Civil society coalition urges protection of democratic values amid concerns of judicial independence undermining

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TISL Executive Director Nadishani Perera addressing the CSCD meeting at SLFI


A recent series of statements made by high-ranking officials, including the President and the Speaker, as well as some parliamentarians, aiming to erode the autonomy of the judiciary, has raised significant alarm, according to the Civil Society Collective for Democracy (CSCD). The organization emphasizes that although the 21st Amendment to the Constitution has reinstated independent commissions, recent incidents of intimidation targeted at members of the Election Commission and the Public Utilities Commission paint a picture of an increasingly restrictive environment for these bodies.

Addressing these concerns, the CSCD, known by its rallying cry ‘Stand for Democracy,’ convened a meeting consisting of concerned citizens and various groups, such as civil society organizations, professionals, academics, trade unions, youth leaders, activists, media representatives, religious figures, and influencers. The gathering, held at the Sri Lanka Foundation Institute (SLFI) in Colombo on Tuesday (29), resulted in a statement that underscored the urgent need for political leaders to take action against state repression and safeguard the democratic rights of the populace. Such steps are deemed essential for genuine and balanced economic recovery.

The CSCD’s statement further outlines deep apprehension regarding the swift erosion of democratic space within the nation. The removal of Constitutionally guaranteed rights and freedoms, including freedom of expression, right to information, dissent, protest, association, and franchise, has left citizens disempowered. The organization highlights how voices are being stifled, leading to self-censorship among individuals due to the increased targeting and harassment of those questioning authorities. Additionally, the abuse of international commitments, such as the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) and the contentious Prevention of Terrorism Act (PTA), to silence opposition figures, civil society activists, and journalists, has been noted.

The CSCD points to recent legislative attempts to introduce oppressive versions of laws like the Anti-Terrorism Act, Broadcasting Commission Act, and the NGO Act as indications of the government’s efforts to tighten its grip on democratic space.

Emphasizing the need to address the root causes of Sri Lanka’s economic crisis, the CSCD stresses the importance of tackling issues like poor governance, inclusivity, and corruption. Without addressing these fundamental concerns, the country’s investment climate may remain unattractive to potential investors, thereby hindering economic recovery.

Transparency and accountability within governance are highlighted as crucial measures to prevent corruption and ensure effective administration. The CSCD asserts that a true democratic system empowers citizens to elect and remove representatives regularly, participate in governmental decisions, express dissent, form groups, and influence authorities when needed.

The CSCD calls upon the political establishment to promptly uphold democratic principles by:

* Conducting timely and inclusive free and fair elections, beginning with Local Government and Provincial Council Elections.

* Safeguarding citizens’ fundamental rights, including freedom of expression, association, and information.

* Creating a supportive environment for civil society activism and protecting civic space.

* Ensuring citizen engagement in steering economic recovery.

* Governing with transparency, accountability, and public scrutiny.

* Strengthening the capacity of independent commissions.

* Implementing essential anti-corruption reforms in earnest.

* Prosecuting past and present corruption cases to end impunity.

Courtesy The Island

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Disclaimer: Civil society coalition urges protection of democratic values amid concerns of judicial independence undermining - Views expressed by writers in this section are their own and do not necessarily reflect point-of-view

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