South Asians for Human Rights (SAHR) vehemently condemn the violence and other election malpractices that have taken place in the past few weeks in Sri Lanka. We fear that this threatens the possibility of a free and fair Presidential election.
Sri Lanka is at a pivotal point where the end of the war has given hope for a fresh start, in which rights of all citizens are promoted. The upcoming elections have presented an opportunity for every citizen to exercise their sovereign right to vote and thus make it integrated and inclusive process. All citizens should be able to vote in a secured environment, especially those in the recently liberated areas in the North and East. However, given the turn the campaigns have taken, the reality of the situation appears to be otherwise.
In the past week the election monitoring and media organizations have reported a sharp increase in election-related violence and malpractices. This includes several killings, attempted murders, assaults, threats, intimidation and abuse of State resources. The misuse of government property particularly in terms of State services, police and the State owned media has grown rapidly with the start of the Presidential elections. This depicts a total disregard of election laws which, together with the culture of violence unleashed, impedes the public’s right to a free and fair election.
It is also discouraging to note that the Commissioner of Elections is disillusioned with the current state of affairs and hence concluded that attempts to enforce the law would be of no avail. He has publicly stated that his repeated call to the police, public institutions and political parties to comply with the election regulations has not been given heed to. To disregard the orders of the Commissioner of Elections violates the Constitution, as it imposes an express duty on all those responsible to comply with and give effect to any direction from the Commissioner.
Further, violation of the Constitution and election laws illustrates the contempt and disregard towards the Rule of Law in Sri Lanka today. SAHR reiterates these concerns and highlights the adverse impact of such actions towards the integrity of the electoral process.
SAHR therefore requests the Commissioner of Elections to stand firm against any pressure or non cooperation brought upon him from public officials and to duly exercise his powers under the seventeenth amendment.
SAHR applauds the pledge given to cease violence made by the ruling party and the main opposition. We together with other civil society organisations request the candidates and their supporters to adhere to this pledge and abstain from conduct that is against the law or contrary to democratic values. SAHR also encourages the citizens to use their right to vote independently, without fear, to ensure that the outcome would be an inclusive election which portrays true democracy.
On behalf of the members of South Asians for Human Rights (SAHR)
Dr Hameeda Hossain
22nd January 2010