A rose by any other name would smell as sweet, the poets are fond of saying but would the new amendments to the Prevention of Terrorism Act (PTA) be felt the same way? The government was commended by all parties for lifting the State of Emergency, but within days there is reason to believe that new legislation will be introduced to keep many of the controversial laws intact.
The world welcomed the Government’s decision to end the Emergency Law. However there is a catch.
Attorney General Mohan Peiris was quoted as saying that the new regulations would be made under the PTA so that the LTTE would remain banned and High Security Zones would remain. It was unclear as to how broad the new powers vested in the PTA would be. But it was clear that the LTTE cadres undergoing rehabilitation would come under the new regulations.
The Attorney General had noted that the introduction of these regulations under the PTA was a temporary arrangement until a new law called ‘The Emergency Consequential Provisional Bill’ is enacted in Parliament. He said this would be done very soon and would serve the same purpose. The Gazette notification had been released on Tuesday enacting the new regulations under the PTA.
Meanwhile the United National Party (UNP) has also expressed its displeasure at the cosmetic changes in lifting the Emergency Law. It has pointed out that a new Gazette has given the power to the President to call in the armed forces at any time leaving room for them to be deployed as the Head of State wishes. This was previously under the Emergency Regulations.
At the core of the problem is the PTA, which has long come under fire for its draconian powers. Many human rights organisations have criticised the government for continuing to have it in effect even after the war was over and insist that its prolonged presence will undermine the function of an independent judicial system. The fact that the arms of the law enforcement framework can work independently and result in people being held without due process opens up many questions on human rights.
Among the sensitive issues of the conflict is high security zones, the release of cadres and investigations into disappearances. The latter is reported to include the fate of around 1000 children whose fate is still unknown. UNICEF has estimated that around 64% of them were recruited by the LTTE but there is little information of what happened to them and where they are now.
Complete reform and rehabilitation cannot take place until liberal laws are set in place that promote transparency and good governance. Families of people that have disappeared or those waiting to start their lives in their homes in high security zones that are currently under army control or simply want to live free from arbitrary arrest and detention will not have faith in a government that brings in Emergency Law under another name.
Unity begins with trust and trust begins with freedom. The people of this country should have the right to protect themselves from wrongful subjugation. They should have the right to live free from fear and a law that fails to provide that means it is simply not doing its job.