By Basil Fernando –
On the 23rd of March 2021, the United Nation’s Human Rights Council passed a resolution giving power to the High Commissioner for Human Rights to monitor the situation of human rights violation in Sri Lanka. It gave power to collect evidence relating to serious violations of human rights.
The kind of violations which had been taking place in Sri Lanka has been enumerated in the Resolution. The Resolution adds up to a very comprehensive concept of what Human Rights violations are. It is not confined to mere acts of atrocities. It also includes the monitoring of the system which produces such violations. The fact is that human rights concerns have shifted towards the present situation. There is a deepening of militarization and the undermining of the independence of institutions including the Judiciary. Perhaps this is the more important aspect of this resolution.
It comes at a time, when it has become almost a unanimous opinion within Sri Lanka, that there is an extremely serious situation developing within the country. It could lead to violations of not only civil rights but very serious crises of economic, social and cultural rights. The issue of serious economic collapse looms large in the country. This has been noted by observers in various quarters including leading Sri Lankan thinkers and Media persons.
An economic collapse would naturally result in the possibilities of serious food problems. According to some reports, even now, the number of children who suffer from malnutrition has increased in large numbers. Suicides, due to the inability to pay back loans particularly by the poorer sections of society, has also remarkably increased. The average number of successful suicides have exceeded 3,000 in the last few years. Unemployment remained extremely high giving rise to various kinds of crimes throughout the country. The worst part of this scenario is the development of highly organized crimes which the Sri Lankan Police services have not been able to bring successfully under control. Instead, there is criticism of the failure of policing in Sri Lanka. This is manifest in an increase of very serious crimes such as murder, rape, robberies, theft and child abuse cases. It is also manifest by the shocking numbers of traffic accidents that are taking place routinely in Sri Lanka.
It simply cannot be denied that all the oversight mechanisms in the orderly functioning of society has lost their effectiveness. Sri Lanka is often referred by its own local thinkers and media personnel as being in a state of decomposition and that it is going towards a very dangerous precipice.
At a time like this, it is very important for the people themselves to monitor what is happening in their society. It should have been the Sri Lankan State that should have taken the initiative. It could have provided greater opportunities for the people in the country to take observant action as well as recommendations – on how to overcome this extremely dangerous situation. Instead, the Government follows a policy of censorship of various types and also threats of repression against critiques.
A moment of crisis is a moment that calls on the critical ability of the population to make themselves felt in the social discourse. The saving power of the critical opinion is the most essential aspect in order to avoid a disaster becoming an even greater catastrophe. In such a moment as now, it should have been the duty of the Political Establishment including the Government as well as the opposition to give as many opportunities as possible for the people in the country to express their concerns. They should encourage an internal dialogue into how to address this situation on an urgency basis.
Unfortunately, the Sri Lankan Political Establishment, that is the present Government as well as the Governments that went before had acted in the opposite direction. They believed, that when faced with a crisis with the people beginning to express their grievances, the political approach was to turn to greater and greater repression. While this being a foolish move in itself, it is even more dangerous at a time when a way out has to be found to alleviate a deepening crisis.
In those circumstances, the UNHCR Resolution can provide an opening which has been denied to the people so far. For example, while the System of Administration of Justice has suffered great declines, there had been no encouragement to have open discourse on these issues. Instead, Contempt of Court and other intimidating tactics are being used in order to silence criticisms. When the system requires deeper scrutiny, the attempt so far taken is to discourage those who want to engage in such scrutiny.
The UNHRC resolution could provide an opportunity to develop a constructive criticism where the Sri Lankan Policing System has virtually collapsed. The Prosecuting System has been constantly criticized for being more politicized while the Judiciary itself has come under many forms of serious criticisms. These criticisms are not destructive. In fact, the only constructive way to deal with the situation is to have an open approach. Engage in very serious critical discussions in which everyone should be encouraged to participate.
The UNHRC Resolution could provide such as opportunity if it is approached in this positive manner.