FR Violation Petition Filed Seeking Voting Rights for IDPs

By S.S. Selvanayagam

A Fundamental Rights violation petition was filed before the Supreme Court alleging authorities had failed to ensure the right of Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) living in the Northern and Eastern Provinces to participate as citizens of Sri Lanka in the democratic process of exercising their votes.

The Centre for Policy Alternatives and its Executive Director Paikiasothy Saravanamuttu in a petition filed through Attorney-at-Law Mohan  Balendra cited Commissioner of Elections Dayananda Dissanayake, District Secretaries of Jaffna, Mullaitivu, Vavuniyia and Kilinochchi –K. Ganesh, Emelda Sukumar, P.S.M. Charles and Rupavathi Ketheeswaran– respectively as well as the Attorney General as respondents.

The petition was filed in light of a grave and adverse denial of the due enjoyment of fundamental rights and freedoms that all Sri Lankans regardless of ethnic, religious or geographical classification are entitled to, which were sought to be denied to a section of Sri Lankan society effectively on the basis of their ethnicity and place of origin.

The petition stated the Commissioner of Elections and consequently the respective District Secretaries under his directions, promised IDPs adequate arrangements would be made to ensure they would be able to vote at the recently held presidential election, creating  a legitimate expectation in the minds of this section of the voting public that recognizing their vulnerable condition, adequate measures would be taken to protect their Constitutional rights.

It said the Commissioner of Elections made a public announcement that applications for voting would be received from registered voters (IDPs) from Northern and Eastern Provinces by December 4, 2009 and the said timeline was later extended till December 24.

The petitioner complained 45,732 applications were accepted from IDPs. But the unreasonable conduct of the Commissioner of Elections in failing to reasonably extend the time period of voting for IDPs, had caused several IDPs who were at all times registered voters, to be placed in circumstances that effectively prevented them of exercising their franchise,.

It alleged a significant number of applications were rejected due to ‘insufficient evidence’

It said the Commissioner of Elections had stated voters needed to produce a form of identification such as valid passport, valid driving license, government pensioner’s identity card, elder’s identity card, identity card issued to the clergy by the Department of Registration of Persons or the temporary identity card issued by the Department of Elections for the previous provincial council elections.

It said a significant number of IDPs did not possess national identity cards; there were serious concerns as to whether this fact would effectively disenfranchise them.  On election day IDPs were informed of an announcement made  by the Commissioner of Elections that temporary  identity camp cards issued by the camp authorities was recognized as a valid of identity to vote.The petitioner alleged the announcement was made too late; and therefore could not be disseminated widely to allow more IDPs to vote.

The Commissioner of Elections gave directions for transport facilities to be provided to the IDPs. Approximately 300 IDPs from Arunachalam and Ramanathan camps waited from 6.00 a.m. to 1.00 p.m. for buses that had been promised by camp authorities to be used to transport voters to Kilinochchi.

The said buses having arrived at 1.30 p.m. are said to have arrived at Kilinochchi at around 3.55 p.m. As polls closed at 4.00 p.m., nearly all the IDPs were unable to cast their votes and were forced to return, it alleged.

It was also pointed out, a section of IDPs failed to vote as a result of having to walk approximately 7 km to reach their respective polling centers as no public transport was available to them.

It alleged thousands of IDPs could not vote due to transport hitches as well as polling being disrupted by grenade explosions at Pandarikulam and in Jaffna.

The petition maintained the effect, both cumulative and individual, of the several improper, wrongful, unlawful and/or illegal acts had been the presidential election had not been conducted in a manner which was either free or equal.

The petition seeks a declaration from Court that the conduct of the respondents had resulted in a violation their fundamental rights of franchise and right to equality and imminent infringement of franchise
It asks Court to direct the Commissioner of Elections to issue guidelines specific to the voting rights of IDPs at the forthcoming parliamentary elections and other elections to be held in the Northern and Eastern Provinces so-as-to ensure steps are taken in advance to allow all those eligible to vote, to vote.

Source: Daily Mirror – 03.03.2010

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