Less than a week after historic elections to the Northern Provincial Council were comprehensively won by a Tamil anti-government party, and only a few hours before the Commonwealth Ministerial Action Group is due to meet, the Sri Lankan Government has stripped the new council of one of its most important powers.
Having power over land rights has always been one of the key demands of the Tamil Community and it was for this reason that it was placed in the Sri Lankan constitution under the 13th amendment. It was to be one of the main powers of the newly elected Northern Provincial Council – whose election the Government has heralded as a sign of progress and its commitment to reconciliation.
However Sri Lanka’s supreme court (whose Chief Justice is the President of Sri Lanka’s former personal legal advisor following the unlawful impeachment of his predecessor) has now ruled that land powers should lie with the central Government.
The timing of the decision is particularly suspect. Sri Lankan provincial councils have had power over land rights for all of the 27 years that the 13th Amendment has been in existence, and these powers have been supported by two previous supreme court decisions. And yet in that time there has never been a provincial council in the majority Tamil north. Less than a week after the Northern Provincial Council is elected for the first time ever, this key power is taken away.
This further demonstrates how cosmetic the Sri Lankan Government’s attitude to reconciliation truly is.