SRI LANKA: Parliamentarians’ Inability to Mourn

By Basil Fernando

What happened on the 9th of May was a tragedy. It is a tragedy that the entire nation should genuinely mourn. Such genuine mourning has a capacity to generate reflections that could transform the thinking and practices of all those concerned about how to avoid such tragedies in the future.

Such genuine forms of mourning are very different to manipulations of a tragedy or a part of a tragedy in order to achieve petty ends, whether these ends are political or otherwise.

It is quite natural for Members of Parliament to commemorate a brutal murder of one of their colleagues. This murder is a tragedy that should not have happened and should not have been allowed to happen.

That was the very reason why the reflections conveyed through the speeches in the Parliament should have been of a sober nature with the aim of trying to lead the thinking within the nation about the situation that has arisen in the country with the view to bring about a certain understanding about the ways by which such tragedies should be dealt with in a manner that such situations could be avoided in the future.

However, instead of such sober observations, what happens by way of speeches of most of the participants at that debate was an attempt to unleash further violence and also to encourage a greater repression within the country. The target of most of these features was not the particular incident but the protest that is taking place throughout the country for many reasons. Making use of a tragedy in order to unleash further violence could in no way be called a mourning. It is another political event used for limited political purposes which will further add to the tragedy rather than resolving them.

No tragedy can be discussed without placing it within the context in which it happened and without placing one tragedy within the overall context of a larger tragedy.

A meaningful discussion of a tragedy like this murder of a Member of Parliament could have been an occasion within which the larger tragedy that is devastating the entire nation of all spheres, in the sphere of the economy, in the sphere of the political system, in the sphere of the legal system and above all within the arena of ethics and morality were brought into the discussion. That is how the literature on tragedy has contributed to the greater understanding of many aspects of the causes that produce such situations.

It is not possible to discuss a tragedy without placing oneself as also a contributor to that tragedy. Whereas tragedy is seen purely in terms of outside actors, it is not possible to portray how not only the so-called villains, but the so-called heroes have contributed to the tragedy.

The murder of the MP which reflects the enormous gravity of the mental unrest that exists within the entire society if properly discussed in the Parliament could have led not only to the formation of a better outlook within the Parliament itself but it could also have led to the better understanding of the problem in the entire nation.

The whole effort at this debate was not to acknowledge how far the tragedy that is taking place within the total society of Sri Lanka was also a product of the political failures of various Governments and in particular of the recent events which has brought to the consciousness of the people that an unprecedented calamity is developing in their country. Had many of the speakers at this debate held these views while acknowledging their own contributions to the tragic circumstances that have developed in the country, it could have been a message to the people that there was an attempt by the leaders of their country to grasp the totality of this tragedy and that may have created a more positive response on the part of the people themselves to take a broader outlook about what is taking place.

When the former Premier Mahinda Rajapaksa who himself was the first person responsible for unleashing the situation that arose on the 9th spoke even without acknowledging that he himself had an indirect role to play in the loss of one of his own followers, the whole exercise of that commemoration lost its genuineness. If he did make use of this situation to make an apology on what happened in that morning where people who were called to have a meeting with them, went out, and attempted to engage in a rampage of peaceful demonstrators, that could have carried a message of some form of acknowledgement of a wrongdoing. Also, sober mourning carries within it an element of compassion. There was no such acknowledgement or a confession during this commemoration.

The core of the tragedy was the failure on the part of the law enforcement agencies to maintain law and order at all cost. As the failure on that area was acknowledged, the question that really should have been discussed would have been how much the Government itself is responsible for the failure of law enforcement in the country. There was no discussion about this matter at all though there were references to what was called the Police inaction to prevent this murder. However, it was not only on the murder that the Police failed. They failed also at the beginning of these events on the 9th of May. They failed throughout the country at all points.

It was on that basis that the Parliament should have apologized to the family of the deceased MP that they have failed to protect the life of a MP and also a husband and a father by their failure to ensure that there exists a law enforcement agency in the country that is capable of maintaining law and order in all circumstances.

The continuing tragedy of Sri Lanka is that it lacks a reliable law enforcement agency that at all times maintains law and order at whatever the cost. The talk about conflicting commands issued by different authorities is no excuse. That could bring no consolation to the family of the deceased MP.

In fact, the Parliament should at least not publicly admit that the failure to protect everyone who suffered on that day primarily lies with the failure of the Government itself to maintain law and order through a competent and efficient law enforcement agency.

There is no attempt at all to resolve this failure. This debate saw no call towards ending the failure on the part of Sri Lanka’s premier law enforcement agency and the expression of a determination to correct this by proper means so as to ensure that the people of the country including themselves are being protected. So long as that does not happen, nobody is safe in the country whatever be their status or position.

There were several calls for a quick trial relating to this murder. A trial without delay is an obligation of any State. Under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, Sri Lanka has undertaken to ensure a speedy trial for everybody. However, the State has failed in this regard and it has failed everyone.

A speedy trial is not a privilege. It does not depend on the status of the person who has become the victim of a murder. It is a right of every person. The basic principle of equality before the law is that all survivors of murder have the right to see that justice is done in a speedy fashion. If the State has failed to provide for ensuring that the people who suffered grave wrongs like murder are unable to get justice in the country, that is the failure of the State and the State must accept responsibility for this.

It again calls for the basic issue of a failed system of justice which is at the root of all the violence that has taken place in the country. Recently, within just five days, seven murders were reported. The level to which murders are taking place in the country makes Sri Lanka a rather dangerous place. However, neither is there even a single statement on the part of the Government in order to ensure the improvement of the system of justice so as to ensure protection to the people.

There are more people being blamed for the tragic murder of this Member of Parliament. The very Parliament of which he was a Member of, itself bears a grave responsibility for this sad situation. However, the Parliament in their condolences did not acknowledge their failure to ensure the protection of everybody including this Member of Parliament.

Prime Minister’s speech was aimed at provoking more persons with the view to increase repression, was in no way to honour a Member of Parliament who has dedicated his life as it was said, for public life, and for achieving public good.