December 17th, 2021, Colombo, Sri Lanka: The COVID-19 health crisis has posed a range of unprecedented legal, political, economic and social challenges for Sri Lanka since March, 2020. While the government was successful in containing the first wave of COVID-19, the pandemic response has since unravelled, revealing issues with the heavily militarised and politicised approach favoured by the government. As the country gradually emerges from the latest wave of COVID-19, it has to grapple with the economic fallout and the rising cost of living brought on by the pandemic and its misgovernance, which may require an immediate and robust legal and policy response.
From the outset, the broader trends of militarisation, politicisation, repression, and marginalisation characterised the approach to manage the health crisis. Pandemic governance to date has also exacerbated ongoing processes of authoritarianism and executive aggrandisement, with grave implications for the rule of law, separation of powers and democratic governance.
Various briefs, guides and other documents were issued previously by the Centre for Policy Alternatives (CPA) (and included later in the document as annexures), capturing the different legal and policy regimes set in place at various stages of the pandemic response, and related concerns.
The present commentary serves as a non-exhaustive analysis of the pandemic response, with an aim to explore issues and implications that emerged from March 2020 to November 2021. To this end, the document will first provide an overview of the relevant structures and legal frameworks introduced to contain the spread of COVID-19. Secondly, it will identify issues related to governance, restriction and abuse of fundamental rights, continued marginalisation of vulnerable communities, and limited accountability for irregularities caused during the pandemic response, to indicate that the current approach has resulted in restrictions on civil liberties, mismanagement of the health crisis, and other irregularities, with limited avenues to ensure transparency and accountability of the pandemic response.