Sixth Amendment threat looms over peace talks

[TamilNet, Friday, 06 September 2002, 19:08 GMT]
(Newsfeature) President Chandrika Kumaratunga’s People’s Alliance and the Sinhala nationalist Janata Vimukthi Peramuna (JVP) vowed Friday to fight the United National Front government for lifting of the ban on the Liberation Tigers. The spokesman for the People’s Alliance Dr. Sarath Amunugama said the party will take legal action and start mass protests against the de-proscription. He was addressing a press conference at the opposition leader’s office in Colombo Friday.

The PA and several Sinhala nationalist groups say they intend to oppose the de-proscription legally by having recourse to the provisions of the sixth amendment to Sri Lanka’s constitution under which any organisation espousing separatism within the island’s territory can be proscribed by the Supreme Court.

“We have appointed a committee to take legal action against the de-banning of the LTTE,” Dr. Sarath Amunugama said. He lashed out at the government, saying it had cheated the public by claiming the ban was only temporary move.

“But the gazette notification on the de-proscription does not say it is temporary”, he said.

The PA and the JVP were irked that the lifting of the ban was sprung on them before the date on which they expected the UNF to make the politically sensitive move. The parties had planned massive protests in the Sinhala majority districts on the said date. The midnight announcement on Wednesday caught them off their guard.

Meanwhile, the JVP’s powerful propaganda secretary, Mr. Wimal Weerawanse, addressing a press conference at the Nippon Hotel in downtown Colombo Friday, said his party was discussing a common strategy with other opposition parties and groups to oust Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe’s government. The party failed to capture state power through bloody armed insurrections in 1971 and 1988.

Vimal WeerawansaThousands of Sinhala youth were killed in the insurrections to establish a Stalinist state in Sri Lanka. The JVP subscribes to a rigid Stalinist brand of Marxism although it has emerged as the leading Sinhala nationalist force in Sri Lanka in recent times.

A political analyst with a popular Sinhala weekly said that the peace negotiations would face a serious challenge if the PA and Sinhala nationalist groups that are currently rallying behind President Chandrika Kumaratunga resort to invoking the provisions of the Sixth Amendment against the LTTE.

The leader of the extremist Sinhala nationalist group, Mr. Tilak Karunaratna told local media Thursday that he would take legal action under Article 157 A of the Constitution (Sixth Amendment).

According to the provisions of the amendment:

Article 157 A (1) No person shall, directly or indirectly, in or outside Sri Lanka, support, espouse, promote, finance, encourage or advocate the establishment of a separate state within the territory of Sri Lanka.

(2) No political party or other association or organisation shall have as one of its aims or objects the establishment of a separate state within the territory of Sri Lanka.”

Under this law - 157 A (4) - any person may make an application to the Supreme Court for a declaration against an organisation espousing the cause of establishing a separate state in the island. Upon such declaration by the SC that the organisation has violated Article 157 A (2), then that organisation “shall be deemed, for all purposes to be proscribed”. Any member of such an organisation shall cease to be a member of Parliament. Any person who is a member of such an organisation after the date of the SC declaration “shall be guilty of an offence and shall, upon conviction by the Court of Appeal” would be stripped of his or her civic rights for a period not exceeding seven years; and his or her movable and immovable property would be seized.

The Sixth Amendment was introduced on the heels of the 1983 July anti Tamil pogrom in which thousands of Tamils were killed and maimed by state backed Sinhala mobs in Colombo and the Sinhala majority districts of the island.

The Amendment saw the Tamil United Liberation Front giving up its seats in Parliament and going into exile in India. The TULF was elected to Parliament in 1977 from the on an overwhelming mandate from the Tamils of the island’s northeast for establishing a separate state for the Tamils in Sri Lanka.

A committee of legal experts appointed by the PA when it came to power in 1994 to inquire into reforming media laws recommended that the sixth amendment be reviewed as it is a major stricture on the freedom of expression in Sri Lanka.


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