NATIONAL PEACE COUNCIL
UNDERMINING RULE OF LAW IS DETRIMENTAL TO ALL SRI LANKANS
Large numbers of lawyers and civil society activists along with the general public in the north and east have come out publicly in protest against the flouting of a judicial decision in the north by Buddhist monks and their associates in relation to the final rites of a Buddhist monk. The media reported that over 2,000 protestors demonstrated in Mullaitivu in relation to the controversy in which emotions have run high and people’s sentiments have been hurt. The dispute over the cremation site of the Buddhist monk in the northern district of Mullaitivu, which took place in defiance of a judicial order, has implications for the rule of law and confidence in the judiciary that needs to be resolved without delay.
Prior to his demise the Venerable Colomba Medhalankarakitti Thera had established a Buddhist temple on disputed land in front of an army camp in the former northern war zone. The ownership of the land on which the temple was located has been claimed by both a Hindu temple, the Nerayawadi Pillaiyar Temple and the department of archaeology. There is anger that the Sri Lankan military and government departments claim dominion over land in the north and then vest it with people from outside to the detriment of the Tamil inhabitants of those areas. When this is done in respect of Buddhist temples in areas without a Buddhist civilian population, it is a cause for heartburn and misgivings in the north.
In the Hindu tradition cremations are not permissible within temple grounds. Accordingly, the judiciary to whom the dispute was taken decided that the monk’s mortal remains should be cremated elsewhere in an identified public area. However, Buddhist monks from outside belonging to a nationalist organization were instrumental in ignoring the court order and conducting the cremation within the temple premises. One of the monks involved in this action, Venerable Galagoda Aththe Gananasara Thera, General Secretary of the Bodu Bala Sena, had previously been convicted by another court for contempt of court and been sentenced to imprisonment, but was released through a presidential pardon.
The undersigned civil society organisations condemn the flouting of judicial orders and the disrespect shown to the judiciary. We call on other civil society organisations, Buddhist and other religious leaders and political parties to do likewise. We believe that the upholding of judicial decisions, the rule of law and the separation of powers between the presidency and other institutions of state are important. The open defiance of the judiciary, and its facilitation by the executive branch of government will undermine confidence in the Sri Lankan legal system. In particular the state needs to be sensitive to the minority cultures and to their perceptions. Unless people trust in the system of law and order as having finality rather than the actions of the military and nationalist clergy, peace with justice will be a mirage.
National Peace Council
Dr Joe William
Centre for Communication Training
D M N Dissanayake
Citizens Committee, Anuradhapura
Institute of Social Development, Katugastota
Peace and Community Action, Batticaloa
Sunila Women and Children , Polonnaruwa
Sachitha N Hewage
Truth and Reconciliation Forum-Western Province
Truth and Reconciliation Forum-Northern Province