Similar undemocratic actions have quelled other protests too, such as those against the ban on chemical fertilisers which is threatening to destroy small scale farmers, corporation staff protesting against failure to pay salaries and environmental activists opposing the construction of a new power plant in an environmentally fragile area. The National Peace Council holds that the misuse of COVID health regulations to deter public protests in this manner is totally unacceptable.
At the base of democracy is the right of people to dissent and when they do so peacefully they need to be protected. As stated by the Bar Association, public protest straddles three important fundamental rights in the constitution – the freedom of speech and expression, the freedom of peaceful assembly and the freedom of association. Public protests also strengthen the freedom of thought which is entrenched as a fundamental right in the constitution. Arresting and detaining persons who are exercising their peaceful right to protest sending them to quarantine has a chilling effect on the freedom to dissent which is fundamental to democracy.
The National Peace Council welcomes the government’s willingness to address the issue of the Prevention of Terrorism Act (PTA) in response to the threat of withdrawal of the GSP Plus tariff concession. However, it needs to be understood that the 27 international agreements that Sri Lanka has ratified and needs to implement for purposes of the GSP Plus are wide ranging and include human rights, labour rights, environmental protection and also governance, including corruption. In terms of these agreements, civil society groups, such as the Ceylon Teachers Union play an important watchdog role which need to be respected. Fundamental to all these is the right to express dissent in whichever legal form they choose and denial of this right is a serious violation of Fundamental Rights to which every citizen is entitled.
The National Peace Council is an independent and non partisan organization that works towards a negotiated political solution to the ethnic conflict in Sri Lanka. It has a vision of a peaceful and prosperous Sri Lanka in which the freedom, human rights and democratic rights of all the communities are respected. The policy of the National Peace Council is determined by its Governing Council of 20 members who are drawn from diverse walks of life and belong to all the main ethnic and religious communities in the country.