|We salute the Judiciary
In Sri Lanka’s recent barricaded history, there have been two
occasions when checkpoints were checkmated.
With the signing of the February 22, 2002 Cease Fire Agreement
(CFA), the people breathed a collective sigh of relief as the
parties were required to review security measures and introduce
systems to prevent harassment of civilians.
Long before the 60-day deadline, barricades were dismantled.
This action, however, was undertaken in a clime of peace.
With an ongoing raging war, with bombs exploding everywhere,
last week’s prompt dismantling of security checkpoints and
barricades by Executive order deserves commendation.
On Wednesday, a three-bench Supreme Court, presided over by
Chief Justice Sarath N. Silva, in a landmark judgment, stated
that roadside checkpoints were illegal.
Noting that waging war against the State was punishable with
death, the Chief Justice justified the role of the armed forces
in maintaining public order. He, however, said that when action
is directed at persons not engaged in waging war, every
precaution and safeguard must be taken to minimise hardships.
Even as efforts were being made to racially profile people at
checkpoints and during cordon and search operations, where
arbitrary arrests were being made in the city and suburbs, Chief
Justice Silva ensured justice for all citizens in a
multi-cultural and multi-religious society.
He reminded the authorities that the state had a bounden duty to
afford security to Tamil persons fleeing previous abodes to seek
refuge in the capital. If refuge is denied in the city and
suburbs, these people end up refugees in foreign lands, with the
implication that the state cannot protect them.
Even as the country was losing hope in all democratic
institutions, with the Executive becoming stronger and the
military calling the shots in a near dictatorship, the Judiciary
fearlessly ruled in favour of a hapless population.
While many have tried to portray Sri Lanka as a failed state, we
salute the Judiciary for acting fearlessly and the Executive for
reacting respectfully by dismantling checkpoints in terms of the
The order could have caused a standoff between the Judiciary and
the Executive – thankfully that was not to be.
On the arbitrary closure of roads to ensure the security of
officials, the judgment stated that security measures should be
carried out with minimum inconvenience to citizens exercising
their constitutionally guaranteed freedom of movement.
It was judicial activism at its height – deserving to be admired
by the entire population. For the past two years, the people
remained as silent bystanders as they were taken for a long ride
on the highways and byways of Sri Lanka while threatened
officials drove roughshod over them, even at peak hours.
We may ask: Aren’t there better ways of protecting these
threatened officials without subjecting the masses to so much
The Chief Justice said the alleged infringements were typical of
the travails, hardships and harassment imposed on the people,
who peacefully engage in their lawful pursuits and travel on our
public roads in the exercise of their fundamental right to the
freedom of movement, thereby denying such persons the equal
protection of the law and the freedom from arbitrary arrest and
In a stinging indictment on the police, he said even though it
was the duty of Police officers to use their “best endeavours”
and ability to prevent all crimes, offences and public
nuisances, a multitude of such offences, he remarked, have been
committed by them.
This judgment, delivered by the highest court in the land, also
proved that the people could still have hope in and turn to the
Judiciary in their darkest hour.
The twin action of judicial order and Executive implementation
also demonstrated that a system of checks and balances is still
As for the Legislature, Opposition Leader Ranil Wickremesinghe
has proposed that the Chief Executive (President) be responsible
to Parliament for the exercise, performance and discharge of his
powers, duties and functions. This, no doubt, is a step in the
We journalists would remember how much we clamoured for the
supremacy of Parliament over the Executive during the
dictatorial rule of President Ranasinghe Premadasa.
However, sadly, it was Wickremesinghe who stifled dissent and
thwarted efforts by UNP Leaders like Lalith Athulathmudali,
Gamini Dissanayake, G.M. Premachandra and others to check the
dictatorial powers of the President.
It took Wickremesinghe a good 15 years to propose such
far-reaching changes to give Parliament supremacy over the
Executive Presidency, which he failed to secure in 1999 and
Chandrika Kumaratunga also enjoyed two full terms and both she
and President Premadasa dissolved Parliament arbitrarily when
their parties were threatened in the House. Wickremesinghe now
wants the presidential power to dissolve Parliament
(arbitrarily) to be clipped.
Wickremesinghe’s reforms, though belated, are pro-democratic,
forcing us to endorse them. By extension, may we also call on
Wickremesinghe and President Mahinda Rajapaksa – who head the
two main political parties, the UNP and the SLFP – to permit
greater democracy within their respective parties?
The media, which is the watchdog of society, has worked
tirelessly during successive administrations to uphold democracy
and human rights.
We have not only fearlessly informed the public of undemocratic
acts and human rights violations, but also admonished the powers
that be through editorial comment. The stock response, however,
has been to turn the guns of state on the media.
Despite this, media personnel from all organisations will
protest against the prevalent threats to, and killing of, media
personnel during the past few years. Towards this end, they will
march tomorrow, on World Human Rights Day, from Narahenpita
Junction to the Media Ministry at noon.