The grave ramifications of re-imposing the curfew
10 months ago
After a pause of two days, i.e. the two days when the Vesak Poya was celebrated, the Government yesterday (16) re-imposed island-wide curfew. Even though curfew was limited to a few hours from night to the morning, now that the violent attacks have stopped and only peaceful or lawful protests are continuing, why Sri Lanka needs curfew and what it costs the country are questions that needs to be answered. Unlike last week when curfew was imposed for the first time, when the re-imposition of curfew was announced yesterday, the decision was heavily criticized on social media platforms, and a plethora of practical difficulties that affect the general public were raised. One of the main concerns is the state of the country’s informal sector, which was affected by the curfew imposed last week and the Vesak holidays that came immediately after the curfew. The people fear that the re-imposition of curfew will affect those in the informal sector that work or travel at night or in the wee hours of the morning. Another valid concern that was raised was how this night time curfew can affect those who left for their homes over the weekend and the Vesak holidays and had planned to return yesterday night. The Government has a question to answer – how are people supposed to start working from today (17) if they could not go back to their workplaces due to the curfew? That is not all - if the Government continues to impose curfew at night or in the morning, how do people who have to travel far to get to work manage when all modes of transport come to a halt due to the curfew? However, disruption to occupations and businesses is not the only issue that can further weaken the economy. The messages these arbitrary decisions send to the international community are also critically important when it comes to the international support Sri Lanka needs in order to pull through the prevailing economic downturn, and they are likely to pose long term challenges. On the one hand, re-imposing curfew when there is no immediate or pressing need to do so reinforces the notion that the Heads of the Government are dictators and are insensitive to the hardships that the people are going through. On the other hand, increased military presence in almost all urban areas of the country and entrusting military personnel with even the most basic tasks of the Police such as checking curfew passes during curfew reinforces the notion that Sri Lanka is being militarized. In this context, the message the Government, not the people or peaceful protests, convey to the international community is that the Sri Lankan Government is more concerned about ensuring its own survival than about protecting the rights and freedoms of the people that elected it. What international body or country would assist Sri Lanka financially or in any other way when the Government shows no genuine interest in protecting the people’s livelihoods or democratic rights, is a question we must ask. In fact, the erosion of trust in the Government has already begun, and that is what was shown through the European Parliament’s passing of a resolution against Sri Lanka’s human rights record, while urging the European Union (EU) Commission to consider withdrawing the Generalised Scheme of Presences Plus trade concession last year. At the same time, in a context where several countries such as the United States (US), United Kingdom and Australia have already issued travel advisories to their citizens with regard to visiting Sri Lanka, the Government re-imposing curfew sends a message that Sri Lanka is not a safe place to visit. The Government taking decisions that could easily discourage foreign tourists, while blaming protests for decreased tourist arrivals in April, is absurd. It is also extremely harmful at a time when the country is struggling to save and earn US Dollars, because the lack of foreign reserves is one of the main factors behind the prevailing economic crisis. Curfew is not necessary, as the violent attacks that led to the imposition of curfew have now stopped. This is tantamount to creating a climate of fear and a sense of the lack of security. What we see now are merely peaceful and lawful protests. Although some protests may cause tense situations, whether such situations constitute a violent situation that call for curfew should be discussed on a case by case basis. In this context, the Government continuing the curfew and making it a normal part of the people’s daily life is unacceptable, and it will cause people to not respect curfew regulations when curfew has to be imposed for a genuine reason.