SRI LANKA: Death threats to senior police and collapsed rule of law

The Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) is concerned but not surprised to hear that a senior police officer was threatened with death on 9 August 2006 when an anonymous caller to the police headquarters in Colombo said that a Deputy Inspector General (DIG) from the Tamil community would be killed soon. 

The AHRC is concerned by the news because while the source of the threat is a matter for conjecture, there are only two possible targets: DIGs Thangavelu and Shanker. Of these two, Thangavelu is the most likely to be subject to such a threat. He is a member of the recently-constituted Human Rights Committee under the Ministry of Disaster Management and Human Rights, and he has a record of speaking out against police corruption and atrocities, a background that is not likely to have earned him many friends in the police force or among its allies. 

However, the AHRC is not surprised by the news. Threats, intimidation and assassinations are the norm in Sri Lanka today, so much so that it hardly even attracts media or public interest to hear that another policeman, government official, judge or ordinary citizen has been blatantly and easily killed. Anyone is a target; no one is safe, even senior officers. The failure to investigate after a killing, such as in the case of Inspector Douglas Nimal, sends a clear message that the green light is on for murderers of virtually anyone.  

The situation in Sri Lanka continues to deteriorate because the government has never taken seriously warnings about the collapse of institutions for the rule of law and basic administration. On the contrary, its officials and functionaries have continued to do virtually everything in their power to join in the demolition, somehow not thinking that they too will ultimately become victims of this disastrous scheme, as have been their predecessors. 

These days, the persons occupying Sri Lanka’s highest offices openly violate their constitutional mandates by failing to appoint judges and by deliberately blocking the functions of independent commissions that had been intended to monitor and counterbalance unrestrained executive power. Meanwhile, the highest courts rubbish the country’s supreme law, upon which their own existence depends, by giving judgments that allow the president to do anything he pleases without fear of consequences or challenge. 
When a country deteriorates to this level, the words “right to life” lose their meaning. The criminal mind, whether it is that of a so-called hardened criminal or a criminal within the justice, administration or policing system, can easily and naturally exploit the situation, through threats and–where necessary–action. 

The Asian Human Rights Commission is closely following the news of the latest threat and calls upon the authorities in Sri Lanka to investigate and take appropriate measures to ensure the safety of the two possible targets in such a way that their regular duties are not hampered. The AHRC is concerned that the police authorities may on the pretext of giving protection impose a de facto house arrest on these officers in order to remove them from circulation. The government should be careful about how it proceeds, and make sure that the officers concerned stay alive and active. 

Document Type : Statement
Document ID : AS-189-2006
Countries : Sri Lanka,
Issues : Judicial system, Rule of law,