The 18th Amendment to the Constitution conferred enough power to the President of Sri Lanka to enable him to take control of the key institutions of the State. That includes the Judiciary, the Police Force, the Attorney General, the Auditor General and even the members of the permanent Commissions such as the National Human Rights Commission, the Police Commission, the Bribery Commission, the Elections Commission etc. In other words, the 18th Amendment virtually conferred dictatorial powers to the President of Sri Lanka.
Even those who refuse to acknowledge the dictatorial powers held by the President, might find it difficult to ignore the how the Defence Secretary is gradually taking various measures to militarize the administration of the Country. The frequent military interference in the civil administration works of the North and East is a prime example of how military powers are impinging on civil authorities. The Government Agents in these Northern and Eastern districts have virtually become assistants to the military commanders of their respective districts.
Many retired military officers have been given top positions in the Foreign Service of the country while others have been posted to government departments and corporations. Now we have the news of compulsory military training for those seeking admissions to Sri Lanka’s Universities (1). The security provided to state institutions are to be handled exclusively by a security services organization which has the Defence Secretary as its Director. To top it all the Defence Secretary has decided to establish 90 military camps and 54 special task force camps in all parts of the country in addition to those in the North and East (2). These camps will be set up for political surveillance in an attempt to prevent any future protests. Each military camp is to hold at least 1,000 personnel, whilst special task force camps are to hold 150 police officers and they are to be assigned armored vehicles as well.
The evidence that the Government of Sri Lanka is rapidly militarizing Sri Lanka is undeniable. Civil Authorities are being made weaker and weaker and the military continues to encroach upon every aspect of society. As the UN Panel of Experts report critically observed, the transfer of the government’s NGO Secretariat to the Ministry of Defence is a blatant act of repressive control and another indicator of the deepened militarization. There is no argument to support those who still speak of a democracy in this context. The question is how long will the patriots fool themselves and how long will the international community ignore the signs?
(1) Restore Civil Administration In All Aspects To Ensure Democracy
See media release below
(2) Gotabhaya to cover the country with a military net
National Peace Council
Media Release 25.05.11
RESTORE CIVIL ADMINISTRATION IN ALL ASPECTS TO ENSURE DEMOCRACY
The three week leadership training for incoming batches of university students in army camps that is currently being implemented at short notice is being debated nationally and is building up into a major political issue. The government has justified this measure as a progressive one that will institute discipline and social etiquette in the students. In the past universities have been hotbeds of student agitation and even violence. On the other hand, opposition political parties, student organizations and parents have expressed their opposition to this measure and questioned the need for this orientation to be given by the army and to take place within army camps. They have also argued that the orientation course if deemed necessary could well be done outside the military camps.
The National Peace Council is concerned about the growing reliance of the government on the military to take up tasks that are essentially civilian in nature. In the Northern and Eastern provinces the military continues to play an important role in governance, despite the end of the war, and former military commanders have been appointed as governors with overriding powers over the civil administration. In the Vanni, the day to day matters which should to be dealt with by the civilian authorities often have to receive the final approval of the Civil Affairs Office of the military. The people who have been resettled could feel they are under military rule. In addition military officials are increasingly getting involved in livelihood and development activities bringing an additional layer that constrains the work of professional NGOs specializing in these areas of work.
In the South too there are also examples of creeping militarisation. These include the use of military personnel to supervise the demolition of low income housing in Colombo and for more benign purposes such as to decorate streets with Vesak pandals and sell vegetables to bring down the cost of living. Retired military officers are being appointed to diplomatic positions in preference to career diplomats. The military may be deployed in development work and to represent the country to justify the expenditure on them but other countries like Pakistan and Indonesia realized late that involving the military in civilian affairs would tempt the military to a desire for power which should be in the hands of the elected politicians. It is ironic that the government has justified the imprisonment and ongoing trial of the former Army Comander Sarath Fonseka in part on this basis.
While Sri Lankans have every reason to be grateful to the military for winning the war and ending terrorism, it is unwise to mix the military with governance if we wish to progress as a democratic society. What makes the military tick and what makes a society democratic and creative are quite different. The strict subordination of the military to civilian authority in democratic countries, and the separation of military and civilian roles is an outcome of a long and painful process of historical evolution. Failure to ensure this could ultimately lead to unwanted military rule nursed by a democratically elected government. NPC calls for the restoration of civilian authority in all aspects of governance and for the separation of civil and military roles in society so that democracy may be ensured.
The National Peace Council is an independent and non partisan organisation that works towards a negotiated political solution to the ethnic conflict in Sri Lanka. It has a vision of a peaceful and prosperous Sri Lanka in which the freedom, human rights and democratic rights of all the communities are respected. The policy of the National Peace Council is determined by its Governing Council of 20 members who are drawn from diverse walks of life and belong to all the main ethnic and religious communities in the country.