Emergency laws in Sri Lanka will lapse on September 8.

“There is no need to have the state of emergency any more … So I inform Parliament that we will not extend emergency,” President Mahinda Rajapaksa said on Thursday. Emergency has to be extended by Parliament each month, according to the provisions of the Constitution.

Emergency laws have been in operation in one form or the other for over 30 years.

The laws, which some human rights NGOs have often decried as “draconian,” were enacted to deal with Tamil Tigers, who fought for about three decades for a separate homeland. They give the security forces sweeping powers of arrest and detention.

The laws that Mr. Rajapaksa referred to in his address to Parliament were two: one drafted six years ago, and the other, five years ago. In August 2005, the then President, Chandrika Kumaratunga, enacted the Emergency (Miscellaneous Provisions and Powers) Regulation No. 1 of 2005, following the assassination of Foreign Minister Lakshman Kadirgamar.

In December 2006, Mr. Rajapaksa enacted the Emergency (Prevention and Prohibition of Terrorism and Specified Terrorist Activities) Regulations No.7 of 2006, following an unsuccessful attack on Defence Secretary Gotabaya Rajapaksa, who was in-charge of the war-effort.

The 2006 law widened the scope of the existing emergency regulations and counter-terrorism laws. But all emergency regulations are only valid for one month, unless extended by Parliament.

Apart from this, the President has special powers under Section 12 of the Public Security Ordinance, 1947, (call out the armed forces), Section 16 (order a curfew) and Section 17 (declare a service as essential) regardless of whether or not a state of emergency has been declared. Sri Lanka also has a Prevention of Terrorism Act.

Opposition hails move

Leader of the Opposition Ranil Wickremesinghe welcomed the decision. He pointed out that the government could have withdrawn the emergency in May 2009 itself after it eliminated the Tigers.

He felt a lot more had to be done to restore democracy and evolve a political solution.

A bold move: Maldives

Maldivian President Mohamed Nasheed has welcomed the decision.

In a statement on Thursday, he said it was a “bold and farsighted move”.

“Today's [Thursday's] announcement is an indication of President Rajapaksa's and the Government of Sri Lanka's commitment to move forward and rebuild the nation,” he said.

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