The arrest of Jaffna parliamentarian and leader of the Tamil National People’s Front Gajendrakumar Ponnambalam is another incident that feeds into the sense of unequal treatment of individuals and communities in the country. The parliamentarian was accused of obstructing police officers from performing their duties. The incident arose when MP Ponnambalam challenged two persons in civvies who came in unannounced at a meeting he was having with his constituents in a public park who declined to divulge their identity. This incident has revived sentiments within the Tamil community that they are treated differently and less favourably than others.
The surveillance of political and civil society activities in the north and east of the country is a common practice which the people in those parts find offensive and intimidating. There is a sense of helplessness of people in the face of a large presence of uniformed personnel armed with guns, cameras and legal authority even fourteen years after the end of the war which is indicative of the need win their hearts and minds to ensure national security, if that is the government’s concern. The National Peace Council calls on the government to treat the people of the north and east no differently from those in the rest of the country as equal citizens entitled to the same human rights.
The fact that a political leader from the minority Tamil community was arrested when his counterparts in parliament have been treated with deference despite their misbehaviours brings in the ethnic dimension which has been a long term and fatal flaw in the Sri Lankan body politic. The arrest of parliamentarian Ponnambalam is indicative of the unequal application of the law and begs the question, one country one law or one country two laws. This is a phenomenon that is seen increasingly in the government’s use and misuse of the ICCPR Act (meant to give effect to the world’s foremost human rights instrument—the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights) to prosecute those who offend the sensibilities of the majority community, and ruling politicians, but not the reverse.
We urge the government to establish an equality and pluralism commission in keeping with the 21st Amendment to ensure that there is equal treatment and non-discrimination in all walks of life. We also urge the holding of the long postponed provincial council elections and full implementation of the 13th Amendment so that police and land powers may be assigned as per the constitution and to train government officials including the police in the values of pluralism and inclusive service delivery to minimize the possibility of high-handed behavior of state officials based on ethnicity and religion. Such an institutional arrangement can increase the trust between the state and the people and also represent the values of the country beyond our shores.
National Peace Council of Sri Lanka