A new paper by the Sri Lanka Campaign charts destruction of institutions as the island slides toward dictatorship.
Immediate release: 8th October 2010
A new paper commissioned by the Sri Lanka Campaign (SLC) dissects the collapse of the rule of law in Sri Lanka.
– the erosion of civil and political rights in all communities
– ‘sham’ justice and accountability institutions, from commissions of inquiries to the court system
– an increasing concentration of power, already extreme, in the hands of the Presidency
– a clear progression towards lawlessness, stretching back decades and continuing unabated despite the end of the country’s
long-running civil war in May 2009
– an ongoing strategy of political manipulation exploiting perceived or alleged security threats
Based on this research, the Campaign:
– believes that Sri Lanka’s Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission (LLRC) is very unlikely to deliver justice
– calls for a robust and independent international inquiry into alleged war crimes committed by both sides during the final stages of the war
– warns that the so-called ‘Sri Lanka model’, if unchecked, may encourage other states to flout international law
– urges the international community to keep developments in Sri Lanka under close scrutiny and to bear in mind the history of methods employed by the Government of Sri Lanka to create the appearance of the rule of law while the reality remains unchanged or even worsens.
See quotes below from Campaign Chair and Advisor.
Entitled ‘The Breakdown of the Rule of Law in Sri Lanka’, this new paper documents the destruction of the concept
of legality in the country, and its very real effect on citizens from all communities. It can be downloaded for free from
the Social Science Research Network (www.ssrn.com). Highlighting the “chasm between appearance and reality
with respect to the institutions of Sri Lanka’s legal system,” the paper draws on evidence from the Asian Human
Rights Commission, the International Bar Association, the Rehabilitation and Research Centre for Torture Victims and
a range of other sources.
It concludes that Sri Lanka’s public institutions are weak and lack independence; that perceived or alleged security
threats, despite the defeat of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), are used as an excuse not to repeal all
draconian emergency regulations; that a climate of fear prevails; and that individual rights, civil society and
independent media are under threat. The net effect of these elements is total disregard for the rule of law – an
alarming situation given Sri Lanka’s record of human rights violations, including enforced disappearances and torture.
It also highlights the routine flouting of international law, an egregious example being the treatment of suspected
LTTE combatants, thousands of whom are still being detained in secret facilities without charge and without access to
legal assistance or monitoring by qualified bodies including the International Committee of the Red Cross. The International Commission of Jurists has described the situation as possibly ‘the largest mass administrative detention
anywhere in the world’ – equivalent to 20 Guantanamo Bays.
A timely reminder
‘The Breakdown of the Rule of Law’ comes at a crucial time for Sri Lanka’s government (GoSL) and citizens. To
date, the GoSL has refused to co-operate with the UN’s panel of experts on Sri Lanka war crimes and accountability,
claiming that its own commission of inquiry, the LLRC, has the credibility and legitimacy to ‘address’ the allegations
of heinous war crimes and human right violations committed before the end of the conflict in May 2009. The paper
provides an overview of the mounting evidence of “manipulation and deceit” in relation to the LLRC and the
dismal record of past commissions.
The paper is also a timely reaction to the legislation recently passed in Sri Lanka, the 18 th Amendment to the
Constitution, which further compromises the independence of public institutions, including the Supreme Court and
the Election Commission and increases the power of the President of Sri Lanka. The 18 th Amendment fits into the
continuing, and indeed deepening, pattern of manipulation by the Presidency of public institutions, the media and
other bodies for political ends.
About the authors
Craig Scott is Professor at Osgoode Hall Law School, Director of the Nathanson Centre on Transnational Human
Rights, Crime and Security of York University, and member of the Sri Lanka Campaign Advisory Council. James
Yap is Law Clerk for Justice Ian Binnie of the Supreme Court of Canada; he contributed to ‘The Breakdown of the
Rule of Law in Sri Lanka’ before assuming his duties at the Court.
According to Professor Scott, the purpose of this new paper is to draw attention to the seriousness of the present post-
war situation in Sri Lanka and the structural reasons why it could again get even worse: “Systematic weakening of
public institutions and the consolidation of power through a largely unchecked security apparatus and a centralisation
of power in the Presidency have created a culture of abysmal lawlessness in Sri Lanka. I share the deep concerns
expressed by Louise Arbour, President of the International Crisis Group, and The Elders about the potential
‘multiplier’ effect of the GoSL’s exploitation of security rhetoric to justify its methods and policies; there are already
signs of other states seeking to emulate the so-called ‘Sri Lanka model’.”
About the Sri Lanka Campaign
The Sri Lanka Campaign for Peace and Justice is a strictly non-partisan campaign that champions action to alleviate
the suffering of the 300,000 displaced during the final stages of the conflict, to secure the freedom of those civilians
still interned in camps, challenge human rights abuses and promote a lasting peace based on justice and
The Campaign is chaired by Edward Mortimer, Senior Vice-President of the Salzburg Global Seminar, who served
as Chief Speechwriter and Director of Communications for UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan until 2006. He has
said: “This paper documents the sad demise of the very concepts of legality and truth in Sri Lanka. Given the absence
of functioning public institutions and the climate of repression, the international community must do whatever it can
to ensure that adequate checks and balances are restored. The Sri Lanka Campaign hopes that the country’s powerful
allies and donors will act swiftly, before the situation deteriorates further.”
Both Craig Scott and Edward Mortimer are available for interviews. The Campaign can also provide data,
briefings and press advice to any journalists wishing to cover the situation in Sri Lanka. For more information,
please contact the campaign by emailing [email protected] or visiting www.srilankacampaign.org