India’s Home Minister Palaniappan Chidambaram has expressed displeasure at steps taken by the Sri Lankan government to rehabilitate internally displaced Sri Lankan Tamils. Addressing the media in his constituency of Sivakasi in the Indian state of Tamil Nadu recently, he said, “I am not happy over the steps taken so far by Sri Lanka to rehabilitate the Tamils who have become refugees in their own country. The efforts are not enough.”
Meanwhile the People’s Liberation Party, a southern political party with 26 members in Parliament, stated that the conditions of internally displaced persons in camps were unsatisfactory and that the suffering caused in the camps could embitter people who have already suffered under the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam. The party also complained that access to the camps was restricted and that even handing over aid donated for people in the camps was proving difficult.
Sri Lanka’s leading opposition party, the United National Party, has also repeatedly demanded access to the camps and condemned the continued denial by the government. Several Tamil political leaders have also repeatedly criticized the government’s policies regarding the refugees.
In an interview with the BBC’s Sinhala Service, one government minister said no access was provided for opposition political parties to the camps at the moment. He said their assistance would be sought when needed.
In one surprising example of the government’s reluctance to respond to the needs of the refugees, the attorney general objected in court to an application by a family divided into four different camps to be united. The family moved the court to allow a 13-year-old girl suffering from injuries to be examined by a specialist doctor. Despite the attorney general’s claim that she had already been taken to a hospital, the court granted the order for the girl to be taken to a specialist, according to a report published Friday by the BBC’s Sinhala Service.
It is not clear on what legal grounds the Attorney General’s Department objected to the family’s application to be united. The attorney general is the country’s chief legal officer, who should advise the government purely on the basis on law.
There seem to be no reasonable grounds to deprive the internally displaced people of their rights as citizens. If any of them are suspected of having committed crimes, the law provides adequate powers to the government to deal with those suspects. The real problem is that a large population known to be innocent citizens is being deprived of their rights.
In the absence of reasonable grounds for depriving citizens of their rights, there is speculation that political purposes are behind this behavior. Naturally, the suspicion that the internally displaced people are the objects of various political schemes builds resentment.
Another real problem is the absence of transparency and accountability regarding all matters relating to the refugees. Former Chief Justice Sarath Nanda Silva, who retired last month, stated a few days before his retirement that internally displaced persons do not have protection under the normal laws of the country. That a section of Sri Lankan citizens does not have the protection of the law is a serious concern.
This week an international crisis group issued a report pointing out the serious defects of the judicial and legal processes in Sri Lanka. It stated that Sri Lanka’s courts have been politicized and the rights of the people compromised.
Last month the International Bar Association’s Human Rights Institute issued a report after a visit to Sri Lanka, stating that the country’s judiciary, legal profession and media were in peril.
In its lengthy report, the world’s foremost lawyer’s association analyzed in great detail the threats faced by the judicial system over a considerable period of time, the attacks on and intimidation of lawyers, which have obstructed their independent functioning, and the assassination of and attacks on journalists. Last week, a female journalist complained that she had been abducted and threatened in a bid to force her to give up her profession.
Despite local and international criticism, the protections that should be available to citizens are instead continuously deteriorating. The government’s arrogant disregard for public opinion – as expressed by local political parties, neighboring governments like India and others – has created a situation where almost all avenues for seeking redress of grievances have been closed.
Source: Sri Lanka’s disregard for public opinion