Sri Lanka courts in two minds about banning Tamil mourning

 By Siva Parameswaran

Courts in Sri Lanka have given contradictory rulings as the police and the hard-line government tried to stifle the genuine aspirations of the war affected Tamils to mourn their near and dear.

As security is beefed up in the Tamils areas, the Rajapaksa regime has sought to stop the solemn observations of 'Maveerar Naal' (Great Heroes Day) to mourn the dead who lost their lives during the more than three decades long brutal civil war which ended in bloodbath in May 2009.

While the Police went from town to town seeking blanket restraining orders on individuals, religious institutions, political parties, the Chavakachcheri court in the north has dismissed the plea of the Kodikamam police seeking such an order. Similarly, the court in Mallakam, Point Pedro and Kayts also did not accept the version of the Police which sought to restrain people from remembering their kith and kin by lighting a lamp.

According to the attorneys of the petitioners the Chavakachcheri Judge, A. Judeson in his order observed, “most of the persons against whom the order is sought are either present or past lawmakers who sit in the highest law-making body of the nation - the Parliament and they know what the law is clearly. Hence seeking a restraining order anticipating they will violate, it can’t be issued”.

However, the judge said if any individual including them violate the law of the land they could be arrested and brought before the court.

Restraining orders

Police told the court the named persons against whom the order is sought are planning to commemorate the cadres of the LTTE, a banned organisation, which is an offence and also such gathering will contribute to the spread of the Covid-19 infection. This contention was not accepted by the court, said Viswalingam Manivannan, attorney for the petitioners and the Mayor of Jaffna.

Despite several courts in Jaffna denying a ban, courts in Mullaitivu, Batticaloa and Mannar had issued restraining orders as sought by the Police to ban the memorial event. It’s expected that individuals against whom such a restraining order is sought will cite the judgement of these courts and seek relief from the other courts as such, as the views of the other side has not been heard in court.

Local journalists say already stay orders have been obtained against more than 100 individuals, the list could increase as the event on 27 November approach.

Social media posts which have gone viral show very high security presence in areas like Mullaitivu the place of the final battle and where thousands of people were dead and have gone missing after being either handed over, surrendered or captured by the security forces.

Denying the right to mourn

Meanwhile Human Rights organisations have strongly condemned the action of the Sri Lankan government in denying the very emotional right to mourn the dead.

The right to mourn is akin right to life according to international covenants.

And, come November the Sri Lankan government goes into panic mode and the Tamil people even lighting lamps on their traditional festivals becomes allergic to the government.

It’s part and parcel of Tamil culture to light a lamp on any occasion in particular remembrance days.

Continuing its policy of racism and antipathy towards minorities, in particular the war affected Tamils the Rajapaksa regime has again used its state apparatus - the draconian police and the dreaded military which is accused of war crimes to prevent the families of those who lost their kith and kin during their annual remembrance event.

The orders of the Chavakachcheri , Mallakam, Kytes and Point Pedro courts have come as a big blow to the sinister efforts of the government.

Right to mourn

Echoing what the Foreign Minister Prof G.L. Peiris told the media in Colombo “that under the guise of mourning the dead, the event is used to glorify the LTTE which the government will not allow”; the Officer in Charge of the PTK police station informed the court while seeking restraining orders that he has received information from the military and police intelligence units that the proscribed LTTE is planning to commemorate its deceased members, as directed by its leader Velupillai Prabhakaran on 27 November.

International human rights activists and lawyers say that the right to mourn is a basic right though not explicitly enshrined.

“The right to mourn is universal; you cannot prevent mothers and fathers from mourning their children even if they are LTTE cadre” Yasmin Sooka the International Truth and Justice Project’s executive has said.

“This is criminalising Tamils even beyond death; it’s utterly absurd and more so in a country that talks all the time about reconciliation.”

The end of the over three-decade old civil war saw thousands of people dead according to the UN and other international agencies who were evicted from the war zone by the current President Gotabaya Rajapaksa who was the defence secretary during the final phase of the war.

After all, to mourn the dead is to be human. And, the right to mourn is undeniable and preservation of memory should be a substantive right.



Journalists for Democracy in Sri Lanka

  • JDS is the Sri Lankan partner organization of international media rights group, Reporters Without Borders (RSF). The launching of this website was made possible by the EU’s European Instrument for Democracy and Human Rights (EIDHR), of which Reporters Without Borders is a beneficiary.