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Sunday, 22 August 2010

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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 countrymen.

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 possessed.

Invasions

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.

1818 Rebellion

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 Rebellion.

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.

New Constitution

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 clutches.

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.

Civilians protected

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.

People's blessings

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.

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