SRI LANKA: New ‘Law and Order Ministry’ is a further step towards militarization

The establishment of a Law and Order Ministry under the President has been announced. The Secretary to this Ministry, according to reports, is Major General (Retired) Nanda Mallawarachchi, a retired military officer. Maj.Gen. Mallawarachichi is a former Chief of Staff of the Sri Lankan Army. He later became the Sri Lankan Ambassador to Indonesia. He reported to have played a major role in kidnapping Kumaran Pathmanathan of the LTTE from a hotel and taking him to the Airport with the help of the Malaysian security forces.

While the establishment of this ministry is justified under the pretext of following a recommendation from the Lessons Learned and Reconciliation Commission (LLRC), what this represents in fact is a further step in the militarization process.

The recommendations of the LLRC are made within the framework of the rule of law. Under the rule of law, law and order simply means the establishment of the supremacy of the law and the enforcement of the law through legitimate authorities, which are the civilian police, an independent Attorney General’s department as prosecutor, and an independent judiciary. Under the rule of law, the place of the military is to be in the barracks and to serve only when called for, when there is a threat to the nation. However, what is happening in Sri Lanka now is the process of bringing the military to the forefront under the pretext of maintaining law and order.

At Weliweriya, the nation saw how the military can be called upon to intervene into a peaceful demonstration of villagers, who were only demanding the right to have clean water. Snipers acting as soldiers opened fire and killed many innocent people. Other soldiers even entered church premises and assaulted people taking shelter in the church. As a result, one person was killed and many were injured on the church premises. Two others who were killed were young boys of sixteen and eighteen, who had no connection at all to any protest. When an inquiry was called, it was handed over to the military themselves. The military officer who headed the military inquiry is internationally under suspicion for alleged war crimes.

Under these circumstances, those who are concerned about the civil liberties of the citizens and the future of the law in the country should seriously study this twisted meaning of ‘law and order’. Some serious studies are available on this issue. For example, one of the countries that used the phrase ‘law and order’ for the militarization of the country was Myanmar (Burma) under the military dictatorship of General Ne Win. During his rule, from 1962 to 1988, the words ‘law and order’ became the slogan for the undoing of the basic legal structure that was established by the British during the colonial occupation of Myanmar, and put in place military institutions that were, naturally, also headed by senior military officers. It went on to the extent of even selecting judges for the so-called courts from the military, and even the present Chief Justice in Myanmar is a former military officer.

A study on this was done by Dr. Nick Cheesman at the Australian National University (ANU), entitled “The politics of law and order in Myanmar”. In this study, he has pointed out the use of the phrase “law and order” to divorce whatever that was called “order” from law. By this process, the commands of the government acquired the status of “law”. Under a rule of law system, law is made through a parliamentary process and requires the legitimacy gained through following the required criteria for the making of law. Furthermore, in a rule of law situation, law is finally subjected to the interpretation of the judiciary. However, under a law and order situation in a military context, the commands from the government have to be obeyed by everyone, including the judiciary. Dr. Cheesman demonstrates the manner through which the courts became mere instruments in the hands of the military to carry out military orders.

Now, under the pretext of implementing LLRC orders, a further stage of militarization is being pursued. Perhaps, the phrase “law and order” is being used to impress Dr. Navi Pillay (UN High Commissioner for Human Rights) during her visit, hoping that she may report that a recommendation of the LLRC has been complied with. That the important occasion of the visit of the High Commissioner is also used to create legitimacy for the militarization is an indication of the direction in which the country has embarked.

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Document Type : Statement
Document ID : AHRC-STM-154-2013
Countries : Sri Lanka,
Issues : Administration of justice, Impunity, Military, Rule of law,