SRI LANKA: Crimes, dengue fever, attacks on journalists, problems of toilets and food and euphoric celebrations 

Basil Fernando

Ankubura Seelaratne is a 25-year-old Buddhist monk who with youthful exuberance was engaged in campaigns to eliminate the sale of illicit liquor. Last week he was hospitalised in a critical condition after being poisoned. Some of his dayakayas (donors) poisoned the food given to him as part of the Buddhist traditional practice of providing food to monks.

In another of a series of incidents a businessman was attacked by thieves inside a bank while depositing his money. The assailants killed the driver who accompanied him and escaped with the money amounting to about US$ 16,000. Although the high security bank had surveillance cameras and there were check points surrounding the bank, the thieves have not been identified or apprehended.

Again in yet another incident a husband and wife were killed as a result of shooting by two thieves who were fleeing after having committed a robbery.

A fifty-year-old businesswoman, a well known social activist, was killed inside her own house and no one has been apprehended for the murder.

Above are just a few incidents within the space of one week. Complaints of crimes and the failure of the police to investigate into these matters have been noted and commented on by everybody, including the courts for several years now but things are steadily getting worse.

Meanwhile Poddalo Jayantha, a well known journalist and the General Secretary of Sri Lanka Working Journalists Association (SLWJA) and a key activist of the Free Media Movement (FMM) in Sri Lanka is now lying in a hospital after being abducted and viciously attacked. His life was saved by someone who noticed the abduction and informed other journalists who in turn informed the authorities. The injuries to Jayantha included attempts to break both of his legs with iron rods and crush his fingers. The attack is seen as part of a campaign for suppressing media freedoms proceeded by public statements naming journalists as traitors both by the commander of the army and the Inspector General of Police.

In a very clear manifestation of the criminal justice prevailing in Sri Lanka the persons who informed the Inspector General of Police and other authorities were arrested, interrogated and have been produced before courts. Nobody who had been involved in the actual attack has been arrested. Giving a political twist that also reveals the linkage between the absence of criminal justice and politics the president himself is reported to have said that he does not want to be involved in the affairs of the rivalries of journalist’s organisations. That statement would have carried the message to the police investigators, (if there happen to be any policemen investigating this case), that involving the journalists who informed of the crime as being the culprits would be all right. Open political instigations to subvert inquiries into crimes have become part of Sri Lanka’s day to day experience and is popularly called politicisation.

Meanwhile a number of politicians who have been charged with serious and non bailable crimes have been granted bail by courts, mainly because the investigators offered no objections. This included a provincial council minister who is charged with murder by the use of an officially issued pistol, a member of parliament who is charged with the abduction of a child and a second member of parliament who is suspected of being the assassin of another politician.

While the abdication of state responsibilities relating to investigations into crimes continue in this way on the health front the serious outbreak of dengue fever continues to claim more victims. The death toll rose to 110 and the reported cases of infection to over 8,200. It was within this same period that swine flu was reported with a few cases noted from Mexico. Mexico has a population of over 109 million. Despite of the graver nature of the swine flu virus the total death toll in Mexico from swine flu is much less that the number of people who are dead due to the dengue outbreak in Sri Lanka which has only a population or around 20 million. The sheer inability to contain the spread of the disease is due to the endemic inaction of the state apparatus as a whole.

While people are dying of dengue fever the political agenda has given priority to creating a triumphalist mentality in the country that is bent on celebrating at the cost of the neglect of all the country’s grave problems. The government’s media, the puppet strings of which are pulled by the senior politicians themselves, gives very little space in order to educate the people on taking the necessary medical care as well as precautions in order to overcome the grave threat to health that faces the country. Perhaps from a political propaganda point of view to admit to a grave health problem may deflect the attention of the people who have been made delirious with triumphant.

It is in the light of all this that the condition of the internally displaced persons who live in overcrowded tents without even proper toilet facilities should be viewed. While undertakings have been given to the United Nations Human Rights Council, the Secretary General of the United Nations, to the Indian government and to the global community both in the west and the east to resolve this problem, no tangible progress has been made.

Even the relatives who, defying great obstacles attempt to visit the camps to see their loved ones are given only scanty access as narrated by an elderly relative who visited a camp. His story was reported this week in, Sri Lanka: Inside the Manik Farm detention centre, published by the World Socialist Web Site. Access to all others to meet with these persons described as the wretched of Sri Lanka, is granted sparingly. Thus, their lives and conditions remain a secret to the local population as well as to the outside.

Why their condition is kept secret may be for the same reason as every other matter in the country is kept secret, from assassinations to attacks on journalists. All such neglect and denial of information is justified in the name of sovereignty. The Sri Lankan concept of sovereignty exercised by the state does not involve obligations to ensure inquiries into crimes or providing information about matters that the people want to know that affects their lives as well as those of their relatives. Impunity, arbitrary control of information and every kind of violence that is exercise on the people by the state or those who are authorised by the state is justified under the pretext of sovereignty

The constitution of Sri Lanka is based on the premise of the sovereignty of the people. All state authority is derived from the sovereignty of the people. But the sovereign people have no right to have the crimes done to them investigated or have journalists inform them of what is happening or even for people to complain about their toilet facilities and conditions of their food and clothing. All that the sovereign people are allowed to do is to stay in a state of euphoria and when the next elections come to not participate in it in any meaningful manner.

Document Type : Article
Document ID : AHRC-ART-028-2009
Countries : Sri Lanka,