SRI LANKA: Criminal gangs and the failure to invest in the administration of justice 

About a hundred criminals have been shot dead either in gun battles with the police or in mysterious circumstances like trying to attack police officers, even when handcuffed. This was revealed in an article published in the Sunday Lakbimanews, written by Gayan Kumara Weerasinghe. The article goes on to enumerate many criminal gangs operating around Colombo. These are the Farji gang, the Anamalu Imtiaz gang, the Diga Faizer gang, the Baiyya gang and the Potta Naufer gang. There is also the Olcott gang, the Kimbula Ela Gune gang, the Kudu Lal gang, the Blumendhal Danushka gang, the Karate Dhammika gang and the Feroze gang.

The report also goes on to describe the participation of army deserters and suspended police officers, including those who have participated in the Special Task Force (STF).

The report, in fact, does not reveal anything that is not known to the average Sri Lankan or much less to anyone who is in some way connected to public service and public life. The importance of the report lies in the fact that the article amounts to a public statement on this issue which, therefore calls for a public response from the government as well as from civil society.

From the point of view of civil society the question of widespread crime in the capital city itself and the overwhelming influence that criminal gangs have in the city, is a matter of great public interest. In fact, the prevention of crime receives the highest priority in any country on public interest matters. The very notion of public interest is slighted when in all matters of importance to society, the criminals and their gangs have a larger say than the civilian population. Such matters of public importance where the gangs play their role are matters relating to property and business transactions, matters relating to security on such issues as abductions and demands for ransom, the trade of drugs and illicit liquor and the issue of elections where criminal gangs play a dominant role in the organisation of political activities directed towards elections as well as determining the pattern of votes by way of intimidation.

The next question of public interests involved is the ineffectiveness of the country’s law enforcement system, which is the police. That the prospering of criminals and their gangs can take place only with direct and indirect patronage of the police is a position that is universally true. A study into any place where criminals dominate would demonstrate the extent to which the police and the criminal link play a role in such a situation.

A history of successes in establishing effective law enforcement agencies will also show very conscious attempts to break the criminal police nexus.

Arising from these two factors the major issue of concern is the fear psychosis and an atmosphere of intimidation that prevails within a locality where the criminals have their grip. The importance of this matter is that all aspects of life are crippled by such an the all-pervading fear. In such a situation a social paralysis takes place. The details of that paralysis are far too great to be enumerated in a short article.

The mere fact that a hundred criminals have to be killed within a short period of time within a single city demonstrates the magnitude of the problem. On the other hand it also demonstrates the complete collapse of the criminal justice system. Criminals have to be killed only when the system of investigations, prosecutions and trial by the judiciary fails. When the police have to act as executioners the system is at its lowest ebb. Whatever pretext that is given, like a person was killed because he tried to attack the police or that a person took cyanide inside the police station, is just pretext and everybody knows it. The actual situation, as was admitted by a former IGP, was that in order to control crime action both within and outside the law has been permitted. By hook or by crook, he said, criminals have to be dealt with. If the law enforcement agency itself believes that dealing with the problem via the judicial system is counterproductive this indicates that there is a radical breakdown, not only of the system but in the confidence of the system within the government itself. Such absence of confidence is potentially so dangerous that the very breeding ground of the criminals will be this abandonment of the administration of justice as a practically useless apparatus.

The only meaningful question to ask in the face of the massive increase of crime, the spread of criminal gangs and the associated police criminal link, is how to stop it. The only way to stop it is to make sufficient allocation of funds to the police, the Attorney General’s Department and the judiciary so that they can become an effective system of the administration of justice.

Compared to the extent of the pumping of funds to the military, the amount of funds needed for the administration of justice would be peanuts. Thus, it is not the financial incapacity of the state that has relegated the administration of justice to insignificance and thereby made it counterproductive; it is the political unwillingness to have an efficient system of the administration of justice. Why is that so? A proper system of the administration of justice will eliminate not only common criminals but also it will go against those who abuse power for private reasons. The common criminals are only benefiting from a policy that protects more powerful social interests, which under a properly functioning legal system would be considered criminals. While some common criminals may be eliminated by way of mysterious assassinations, more powerful persons who abuse power to make profit are kept safe. Sri Lanka will remain a breeding ground for common criminals as long as the administration of justice system is crippled to benefit those in powerful positions.

One of the most surprising aspects on the discussion about peace in Sri Lanka is that it is regarded as a purely political question that has no bearing on the administration of justice. If even the administration of justice in the capital has reached such depths can it be expected that any better form of justice will exist in the north and the east. And if a better form of the administration of justice is not brought about, can there be peace? The utter lack of seriousness with which all questions in the country are addressed, including the peace issue, is well demonstrated by the absence of any discussion on the nature of the fallen system of the administration of justice.

For further information please see:
SRI LANKA: Functioning National Police Commission essential in eliminating crime within Sri Lanka – 
SRI LANKA: Sri Lankan NPC probe into top police a critical test of its credibility – 
SRI LANKA: Breaking the nexus between the Sri Lankan police and criminals –

Document Type : Article
Document ID : AHRC-ART-033-2009
Countries : Sri Lanka,