SRI LANKA: From enforced disappearances of rebels to businessmen

The discovery of body parts of two businessmen from Rathgama, Bussa area, who were abducted, disappeared, and later killed, allegedly by several policemen, including the Officer-In-Charge of the southern province special crime investigating unit, is major news in Sri Lanka these days.

According to the newspapers, the two businessmen were kidnapped from Rathgama Bussa area, taken to a house in Akmeemana, where they were detained, beaten and finally killed. Their bodies were then taken to a forest reserve in the Walasmulla area, where they were burnt and buried. This was reportedly revealed after questioning two arrested policemen. Searches in the area led to the discovery of some hair and bone fragments.

The Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) has long warned that the enforced disappearances of alleged rebels that occurred in Sri Lanka’s past would lead to killings of businessmen and other rich persons from local areas for monetary gain. Once police officers or security officers are engaged in enforced disappearances or any other crimes on behalf of politicians, it is only natural that they will do the same for their own benefit. This has already happened in many cases, with Deputy Inspector General Vass Gunawardena, now on death row for a similar crime, being the most glaring example.

It is clear that businessmen require state protection to conduct their business in a peaceful and legitimate business atmosphere. If the state fails to protect them, they will become victims of rival businessmen, or security officers acting on behalf of rival businessmen, or security officers engaging in crime for their own benefit. A local businessman lacks the kind of protection that influential businessmen in Colombo can make use of under normal circumstances. There is greater protection in Sri Lanka’s capital, than in the localities outside.

The unit from which the four police officers have been arrested in this case is a special investigating unit. Special investigating units were initially created to overcome the inefficiencies of local police investigators. These units have now become an even greater danger than the local police stations.

This continuation of enforced disappearances is the clearest example of the breakdown of the state in Sri Lanka, of which the AHRC has spoken many times, including in our last statement dated 25 February 2019.

It is accepted globally that security forces and the police require strict controls. When speaking of the role of guardians in his ‘Republic’, Plato also acknowledged the need for internal control over them. Unfortunately, the Sri Lankan state has lost control of its guardians. This is truly a chaotic situation.

No political party dares to touch this issue with the view to make any corrections. Most politicians directly or indirectly have blood on their hands and conscience. They themselves are in fear of when their turn may come, and therefore prefer to favour the policeman rather than punish him. In the collapse of the state, there is no way to maintain discipline anywhere, including at the policing services. That is the frightening condition to which Sri Lanka has fallen.

Statements regarding the end of disappearances in Sri Lanka, or that they will no longer recur, are clearly false and hypocritical, as seen by these two most recent disappearances of the Rathgama businessmen. These are in fact the manifestation of an ongoing problem of bloody politics in Sri Lanka.

The only solution to this lies in the scrutiny of the causes for the collapse of the Sri Lankan state. Solutions cannot come from the same politicians who have caused the problem, but must primarily come from the people. Very often businessmen use the corrupt services of the police and other security services, but hardly support people’s movements towards reform of state institutions. The time has come to deal with this menace, for the survival of all the people of Sri Lanka.