In a statement released on 4 May, Sri Lanka’s main Tamil party said it was “deeply perturbed” by the government’s policy on a proposed counter-terrorism law as it curtails civil liberties and has potential for abuse.
The Tamil National Alliance said they were “shocked” by the extent to which the draft framework “curtails civil liberties, erodes judicial control over the state security apparatus and the staggering potential for abuse and torture.”
The party, however, said they were not opposed to a legal framework per se against terrorism.
The Tamil National Alliance (TNA) is deeply concerned over Cabinet approval for a policy and legal framework relating to the proposed Counter-Terrorism Act. We have not been consulted on the terms of the draft framework, which has recently appeared in the press and appears to be a Cabinet memorandum approved on 25th April 2017.
We are shocked by the extent to which the draft framework curtails civil liberties, erodes judicial control over the state security apparatus and the staggering potential for abuse and torture. We are unequivocally committed to supporting a legal framework that would prevent and punish acts of terrorism in a manner that is lawful, in compliance with fundamental rights and the rule of law. To this end, we have engaged constructively in Parliament. We are therefore deeply perturbed by the turn the government’s latest draft has taken.
We observe that the proposed definition of terrorism would extend far beyond activities defined internationally as terrorism, replicating restrictions on free speech that have previously been used to punish dissenting voices including politicians and journalists such as Asath Salley and J. S. Tissainayagam among others. The definitions are also exceedingly vague and indeterminate, and would would have a chilling effect on advocacy in favour of greater diversity in Sri Lanka.
Moreover, the proposed framework envisages the unconstitutional stripping of judicial discretion even where a suspect is produced before a Magistrate after arrest, and renders the judge a virtual appendage of the executive arm. The safeguards which we believe are essential to prevent torture—such as eliminating confessions—were initially assured, but have since been reversed. The present framework envisages the admissibility of confessions under certain conditions, which are deeply inadequate to prevent torture and abuse given the widespread and continuing practice of torture in Sri Lanka. Moreover, the Act also permits the extensive violation of the rights of those wholly unconnected with terrorism.
We urge the Government to reconsider and urgently reformulate its proposals in light of the fundamental need to avoid torture and enforced disappearance, prevent abuse and effectively investigate actual threats to terrorism. The proposed framework neither ensures the security nor the liberty of Sri Lankans. Instead, it represents an attempt to enlarge the scope of unchecked executive power over the citizen, stifle freedom of speech and diversity, and provide the necessary loopholes for continued torture and abuse. We wish to reiterate that the protection of the rights of our citizens–particularly given the legacy of horrific past abuses–should not be sacrificed on the altar of trade concessions.
M A Sumanthiran MP
Tamil National Alliance