Sri Lanka President Mahinda Rajapaksa told Parliament Thursday that a six year long state of emergency will be withdrawn but did not say when it would take effect.
Rajapaksa made an unscheduled appearance in Parliament to make the announcement. It came just two weeks ahead of the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) is expected to take up Sri Lanka’s case. The 18th sessions of the UNHRC begins in Geneva, Switzerland, on September 13. Several countries including the United States, United Kingdom, the European Union and India have called for the withdrawal of the emergency.
Rajapaksa told Parliament, “I propose to this House that emergency regulations should be lifted as I am satisfied that there is no necessity for these regulations. We have decided not to extend the state of emergency.”
Rajapaksa said since 2009, with the defeat of Tamil Tiger rebels, there has “not been a single terrorist attack” and declared that the international community had also taken note of it.
In terms of Sri Lanka’s constitution, a declaration of a state of emergency by the minister of defence (who is also the president) for a period of more than two weeks requires the approval of Parliament. The current phase of the state of emergency was introduced in 2005 after Tamil Tiger rebels assassinated then Foreign Minister Lakshman Kadirgamar. Since then, every month the prime minister has moved a resolution in Parliament to extend the state of emergency monthly.”
Controversy over the state of emergency heightened after a three-member United Nations panel of experts appointed by U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon said that both government troops and Tiger rebels committed war crimes during the final stages of the separatist war. While the Sri Lanka government maintains that a locally appointed Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission (LLRC) is probing the matter, the United States, United Kingdom and the European Union have said that their mandate was inadequate. They are pressing for an international inquiry.
Powers vested in the state of emergency were used extensively in the Sri Lankan government’s fight against Tamil Tiger rebels who were militarily defeated in May 2009. It drew allegations against the government of mass arrests and detention. The current state of emergency is due to lapse on September 8.
The Sunday Times newspaper reported last week that on this date a proclamation would be issued by the president extending the state of emergency for two weeks “to only facilitate the passage of legislation. This will not require a debate in Parliament.”