A military nod to marriages with “foreigners” and other associated Sri Lankan nonsense | Print edition

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On the same day that the powerful voice of South African anti-apartheid lawyer and priest Desmond Tutu fell silent (December 26, 2021), Sri Lanka announced an absurd rule potentially requiring citizens who marry “foreigners” »Obtain a security clearance from the Ministry of Defense.

Parameters that defined the apartheid state

There is a terrible coincidence in these two events, however continental they may be. This is exactly how totalitarianism flourishes, moving from seemingly benign rules justified for one reason or another, to increasing arbitrariness that holds citizens captive. The Nazi regime in Germany and the apartheid regime in South Africa proceeded in much the same way. In South Africa, a loathsome apartheid-era law called the Interdiction of Mixed Marriages Act, 1949 and the Immorality Amendment Act of 1950 prohibited white South Africans from marrying or engaging in racially indiscriminate sex. Security clearances were required in exceptional cases.

These parameters defined the apartheid state that Tutu and his compatriots fought against, making him a beloved role model whose influence extended far beyond his native land. He was a man who never forgot his roots, even when bestowed on him. Walking the streets of Soweto a decade ago (no, that seems like an eternity measured by pre-covid-19 realities), I remember the South African anti-apartheid activists who had fought many battles until the Constitutional Court telling me that their darling “the moral compass” would always come to his humble house and sit outside, fanning himself in the heat as he spoke with the people of Soweto Township.

As this column is written, South Africa is closing its week of mourning for Archbishop Desmond Tutu, intermenting his remains in St George’s Cathedral in Cape Town even as Table Mountain and Town Hall remained resplendent with purple. It was to celebrate the extraordinary life of a rare clergyman who refused to be coerced even by the rules of the Church, who defended injustice and angrily denied hypocrisy. Her life teaches us a valuable lesson. Regardless of the grand theft, baffling and dishonesty behind the taking and holding of power, position or title, be it a president, prime minister, chief justice or chief prelate , the truth is “the best weapon” in Tutu’s own words.

The best way to prevent money laundering is to arrest politicians

So let’s come back to the instant proposals that the state sees fit to impose on the heads of unhappy citizens. The same circular requiring defense clearance for foreigners potentially entering marital bliss with Sri Lankans also requires them to submit self-reported health statements detailing their medical history, chronic illnesses, infection status of covid-19 and vaccination. Of course, the health protocols are perfectly rational. In functioning governance systems facing global covid-19 emergencies, essential health checks are imposed by governments on those who enter its territories. So why mix them up with security clearances on citizens intending to change marital status, please?

The Department of the Registrar General has justified drafting these rules on “Defense Ministry instructions” on the basis that they are intended to prevent drug trafficking and money laundering (see; “If you wish to marry a foreigner, obtain a security clearance from the Ministry of Defense, ‘ the Sunday Times, December 26, 2021). But if the intention is such, politicians, businessmen and the police must be investigated first. Documented links to sordid tracks of money laundering and trafficking of all kinds have been revealed by a plethora of local and international investigations.

But no, we have a deafening silence on that front, including studied inaction in the face of the Panama Papers disclosures to the Pandora Papers. On the contrary, the country’s defense mandarins had the brilliant idea of ​​controlling foreigners marrying Sri Lankans as if it was the easiest way to launder money. Perhaps the problem here is not so much that foreigners indulge in it, but that the Sri Lankans themselves lavishly meddle in dirty rackets at the highest levels of political power. So why stop at foreigners, why not prescribe authorizations from the Ministry of Defense to all citizens, with inevitable escape clauses for political corrupters, which is the case at present anyway?

Allow the military to sneak into citizens’ chambers

Regardless, the Sri Lankan political regime is now split at lightning speed between the obscene rich and very poor as parliamentarians gallop abroad while citizens languish in queues of waiting that irritate and foam in the mouth, for cooking gas, for powdered milk and for fertilizer. That the citizens themselves be therefore divided between those who have defense authorizations and those who do not, like the vaccination certificates that the army commander tells people to have when they enter. in public places. We can then step into our dystopian Orwellian nightmare in full view of the world.

On a much more serious note, allowing the military to slip into the rooms of Sri Lankan citizens, to borrow Pierre Trudeau’s famous warning against state control of private rights as he pursued the decriminalization of homosexuality in the Canadian legislature is not a fortuitous aberration. This absurd idea of ​​the Sri Lankan government collapses the state, the defense ministry and the health regulator into one, thus nullifying any distinction between the one or the other. This is the very intention behind the movement, in other words, it is yet another step in the journey towards the erasure of civil governance.

Thus, offer military checks on citizens in public places to check whether they are carrying vaccination cards and position the national apparatus responsible for the prevention of covid-19 under the command of the military with health specialists with a background. secondary role, are required. The director general of health services can assure the Supreme Court that vaccinations are not mandatory in a public interest dispute challenging the indiscriminate vaccination of children. But assurances to judges and elsewhere, the presence or absence of laws, count for very little in Sri Lanka today. The army’s prescription issued to citizens that access to public places is subject to vaccination has already sunk into the minds of the public.

False comforts and difficult months ahead

These are palpable symptoms of a militarized state of which this proposed rule on marriages with foreigners is but a further reflection, albeit ridiculous. And there is another twist in the government’s justifications for advancing this. We are told that investigations into the Easter Sunday 2019 attacks on churches and hotels by local jihadists revealed that “some parties took advantage of loopholes in the current common marriage registration process.” The Registrar General apparently believes that the issuance of security clearances will eliminate this threat.

But this is no more credible than other explanations. This government has drawn the very real anger of the Catholic Church for failing to vigorously pursue investigations, to catch the so-called “mastermind” of the attacks and to show noticeable progress in bringing justice to the victims. Will he now control marriages with foreigners in the hopes that this will deter further terrorist strikes? As Sri Lankans brace for tough days with power and water cuts amid the dangerous depletion of foreign exchange reserves, the state has made no secret of its withdrawal from the core task of provide basic necessities. Yet we can be reassured that our security is ensured by the fact that unwanted foreigners are prevented from marrying citizens.

What other soothing lullabies are we destined to hear in the New Year, now inexorably upon us?

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