From time immemorial:
Human Rights came down the generations
Human rights violation is currently a much talked about issue in most
countries including Sri Lanka. It is quite appropriate to look into this
bone of contention with a broad mind without jumping into conclusions,
based only on specific incidents or conflicts.
Could anybody write off the HR violations in 1818 rebellion ?
Sri Lanka has a recorded history of over 2500 years and it had been
ruled by a large number of kings and a few queens in the past. History
reveals how these kings and queens ruled our country and the service
they rendered to the nation. It should be stated that all these rulers
were not equally good in governing the country. Some of our ancient
kings had performed an enormous service to the nation while some were
not successful rulers who had done any admirable service to their
There was no standard judicial system or any set rules and
regulations in meting out justice to the citizens, but the final
decision of the verdict on any wrongdoer vested in the hands of the king
who discharged punishment which varied from offence of offence. No
countryman had the privilege of challenging the verdict given by the
rulers. There had been a number of occasions where innocent people had
been penalised owing to wrong judgements meted out by some kings without
properly scrutinising the circumstances. There have also been instances
of crafty culprits escaping punishment by deceiving the rulers.
However, it is recorded that most of our ancient kings protected the
human rights of their countrymen and treated even their opponents quite
honourably. A fine example is king Dutugemunu who defeated king Elara
setting up a monument and calling upon his countrymen to pay their
respect to the slain leader. This clearly shows the degree of
statesmanship and the respect for human rights our ancient kings
With the passage of time, our country was invaded by various foreign
forces due to a number of reasons. The island was invaded by the
Portuguese in 1505 and then by the Dutch in 1656. We became a colony of
the British Empire in 1815. Parts of the country were under the rule of
the Portuguese and Dutch for long periods and our Sinhala kings had to
fight them in a number of occasions to liberate our people from them.
The Portuguese and Dutch rulers had no mercy on our countrymen and human
rights violations were rampant during this period.
When our country came under the Union Jack, they introduced and
effected a number of changes. They completely neglected paddy
cultivation and introduced cash crops like tea, rubber and cinnamon.
They introduced missionary education through which they managed to
propagate their religion as well.
The judicial system that the British introduced to our country is
supposed to be one of the most admirable and important administrative
features, leading to the people becoming more disciplined and
law-abiding. The general administration of State affairs was carried out
similar to that of Great Britain. Some of our Sinhala leaders were also
impressed with the changes made in different areas of administration and
especially about the introduction of the rule of law in the country.
However just three years into British rule in this country, in 1818,
Sri Lanka not only experienced the biggest human rights violation, but
the most horrendous massacre where thousands of rebels were killed and
their paddy fields burnt by the British Army at the Uva-Wellassa
This was quite contrary to the legal procedures and rule of law
introduced by the British themselves. In 1828 the British rulers
introduced the Colbrook Cameron Constitution and streamlined the
administration process of the country further.
The British ruled our country for well over a century and our
patriotic leaders at the time realised the necessity of independence.
Some of them were educated in England and came back to their motherland
and started to get involved in local politics in collaboration with
British leaders. With the dawn of the 20th century there were a few
patriotic organisations which started marshalling the local patriots to
rally round them and claim self-autonomy.
The Indian freedom struggle was also gaining ground led by Mahathma
Gandhi. Our local leaders formed the Ceylon National Congress and
started agitating against the rule of the British Empire.
The Donoughmore Constitution was effected in 1931 by the colonial
masters and the universal franchise was granted to every ceylonese over
21 years of age, the continuous struggle launched by the progressive
forces of the day resulted in Independence being granted in 1948, and
our island becoming an independent nation under the able and far-sighted
leadership of D. S. Senanayake.
With the Soulbury Constitution introduced in 1947, the entire
administrative mechanism was further streamlined and the Ceylonese were
appointed to various high positions hitherto held by the British. Ceylon
became a member of the British Commonwealth and also subsequently
obtained membership of various other international organisations.
