SRI LANKA: Defending the nation’s internal security 

Basil Fernando

In a previous article, SRI LANKA: The Supremacy of the national security apparatus, we discussed the issue of the Ministry of Defence being the most important institution in Sri Lanka, after the institution of the Executive President. This implies that the ministry is more important than the parliament and the judiciary within the new order brought about by the 1978 Constitution.

Any institution has a public system of rules which defines offices and positions, with duties and rights, powers and immunities. From this standpoint, the only defined position in the institution known as the Ministry of Defence is the position of the Secretary of the ministry. All other positions have rather ambiguous duties and rights.

The primary duty of the Ministry of Defence is national security. As no external threats are envisaged, national security means internal security. This means keeping the state safe from all internal enemies, meaning internal conflicts with those who have taken to insurgencies, and internal security is defined as fighting terrorism. The term terrorism is an elastic one; it can be given a wider or narrower meaning, as and when it is required.

What is national security if there are no insurgencies? It has come to mean preventing insurgencies from arising. It is this preventative function that has been given a very wide meaning. What it has come to mean is the prevention of any politics outside the ruling regime’s politics? Thus, enemies are minorities who in the past have taken to insurgencies, as they are presumed to be a great threat; trade unions as people may support them in their search for solutions to livelihood problems; students are treated as enemies as they demand the right to be educated and oppose cutting down of state expenses on education, and similarly labeled are every person and group that demand liberties, opportunities and their right to a decent income. Of the liberties, what is considered most subversive to internal security is the freedom of expression and media freedom. Independence of the judiciary is an enemy as they may exercise their power to defend the liberties of all those aforementioned enemies, who may be encouraged by such use of independence by the judiciary. In fact, law itself is treated as a potential tool that favours the enemies; therefore, civilian policing that may insist on the rule of law is also threat, as internal security, understood as it is now, is incompatible with the rule of law.

As for immunities, the Defence Ministry relies on the Executive President’s immunity, assured in full by the constitution itself.

This is how “law and order” is understood now, and it is in that framework that the Defence Ministry has become the most important institution in Sri Lanka after that of the Executive President.