Banning Burqas and Madhrasas condemned as violating freedom of thought, conscience and religion guaranteed by Article 10 of the Constitution

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Some of the observations and recommendations of the Commission on Easter Sunday attacks are invasive of the absolute protection given to every person under Article 10 of the Sri Lanka Constitution. The Commission’s report though good in parts, can be seen as an attempted assault on Islam for the heinous crimes of a dozen suicide bombers. The right to the freedom stated in Article 10 is ‘assured to all religions’ under Article 9. No one, not even Presidential Commissions can invite or promote the State or any limb of the Executive or Judiciary to violate the freedom guaranteed under Article 10. This protection is guaranteed notwithstanding any national security concerns, as the law stands today.

In this constitutionally protected background, the statement made on Saturday by a government Minister that he has signed and gazetted his order banning the right of women to wear Burqa styled dress and that Madhrasas will also be banned soon stands condemned as a violation of Article 10 read with Article 9 of the Constitution.

In addition to the violation of the Constitution, the first of the two constitutes an unlawful (because Minister has no power to do so) attack on the honour and reputation of women as declared in Article 17 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), an international treaty to which Sri Lanka is a party. That too so soon after, women the world over having celebrated women’s day! The second one violates Article 18(4) of the ICCPR, “The State Parties to the present Covenant undertake to have respect for the liberty of parents and when applicable, legal guardians to ensure the religious and moral education of their children in conformity with their own convictions”. Several other violations can also be envisaged.

Articles 9 and 10 of our Constitution cannot be restricted on national security or other grounds unlike other fundamental rights protected by the Constitution. No one can violate the oath taken to uphold the Constitution. It does not appear that the minister has obtained the advice of the Attorney General before the alleged signing of the purported ban. Coincidentally regarding the banning of the face cover the UK representative has taken the clear position at the third informal pre-UNHCR discussions that banning face veils would ‘stigmatise marginalized Muslim women’ in Sri Lanka.

It is sad to see the Sri Lankan authorities are struggling hard to add to the list of Sri Lanka’s alleged violations of human rights laws already drafted, inter alia in preambular paragraph 14 at the UNHCR and which draft has already called for the ‘prosecution of all those responsible for the violations of human rights laws’. That could possibly include all those aiding, abetting and approving such gross violations. It could, by September next year, extend to adding the violators names, and wrongfully their families as it happened to the present Army Commander, into the visa prohibited lists of States virtually prosecuting Sri Lanka in international fora.

What is not being perceived is that the Sri Lankan investigative machinery is under the spell of ruthless foreign intelligence agencies such as the CIA, the MOSSAD, the KGB and now the RAW most of which are notorious for planting fake so called ‘intelligence’ together with exceptionally accurate ones. One can easily observe how some of their plants are acted upon by unsuspecting persons, which possibly includes high ranking officers, ministers and commissioners. That is only the first round. In the second round, powerful governments of the countries of these agencies use the very same bait to accuse the suspect government of violation of human rights and humanitarian laws. Most of these foreign entities are on record with self- confessed publications exclaiming how they toppled non-cooperative governments across the globe.

National security concerns are no doubt vital but must not be used as trojan horses to roll out measures against Islam that may eventually radicalise the Muslim community that had never attempted to disturb the territorial integrity of the country or any of its lawfully elected governments.

M M Zuhair PC, former MP

Latheef Farook, Journalist and Author

Mass L Usuf, Attorney at Law and Advocacy Columnist

Mansoor Dahlan, Theology Scholar

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