By M. M. Zuhair
(The writer is a President’s Counsel and a former Member of Parliament. The views expressed here do not necessarily reflect on the positions presently or previously held by the writer)
For decades nations guided by the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and similar international human rights and humanitarian laws have been urging Sri Lanka to repeal of the Prevention of Terrorism (Temporary Provisions) Act No. 48 of 1979 (PTA). Today, at the insistence of some powerful countries Sri Lanka has chosen to replace the PTA, described then as an obnoxious piece of legislation impinging on international human rights standards but now, with a more draconian Counter Terrorism Law.
The move for the new law has already come up for wide criticism particularly from respected columnists in the media. The point is when Sri Lanka was struggling through the thirty- year war on terrorism, when the then governments felt the need for harsher laws, though considered by international experts as violating human rights and humanitarian legal standards, we were told to tear up the PTA. But when the country had successfully eradicated terrorism and the government is focused on peace, development, national integration and reconciliation, Sri Lanka is being compelled by the powerful members of the Security Council to enact more oppressive laws that will certainly restrict fundamental rights and freedoms of the people. Such laws have the potential of greater abuse at the hands of a reckless future government and its law and order agencies.
In a country which has no traces of terrorism any more, the enactment of a Counter Terrorism Law would seem ridiculous. It may also mean the raising of a false flag that Sri Lanka is no longer a safe country and will very likely affect the development strategies of the nation. One might argue that there is nothing wrong with being armed for future eventualities. But that argument is not tenable because laws currently in existence are more than adequate to deal with such eventualities. At its worst, laws restrictive of fundamental human rights can always be enacted if and when such laws become absolutely essential, without raising false flags or unduly empowering governments at the cost of the freedom of the people.
If there is some legitimacy for enacting presently tougher laws one is reminded of that powerful cover page picture in the TIME magazine, ‘The Face of Buddhist Terror’, which reflects the criminal abuse, typical of most main-stream Western media, of shaming the conduct of a few criminals by blackening the image of a compassionate religion. This happens to Islam every-day since 9/11 through disseminating globally fake news and false intelligence reports dragging Islam for the misdemeanours of criminals.
What then is the justification for a counter terrorism law in today’s context in Sri Lanka? The known instances of violent extremism here are attributable to the Bodu Bala Sena(BBS) and its associates since 2014. No doubt there is frustration at the failure of the authorities to prosecute the offenders. This may probably be looked into and reported upon by Ben Emmerson the British lawyer in his capacity as the UN Special Rapporteur on Human Rights and Counter-Terrorism, an injudicious mixture of title, legitimizsed by the fourth pillar or Section IV of the UN Global Counter-Terrorism Strategy. Emmerson must be told that he must report back to his handlers that circumstances for enacting a Counter Terrorism Law do not exist in Sri Lanka and the Security Council must exempt countries such as Sri Lanka on a case by case basis from being forced to enact laws that we do not require as Sri Lanka is more concerned about avoiding the erosion of the freedom of the people. He must also be told that the current laws in Sri Lanka are more than adequate to deal with the BBS and the need for a Counter Terrorism law to deal with violent extremism would be counterproductive. He must also be told that repressive laws will only multiply extremism and incite counter-violence. He must also be advised that the government policy on the matter is to prosecute offenders under the normal laws and encourage dialogue between the several groups on conflicting issues in the country.
The Special Rapporteur’s report issued on 22 February 2016 has pointed out the vagueness in the definition of “extremism” but fails to explain how for instance being ‘extremely good’ or ‘extremely bad’ constitutes an offence. The report has failed to identify or refer to the root causes of ‘violent extremism’. For instance Britain’s Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn said in the run-up to the recently concluded general elections that “the UK’s involvement in military action abroad has fuelled the risk of terrorism at home”. What recommendation will the Special Rapporteur make to the Security Council through his handlers that the unceasing wars sponsored by the US-EU countries in third world countries must cease forthwith going by the well- articulated expressions of British leaders like Corbyn. The Special Rapporteur might also fall back on Theresa May, the British Premier for further upliftment who said on 29th May 2017 that “terrorism is evolving not disappearing”. Obviously sobecause, post 9/11 the illegal invasion of Iraq in 2003, without Security Council approval was the beginning of a huge series of ‘investments’ on fuelling extremism, violent extremism and terrorism. Western arms industry and the neo-cons probably believe that these ‘investments’ are essential to sustain the war on terror for decades to come.
Emmerson must also explore the role of leaders of major weapon manufacturing countries and sections of the Western media who have since 9/11 contributed immensely to enhancing radicalization and extremism by naming and shaming the Islamic faith and broader groups of Muslims for the criminal activities of a few with Muslim names. See for instance how the British Prime Minister May in the same speech recklessly violates the human rights of the billions of Muslims world-wide. Referring to the three pre-election terror attacks in the UK, condemned by all, May said this: “First, while the recent attacks are not connected by common networks, they are connected in one important sense. They are bound together by the single evil ideology of Islamist extremism that preaches hatred, sows division and promotes sectarianism. It is an ideology that claims our Western values of freedom, democracy and human rights are incompatible with the religion of Islam…. We cannot allow this ideology the safe space to breed.”
So the war on terror is not versus the criminals and the terrorists but against a religion which has co-existed peacefully in the same world of May and her predecessors for nearly 1, 500 years! Emmerson being a reputed lawyer will know his obligation to reject outright these unlawful broad-brush bashing of billions of innocent believers in Islam, for the criminal acts of a few. That alone is the most effective mechanism to arrest the ‘evolving’ process of extremism and make it ‘disappear’. But that will not happen. The Security Council is shameless. It is tightening the noose around the billions of victims without uttering a word against the powerful arms manufacturing countries which are escalating violent extremism to sustain the war on terror and thereby the trillion dollar arms industry. That is what counter-terrorism is all about.
In Sri Lanka any attempt to pressurize the government to introduce harsh laws that curtail people’s freedom must be firmly resisted. Otherwise, these well paid do-gooders will end up enthroning in the world psyche their version of the ‘The Face of Buddhist Terror’. Whilst welcoming the assistance of Western countries in many sectors of need in the country, the recent game-changing roles of and within the UN Security Council need to be carefully watched.