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Thursday, June 20, 2024

SRI LANKA: It is not enough to ‘cry for the country’- AHRC

The implications of the failure to prosecute Duminda Silva
The editor of the Sunday Leader, in an article entitled ‘The law is an ass’ questions the statement by a government spokesman that Duminda Silva is not a suspect in the killings of Bharatha Lakshman Premachandra and three others. Some members of Bharatha Lakshman’s family also condemned this in the bitterest terms and expressed their lack of faith in due process being carried out as there are powerful persons protecting the alleged culprits.

The editor of the Sunday Leader stated: “I cry not for Bharatha Lakshman Premachandra but for my country”. The Asian Human Rights Commission, however, has expressed repeatedly and consistently since the late 1990s that Sri Lanka is suffering an exceptional collapse of the rule of law. The geographical entity known as Sri Lanka does, in fact, exist, however, as a legal entity organised under the rule of law it does not. From the point of view of the citizen what matters is the grounding of the nation on the basis of the rule of law. Where this has ceased to exist the citizens no longer matter and citizenship itself matters very little.

By the last days of his life Bharatha Lakshman, who spent his entire life as a committed politician realised that he did not really matter. These speeches delivered in the last few weeks of his life, which are available in YouTube, should be treated as lessons taught by a mature politician who was trying to communicate to the citizens the tragedy faced by Sri Lanka.

Sri Lanka’s legal community, the intellectuals, the media and also, for the most part, civil society, treated our analysis of Sri Lanka’s collapsed rule of law system as an exaggeration. Holding on to an illusion that the country has not suffered a great fall in terms of its basic legal structure has prevented a concerted attempt being made to deal with this catastrophe. The absence of a political understanding of the depth of the crisis has prevented the emergence of a political will to give rise to the kind of actions required to deal with such a great tragedy. Even now it is no longer enough to ‘cry for the country’. It is time, at last, to realise that we are, legally speaking, not an organised society at all and that there is no way to protect any of the rights of any of the citizens. For a detailed analysis of this theme kindly see (The Phantom Limb and Gyges’ Ring).

What are the implications of the failure to prosecute Duminda Silva

The following are some of the consequences:

1.    All business transactions and even human transactions will suffer from the unscrupulous actions of persons who will refuse to respect the law. Already this situation exists to a large degree. Guns, goons and the police and politicians acting illegally have a great influence in business activities both big and small. Those who have influence with the criminal elements and the politicians that support such elements will ensure that the ‘cake’ only belongs to them. Of course these persons will fall out with each other and resort to the same tactics against their former friends.
2.    Crimes will rise in quantity as well as in depravity. Just within the last two weeks or so there were three horrendous crimes reported: one of an English teacher in Negombo suspected of being killed by a couple who were both business persons in order, as it appears, to rob her of some gold items worth a little more than Rs. 100,000/= (US$ 1000). They kept the body hidden in their shop for several hours and then transported it to a secret location where they dumped it; at Udawelawe a whole family consisting of the father, mother, a 14-year-old boy and an 8-year-old girl were shot dead inside their house and once again, seemingly over some business related matter — why was there any need to kill these young children? It appears that the sole reason is that it was easier to kill all four that to select only the one that the person who contracted the killers had a dispute with. The details of this incident are yet unclear and whether the whole story will ever be told is doubtful; and then there is this incident in which during broad daylight a member of parliament, after assaulting the wife of a local government member barricaded the roads, stopped Bharatha Lakshman and others who were traveling, provoked a dispute, allegedly firing a shot himself, before ordering his gang members to open fire. If one were to list the most gruesome crimes of the recent months it would be a long list. The more the criminals realise that the law enforcement is no longer strict and that the room to bargain their way out is quite open there will be more and more crimes.
3.    The branches of the administration of justice and the officers who work therein will enjoy little confidence from the public. Already the confidence level is very low and the blatant impunity available even to alleged murderers will lead to the treatment of these institution and their officers as irrelevant. When this cynicism is as deep rooted as it is now the argument that there are still good officers will mean very little. Good officers who are powerless will only confirm the belief that the law no longer matters.
4.    In political life activities which are related to democracy such as elections will be treated more as a façade that having any effectiveness or meaning. Already this feeling is quite widespread. The Duminda Silva incident will reconfirm this lack of faith in the democratic institutions and various activities that go under the name of democracy. The powerful will blatantly flout the law being assured that no adverse consequences will follow.
5.    The executive and the Ministry of Defence of which the president’s brother is the secretary, will be the only important political institutions in the country. De jury the executive president will be more important but de facto, the Ministry of Defense will be of greater importance. These two political institutions will devour the powers of all and even determine what is murder and what is not.
6.    The younger generation of the country will grow up not knowing what the rule of law means. They will see the law of the mighty and the law of the jungle as quite normal. What kind of moral and ethical attitudes they will imbibe is hard to guess. Can they be blamed if they would say, like one of the young men who wrote to us recently, “I have to live in this Godforsaken country.” The younger generation that does not have the benefit of an organised and decent society is the one that deserves the greatest attention.

Obviously it is not enough to ‘cry for the country’. It is time to come to a reckoning about what has, in fact, happened. The sooner the people realise that the very foundations of their beliefs have been lost the better it will be for all. Then more sane and sober reflections will emerge and it is these reflections that will give rise to mature approaches to fight for a law-based society.


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