SRI LANKA: Update on Online Petition: Assassinations, hooliganism, paramilitary activism, bomb blasts and a further plunge into lawlessness

The year 2008 began, for Sri Lanka with the assassination of the Tamil opposition UNP Member of Parliament, T. Maheshwaran. Just a few days earlier a government minister, Mervyn Silva forcibly entered the Sri Lanka Broadcasting Corporation (Sri Lanka Rupavahini Corporation) premises with about ten other persons and allegedly assaulted a news manager in retaliation for which, corporation employees demonstrated their anger against the minister and his companions. Mr. Manoganeshan, also a member of parliament and the convener of the Civil Monitoring Mission (CMM) had to flee the country for his security after the government reduced the security detail made available to him. He was also a spokesman on abductions, disappearances and other violations of rights taking place in the country. These events, though shocking, are not something unfamiliar to the people of Sri Lanka or the people outside who have been watching the situation in the country for several years now. Political assassinations, disappearances, kidnappings, killings after arrest under the pretext of arrestees trying to attack the law enforcement officers, harassment of every kind, vast scale cheating, rampant corruption and hooliganism openly practiced by politicians and their family members are now a normal way of life in Sri Lanka. The year 2008 is likely to see things get worse and certainly no action is being taken by the state to create hope that things will take a turn for the better.

The Member of Parliament, T. Maheshwaran was assassinated after he made a public statement in a television interview that he would reveal the names of those who are engaged in kidnappings, abductions and murders in the north and east of the country. He was a member of parliament and as such it was his duty to reveal the information that he had to the country¡¦s legislature. However, making such revelations is considered to be an offence in Sri Lanka now, justifying summary capital punishment. Threats are made to anyone who makes or plans to make any revelation about the criminal acts done by political leaders through the police and military as well as paramilitary groups. The paramilitary groups are the executioners who carry out the crimes but those who want the crimes to be committed and sanction such actions remain behind the scenes. After every such crime the president of the country makes a declaration that there will be an impartial inquiry. Sometimes the declaration even goes further to the effect that if the local inquiry fails foreign experts will be called in to conduct further inquiries. Such promises are forgotten within a few days. The same political authorities that directly or indirectly sanction such murders and other crimes also ensure that no inquiries are conducted into these matters.

Thus, the political culture which relies on crime as a way of ruling is married to a legal culture within which such crimes can be neatly prearranged and after the crime is carried out impunity can be assured to the perpetrator from every possible avenue. The local system has now not only mastered the art of subverting law for political purposes but also celebrates this expertise. There are propaganda agencies of the government whose task is to make an art of the denial of such a gross collapse of the system and also to mock anyone who dares to say that the king is naked. The lighthearted manner in which the propaganda agencies of the state, such as the Peace Secretariat and some ambassadors play their role within this culture of violence, deserve a special study from the point of view of what happens to persons who used to call themselves intellectuals within a political climate that exists in a situation like that of Sri Lanka now.

In talking about the political culture which emerged in the eighties in the midst of the southern and northern insurgencies and the state¡¦s unleashing of terror, the reputed Sri Lanka born author Michael Ondaatje wrote a well known novel, Anil¡¦s Ghost. The climate of fear and the heavy obstruction of investigations into acts of terror which are recorded in that novel have intensified several hundred times now. With each year not only the psychosis of fear and denial becomes further enlarged but also the island becomes more and more distant from law and order. ¡¥Rule of law¡¦ is a term that is talked about only in a cynical manner.

It is in this context that the latest act of hooliganism on the part of Minister Mervyn Silva and its aftermath needs to be placed. It was nothing new for this minister to walk into the country¡¦s premier television broadcasting corporation together with ten others, widely reported to be drug dealers and convicted criminals without any security clearance. Had any civilian dared to do so they would most probably have been shot for having violated national security laws. Having entered the premises it is alleged that the minister assaulted the news manager and even followed him to the office of the chairperson when he tried to flee.

