SRI LANKA: The Human Rights Action Plan will be like the Presidential Task Force for Dengue Prevention
A response to the article by Jeevan Thiyagaraja on a Fact Sheet: Prevention of Torture
The Human Rights Plan that is being talked of in an article by Jeevan Thiyagaraja entitled, A Fact Sheet: Prevention of Torture is no different to Sri Lanka’s Presidential Task Force for Dengue Prevention.
Despite the fact that this was instituted quite some time ago and a large sum of money has been allocated to this project dengue fever is on the increase. Over 15,000 cases have been reported over the past five months, and nearly 80 people have died during this period. The so-called human rights plan is a similarly type of hoax and will be equally as effective.
Even the Minister of Health has criticized the dengue fever task force. In a recent interview with the BBC Sinhala Service, he complained that the relevant government agencies do not cooperate with the task force. Therefore, the task force has been unable to prevent the spread of this fever.
However, the problem is much deeper than this. A presidential task force is inherently incapable of organizing the coordinated prevention of dengue fever. The capacity that Sri Lanka had in earlier years to mobilize all governmental and societal resources for halting the spread of a debilitating disease does not exist anymore. The prevention of malaria during the last century was achieved through an administrative system which was capable of leading a coordinated programme to deal with a national problem. Sri Lanka was able to achieve many goals which the world still considers miraculous, such as the dramatic reduction of the child mortality rate, but this was the result of a different kind of coordination under a different governmental administration. The current presidential task force simply cannot achieve that coordinating capacity.
The presidential system of Sri Lanka is separated from the rest of the civil administration and other government offices in the same way that a dead brain is separated from the nervous system of a human being. The disconnect between the coordinating body and those who are supposed to be coordinated is the disconnect that spreads inefficiency to every area of life. The failure of dengue prevention is the clearest metaphor of this phenomenon.
Another system which exemplifies this disconnect is the system of criminal justice. The criminal justice system has failed to achieve any of the objectives under the Ministry of Defense. The kind of system that existed prior to 1978 when the police and other institutions had the capacities to organize their own efforts does not exist anymore. The dead weight of the Ministry of Defense hangs over the criminal justice system. Consequently, the people of Sri Lanka pay dearly for the destruction of the country’s internal civil administration system. Kindly also see the statement we issued yesterday.
The reference to the human rights action plan is a repetition of the gimmicks which have been perpetrated in every area of life since the executive presidential system came into being. Numerous commissions which produce nothing, and several task forces which do not achieve any objectives, are examples of these gimmicks. The problem, in fact, is that the destructive effect on the coordinating systems of civil administration by the introduction of the executive presidential system cannot be overcome by action plans and task forces. As such, these efforts are nothing but a show.
Today’s article by Jeevan Thiyagaraja entitled “A Fact Sheet: Prevention of Torture,” is one more distortion of the issue. Indeed, this article is silent on the most important legislation under domestic law for the prevention of torture. This is the CAT Act, Act No. 22 of 1994, which imposes a mandatory sentence of 7 years and a fine of Rs. 10,000/= for anyone who commits acts of torture.
The initial attempt to enforce this law failed when the police reacted against independent enquiries into torture conducted by a special unit of the CID. This special unit was appointed to focus on investigating torture cases. Over 60 cases were submitted as having sufficient evidence to prosecute, and the Attorney General at the time did file indictments for prosecuting these cases. However, only 8 cases ended in successful convictions. The rest of the cases were not convicted due to defects in Sri Lanka’s adjudication system, such as extraordinary delays in court proceedings and the absence of witness protection.
The silence of state officials on this act is no accident. Over the past two years, there have been no investigations into violations of Act No. 22 of 1994, nor have there been any prosecutions of perpetrators of torture. This was a policy decision made by the government. The Attorney General’s Department has played an active role in discouraging the prosecution from trying torture cases. Independent enquiries by a competent body, like the Special Investigating Unit of the CID, have been abandoned.
This so-called action plan mentions all sorts of provisions within the law which are far less significant than Act No. 22 of 1994. These provisions have existed since the penal code was enacted but they have never been implemented.
Without effective investigations into allegations of torture, no court can take action to prosecute the perpetrators of these crimes. This is just simple logic that anyone who knows anything about law would be able to understand. It is the effective investigation by a credible investigating unit into complaints of torture that has been prevented. No action plan can replace this primary requirement of criminal investigations.
Rather than bluff about an action plan, it would be better to implement the law that already exists in Sri Lanka. However, that cannot happen because it is being politically prevented. If there is an action plan, it should be directed towards the abolition of political control over the criminal justice system. Indeed, as long as political control remains the central force which cripples the criminal justice system, no action plan can achieve anything. Any action plan can only function like the Presidential Task Force for the prevention of dengue fever.
The only action plan needed in Sri Lanka is a political plan to abolish the executive presidential system. Until then Sri Lanka will remain a lawless place as it is now.