ECONOMYNEXT – Sri Lanka President Ranil Wickremesinghe’s administration will likely bring in new legislation aimed at “protecting the basic rights of the people”, cabinet spokesman Minister Bandula Gunawardena said after the government revoked a controversial return to war-time high security zones.
President Wickrememsinghe signed a declaration of several high security zones (HSZ) in the capital Colombo on September 24 after months of protests. The legality of the move was widely questioned, after which the decision was revoked on Saturday October 01.
The privately owned The Sunday Times reported the next day that the Ministry of Public Security and the Secretary to the Ministry of Defence had sought the declaration citing possible security threats from some protestors and that the president had signed the documents assuming the officials had ensured their legality.
Minister Gunawardena, speaking at the weekly cabinet press briefing on Tuesday October 04 said the government has a responsibility to uphold the fundamental rights of all citizens including all stakeholders of the constitution, the executive and the judiciary.
“Parliamentarians are also citizens of this country. They too have basic human rights,” he said.
The minister was alluding to the wave of retaliatory mob violence that rocked the country on May 09 after supporters of then prime minister Mahinda Rajapaksa launched an unprovoked attack on peaceful protestors. One government MP was killed in the violence that ensued and the residences and offices of several MPs were torched to the ground in a series of arson attacks.
Gunawardena said the government accepts that nonviolent protests must be permitted, but the state has an obligation to intervene when public property is damaged and the rights of others are violated.
The constitution guarantees the right of all citizens to live in their own homes and move freely, and if anything gets in the way of those basic rights, said Gunawardena, the government will act.
“The cabinet of ministers discussed whether new laws should be brought in to protect such rights. In no other part of the world has a country with a parliamentary system of government earned such a black mark through the kind of violence that erupted here,” he said.
The minister also defended the move to declare HSZs, though the president himself revoked them.
“Even when tourists are coming in, some have personally called me and asked whether there will be people outside the airport, will there be unauthorised people checking our passports, will there be fuel, etc. To improve tourism and investments, Sri Lanka should be a place of nonviolence.
“This may have been the reason for the imposition of high security zones,” he said. (Colombo/Oct04/2022)