leaders wanting to have a separate fiefdom while the sinhalese leaders wanted to control that fiefdom too — interestingly, both these groups lived in Colombo and pitted the hapless rural people against each other. The rounds of violence began initially in the so called non-violent struggles on the GallFace Green set of by Chelvanayagam and his cronies, tar-brush campaigns blackening out Sinhala Street names and SRi signs, and these opposed violently by the Sinhala nationalists and their goons.

    If even the Banda-Chelva pact (opposed by the extremists of the ITAK like Navaratnam, and the Sinhala extremists like K.M.P.Rajaratna and even JR), it is utter pie-in-the sky dreaming to think that in 1978 a different constitution would have solved the problem, (with two murderers like Wijeweera and Prabhakaran put in power?). Instead of fixing the deep-lying problems, fix the constitution – there is a good Tamil saying for this, but then, Basil Fdo probably knows no Tamil.

    Basil fernado is an NGO-lawyer with links to the Father Emmanuel-LTTE-Catholic-action on the one hand, and human-rights championing directed against the Rajapaksa government. But his human rights are limited with a tunnel vision, living in Hong Kong and talking about human rights violations on behalf of those clients who pay him, while being mum about the violations in other places (right next to him, or in the Church) for which he is not paid to talk.

  • 1

    Dear Manoharan, Thank you for calling a spade a spade.

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