SRI LANKA: Deshabandu Dushyntha Senewiratne 

Four pairs of eyes belonging to four siblings, the eldest of whom was fifteen, were fixed upon a scene happening on the morning of the 22nd of July at Beligahahandiya in Galle. What they saw in that moment will remain fixed in their minds for the rest of their lives, more than anything else they had seen so far or will see any time in the future.

Their father, who was taking them to school in his car, had stopped at the junction to buy breakfast for them. As he was returning with the food in his hands, two gunmen wearing motorcycle helmets appeared behind him and instantly started shooting. As the first gunshot was heard, the eldest one tried to open the car door and get out. He heard the last word of his father, “epa, epa,” (don’t, don’t). Then there were more shots and their father fell down. Then the gunmen came closer and shot him again, then disappeared on a motorcycle.

The name of the man who was shot down was Deshabandu Dushyntha Seneviratne. He was forty years old. He was the opposition leader of the Galle Municipal Council. He was a member of the United National Party. He was the chief ministerial candidate for the forthcoming elections of the southern provincial council. He was running opposed to the ruling party candidates.

The four siblings who saw the scene are going to ask themselves throughout the rest of their lives WHO killed their father and WHY. The family has already announced that their father had no personal enemies and that he was in fact a very popular person, liked by everyone. If there was no personal hostility or animosity, why anyone would be killed is naturally a question for these children. In all fairytales and stories taught for teaching morals, an enemy always has some kind of resentment or a cause to extremely dislike the person who is targeted. Often, it is the villain who gets killed and the killer is a hero, standing for some higher principle. Thus, besides the personal loss, there will be a moral issue that will haunt these children – who is the hero? Their father or the killers? Or perhaps they will wonder whether such considerations are altogether irrelevant.

All that is known about the dead politician is that he was popular person, judging by the numbers of preferential votes he had received every time he contested the elections to the Galle Municipal Council. His friends also say that he was a good orator and was therefore capable of drawing more attention to his party. This popularity was shown also by the large numbers of people who gathered outside Karapitiya hospital when the news of shooting spread. Therefore, it is not far from the truth to speculate that as a candidate, he would have drawn more votes at the coming provincial council elections for his party. Can that be a just cause for a killing? No civics books will say that that is so to these children. In fact, they will be told the very opposite. The participation in elections and contesting of elections are some of the most basic rights of any citizen, they will be told. If they were to doubt this, it would be impossible for them to honestly participate in any kind of political life within their country.

As to who it was that killed their father, the children saw that it was two gunmen wearing helmets. Will they ever know who these two persons were? Judging by the experience of recent times it is very unlikely that these two persons will ever be identified. These children will learn that there are so many cases in recent times in which the killers have not been identified at all. The adults, who may want to put the minds of these children to rest, may even explain to them, sometime or the other, that some unidentified gunmen are doing such jobs, not because of their own wish but due to getting hired by others. Early in their lives the children will be learning about contract killings. And they will forever wonder about those mysterious persons who have plotted the killing. In all likelihood, they will know very little or nothing at all about those mysterious characters that deprived them of their father.

The children would have heard about such things as police investigations, courts and judges. Images of men in khaki uniforms are part of the big impressions in children’s minds. Already, several such officers may even have taken statements from these children about what they saw that morning. Perhaps, they may be called to give statements at the inquest inquiry by the magistrate. As the days go by, when the mysteries behind the death of their father remain unresolved, these children will naturally wonder about the role of these men in uniforms, and even that of the courts. When these officers and the courts cannot reveal to them who killed their father and why, they are very unlikely to have any faith in these institutions in the time to come.

The realization that these children will soon have is that they’re part of a very large group in their country who will never know about who killed their parents or why they were killed. They will also know that, by and large, people in their country do not have very much of a curiosity to find out about such tragedies. This way, these children will be learning the unwritten and unspoken rules operating within their motherland now. Some of these rules are: that killing for hire is a job for many people now; that these hired killers are supported through a very secret process which hardly anyone can penetrate; that trying to penetrate that curtain may carry the risk of death; that it is no longer an obligation of the state to investigate into crimes with competent investigators, promptly and efficiently; that the state in fact does everything possible to disorientate and to destabilize the criminal investigating agencies; that absence of evidence is the claim that will be made by the prosecutors (that is, the Attorney General’s Department) as the reason for their failure to prosecute this crime; that the judiciary, too, will prove impotent to deal with this situation; that being a member of an opposition political party is an offence, though it is not an offence under the penal code, that carries a death sentence; that, on the whole except their immediate family, nobody is sad or worried about the murder of their loved one.

Four pairs of eyes of four young children, despite what they saw, are destined not to have any real explanation offered to them by the state or by the society. While these children are told over and over again to love their “mathrubhumi” (motherland), in that motherland there is no longer any guarantee of justice.

Document Type : Article
Document ID : AHRC-ART-039-2009
Countries : Sri Lanka,