The incident in which several hundreds of protesters converged on the President’s private residence in the afternoon without warning, and swelled into thousands at night is an indication of their grievance and the trend towards the escalation of the protests. The government initially accused “extremist” elements affiliated with opposition parties of hijacking the protest and turning it violent. But the evidence is otherwise.
Among the silver linings in the dark clouds has been the direct engagement of the Human Rights Commission of Sri Lanka which made a public statement that the use of the Prevention of Terrorism Act to detain protestors is not permissible. The National Peace Council commends both the Human Rights Commission and the hundreds of lawyers who volunteered their services and bailed out those detained by the police. We hope that the investigations will be swift and without any political interference in respect of all detainees and uphold the Rule of Law at all times.
There is an urgent need for the government to accept moral and political responsibility for the plight of the people and ameliorate their suffering and present a credible plan that the people can have confidence in. So far the government has failed to meet these minimum standards of accountability. The call for going to the IMF is a year old which was rejected by the Central Bank and government, for reasons unknown. The irrational decisions leading to reduction in corporate and personal income taxes, the ban on chemical fertilizers, and refusal to get IMF support are ones for which the government alone needs to take responsibility.
The failure of the government to present a rational analysis of the crisis to the people, alleviate the hardships being experienced by the people and present a credible plan to deal with the crisis is counterproductive. There is demand and rightful expectation that the government should prioritise using the scarce dollars to meet the needs of the people rather than foreign creditors. Instead, some government leaders have attempted to downplay the severity of the crisis, and others have been acting as if there is no such crisis and have been seen having parties and festivities too. This has increased the sense of frustration of the general public.
The National Peace Council calls on the government to immediately seek long term institutional assistance that reputed international institutions can provide rather than make ad hoc and temporary arrangements to obtain more and short term loans. We also call on the government leaders to show greater empathy with the suffering of people and all parliamentarians to visit their constituencies ahead of the holiday season, experience the ground realities and share in the sufferings of the people who voted for them.
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.