This is an article written for the next issue of Montage. I post it now because Independence Day is coming up on the 4th. And Bob Marley’s birthday is on the 6th.
Independence and freedom are not the same thing. You can be independent of your parents but dependent on your husband. You can be independent of the German army to be occupied by the Soviets. The independence worth celebrating isnâ€™t independence from one particular thing, it is the act of self-discipline that makes one free from tyranny under any flag â€“ foreign or local. In many independence struggles the word has meant freedom from the British. Some countries have used that catalyst to form constitutions that protect people against the excesses of any government. Others have simply swapped a white overlord for a brown one. Sri Lanka isnâ€™t a tyranny by any means, but we are certainly not free.
Freedom, in a democratic context, comes from the rule of law. On a national level this means a Constitution that prince and pauper follow alike. In Sri Lanka we do not follow our constitution. Our freedoms are determined ad hoc, depending on the whims of the President and, occasionally, the Chief Justice.
For the princely class, the Constitution does not apply in the sense that they simply donâ€™t follow it. The 13th amendment was designed to protect us from federal tyranny by devolving significant executive and judicial power to Provincial Councils. It has not been implemented. Since 1987. Recently the APRC found it behind a couch and re-presented it to the President.
The 17th amendment, also, was designed to protect against central tyranny. An executive which controls elections, police, finance, and investigation of corruption and human rights doesnâ€™t have many checks on its power. Such concentrated power inevitably corrupts and national freedom suffers. The 17th amendment is an attempt to discipline the government by creating and staffing commissions for each of these functions under the aegis of a Constitutional Council. This council consists of the President, Opposition Leader and their nominees. This means that the vital instruments of democracy and good governance donâ€™t depend on the whims of the people in power. This amendment, too, has not been implemented.
The situation for the paupers is a bit more dire. The Constitution gives us a few fundamental rights – among these the right to equality under the law (for any race), freedom from arbitrary detention and death, freedom of speech (including publication), and freedom of movement within Sri Lanka. Under the ongoing Emergency Regulations, these rights are effectively suspended. Tamils in Colombo are treated as suspects, especially if they have moved from the North East. People are arbitrarily rounded up and held without charges. People are tortured, they do die, and they do simply disappear. Ministers freely assault TV news directors, and the news directors get sacked. People that speak out are stabbed in the street. And the Defense Secretary brazenly calls for media censorship and punishment of dissent. These are violations of our fundamental rights, if we had those rights anymore.
So, we are left with a Constitution which doesnâ€™t discipline our government and doesnâ€™t protect us as citizens. The laws which regulate the government are ignored and the ones that protect us are suspended. The very constitutional checks against tyranny have been discarded and we are left with the very conditions our Constitution was designed to prevent. Ad hoc tyranny by the central government. We may have a flag, we may have an army and we may have borders but we cannot truly claim independence until we implement and follow our own Constitution to ban any tyranny from our shores. Not Dutch tyranny, Portuguese tyranny, British tyranny or Thai trannys but tyranny of any color or flag. Including our own. That would be an independence worth celebrating.