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Work to create consensus

Sep 9, 2011 2:30:51 PM - www.ft.lk

Change is a double edged sword, which gives added responsibility to the person that wields it. The government has decided that the controversial change to the Criminal Procedure Code would not be made without the agreement of all political party leaders showing a positive change of attitude.

The decision is undoubtedly a welcome one. Measures to extend the holding of a detainee from 24 hours to 48 won the strong opposition of political parties and the amendment was postponed in parliament. The government then decided that such a document would only be presented to parliament if it got the approval of all political party leaders before it is presented to the House. This is development indeed.

While this is a positive step it is also important to take into consideration the justification of why this amendment is needed. Government parties have steadfastly maintained that it is needed to conduct investigations before the suspect is submitted to court. Justice Minister Rauff Hakeem himself stated that the police sometimes cannot gather enough evidence to press charges against a person within 24 hours and therefore the provision must be extended to 48 hours — this is surely justice in reverse.
Civilised societies have long since accepted that evidence against a suspect should be gathered before he is arrested. In fact, as many sitcoms on TV would attest, evidence must be presented before a warrant is issued for arrest. The very fact that Sri Lanka’s law enforcement authorities need time to conduct investigations after a detainment has been made shows that the law is not being applied in a fair manner. Surely police should gather enough information to prove that a person deserves to be arrested. Doing so after the fact is a clear violation of his rights.
Another standpoint is that Sri Lanka has lifted its emergency regulations at a time when countries like America have not relaxed their legislation. It would be necessary at this point to remark that the Patriotism Act is building a strong protest base in the US and that is has powers far less than Sri Lanka’s draconian Prevention of Terrorism Act. The content of these laws need to be compared before they are used as excuses to introduce tougher regulations.
Even if the US regulations are tougher it is still not a reason for Sri Lanka to follow their example as the government itself has so often pointed out. Sri Lanka’s problems are different and therefore deserve different solutions. The government cannot at one point criticise the US and then use it as a reason to introduce tougher laws.
It is increasingly clear that a more transparent and inclusive process should be introduced to deal with the vacuum left by the emergency regulations. The government has very commendably taken the first step and it is hoped that they will continue in this path.
From the perspective of the opposition parties there must be a genuine effort to reach a consensus without key parties dropping off along the way, as has been witnessed in previous attempts to get them together on the ethnic issue. Involvement is essential and the platform has been provided. For the sake of Sri Lanka make the best use of it.   

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