SRI LANKA: The law is a dangerous thing 

This is a discussion among several imaginary characters. These imaginary characters do not represent any living persons.

The Characters

A journalist who is conducting the interview, a senior police officer who had agreed to speak on the condition of anonymity, a retired judge, a political scientist and a philosopher.

Journalist– This discussion is about the assassination of Lasantha Wickrematunge, six months ago. It is common ground that no inquiry has been done. The first question I wish to put to you is why no investigation has been done?

Senior Police Officer– May I start? Let me tell you two things. Firstly, no one has asked us not to investigate and secondly, I can tell you no one is investigating the matter. Do not ask me why. All that I can tell you is facts. That’s all.

The philosopher – There is a science called semiotics, meaning the science of reading signs. Maybe you are an expert on that.

Police officer – I do not know about any science. About 30 years of experience is I think sufficient to know what is going on.

Retired Judicial Officer – Allow me to play devil’s advocate. What good will come from any investigation? Let me explain, if some senior officer orders an investigation, he may be in trouble and then, the next person who comes in his place, will not want to continue to investigate. Suppose, an investigation is ordered, the subordinate may not obey and it may not be possible to make him obey. Or he may obey, but get himself killed. Even if he is not killed, witnesses who give evidence may be killed or forced not to give evidence. Even if that stage is passed, the Attorney General’s Department may not file charges. If they do the responsible ones may be changed. Same may happen at courts also. In short more problems will be caused by investigating than by non-investigation.

Does anyone disagree that this is the real situation?

Political scientist – I can neither disagree about the facts as told by the police officer or the former judicial officer, but, what is the way out?

Police officer– I see no way out.

Retired judicial officer– I do not see any way out either.

Philosopher– One conclusion is that we have to learn to live with it. In which case, our journalist here today may be the next to be killed. Next may be the political scientist and then me. Only the other two will survive.

Police officer– I do not know whether even both of us are safe.

Retired judicial officer– Well, may I raise the same question. Even if we are killed, will not inaction do less harm than doing anything that we might do to enforce law.

Philosopher– You mean, the ?

Retired judicial officer – Well you may not want me to be brutally frank. But, the fact is that to insist on law is now a very dangerous thing. Law is always dangerous when justice does not exist.

Journalist– Well, I am going to publish this dialogue. You all are safe because, I will not disclose your identities. But, I must stick to my professional obligation. Perhaps all that all of you will do when they visit me, is to deny that you ever knew me. May you all live long.

PART 2 ( Published on July 08, 2009)

Journalist: In our last discussion, the police officer told us that in the case of Lasantha Wickramatunge no one has told the police not to investigate, and at the same time no one in fact was investigating the case. Can we take it as a general condition regarding all cases?

Senior Police Officer: Well, we do some work to occupy ourselves.

Philosopher: Well, if you didn’t you would have to close shop. The problem is how to keep the department yet do no real work.

Retired Judicial officer: It all depends on what real works means. Do any of us do any real work anymore?

Political Scientist: Let us retain loose meanings for some words. It is difficult to define what is real and unreal in present circumstances. Unreal often seems more real these days. Just to walk up and kill your opponent in open daylight does not seem real. James Bond type of stuff, you might think. But it is no longer fantasy. Such things happen all the time nowadays.

Senior Police Officer: Let me put it this way: no one tells us not to investigate. However, we do not always investigate. You may think that that sounds like a riddle. It may be. Whether it is or not, that is how things happen.

Political Scientist: Once again, as a statement of the actual situation, what the police officer says is correct.

Philosopher: From our last discussion we do have an explanation about cases that police do not investigate. Those are things that are likely to bring more harm to themselves, if they were to try to investigate. So, we may conclude that things that are no harm to investigate will be among the things that that they may investigate.

Senior Police Officer: I cannot contradict that.

Philosopher: That would mean you have no obligation to investigate.

Senior Police Officer: Obligations? No, no. Such a thing called obligation does not exist any more. Ha, ha.
I might add that the only obligation may be not to bring about harm on ourselves. You may think that is being selfish. Well, that’s how things are.

Political Scientist: If you think obligations are no longer relevant, does it not follow that law is no longer relevant?

Retired Judicial Officer: How far should we talk freely about such matters? We do need to say that law is relevant and even supreme. It may be harmful to talk frankly about how things really are.

Journalist: Let us feel free here. Let us uncensor ourselves.

Retired Judicial officer: Let me put it this way. We are a poor country and therefore cannot have supremacy of law. We do not have resources to enforce law. This means that we know that law is not all that important.

Philosopher: What then is important?

Retired Judicial Officer: To let the things be, and not bring more harm to ourselves by insisting on things like obligations and laws.

Journalist: Does this mean that what we call our own system, or our homegrown system, is one where law and obligations have no real importance? It is one in which we do in ad hoc manner whatever we think is appropriate?

Senior Police Officer: That seems accurate to me.

Retired Judicial Officer: It seems right, but we should not put it so crudely.

Political Scientist: It is good description of what is. But, when there is no ideal to compare it with, you cannot say whether it is good or bad.

Philosopher: It is not difficult to say that all this is very bad. By saying that it is our own system, our homegrown system, we only are trying to hide how wretched our situation is.

Document Type : Article
Document ID : AHRC-ART-036-2009
Countries : Sri Lanka,