Centre for Policy Alternatives on 16 February, 2018

Sanjeewa Sudath Perera and two others vs. H.E. Maithreepala Sirisena (SC FR 67/2016) (Fundamental Rights application challenging the Tamil version of the National Anthem)

Categories: Public Interest LitigationPublic Interest Litigation submissions

Sanjeewa Sudath Perera and two other persons filed a Petition dated 26th February 2016 in the Supreme Court challenging the decision to sing the National Anthem of Sri Lanka in Tamil at the official Independence Day celebrations in 2016. The Petitioners argued that singing the Anthem in Tamil was contradictory to Articles 7 and 12 of the Sri Lankan Constitution, which relate to the National Anthem and the rights to equality and non-discrimination, respectively.

On March 4th 2016, the Centre for Policy Alternatives (CPA) and its Executive Director Dr. Paikiasothy Saravanamuttu filed an Intervention-Petition, which argued that singing the National Anthem in Tamil was Constitutional. This intervention Petition first referenced Articles 18 and 19 of the Constitution, which state that Sinhala and Tamil are the official and national languages of Sri Lanka. Furthermore unlike subordinate legislation such as acts of Parliament, the Constitution contains no provision, which stipulates that the Sinhala text shall prevail over the Tamil text.  As such the words and music of the National Anthem in the Tamil language are constitutionally recognized by Article 7 read with the Third Schedule of the Tamil version of the Constitution of Sri Lanka.

The intervention Petition further referenced Article 12 of the Constitution, claiming that a declaration that the National Anthem should be sung only in Sinhalese would be a direct violation of Article 12, which in turn would be a violation of the fundamental rights of Tamil-speaking citizens. CPA also supported two additional Intervention-Petitions that supported the constitutionality of singing the National Anthem in Tamil.

The Supreme Court took up the case on the 18th of November 2016, discussing whether the Petitioners made a strong enough case for considering the Petition in the Court. During the discussions, the Deputy Solicitor General (DSG) also referenced Articles 18 and 19 of the constitution recognizing both Sinhala and Tamil as the official and national languages of Sri Lanka, and that the singing of the Anthem in Tamil was not in violation of the Constitution. The court therefore decided that the Petitioners had not disclosed a case to be considered, and subsequently their case was dismissed.