SRI LANKA: No justice–no nation–one justice–one nation 

Basil Fernando

What makes a nation a nation is above all the justice that prevails within that nation. It is justice that creates the bond between the people. Justice connects one with the other. Justice among the people is the one thing that is common to all in a nation if it exists. Justice binds one person or group or a particular nationality with different races and religions. Justice provides the actual bondage between genders. Justice creates the bondage irrespective of culture and language. Justice is the common language of a nation that wants to stay together and the absence of justice is the characteristic of any nation that courts disunity, instability, violence between groups and individuals. Without the bond of justice no other kind of reconciliation or inner levels of understanding and friendship can be built.

However, this area of the presence and absence of justice has ceased to be discussed when dealing with problems of violence, conflicts and the problems of dealing with even issues of terrorism and anti terrorism. Once the factor of justice is removed from the discourse of any of these subjects, voluminous discourses can be created but no real solutions can be found to any of the problems that are being discussed. In an attempt to undo violence more violence is created which in turn creates counter-violence and the cycle goes on. In the attempt to impose the power of one group over another a similar kind of cycle takes place where one power is resisted by another power which at the end develops into conflict. Conflicts in turn develop into direct or indirect violence and violence enjoys the cycle mentioned above.

This same applies to terrorism and counter-terrorism. In trying to deal with injustice by means of terrorism a counter-culture is created which justifies far worse forms of violence to suppress terrorism than any kind of terrorism itself could create. And that has the same theme; what is called achieving national security. With the idea of national security the state subjects its people to be targets and as a result the people develop a fear and distrust of the state which creates its own cycle of reactions against the state. This leads to chains of reactions in political strategies and counter strategies and the entire nations is involved in attempts in maneuvering and out maneuvering others and there is an endless cycle of deception, violence and distrust throughout the nation. Whole institutional cultures can develop in any of these areas either under the pretext of dealing with violence or terrorism or under the pretext of trying to create unity among various groups by coercion. The ultimate result of this is the loss of the very concept of the ‘nation’.

Today the world over there is a phenomenon of loss in the sense of a nation at many levels. This happens not only in less developed countries and what are referred to economically backward countries or in countries where democracy is weak. This is happening today in the most developed centres in the world. The whole terrorism and anti terrorism discourse has virtually split the internal unity of many people creating internal distrust, removing the belief in the foundation of trust which helped to build unity among or within nations.

Even in countries like the United States the development of the military establishment and the internal institutions like the CIA are virtually challenging the fundamentals of the state and the governance and the principles of bonding among the people of the country as built under the original constitution.

This threat of course, is much greater in the new nations and the countries which are building their new political foundations. When there is no common bond of a justice framework within a nation that is common to all, the attempt to develop unity within the nation is bound to fail. Either competition between groups or other internal factors can intervene to transform any and all disagreements into major conflicts. This sets in motion the chains of violence as described above to sink into the internal fabric of communities and thus destroy whatever bonds may have existed in the past.

The common criteria for justice and the capacities to mete out those criteria which are available to all the citizens is the only common bond that would last and would ensure that differences are ironed out by ideologies of tolerance and linkages are built among the groups and sectors of society. The greatest parameter for developing tolerance is not culture, religion or sentimentalities that could be promoted but a common parameter and methodologies of justice that could mete out to all similar basic treatments in society.

Illusion of power sharing without a justice framework

Attempts to preach tolerance by teaching constitutional methodologies and even often what is called power sharing without providing a common bond of justice within the whole society are bound to fail. Sri Lanka’s transformation into a violent nation is essentially in the area of the breakdown of the possibilities of building bridges of justice among all communities. Various kinds of coercion built on the basis of violence have developed in place of justice. On the one hand the state relies more on national security laws which in turn gradually develop into the use of the muscle power of the state agencies against the citizen has now become the outcome of all kinds of conflicts that have developed within the nation. Even the limited framework of the law and justice that were established in the past has been eroded and removed by new forces replacing ideologies of relying on the strength of armed power in order to demonstrate strength. As a result armed conflicts have developed in and between communities and between the state and representatives of groupings within the communities. The political structures which were developed have been replaced by new security structures and they in turn have been met by greater force and greater violence. The result, once again as described above, is to set in motion that chain of events where distrust, fear and a concrete loss of faith in anything that is common between the people of the nation.

In the initial stages of independence struggles the development of culture as a bond may unite a nation against an oppressor. Once independence has been achieved it becomes an obstacle against unity rather than a bond that creates unity. Language and culture without parameters of justice has only inflamed the basis for violence and conflicts rather than developing centres for linkages and understanding. Though bridges are made to bring about new constitutional setups, new types of power sharing and the like, there is no discourse about the kind of justice that needs to be developed within the nation as a whole.

Instead, the limited bonds of the law which existed in Sri Lanka in the past have now been abandoned. It is now one of the most lawless places in the world today. It has even given up the concept of respect for a constitution. The principles of constitutionalism which treated the constitution as a supreme law have been replaced by even constitutional methods which displaced the law. Lawlessness has been achieved by deep and sophisticated means. Today the limited bonds built through limited forms of equality brought about by the framework of the law have disappeared in Sri Lanka.

The disappearance in the law has been accompanied by massive disappearances of people where the state engages in murder in the name of trying to secure national security. Murder itself has ceased to be considered a major crime anymore in the framework of Sri Lanka. With that the attempt to get even limited criminal justice for the people of all communities has been lost. Today the people cannot resort even to the protection of the law in order to protect their right to life, property, their own children or anything else. A sense of the protection of the law has disappeared from the nation. The disappearance of the law is the symbolic aspect of the disappearance of justice within the nation.

There is no other way to reestablish unity within Sri Lanka between races, between the people of the same race, between the state and the people and any other relationship within the nation including those of the most intimate relationships between the sexes, the development of respect between genders, the achievement of equal status for women. In all these aspects, nothing can be achieved when justice, as the main bond is lost.

Therefore to achieve one nation the strategy must be to work towards one justice for all; no justice for any has created the present situation. This can only be broken with the common understanding that the parameters of justice have been established for all. Without that discourse on justice there is no possibility of achieving betterment in terms of internal relationships and the achievement of durable political structures. There can also be no possibility of achieving stability within the nation in terms of achieving any understanding of beliefs that are necessary to build trust among the people.

Document Type : Article
Document ID : AHRC-ART-036-2010
Countries : Sri Lanka,