Edward Mortimer, Chair of the Sri Lanka Campaign and former director of communications to UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan, voiced concerns over Sri Lanka’s slide into authoritarianism on the Rattansi & Ridley show (http://www.rattansiandridley.com/).
Outlining developments since the country’s long-running armed conflict came to an end in May 2009, he said that not only had the grave allegations with respect to war crimes and violations of international law not been addressed, but that the country’s recent constitutional amendments had seriously damaged its political system – regularly cited with pride by government officials as one of Asia’s oldest democracies.
The 18th amendment to the constitution effectively removes the last vestiges of this so-called venerable democracy. It removes the presidential term limits and gives the presidency effective control over a swathe of public institutions, including the supreme court, judiciary and police, and the electoral, corruption and human rights commissions. Rather than seizing a unique peacetime opportunity for a more open government, Mortimer said the amendment leaves the country tilting towards the tendencies of a classic dictatorship.
While coverage of Sri Lanka in recent months seems to have dropped out of mainstream media, the humanitarian need is still very real as many of the 300,000 people displaced during the final months of fighting continue to face desperate conditions.
On paper it would ‘appear’ that the president is backed by the majority of the Sri Lankan population, said Mortimer, and his regime’s actions legitimised by the support – or silence – from the majority of countries worldwide. This observation has been shared by others such as The Elders who have referred to it as a on “Sri Lanka’s disturbing acions” (1).
But Mortimer points out that this “deafening global silence” as refrred to also by The Elders (1) is explained by the fact that international relations were at play as countries were hesitant to risk their negotiating power and concede any advantage to other countries marking what is clearly a ‘race to the bottom’.
The amendment to the constitution by the Sri Lankan government means there is no-one who can question the president’s decisions said Mortimer, and international governments turning a deaf ear to the situation raises cause for concern for human rights and may endanger reaching a lasting peace based on justice and reconciliation.
To listen to the interview in full, click here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tqCnW3j9Hrg
(1) The Elders Press release http://www.theelders.org/media/mediareleases/sri-lankas-disturbing-actions-met-by-deafening-global-silence