Sri Lanka: Extinct legal system caused security crisis resulting in Easter Sunday carnage

Asia Human Rights
May 24, 2019
Reproduced with Permission
Asian Human Rights Commission

According to Sri Lankan Army Commander Mahesh Senanayake, the present security crisis facing the country was a result of the failures of many government institutions. In a television interview available on YouTube, he cited foreign exchange control failures to monitor money coming into the country, Customs Department failures, and intelligence coordination failures.

Aside from these valid insights, there is a more fundamental failure contributing to all other failures: the virtual extinction of a rule of law based legal system, and the crisis of justice institutions. The destruction of Sri Lanka's rule of law framework did not occur overnight; it happened gradually over a period of some 40 years.

How did a rule of law based legal system become extinct in Sri Lanka?

The most important cause for this is the development of a system based on principles contrary to rule of law principles. This system was created largely by the 1978 Constitution, which itself is based on such contrary principles:

When a system is so confusing, it is almost impossible for various institutions to coordinate towards achieving a single purpose. For a state, the security of its citizens is the most important single goal that it should pursue. This is not possible however when the total system is not run by uniform principles considered the basic criteria of judging the action.

What matters in security is not what is done after the disaster has already taken place. What really matters is prevention. Working towards prevention is something that is done on a regular basis as daily work. Such prevention is possible only when every one is bound by the same ultimate principles of rule of law.

Thus, transforming today's insecure situation into secure circumstances cannot merely be done by certain military arrangements, which are made during an emergency. The transformation needs to go beyond such situations, and address causes which broke down the country's legal and judicial system.