Democracy in crisis in Asia's killing fields- AHRC

[TamilNet, Thursday, 27 April 2006, 01:06 GMT]
Saying that "Sri Lanka has been the stage of one of the most brutal killing fields," the Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) in a media release issued Wednesday said, "the problem Sri Lanka faces is much worse than a mere escalation of violence. A country that is already facing a collapse of its basic institutions and living at the lowest ebb of the rule of law is now plunging deeper into an abysmal crisis in all areas of life...crisis in Sri Lanka is a crisis of democracy, with its roots in the authoritarian style of rule that arose as a result of the 1978 Constitution."

Full text of AHRC's media release follows:

SRI LANKA: Sri Lanka faces a problem far greater than the escalation of violence

Violence is escalating in Sri Lanka, with an attack by a suicide bomber in Colombo on the army headquarters that has seriously injured the army commander and killed many others. In retaliation, the Government of Sri Lanka has ordered air and naval attacks on LTTE strongholds. The international media is announcing a “return to war” in response to this escalation of violence. The lower level of violence that prevailed during the cease fire is now being pushed higher. However, the problem Sri Lanka faces is much worse than a mere escalation of violence. A country that is already facing a collapse of its basic institutions and living at the lowest ebb of the rule of law is now plunging deeper into an abysmal crisis in all areas of life. The Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) has warned of this situation for a long time.

The fragile cease fire was all that could be achieved against a background of intense violence that has prevailed in the country for almost three decades. Sri Lanka has been the stage of one of the most brutal killing fields, with hardly any avenues for democratic debate or democratic solutions to any problems. In fact, no one really talks of democracy any more, or sees the ethnic conflict or other conflicts existing in the country through a democratic perspective. All sides to the conflict have nothing and no one to talk to. Everyone is trying to make their point in the most violent way possible.

The AHRC has consistently pointed out that the crisis in Sri Lanka is a crisis of democracy, with its roots in the authoritarian style of rule that arose as a result of the 1978 Constitution. The abandonment of a basic democratic infrastructure that was accepted as the foundation of the country’s governance at the beginning of independence met with hardly any resistance in the late 1970s and 1980s. The architect of the 1978 Constitution was an aged politician who had no other ambition than to rule for the rest of his life, like colonial governor generals or ancient monarchs. That the displacement of all basic democratic norms and standards and of the respect for institutions brought about by this constitution would damage the country for a long time to come was none of his concerns. The crisis has deepened since that time, without tangible efforts on the part of other political parties or civil society for the construction of the country on the basis of democracy.

The ethnic conflict developed into a killing competition as a result of the initial collapse of democratic safeguards. In turn, long years of violence have deteriorated democracy further. In the early years, there were some forms of resistance on the part of the judiciary and some liberal elements, but over the years everyone has become adjusted to the authoritarian scheme. While there is a lot of expression of frustration and grief about what has taken place in the country in citizens of all classes’ private conversations, there has been no growth of a strong movement within the country to fight back and to reassert democracy.

Those who have talked about peace, including the international agencies that have taken an active role in recent years, have seen “the ethnic conflict” in isolation and made no attempt to link it to the greater crisis existing within the system of governance, which affects the entire country. The belief that the ethnic issue can in some way be resolved while democracy in the country has decayed has not been seen as an absurd proposition. However, the absurdity of the situation is now manifesting itself, as the violence escalates.

This simply demonstrates that mere “peace talks” without a comprehensive programme for democratic reform throughout the country are just an illusion. As violence escalates, corruption will also increase and already inefficient state structures will degenerate further. In the absence of internal capacities to control crime, corruption and to move towards stability, violence can only engender further forms of destruction and decay.

Although this scene is disheartening, it must be faced. The rhetoric of war and focus on attacks and counter-attacks will on dissimulate this stark reality. Once again, if there is any possibility of a rescue, it lies not in the hands of politicians, but in the hands of enlightened civil society groups, if they care to and are willing to make their presence felt by calling for fundamental democratic reforms in all areas of life. Only in comprehensive democratic reform can we find hope for the country. This lesson is once again appearing high in the skies of Sri Lanka. The AHRC urges all Sri Lankans and members of the international community who care for stability and the safeguarding of lives and liberty, to link the thinking on Sri Lanka to the need for achieving comprehensive democratic reforms in the country as soon as possible.

 

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