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Sri Lanka blasts: Island nation's Parliament meets over new Emergency regulations; experts term set of rules 'draconian'

Colombo: Sri Lankan Parliament convened on Thursday to debate new Emergency Regulations that had been drafted to respond to the bomb blasts that took place on Easter Sunday. The session’s highlight appeared to be an impassioned speech by MP and Field Marshal Sarath Fonseka.

“In any other country, the entire government would have had to resign for making a mess of things like this, but it won’t happen here," Fonseka said, claiming that security has become a joke and the military intelligence apparatus has failed this country.

 Sri Lanka blasts: Island nations Parliament meets over new Emergency regulations; experts term set of rules draconian

Sarath Fonseka. AFP

At this session, the newly-drafted Emergency Regulations were passed without a vote. Experts warn that it is an extremely draconian set of regulations; that in expanding the National Security State, adversely affect protected fundamental rights. Human rights activists and lawyers also claim that the regulations mirror the problematic draft Counter-Terrorism Bill, that has been met with widespread opposition.

Addressing the blame game that has ensued since the day the attacks took place, MP Kumara Welgama noted that all 225 ministers should take responsibility. "We all come here and we fight each other, we only think about ourselves and not about the country,” he stated at the session.

At a press conference on Thursday, State Minister for Defence Ruwan Wijewardene claimed that the bomb blasts on Easter Sunday were not carried out by the National Thowheed Jamath, but a splinter group. This follows Wijewardene’s statement on Wednesday that the attacks were carried out in retaliation for the Christchurch shooting.

New Zealand prime minister Jacinda Ardern’s office has since claimed that they do not have adequate information to link the two attacks. Wijewardene continues to make claims without providing any factual basis for them. With several reports of controlled explosions being carried out on suspicious vehicles, and in a situation where citizens feel increasingly concerned about their security, this does not inspire confidence.

Shortly after this press conference, Lakshman Kiriella noted to the media that senior officials deliberately withheld intelligence about the potential for attacks. For this statement to come from the leader of the Parliament, and a government minister is a continued highlight of the division between State officials and intelligence personnel. Given the ongoing situation, this division is problematic and will likely impact response and future protection measures.

The Prime Minister and the State Minister of Defence claimed that the prior information on the attacks had not reached them as they have not been part of National Security Council meetings for a long time. Fonseka raised a pertinent question; why did it take a terrorist attack, and a tragedy of this magnitude for them to reveal this? Given their duties, it is blatantly negligent for them to allow this to continue for as long as it has, and use it to attempt to evade blame in the face of a crisis.

Wijewardene’s claim that the attack was in retaliation to the Christchurch mosque shootings was also called into question. According to Fonseka, the Easter Sunday attacks were at least seven or eight years in the making and didn’t happen overnight.

“Politician and heads of the armed forces must not wait until terrorists’ strikes to protect the country. That responsibility lies with them whether we are at war or not.” Fonseka’s speech appears to have struck a chord as it is the first instance where a representative has unequivocally stated that the country’s leaders are answerable for what happened. 'We as the government are at fault; excuses are not acceptable, we are accountable for this tragedy'; he has accepted blame in a way that no other politician has, but it is likely his speech may have been politically or self-motivated.

MP of the Tamil National Alliance MA Sumanthiran stated that those responsible for withholding the information on the attack should resign, at a minimum. By unlawfully having control over the police department in his charge, he claims President Maithripala Sirisena has now become the first person who should take responsibility for attacks that could have been prevented.

He raises the continued attention that the Muslim community, especially those residing in the East, have drawn to the extremist activities of the perpetrators of these attacks. These warnings, compounded with the reported three warnings issued for Sunday’s attacks, calls into question Sirisena’s ability and accountability to retain his duties as Minister of Defence.

Sirisena has also since kept to his deadline to affect changes in the heads of the security forces. He has asked IGP Pujith Jayasundera and Defense Secretary Hemasiri to resign from their posts. Soon after, he appointed former army commander Major General Daya Ratnayake to the post of defence secretary, to replace Fernando.

There is little actual accountability with the removal of these two individuals from their posts. The issues that have emerged, such as the apparent divide between intelligence and government, indicates that the existing structure itself is questionable. Sirisena remains Minister of Defence, and his inaction thus far must be taken into consideration even as he makes moves to indicate that change is taking place.

The irresponsible and almost callous response to Sunday’s devastation raises issues of the effectiveness, efficiency and sustainability of measures that will be put in place to address the security situation, given that individuals are either unresponsive to authority, or wield enough authority to remain unanswerable for their failures.

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Updated Date: Apr 25, 2019 13:13:15 IST