It would be naïve to think that only Europe and America had tough anti-terror laws. A host of countries including China, Burma, and as this article shows, Sri Lanka, have far-reaching anti-terror legislation. Jules Martin writes about how in Sri Lanka, Islamic extremism is being cited as a reason for the undermining of human rights and an excuse for large-scale injustices to be committed against Muslim populations.
On Tuesday 24th June, the Tamil Information Centre held a meeting on Sri Lanka’s national security laws, in order to address and discuss the Prevention of Terrorism Act (PTA). Crucially, at this meeting it was briefly mentioned that the Sri-Lankan government is increasingly citing ‘Islamic extremism’ as a last resort to justify its implementation of the PTA.
What emerged during this meeting is that the Sri-Lankan government is coming under increasing international pressure to either repeal or reform this law, with it facing an upcoming review in October later this year at the UNHRC (at which its security policies will come under scrutiny). Indeed, many NGOs and human rights organisations have been campaigning for the repeal of the PTA due to the draconian way in which it has been implemented and used to silence and oppress Tamils, perceived Tamils (and Tamil-sympathisers), any minorities and human rights defenders within Sri-Lanka. Moreover, not only have UK parliamentarians joined the call for the repeal of this law but there is also discussion of challenging the designation of certain Tamil groups within the UK as terrorist groups by the UK government. The Sri-Lankan government, recognising that it is coming under increasing scrutiny for its use of this law, has been keen to alleviate this pressure by garnering international support for its actions and changing the discussion. A senior analyst at the International Crisis Group on the panel highlighted that the way in which the Sri-Lankan government is now seeking to achieve this is by pointing to increased ‘Islamic extremism’ in a last ditch attempt to justify its actions and legitimise its use of the PTA in the eyes of the international community. Clearly, brandishing ‘Islamic extremism’ as a tool to justify and legitimise draconian policies indicates a belief that this can be used as a blanket reason to facilitate oppressive regimes and push back against international pressure. Indeed, this belief is not ill-founded and points to a growing trend that can be seen across the world in other countries which aim to garner international support for their security policies and ever-expanding political powers. The popularity and success of this tactic can be seen in Egypt where Sisi’s military coup was justified in the name of fighting ‘Islamic extremism’ and was further used to deflect international criticism of the coup as well as to stymie political opposition. Other countries such as Myanmar and China (and here and here) also follow this pattern, with both countries using the rhetoric of counter-terrorism in regards to ‘Islamic extremism’ to warrant their abusive and wide-reaching security policies.
Additionally, it was asserted during the meeting that this tactic fits quite neatly into a strategy which aims to promote disunity and ethnic divisions. This has helped to legitimise the politicisation of the Sri-Lankan police, whose inaction and lack of protection of Muslims against the increasing violence by the BBS – an extremist Buddhist group – and has only emboldened the group to continue targeting Muslims. This is further compounded by the unequal application of the PTA, being used against Tamils and other minorities but not against the BBS who have both incited and carried out violence against Muslims recently – rendering Muslim identity in post-civil war Sri Lanka a liability and further eroding the rule of law. Clearly, creating division, fear and distrust between communities fuels political violence and instability which aids the government in achieving their goal of expanding already ruthless powers on grounds of security.
Whilst these tactics employed by the Sri-Lankan government may be considered age-old, it is worth keeping a close eye on future developments to see whether the excuse of ‘Islamic extremism’ will actually be effective in lessening international pressure on the Sri-Lankan government to repeal the Act. Moreover, as this issue was not the focus of the meeting, we would argue that this ought to be given more time and attention as it is part of an emerging pattern which uses the War on Terror to justify state violence.
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