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Mutual respect, the key to equality
Published Date: 19/05/2018 (Saturday)

By: Dr Vickramabahu Karunaratne

My friend s corned me, “The ‘horun hoyana’ new court is for the consumption of the Sinhala masses that may be moving to the Mahinda Chinthana fold. We should question why there is no ‘maruwan hoyana’ special judicial process for Tamil victims of war, waiting for nine years. This was promised in 2015. I think this week which marks the ninth year is the best to bring that up. Although the government set up the OMP that started work last weekend, the findings will not be made public and no legal action will be taken against perpetrators. Victims have no faith in the OMP. They made it very clear at the first meeting in Mannar.

Please have a look at these two reports. One names the criminals who are enjoying perks as ‘war heroes'.”

I assured him that democratic mass movement will keep its pressure on the government. It is true, after two years in the making, the body's members were appointed in February this year. OMP Chairman Saliya Pieris acknowledged that families are finding it hard to trust the body, but insisted that the organisation has more powers than previous commissions. “It is an institution set up by the state, but which is able to act independently and able to investigate and to trace people who have been missing or disappeared and their circumstances, whoever the perpetrator is,” he told Al Jazeera.

Tamil armed groups

In 1988, the conflict between the Tamil nationality and the Sinhala majority became serious with Sinhala armed groups backed by DJV - Sinhala chauvinist political group, attacking all those who stood for settlement through equality, and autonomy with devolution. Over forty thousand Sinhala youth disappeared in the south.

Later, in the struggle between the state and the Tamil armed groups, latter lost 100,000 lives, displaced hundreds of thousands of people and left indelible scars on the country. Recently families of those disappeared and activists in the northern island of Mannar were invited by the OMP to share their thoughts and expectations. But many are skeptical that the new body will help them find their missing relatives.

Pandiths in law tell us that in a democratic society, justice delayed is justice denied. On the other hand one should be aware that justice hurried could turn out to be justice miscarried or buried. Therefore, as in so many vital areas, a reasonable solution lies in the middle path or the unity of the opposites.

After so many agitations of the democratic mass movement, Parliament on Wednesday passed a bill to set up Special High Courts through which the government says it hopes to expedite cases involving large-scale bribery, corruption, fraud or other political crimes. Many believe political crimes are more important than corruption and fraud. In a market economy, society is constantly attacked by corruption and fraud, and illusion reigns. However politicians should be ethically sound and transparent.

The “Judicature (Amendment)” Bill was passed with amendments as recommended by the Supreme Court which had ruled that if those amendments were not made the passage of the bill would require a two-thirds majority which the coalition government may not be able to get because of the recent crossovers. In terms of the Act, permanent High Courts at Bar will be set up to try, hear and determine the trials of the offences specified in the Sixth Schedule of the Act. The Act is expected to expedite the judicial process of cases regarding serious frauds, corruption and other high profile crimes.

At the end of the British Empire, it controlled one fifth of the world and Anglo Saxons indirectly dominated the whole world. Under their reigns they introduced laws that to date criminalize same-sex conduct in 36 of the 53 countries in the Commonwealth, introducing centuries of Victorian values perpetuating homophobia that has been assimilated in to native cultures as their own values. Lanka is one example. Buddhism, the religion of the majority, directs to control desire in general but no specific restriction on gay or same sex behaviour.

Colonial era

However, during the 2018 Commonwealth Heads of Government meeting the British Prime Minister, Theresa May said that the UK Government ‘deeply regretted’ the anti-gay laws that were established by the British during the colonial era.

The damage caused by these outdated laws can never be undone. However the expression of ‘deep regret’ is a necessary step for starting serious discussions to abolish these heinous laws and begin to mend the damage it has done in the past.

Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe often reminds being a part of the Commonwealth come the responsibility of upholding the Commonwealth values that are an integral part of what the Commonwealth community stands for.

Liberals say by signing the Commonwealth Charter, Lanka has committed to these values of equality and respect of all its’ citizens, which includes the LGBTIQ community. To be a part of the Commonwealth is to promote respect, tolerance, and understanding of our diverse communities. By understanding that this diversity adds to the advancement of the country rather than its downfall and by showing that all our citizens deserve to be treated with dignity and respect Lanka could lead the way. Unfortunately, dropping decriminalization from the National Human Rights action plan in January of 2017 is not the kind of action that instills confidence in the government that it stands for good governance and democracy and the protection of all its citizens sans none.

LGBTIQ community

Although it is commendable that the government has made certain strides towards the rights of its’ citizens, especially concerning Transgender persons, it is discouraging that it failed to exclude discrimination spawned by the Penal Code of 1883 that targets consensual same sex activities, failing to recognize Sexual Orientation as a basis for protection against discrimination. Despite the countless recommendations received by the UN, over the years and as recently as November 2017, the Sri Lankan government has neglected to acknowledge the LGBTIQ community as a marginalized group that needs protection and deserves the right to a free life, devoid of criminalization and discrimination based on sexual orientation, gender identity and gender expression.

Belize, Seychelles and Trinidad and Tobago serve as examples of progressive governments, who most recently, decriminalized homosexuality in their countries. But Lanka still fails to uphold the provisions of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the Commonwealth Charter whereby all persons are born equal and will be treated equally and with dignity, free of discrimination.

Liberals must answer whether they at least stand for the Commonwealth values they have signed at the Commonwealth Joint Forum Plenary at CHOGM on April 17, 2018; “As a family of nations, we must respect one another’s cultures and traditions. But we must do so in a manner consistent with our common value of equality, a value that is clearly stated in the Commonwealth charter…nobody should face persecution or discrimination because of whom they are or who they love.”

 Source: Daily News

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