Economic development cannot happen without political stability. Emergency rule, as the name denotes, is for “emergencies,” so the question as to why the Government still insists on maintaining stringent laws despite strenuously insisting that normalcy has returned to Sri Lanka is rather baffling.
One of the main points of conveying stability to the rest of the world is to ensure that the processes of law and order under which the country functions are portrayed clearly. Emergency Law exists to limit the freedom of citizens and give law authorities the freedom to exact discipline from the population.
This means that the rights of the individual are often sacrificed for the safety of the majority. The Emergency form of order is mostly justified is a stress situation such as war but the Government triumphantly announcing the end of hostilities in May last year and robustly reiterating it at every possible opportunity would make one think that the message has been carried.
If that is the case, then the State of Emergency should be under review, at least. Since reality supports the Government on the fact that peace prevails in the country, then extending the State of Emergency becomes a moot point at this juncture. This is perhaps best demonstrated by the fact that the moderate political parties are now joining the call for ending Emergency rule.
Even the Government acknowledges that the State of Emergency controls basic human rights, but it seems to be taking a double-edged track regarding lifting it. If the situation is normal then the Government does not need to maintain Emergency rule at such a stringent level. Even though certain ministers of the Government have time and again admitted that the Emergency rule is restricting and acknowledged that it needs to be revisited, that only happened once several months ago. Since then all responsible parties have been markedly silent on the matter.
Promoting Sri Lanka as a hub of investment is hard if these extenuating issues are not addressed. The Government cannot continue to ignore the contentions of civil society and other concerned stakeholders and expect to maintain credibility. If its intentions are to prove that Sri Lanka is a law abiding country, then those laws need to be beneficial to all citizens irrespective of their race or religion.
The contention that there are security concerns is a valid one, but at the same time the proof of good governance is allowing the people to regulate themselves and have processes in place that deal equitable justice in an efficient manner. Allowing laws that empower authorities to restrict freedom without giving them a chance to represent themselves is severely damaging in the long run. It creates an atmosphere of distrust where ‘staying out of trouble’ can equate to not being able to send a simple SMS, being free to voice their political or other affiliations and becoming victims of political revenge.
To the common man, these issues are irrelevant; for them, winning their daily bread is a daily battle. However, for a country to become developed, they have to fix on the big picture in the long term. As a Government setting an example is very important and it has to follow up its statements with concrete action. Phasing out the State of Emergency would give a clear and optimistic signal to Sri Lankans and the international community that as a nation we are open to liberal change.
It would also be a reassurance of the Government’s commitment on reconciliation and ensure that the finding of the Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission, for example, can be implemented more easily. More than anything else, it might just make a few common people breathe easy.