October 10: Democratic Crisis in Sri Lanka: The Threat to Rule of Law in South Asia’s Oldest Democracy

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October 10, 2012: Saliya Pieris
(Click to enlarge) Sri Lankan Supreme Court Attorney Saliya Pieris speaks at the East-West Center in Washington.
(Click to enlarge) Sri Lankan Supreme Court Attorney Saliya Pieris speaks at the East-West Center in Washington.

Democratic Crisis in Sri Lanka: The Threat to Rule of Law in South Asia’s Oldest Democracy

WASHINGTON, DC (October 10, 2012) – The defeat of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam by the Sri Lankan government, ending thirty years of war, has resulted in relative peace after decades of terrorism, violence, and destruction. However Sri Lanka’s years of civil war, coupled with systematic attacks on its democratic institutions by successive governments, has placed what was once one of Asia’s model democracies at risk; jeopardizing the rule of law, the independence of the judiciary and the freedom of its people. These developments have not gone unnoticed. In March 2012 the United States successfully introduced a resolution at the United Nations Human Rights Council expressing its concerns about the situation—a move which was strongly criticized within Sri Lanka.

In this seminar, Saliya Pieris explained how developments in Sri Lanka, beginning with the executive Presidential Constitution in 1978 and tracing through the war with Tamil militant groups and its after-effects, have contributed toward the serious rule of law challenges faced by the country today. Among these challenges are the issues of enforced disappearances, arbitrary arrests and detentions, suppression of the opposition, and the breakdown of national institutions such as the legislature, the judiciary and the free media. Mr. Pieris discussed the role that can be played by the government and the people of Sri Lanka, and the international community, including the United States and India, to reverse this threat and establish strong rule of law in Sri Lanka.

Mr. Saliya Pieris is a 2012 Eisenhower Fellow, studying US legal and judicial systems, focusing on governance, civil liberties, and human rights. Mr. Pieris is an attorney-at-law representing cases in Sri Lanka’s Supreme Court, many of which involving challenges to state actions that curtail political freedoms. He is Chairman and Lecturer at the CFPS School of Law, Sri Lanka’s largest private institution offering law-related training. Mr. Pieris received his LLB from the Open University of Sri Lanka and LLM from the University of London.

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