The protection of human rights is broadly enshrined in the
Constitution and it is simply an accepted fact that every man is equal
before the law of the land. All the fundamental rights are guaranteed by
the Constitution and whatever government is in power, is bound by the
Constitution to protect and uphold the human rights of its people.
Since becoming an independent nation in 1948, up to 2010, there had
been a number of governments headed by different national leaders.
During the tenure of all these leaders, there had been different
political, social, religious and communal issues where the human rights
of some people had been violated.
The opposition parties of the day had openly accused the governments
in power for the violations of human rights.
Not only have they accused the party in power, but they have also
gone before international bodies and complained to them too, Sometimes
succeeding in getting various restriction imposed on the country. .
Human rights violations
The three main occasions where human rights violations may have
occurred in Sri Lanka were the 1971 JVP insurrection and 1988-89
uprising of the same movement. Sri Lanka underwent a very gloomy period
in its long history for the last three decades due to the protracted war
waged against successive governments by a guerilla organization headed
by its leader Velupillai Prabakaran, claiming a separate State in the
North and Eastern Provinces of this sovereign State.
The last four governments took various measures to solve this problem
and resorted to a number of strategies sometimes even with the support
of foreign nations. Unfortunately, the LTTE movement was not ready to
lay down arms and come to an amicable solution despite signing a peace
accord with the then Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe. President
Mahinda Rajapaksa also tried to negotiate with this terrorist movement
at the beginning of his Presidency, but as usual the LTTE reverted to
their inhuman activities. Thus President Rajapaksa became determined to
militarily crush the movement and liberate the people from their
Of course, when there is a ruthless war against a legally-elected
government, there may be human rights violations in the battlefield. The
LTTE not only violated basic human rights, but also slaughtered well
over 70,000 people including the National Leaders of two countries,
named, Ranasinghe Premadasa and Rajiv Gandhi.
However, President Rajapaksa took utmost care to protect the innocent
civilians while crushing the hardcore LTTE combatants in the Northern
and Eastern Province of the country.
The LTTE movement, which had a long history of over 30 years, was
very well organised internationally with the able support of some
members of the Tamil diaspora and had presented a different picture to
the global community about the Sri Lankan government.
Some international organisations were convinced by the LTTE and its
supporters that the Sri Lankan government was violating human rights.
After obtaining independence, especially during the last two decades,
Sri Lanka had become a member of a number of human rights organisations,
UN Human Rights Commission and Asian human Rights Commission based in
Hong Kong. It is also a signatory to conventions such as International
Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.
The above organisations as well as others such as Human Rights Watch
and Amnesty International are concerned with global unity and
international and intercommunal harmony of the world's people. However,
it has been observed that super powers of the Western world play a major
role in these organisations and try to influence the Third World or
developing countries to abide by their directions to a greater extent.
There were wars in the past. Even at present there are chaotic
situations in some countries where the USA and other western forces are
directly involved on the pretext of international peace and harmony.
Human rights violations are the order of the day in some of these
countries and helpless, innocent people are killed in large numbers. It
is quite surprising to see so-called human rights organisations turn a
deaf ear to their crimes.
During the 1971 insurgency, 1988-1989 terror and 2008/2009 war
against the LTTE, human rights violations may have occurred which is
inevitable when fighting unlawful forces who try to destroy the
sovereignty and territorial integrity of a country.
The respective governments in power and the armed forces had the
blessings of the people for the efforts made to wipe out these menaces.
Also it is quite appropriate to mention the Latin axiom Inter arma
silent leges which means in times of war laws are mute.
Sigh of relief
After a long period of time we have become a free nation and
everybody can move about anywhere in the country peacefully. Now the law
should prevail and there cannot be any human rights violations however
powerful or politically influential the government in power may be.
When a country is devoid of any serious conflict and moving forward
smoothly, law and order should prevail and human rights should be upheld
as enshrined in the constitution.