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Saturday, January 23, 2021

Freedom of association is a right in the north as elsewhere

A statement by the National Peace Council
 The physical attack of those attending a TNA election meeting in Jaffna ahead of local government elections to be held on July 23 has attracted considerable criticism and condemnation. Government spokespersons have argued that the meeting was unauthorized. On the other hand, the TNA has pointed out that it was not a public meeting and hence did not require the approval of the Police. The right to even conduct peaceful protests is now a recognized internationally under the UN Declarations. It should also be noted, , that the supreme law of the land embedded in the Constitution upholds freedom of association as a fundamental right, and as such it is applicable throughout the country. This right cannot be denied to the citizens of Jaffna. In this connection it must be noted that the freedom of movement of the citizens of the Vanni are still subject to the discretion of the Army.
The use of force against citizens engaging in lawful political activity is totally unacceptable. It contradicts the claims of the government that it is doing its best for the people of the North without any discrimination. It is also detrimental to restoring normalcy in the North, whose people sincerely wish for peace and reconciliation based on a mutual recognition of human dignity and equal human rights. Citizens of the North, including schoolteachers, believe that any meeting, including a school meeting, has to be authorized by the military. They say that they also feel obliged to invite military officers to their functions for fear of offending the military authorities, as occurred in the case of the TNA meeting, which included several Parliamentarians. At the same time the government affirms that it has restored normalcy and peace throughout the country.
While a strong military presence in the North following the war may allow many a sense of security, it must be remembered that the intervention of armed force in daily civil life cannot foster reconciliation or give a sense of security to the people. Indeed, the threat of violence overhanging such civic meetings following the experience of the TNA fosters fear and increases the sense of alienation, hindering the government’s vision of a reunited and peaceful land. This is not the way to win the hearts and minds of the Tamil people for reconciliation wit the rest of the people. When people are denied their fundamental freedoms they nurse a sense of grudge against those responsible which is no way to promote peace and reconciliation.
The latest incident in which elected representatives of the Tamil people were not permitted to conduct a peaceful private political meeting reinforces the political marginalization of the country’s minority groups and erodes their democratic rights, a practice that has had dangerous consequences in the past. The National Peace Council thus urges the government to provide the people of the North with the same rights of association available in the rest of the country. It is such uniformity of practice without discrimination that can create the basis for reconciliation and national unity in its genuine sense.

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