Colombo’s anti-terror law must be applied fairly
A peaceful society does not have much need for terror-related laws. But this is not the case with Sri Lanka. Having suffered at the hands of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) for decades, it has formulated a draft anti-terror law, called the Prevention of Terrorism Act (PTA). This is under consideration. The draft seeks to strengthen anti-terrorism mechanisms while ensuring that the innocent do not caught in the process. It is important to understand why Colombo has been in a hurry to pass a terror-related law when the LTTE is no more an imminent threat to its stability and peace initiatives.
The only justification that comes from the Sri Lankan Government is that the new law would target “new forms of transnational violence”. There is no doubt that a democratic country must defend itself against every act of transnational and international violence. But vis-à-vis Sri Lanka, the proposed terror law has raised erstwhile muted issues of human rights violations and the Government's obligations in protecting the Tamil minority. The Tamil minority had inadvertently suffered in the hands of the Sri Lanka's Government during the days of the Tamil separatist movement. The silver lining in the proposed legislation is that Sri Lanka would need to adhere to human rights norms and international rights related obligations.
Sri Lanka's Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe should assure the Tamil minority that the proposed PTA would not be used arbitrarily against them. The arbitrariness in the implementation of any terror law ought to be a subject Sri Lanka should guard against. Nothing would alienate the Tamil minority sooner than an unjust use of PTA. The Sri Lankan Government spokesperson and Deputy Minister Karunarathna Paranavithana said, “We need the new law to ensure that the country is not used as a recruiting ground or for other organising activity of international terrorists.”
The need for a new law became palpable in Sri Lankan society as forms of terrorism have changed over the decades and gained a new momentum with transnational violence becoming an international issue. The old form of PTA has left hundreds languishing in prison without charge. Sri Lanka has close to 160 detainees behind bars without access to due process. Most of them were caught during the military strife against the LTTE. Now, there is a renewed expectation that Sri Lankans behind bars will get opportunities to rehabilitate and join the mainstream, more so those from the Tamil community who worked out of pressure or otherwise for the LTTE. The point here is not to criticise the Sri Lankan Government but to encourage a formation of a blueprint whereby Lankan Tamil interests are protected with the same efficiency as those of the Sinhalese. It is the responsibility of a democratic Government to assuage the fear of every citizen. Going by the past, Tamil interests ought to be a high priority.