There have been two incidents, Sir, that have occurred recently: one in Ampara a few days ago and the other one, more recently, in Kandy. The incident in Ampara occurred consequent to a suspicion pertaining to some activities in an eating house. If what is being said had happened in that eating house, I think, that is a matter which needs to be investigated and appropriate action taken against the persons responsible. But, instead of such action being taken according to the law, violence has been unleashed against a particular community – eating houses have been destroyed, a mosque has been damaged and other business establishments have been damaged. A large crowd engaged in these activities. They went to the scene of these activities using a large number of motorcycles and a bus and engaged in such violence. It appears that the police station is not very far away, but these people seem to have been able to engage in all these activities and get away from the scene without their activities being stopped in anyway by the law enforcement authorities.
A few days later, consequent to an accident where a youth had been injured, some other youth of the same community as the injured youth had set upon the driver of the vehicle responsible for the accident and apparently severely assaulted him. The youth so assaulted succumbed to his injuries in hospital. Consequent to the death of the youth, who happened to be from the majority community, a large number of shops, four mosques, a large number of houses and members of a particular community have been attacked. The properties concerned – the shops, the mosques, the large number of houses – have been very severely damaged and members of a particular community have been physically attacked. I am informed that one person was killed as a result of being caught up within a fire that emanated from a burning house.
Such incidents, Sir, have occurred in the past too. But, for some time now, particularly after the change in Government, we did not hear of such incidents and I want to say that the occurrence of such incidents is clearly unacceptable.
It is indicative of a sense of impunity. People seem to have the confidence that they can engage in such acts and think the arm of the law would not reach them and that the rule of law would not be enforced against them. It is not sufficient for some action to be taken after the incident is over. The role of the law enforcement authorities is called into serious question.
I want to pose the question, Sir, as to whether we have reached a stage when people think that the law enforcement authorities can be taken for granted and that the law enforcement authorities are not a deterrent to whatever activities they are engaged in? Non-observance of the rule of law can only result in chaos in governance. I do not wish to exacerbate the situation by making any remark that may not be moderate, but I do want to pose the question as to whether such incidents happening intermittently and frequently are indicative of a purely law and order situation or is there a deeper dimension to it? To what extent is the role of the State responsible from the point of view of the deeper dimension? Are all citizens in this country treated as equals? Do all of them have justice on the basis of equality under the present structure of the State? Does the structure of governance in this country, as the State is presently constituted, not have an impact on the behaviour of different citizens belonging to different communities?
Do the people of a particular community have the feeling that they are superior and others are inferior; the other persons are second-class citizens while they are superior citizens. What is this attributable to? Is it not attributable to the nature of the State, the structure of governance in this country? What is the point in your having four or five Ministers of a particular community in your Government when those people whom the Ministers represent are not safe in this country? What is the point in positions of power and influence being given to persons of different communities if they cannot achieve for their people, what their people deserve? If that is not achievable under the present State structure, under the present system of governance, there must be alterations and amendments and advancement of that system of governance to enable all the people in this country to feel that they are equal without any one community feeling that they are superior to the others.
It is my submission, Sir, that such incidents are not purely a law and order situation. There is a much deeper dimension. Some people feel that they are superior and that the others must submit themselves to such superiority. This must be eradicated. I think that is the prime cause of the trouble.
It is, I think, Sir, the duty of the State to ensure that the system of governance in this country is altered in such a way as to ensure that all the people of this country feel equal. Such incidents, Sir, have an impact on the county as a whole. Our country is facing numerous difficulties on the human rights front, violations of human rights laws, violations of international humanitarian laws, on the question of the ascertainment of the truth, on the dispensation of justice and on the question of accountability. Our country is facing numerous difficulties in the international arena. We are called upon to answer many questions. Our economy is in a perilous state. The country must come out of all these. The country must be redeemed from all these.
We have brought this situation upon ourselves by not doing what we needed to do at the right time. If what had to be done was done at the right time, this country would not have come to this situation. This country would have been a very advanced, developed country like Singapore or Thailand. Other countries are moving forward. We are moving backwards. That is what is happening in this country. This situation must change and I think, Sir, one of the primary changes that we need is that there must be a change in the structure of governance. That is fundamental. So that Sir, I would respectfully urge that while the law enforcement authorities do pull up their socks and ensure that all citizens of this country are treated equally, we also need to address the most fundamental issue of the structure of the governance in this country being altered in such a way that you serve the needs of the people in the way that people desire, not merely by conferring positions or power on a few individuals.
(Transcript of the speech made by Hon Sampanthan in Parliament on 6th of March 2018)