SRI LANKA: The Arson attack and the abysmal lawlessness — Asian Human Rights Commission

The opposition politician Ranga Bandara’s house was burned to cinders on the evening of the 4th October. Sometime earlier, the house of another opposition politician, John Pulle, was similarly razed to the ground.

In any place where the rule of law exists, even to a basic level, this kind of action would be deemed incredible. However, in Sri Lanka the event is treated as yet another trivial event in the political ‘samsara’. There will be a few noises and the government will promise inquiries but in all likelihood no serious action of any credible nature, in terms of criminal justice, will happen.

In a rule of law state this kind of attack on politicians is a most unlikely event for the following reasons:


The policing system of the country has its own capacity to detect crime and to prevent such attacks. The strength of a rule of law system is that it has sufficient bonding with the population and as a result it receives adequate information in order to avoid such events. The arson attacks on Ranga Bandara and John Pulle’s homes clearly indicate that the Sri Lankan police do not enjoy such cooperation from the population and therefore is incapable of preventing such attacks. What is even sadder is that, right or wrong, there will be the public perception that a section of the police is directly or indirectly supporting these attacks. At the very least there is no indication of a quick reaction of the fire services following the attacks to stop the complete destruction of the property.


In a rule of law state even if such events were to take place there would be the immediate launch of a credible investigation and quick arrests of all those involved. The sad reflection in Sri Lanka is that generally there is not even the expectation that such credible inquiries will take place. Now the cynical belief that the politicians and sections of the police connive to suppress the opposition is prevalent. The popular expectation is some kind of an inquiry which will cover up the real perpetrators and perhaps would lead to the arrest of some others, who will be later released.

Expressions of indignation

In a rule of law state if even by rare chance this kind of event were to take place there would be expressions of indignation by so many, including those who might be supporters of the government, not only to condemn such actions but also to demand immediate redress. In all likelihood there would be a demand for the head of the police to resign. There would also be demands for the resignation of those in relevant government ministries. Particularly, intellectuals in various fields would express their condemnation in no uncertain terms. But in Sri Lanka, there would be no such outrage or expressions of concern. There would be many ‘intellectuals’ who are in some way connected to the government who would cynically laugh with satisfaction that such an attack has been carried out successfully. Such private celebrations on cruel attacks on other human beings are not rare in contemporary Sri Lanka. Many others would not care to protest because such protests would be considered to be incapable of producing any genuine and positive results. Besides that, some may naturally think that they would be also be considered as opponents of the government if they were to protest.

Reinforcement of the fear psychosis

In a rule of law state reactions to such events, however rarely they might happen, will reinforce the popular will to ensure that the system of the rule of law and the criminal justice system will prevail. By the pressure of the population, the threats to the rule of law system are repeatedly suppressed. However, in Sri Lanka these arson attacks will only reinforce the fear psychosis which is already wide spread. Such arson attacks are not merely attacks on particular politicians or their parties but attacks on the psychology of the population. While in a rule of law state the attempts are to uplift the psychology of the population, in Sri Lanka the constant attempt is to drag down the people’s minds and hearts.

It is this total situation of the abandonment of the rule of law that should concern anyone who cares for the future of Sri Lanka. It has now descended to abysmal lawlessness. The arson attacks are only reminders of that situation.

Document Type : Statement
Document ID : AHRC-STM-210-2009
Countries : Sri Lanka,