Mr. Nimal Amarasiri, a candidate in a local government election, was killed after a tear gas attack on 26th February while participating in a protest against the attempt to postpone the local government elections. There was no justifiable grounds at all for the use of teargas against these protesters, who were merely exercising their rights as citizens of Sri Lanka. The use of teargas under these circumstances was unnecessary and illegal. The possibility of causing serious harm, including the possibility of death, should have being envisaged by those who gave the orders for the use of teargas as well as those officers who carried out the orders. As the act itself is illegal and irresponsible, those who cause such acts should bear the responsibility for the consequences, which in this case was the causing of a death. Causing such a death amounts to arbitrary depravation of life.
The situation is all the more serious because the subject of the protests was about the threat of the denial of their sovereign rights to have elections, which is one of the most fundamental rights within a democracy. The denial of right to have elections at prescribed periods is an attack on the very notion of citizenship. Thus when the people were engage in peaceful attempt to ensure that there is no threat to the democratic way life, the duty of the police and the security forces was to protect the protesters. Instead, by attacking the people who come forward, their government contradicts the most basic notion of governance and the protection that should be given under of the rule of law.
When the government attacks the rule of law, the government loses its legitimacy to rule over the people, who have a sovereign right to live under a democratic form of government and have rejected any wish to live under a dictatorship.
The president of Sri Lanka bears direct responsibility due to his provocative behavior in attacking the election commission and its announced intention to hold the election on the 9th of March. The speech made by the president in the parliament attacking the election commission was both provocative and completely misleading. Keeping peace is the primary obligation of the head of the state. This implies that the head of state should not use his office to subvert basic democratic rights such as right of people to vote for their representatives at both national and local levels.
It is the duty of the government as a whole to do all that is within its power to maintain peace. Any provocative behavior will not only disturb all aspects of national life but will also lead to deaths, such as the death of Nimal Amarasiri.
Sri Lanka has seen enough bloodshed in the recent decades. Unfortunately, first acts of provocation come from those who represent the state itself. It is essential that this habit of the state provoking violence should come to an immediate stop.
To justify such provocative behavior on the basis that it is necessary for resolving economic problems is merely a pretext for achieving other illegitimate political purposes.
The people are suffering due to lack of affordable food and other necessities, unbearable taxes and exorbitant electricity bills and the like, which have never happened to this level before. Deaths arising from such deprivations are happening every day. No more deaths need to be added under the pretext of controlling demonstrations.
All citizens, political parties, civil society and professional organizations should standup to defend the basic right to life, which is the great umbrella around which the life of the nation rests.
In a recent judgment, Mohammed Rashid Fathima Sharmila v K. W. G Nishantha and others, the Supreme Court observed that extrajudicial killings at a police station amounted to the violation of the right to life.
The following observations of Justice Aluwihare PC. J. are pertinent. He commented on “the utterly unprofessional approach to their duty by personnel who man it and as a consequence people are increasingly losing trust in the police. It had lost credibility it ought to enjoy as a law enforcement agency”.