SRI LANKA: The murder of a chief monk and execution-style killings of two persons — the social implications 

The chief monk of Sunandonanda of Egodauyana, Moratuwa was assassinated by a group of persons on the evening of February 4. According to reports there had been a prolonged dispute over a piece of land that the chief monk claimed he had the title for where a number of families had erected their huts. They claimed to have been living there since the Tsunami of December, 2004.

Complaints relating to the dispute had been lodged earlier at the Moratuwa Police Station by both parties and the inquiries were ongoing. Both parties were supporters of the government. It appears that they were both relied on strong men in the employment of their respective patrons in the government. The hut dwellers had complained to various organisations stating that they feared that the chief monk was attempts to evict them.

Following the assassination of the monk two persons suspected of the murder, Sujeewa Gunnaratna (29) and Chandima Nuwanratna, were allegedly arrested by the Mount Lavinia police and later their bodies were found on an isolated road at Bandaragama. They had both been shot in the back of the head indicating an execution-style killing. The Chief Magistrate of Kalutera conducted the inquest at the location where their bodies were found and ordered a post mortem inquiry to be conducted by a Judicial Medical Officer. According to the JMO’s report the deaths were due to shooting causing serious injuries.

Following their deaths their relatives complained that there were difficulties in burying the two as the Kalutera Pradeshiya Sabha (the town council) refused to grant permission for the burial at the Attawilawatte graveyard. According to reports the police had to intervene to find a suitable place by legal means in which to bury the bodies.

Later, seven persons including a Pradeshiya Sabha vice president were arrested as suspects of this monk’s murder and were produced in court.

These incidents raise several issues of serious concern in relation to the function of policing in Sri Lanka. First of all the dispute between the chief monk and the hut dwellers had been a long one and it should have been the duty of the police to intervene in order to settle it in such a way as to ensure peace between the two parties. It appears that the police, as usual, were hamstrung by the political influence different parties and failed to provide protection to the individuals. If such protection was provided the brutal assassination of the chief monk might have been avoided.

Following the assassination two persons were arrested and, as mentioned above, they were killed in an execution style shooting. The killing of persons after arrest, not a new phenomenon in Sri Lanka, has been reported in recent months in several places such as Galle after a horrifying murder where four persons were found dead with similar execution-style injuries. It was also reported that, in fact, the four persons had no connection to the killing in question. At Kahawatte where there had been a large number of mysterious killings, three of the persons who were arrested on suspicion of some of the killings were disposed of after they had obtained bail from court in a similar manner.

It appears that such killings of arrested persons happens particularly where incidents causing public scandal and fear take place and the law enforcement authorities have to create the impression that they are doing something to deal with such crimes. The public dissatisfaction with the police and criticism about their inaction has now led to this kind of dramatic execution, perhaps with the view to prevent the public reacting to such crimes by taking the law into their own hands.

The weakening of the policing system due to political influence has created situations where violence results in the creation of shocking crimes and the breakdown of the police investigative system has placed the police in the situation where they have to deal with severe public dissatisfaction over such events. To appease the public they resort to such execution-style killings.

The basic function of a government is to provide security to the people. When it proves incapable of doing so disputes among people lead to violent clashes and as a result society is gripped with insecurity. In Sri Lanka the failure of the government to maintain the rule of law has now created this bewildering social specter.

During the colonial times a basic legal apparatus was created and that legal apparatus provided basic security to the people with the ability of the law enforcement agencies to control crime. What the British did in constructing such a legal framework was to put into effect certain theoretical premises arrived at through the lessons learned from their past experiences. Already in 1651 Thomas Hobbes writing his highly acclaimed book, Leviathan explained the reason for the origin of government on the basis of the peoples need for self preservation which is achieved through the transfer of power to a government to ensure the protection of all. From then on a basic theoretical construct developed about the state’s role in protection and how societies can collapse into anarchy when the states fails to carry out this role.

It is the signs of anarchy that are witnessed in Sri Lanka today as a result of the government’s abandonment of the maintenance of the basic public institutions which are necessary for social stability. In 2001 the Sri Lankan Parliament unanimously recognised that such a situation of social instability was developing in Sri Lanka due to the operation of the 1978 Constitution. The parliament proposed the 17th Amendment to the Constitution whereby several measures were proposed to at least, partially deal with this problem. The government of Mahinda Rajapaksa, through the 18th Amendment abandoned these measures and did not create any alternative to strengthen the basic public institutions such as the police.

This basic disregard for the maintenance of the public institutions that sustain the law and thereby create social stability was again manifest by the way in which the Chief Justice, Shirani Bandaranayke was removed and a new CJ was appointed. The entire operation was done with shocking disregard for the established legal premises.

The result of all this is the multiple forms of insecurity as manifested in the murder of the chief monk and the execution style assassination of the two men. The rapid plunge into a situation of anarchy is manifested through many such incidents that take place routinely in Sri Lanka.

Document Type : Statement
Document ID : AHRC-STM-035-2013
Countries : Sri Lanka,
Issues : Extrajudicial killings, Judicial system, Rule of law,