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NewsSRI LANKA : Extrajudicial Killings – as an indicator of the collapse of the ethical and moral order

SRI LANKA : Extrajudicial Killings – as an indicator of the collapse of the ethical and moral order


A Statement by the Asian Human Rights Commission
Yesterday, in our statement titled murders and extra judicial killings we commented on the killing of a police constable and his wife followed by what clearly appeared to be extra judicial killings of three persons who were alleged suspects of the said crime. The inquiries into the murder of the police constable and his wife, according to reports, was being carried out under the supervision of two Deputy Inspector Generals of the Sri Lanka Police.

In the present day ,reports on incidents of the practice of extra judicial killings of alleged suspects of serious and heinous crimes often goes unnoticed, without as much as a comment.

Over the years, an understanding or an ‘acceptance of sorts’ seems to have developed within the general public – of extra judicial killings by the law enforcement officers. Some of the reasons for such an understanding to take root in the society can be explained as follows;

a.    The acts of such crimes have gradually become more brutal in nature and are often carried out with the use of sophisticated weapons and in many instances by trained gunmen i.e. ex-armed forces members. In this particular instance, one of the three persons killed is reported to have been a trainer in the Sri Lanka army’s commando regiment. The terror caused by such killings seems to have led to the public response that the disposal of such persons by extra judicial killings may be justified or at least that it is a ‘necessary evil’.

b.    Due to the extremely chaotic situation of the judicial process in Sri Lanka – which has miserably failed to convince the general public, of Sri Lanka’s capacity to deal with crimes, through a due judicial process – the public seems to have accepted as fact, that in the absence of any alternatives in being protected from serious crimes through a legitimate process – killing of these persons may be the only alternative left. That the judicial process is extremely defective is beyond controversy. Besides the usual long delays stretching for years, in dealing with litigation in Sri Lanka, there are also other problems; there is hardly any protection for the victims and witnesses of crime, and therefore, many of them may think it unsafe to come before courts and give evidence; absence of evidence implies acquittals for the alleged criminals; further, retaining of lawyers through such a protracted periods of time, is a luxury that many people cannot afford; many Sri Lankan lawyers too, have unfortunately acquired the reputation of exploiting these delays for their own benefit; and in recent times, there is a widespread public perception that criminals can get away by of payment of Bribes, usually to Police officers ,which has – since of late – spread even to the judges themselves ; above all, there is a possibility of political interference and criminals often have political links which can see them safely and unscathed , through the ordeals of trials and other judicial procedures .

c.    Killing of unacceptable persons has acquired some sort of legitimacy, due to the frequent resort to such killings during the long period of insurgencies in during Sri Lanka’s recent history. It is quite well established public knowledge that such killings have been resorted to, as a ‘necessary strategy’ for dealing with those who are branded as terrorists. The official sanction for this policy was expressed by a former Deputy Defense Minister who proclaimed in Parliament that “ “such things” cannot be done according to the law”

All these factors have created a mindset which almost expects the police and other law enforcement agencies to ensure security by resorting to extra judicial killings.

What this factual situation presents is a society that has dissented to the lowest depths of lawlessness and immorality. If murder of criminals is the only resort, that law enforcement officers have at their disposal, that itself is an open admission that even the most basic tenants of morality cannot any longer be protected nor respected any longer within the Sri Lankan social milieu.

Now, we have drifted from the war against terrorists to the war against criminals. War, in this instance means war in a literal sense and implies the direct use of the bullet in dealing with crimes.

The task of reinforcing the confidence in law and in the judicial process in any society is vests primarily, in the Government.

Whether crimes are dealt with – by means of law enforcement officers being allowed also to commit crime – is a matter entirely determined by the Government. If resort to such killings is done with the approval of the Government itself, then there is no-way-out, of the situation. That the present Government of Sri Lanka overtly or covertly encourages and condones the resort to that type of violence is quiet obvious. The President as the Head of the Government has not made a single statement condemning such killings nor set out the State Policy for the prevention of such killings which set out the manner in which to deal with crime in general through the ordinary legal process following the law of the land. Since the Government of Sri Lanka, is the Executive President, there is no one else who could give the re-assurance to the society with a better way of dealing with such crime, other than by resorting to cold blooded killings. It is from within the very nature of the Sri Lankan Constitutional system itself that the responsibility for the State Policy for permitting such killings could be placed on the President himself.

Under such circumstances, announcements of inquiries into such extra judicial killings or bringing the perpetrators of such crimes to justice makes no sense. Such inquiries and prosecutions are possible only when the Government does all that it can, to create respect for law and the judicial process. The Rajapaksa Government has quite clearly entered into a different path than that of one creating respect for the rule of law and judicial process.

The government policy of undermining the judicial process has quite a long history, and the most recent overt demonstration of that policy was the illegal sacking of the Chief Justice Dr. Shirani Bandaranayake. When the very appointments to positions such as that of the Chief Justice, is not based on implacable legal principles, there is hardly anything further to be said about the respect for law and legality.

When the nation so blatantly rejects the fundamentals of moral and ethical order by creating permissiveness towards, extra judicial killings by law enforcement officers we must all ask ourselves; what kind of respect for morality or ethics could be sustained in Sri Lanka? A cynic may respond to that question, by saying; who owns morality and ethics? Unfortunately, such a response form a cynic, coincides quite clearly with the approach that the Government itself takes, on the issue of ethics and morality in Sri Lanka.

If the Government itself quiet openly pursues a path of disregard for ethical and moral order what hope remain for Sri Lanka to be a civilized country? To be civilized means the respect for the moral and the ethical principles on the basis of which the members of that society could maintain relationships which are ethical and morally sound.

Those who are talking about the civil society should seriously ponder about this level of collapse of the moral and the ethical order in Sri Lanka. Something called a civil society can exist only within a context of recognition of ethics and morality as the foundation. If the civil society itself condones extra judicial killings by law enforcement agencies, that is a frightening indication of a crisis and a confusion within the civil society itself.

These are the problems that are posed by the extra judicial killings that are permitted to happen unabated in Sri Lanka.

SRI LANKA: Murders and extrajudicial killings – The link to the Statement published on 27th November 2013
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