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"To us all towns are one, all men our kin.
Life's good comes not from others' gift, nor ill
Man's pains and pains' relief are from within.
Thus have we seen in visions of the wise !."
Tamil Poem in Purananuru, circa 500 B.C 

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Home > Tamils - a Nation without a State > Struggle for Tamil Eelam > Democracy, Sri Lanka Style >  Asian Human Rights Commission  on Democracy, Sri Lanka style

 Democracy Continues, Sri Lanka Style...

Lost Dream of Free and Fair Elections
says Asian Human Rights Commision, April 1999

"Sri Lanka has been a functioning and vibrant democracy for many decades. I'd class it with the United States and India..." (Sri Lanka Foreign Minister, Lakshman Kadirgamar in an interview reported in the Washington Times on 3 February 1999)

"The people of Sri Lanka can no longer hope for the peaceful exercise of their right to freely elect their representatives at national, or even local, elections...The concept of free and fair elections has become an illusion in Sri Lanka..." (Asian Human Rights Commission, April 1999)

The conduct of the local elections in north-western provinces in Sri Lanka last January deserves universal condemnation, in the same way as the referendum of l 982 and all other subsequent elections except the 1994 polls. The 1994 elections came after the assassination of President Premadasa and a nation-wide condemnation of the period of terror. The Sri Lankan government had made a solemn promise to end such violent practices. Now, instead of changing the vicious practices of the past United National Party regime, the People's Alliance has reversed the promise and becomes as ugly as their opponent party.

The people of Sri Lanka no longer can hope for the peaceful exercise of their right to freely elect their representatives at national, or even local, elections.

The Constitution guarantees the right of the people to choose their representatives. This is also a right guaranteed by the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights that Sri Lanka has ratified.

The two major political parties in the country do not respect this most basic right of the people.

The duty of the parties, in fact, should be to inform the people of their respective ideas and programmes and to help people make a free choice. Instead, the parties use terror to coerce people to vote and to introduce false ballots. The party in power also uses the State apparatus, particularly the police, for this purpose.

The concept of free and fair elections has become an illusion in Sri Lanka.

Indeed, Sri Lankan elections are the most violent among the Asian countries in recent times. The Cambodian elections of May 1993 and of July 1998 were far more peaceful as compared with the polls in Sri Lanka. In India in recent elections the Commissioner of Elections has taken great pain to introduce control over election expenditure of candidates, reduce fun {fare at elections and eradicate violence.

After the local elections in Sri Lanka last January there were many statements condemning the polls. However, there had been no attempt to identify the root causes for the situation and to demand reforms. Here the Asian Human Rights Commission wishes to address two major causes for the violence and vote-faking in the latest elections. They are: the collapse of the police force, particularly the function of criminal investigation, and the weakness of the prosecution system.

Collapse of Police Force

The history of the police force shows serious limitations of the police system that have existed since its inception. It can only be said that a relatively developed police system had existed in Sri Lanka and that such system managed the elections prior to 1982 with great degree of success. It can also he said that a relatively developed criminal investigation system did function in the country. However, the police system began to collapse with direct interference in the police by late Presidents Jayawardene and Premadasa. Jayawardene started a police unit of his own, and that unit had more power than the ordinary police.

The 1982 referendum had showed how police units were mobilised to subvert a free election. The election commissioners report on the referendum showed the extent of that subversion. Later with the proscription of several political parties which were not at fault, to cover up the ruling regime's involvement in the violence against Tamils in 1983, it further made the functioning of an independent police system impossible.

The worst was when the police were used to kidnap, illegally detain and torture, kill and secretly dispose of tens of thousands of political opponents of the regime. The reports of the three Commissions of Inquiry into the Involuntary Removal or Disappearance of Persons have already given details of such behaviour of the police and the military.

Yet nothing has been done to reverse the process, to remove those killers from the police or to re-establish the normal functions of the police. Until such changes take place, the police will not be able to act as peace keepers during elections or to bring violators before courts. More importantly, violent practices during elections will recur until there is a fundamental reform of the police.

Poor Prosecution System

The poor prosecution system in Sri Lanka too has been come under criticism since 1997. The system has two major faults. One is that it depends entirely on police investigations. There are no practices as that in the United States or Australia where prosecutors play a greater role in directing investigators. In Sri Lanka, if police do not investigate a prosecutor can easily wash his/her hands.

"No evidence, no prosecutions" is something that is often heard in the country. Of about 30,000 disappearances identified by the disappearances commissions, only a very fey; cases have been prosecuted. The reason for that is no evidence. The reason for no evidence is no investigations.

The second weakness of the prosecution system is that it is very much under political control. Each ruling regime controls that system.

This too has been pointed out repeatedly by critics. An independent prosecution system directly under a prosecutor-general and be bound by objective norms of prosecutions is thus a dire need.

Critics of the last local elections must go beyond shedding tears to address the root causes for the problem and demand reforms. Until such reforms take place, free and fair elections in Sri Lanka will remain a lost dream.

(Asian Human Rights Commission Newsletter - Solidarity, April 1999)


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