The enraged employees did what they could to assist by retaliating to the violence allegedly perpetrated by the minister and his men. If these employees believed that having recourse to normal law in order to deal with the hooliganism of the minister and his companions would be of no avail they cannot be blamed. No one in the country, with a minimum knowledge about how the system works would believe that any legal inquiry or punishment would follow complaints into such actions. Instead the minister has created an image for himself what a newspaper calls a ¡¥cardboard hero¡¦. All that the employees could do was to expose what occurred to the public. Where the culture of violence and impunity is entrenched the citizens feel powerless before even the most severe acts of injustice and absurdity. Their last resort is publicity. The people of Sri Lanka have been reduced to this level even when they see acts which are an insult to their intelligence before their very eyes. It is only the propaganda agents placed in government institutions that do not see things in that way.

As usual promises of inquiries under the law and under party discipline have been shouted about on this occasion too. As usual nothing will come out of any such promises. These are theatricals that the people are familiar with. However, something more dangerous can happen. It is said that enquiries are being conducted about those who retaliated against the minister and his intruding companions. It would not be a surprise if some of the broadcasting corporation employees indentified as those having played some part in dealing with the minister would be exposed to various forms of retaliation. In a country where abductions and disappearances are commonplace these employees have a good reason to be concerned with their own security. What began as an act of hooliganism on the part of a minister is not likely to stop at that.

The people of Sri Lanka do not receive protection from their state. The state itself takes the liberty to kill and to harm its citizens. Even to complain and to reveal what is happening can lead to serious consequences as was revealed in the assassination of parliamentarian, T. Maheshwaran.

What happens to ordinary citizens caught up in this situation is reflected in a news report published in the LankaeNews today:

¡§Ms. Marisan Annachcheli, a mother of three children, a resident of Karainagar in Jaffna complains that a group official of Vavuniya police station threatened to kill her if she would not consent to sex with them.

She remembers the number of one police official who was among them, 28445. Ms. Marisan Annachcheli, accompanied by TNA parliamentarian Kishore, has lodged a complaint in this regard to Jaffna Deputy Inspector General Prathap Siriwardhana. However, no investigation has taken place so far.

She has faced the situation when she went to Vavuniya to look for her husband Marikkawasan who was abducted on 2007 January 8 by a group appeared as police while he was working in a liquor shop in Mattakkuliya, Colombo.

She says that the said police officials spread rumors naming her a bad woman and the lodge keepers are urged to expel her. She now stays in Island Lodge.¡¨

As we prepared this statement for publication the news reached us of a bomb blast at the Slave Island Junction this morning which killed four persons including two army personnel and seriously wounded many others. In recent weeks there have been several such bomb blasts in Colombo and several persons have been killed and many others wounded. The struggle over the rights of the minority Tamils has also degenerated into such bombings and other acts of violence attributed to the LTTE and air strikes and other attacks by the Sri Lankan armed forces. Rational discourse on minority rights, like all other rights has ceased. The violent conflict on minority rights is used by the government as an excuse to suspend the law and democratic rights of all.

Under these circumstances there is nothing to save the people except popular protest movements and assistance of the international community to bring back respect for law and order and for the rights of the citizens. The same forces which creates and maintains the culture of violence and impunity resists any attempts to bring about a change. Expatriate Sri Lankans who enjoy legal protection in the countries where they live have a good reason to engage themselves more actively on behalf of the people of their country, who are deprived of the experience of such protection.

The Asian Human Rights Commission calls on the local people as well as the international community to support the call by the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights to assist in the investigations into human rights abuses in Sri Lanka by setting up a Human Rights Monitoring Mission in the country. The abysmally negative situation prevailing in the country as described above needs an extraordinary response if the adverse circumstances faced by the citizens are to be reversed. We urge everyone to join in to support the United Nations assistance for solving the situation of serious crimes and violations of human rights done with the political approval of the state by signing the online petition launched in mid December.

Please follow the link for the online petition:

Document Type : Statement
Document ID : AHRC-STM-001-2008
Countries : Sri Lanka,