From the time the first Covid death was reported in Sri Lanka in March this year, the government’s policy has been to cremate Covid victims. This has been a source of unusual controversy as it goes against both science and religion. Islam in particular requires the burial of all human beings who die regardless of the circumstances of death. The World Health Organisation’s Covid guidelines permit burial of Covid victims. However, the government continues to take the position that Covid burial is not permissible due to the threat to the health and safety of the larger population as it leads to the possibility of groundwater contamination.
The rushed passage of the 20th Amendment by the requisite 2/3 majority in parliament reinforces the dominance of the presidency in the governance of the country. There was unprecedented criticisms of the 20th Amendment by sections of the religious clergy and civil society. The National Peace Council voiced its concern about the passage of the 20th Amendment as it reduced the system of checks and balances, and vitiated the independence of key state institutions which are the pillars of parliamentary democracy. If not for the support of ethnic minority parliamentarians who broke ranks from their party leaderships a 2/3rd majority required for constitutional change may not have been a reality.
There has been an unprecedented public outcry against the draft 20th Amendment which is presently being subjected to judicial scrutiny. Some of the most respected civic organisations in the country, including religious clergy, trade unions, the State Auditors Association and the Bar Association have expressed their serious objections to the proposed constitutional amendment. Nevertheless, the government appears determined to strengthen the presidency at the cost of other institutions. The government’s public position has been that the presidency needs to be provided with the necessary powers and immunities to proceed with the urgent task of developing the country. The National Peace Council urges the government to reconsider its position.
The proposed 20th Amendment to the constitution has been approved by the cabinet of ministers and put before the general public prior to being debated in parliament. This far reaching constitutional change seeks to centralize power in the institution of the Executive Presidency with the justification of ensuring stability in the country and safeguarding national sovereignty. In terms of the amendment, the President can remove the Prime Minister, a member of the cabinet, any other minister or a Deputy Minister and authority to dissolve Parliament after completion of sittings for a period of one year. This massive transfer of power to the Presidency has been justified to the electorate as stemming from the inability of the previous government to govern effectively under the 19th Amendment to the constitution.
The recently concluded general election has given the ruling party and its allies the 2/3 majority they sought in parliament. The hopes of the general population are high. The National Peace Council congratulates the government on achieving a victory never achieved before in Sri Lanka under the proportional electoral system and even considered impossible. With great power comes great responsibility and we hope that the duo of president and parliament will deliver this to the people so that this victory sets the stage for an era of magnanimous politics. It is our hope that the opposition works in cooperation with the government but also be a check and balance and be outspoken when necessary. In particular we want to see that the rights of all people are respected through good governance measures that are implemented rather than being misinterpreted for partisan purposes.
The week of July 23 marks the 37th year of one of the darkest periods of Sri Lanka’s history. Beginning on this day and continuing for a week there were riots that targeted the Tamils living in the capital city of Colombo and elsewhere where they lived as a minority that led to death and destruction. The Sri Lankan state failed in its duty to protect its citizens. At the personal level the events of that day changed the course of life of many irreversibly and also the history of Sri Lanka. The loss spanned life, property, memories and material treasures that constitute personal histories in the lives of families. In national terms, the communal divide became further entrenched which may have been the cause for the rise of Tamil armed struggle to a mass scale with systematic international intervention soon following.
The government has recently been appointing ad hoc bodies to find answers to issues of governance. One of these recently established bodies is the Presidential Task Force for Archaeological Heritage Management in the Eastern Province. This comprises high level security forces personnel and a few others who will be tasked with dealing with complex issues of history, identity and land use. The task force on Archaeological Heritage Management in the Eastern Province has been mandated to identify sites of archaeological importance in the Eastern Province and identify the extent of land that should be allocated for such archaeological sites and take necessary measures to allocate them properly and legally. However, this presidential task force has no minority representation although the Eastern province has a population that is over 75 percent Tamil and Muslim.
මේ සතිය ආරම්භයේ දී රට පුරා දහවල් කාලය තුළ පනවා තිබූ ඇඳිරි නීතිය ඉවත් කිරීම මගින් මහජනතාවගේ දෛනික ජීවිතය යථා තත්වයට පත් කිරීමට ඇති හැකියාව පිළිබඳ රජයේ ඇති අධිෂ්ඨානය සහ විශ්වාසය පිළිඹිබු වේ. රජයේ මෙම තීරණය විශේෂයෙන්ම පිළගනු ලබන්නේ සාමාන්ය තත්වයක් තුළ ආර්ථික හා සමාජ ගණුදෙනු මත තම ජීවනෝපායන් රදා පවතින මහජනයා විසිනි. කෙසේනමුත්, රජය විසින් ඇඳිරි නීතිය ලිහිල් කර තිබුණ ද තත්වය සියයට සියයක් සාමාන්ය තත්වයට පත්ව නොමැති බවත් ඇඳිරි නීතිය අඛණ්ඩව පවතින බවත් සෞඛ්ය සේවා අධ්යක්ෂක ජෙනරාල් අනිල් ජාසිංහ මහතා අනතුරු අඟවා තිබේ. මෙමගින් ඇඟවෙන්නේ සිය ජීවනෝපාය උපයා ගැනීමටත් සිය යැපෙන්නන්ගේ අවශ්යතා ඉටුකරීමටත් අපොහෙසත්ව සිටින පිරිස සඳහා අඛණ්ඩව සහන සැලසීමේ අවශ්යතාවයයි.
The lifting of the day time curfew in all parts of the country from the beginning of this week reflects the government’s determination and confidence to restore normalcy to the lives of people. This government decision will be welcomed especially by those whose very livelihoods depend on the economic and social transactions that normalcy makes possible. However, Health Services Director General Anil Jasinghe has warned that although the government had relaxed the curfew the situation is not normalised hundred per cent and curfews are continuing. This suggests the need to continue with Covid relief measures to assist those who continue to find it difficult to earn their livelihood and provide sustenance to their dependents.
The rapid spread of the Covid virus throughout the world has infected more than 2 million people and led to over 150,000 deaths at the present time. The understanding of the spread of the virus, which is highly contagious, is still evolving. It is in these circumstances that a controversy has developed in Sri Lanka regarding safety issues on whether persons whose death is due to the Covid virus could be buried or cremated. The government has decided that those whose deaths are caused by the Covid virus should be cremated and the Ministry of Health has issued a regulation to that effect.