Sri Lanka scraps emergency laws

2011-08-25 19:16

Colombo - Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapaksa on Thursday declared an end to strict wartime emergency laws that have drawn criticism from the West and India, saying the advent of peace since the end of civil war in 2009 made them unnecessary.

The regulations gave the government wide powers to arrest people without charge as the country fought the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) separatists in a quarter-century war that ended in government victory in May 2009.

"To carry forward the day-to-day activities in a democratic way, I propose there is no need of emergency regulations anymore," Rajapaksa told parliament.

It was not immediately clear whether the regulations would be lifted now, or stay in effect until the current extension expires on September 8.

No terrorist activity

"There has been no terrorist activity since the end of the war in May 2009. I am satisfied that extension of emergency is not required anymore. So I inform [parliament] that we will not extend the emergency anymore," Rajapaksa said.

The regulations, put in place off and on since a Marxist insurgency erupted in 1971, have been continuously in force since August 2005 after an LTTE sniper assassinated Foreign Minister Lakshaman Kadirgarmar in the capital, Colombo.

Sri Lanka has been relaxing the emergency laws in steps since May 2010, as it seeks to open itself up to post-war investment to boost its $50bn economy.

Rajapaksa's government had resisted Western and Indian pressure to lift the laws right after the war, saying Sri Lanka needed time to catch LTTE remnants and prosecute those arrested under the emergency laws.

Prevention of Terrorism Act

The government still has the powerful Prevention of Terrorism Act at its disposal, which allows arrest, confiscation of property and life imprisonment for those involved in "terrorist activity".

Rights group and Western governments have blamed Sri Lanka's government for using the laws to suppress media freedom and harass political opponents. Rajapaksa's administration rejects that assertion.

Sri Lanka is also under heavy pressure from rights groups, Western governments and well-funded pro-LTTE groups in the Tamil diaspora to probe alleged war crimes in the final months of the conflict in 2009.