SRI LANKA: The Muhamalai and Habarana incidents show the marginal role the political authority is playing in the present conflict — what will the team of experts commissioned by the Co-Chairs do?

The European Commission has reported of the visit of a mission of high level experts to be sent by the Co- Chairs to review the current situation of human rights in Sri Lanka and to suggest necessary action before the end of October 2006.

The Commission further stated that it believes that this could be a useful first step to deal with the existing crisis.  As a member of the Sri Lanka ‘Co-Chairs’, the Commission will certainly continue to follow and participate in the Co-Chairs human rights expert’s mission.  The Commission further stated:

“…..The experts would assess the state of local capacities and institutions with regards to protecting and monitoring human rights and humanitarian norms, and would make recommendations to address violations that have been committed and to establish sustainable mechanisms and structures that could prevent further violations by all parties involved…..”

Two events that have taken place during this week will prove great challenges to these experts in assessing the state of local capacities and institutions with regard to protecting and monitoring human rights and humanitarian norms.  These two events are the military offensive at Muhamalai which ended in the death of about 129 and the wounding of about 500 military personnel and the attack on the navy by the LTTE which blew up an explosive laden truck next to a convoy of sailors, killing 103 persons and wounding about 150 more at the troop’s transit point at Digampathaha in Habarana yesterday afternoon (October 16, 2006).  Both incidents caused the single greatest loss of life since the entry into the ceasefire agreement in 2002.

According to reports on the Muhamalai incident the offensive by the army’s 53rd Division was done without the knowledge of the President of Sri Lanka or the National Security Council and the Joint Operations Head Quarters.  Further the offensive was in direct conflict with the policy of the government expressed through the President and the Government Peace Secretariat which has clearly stated that the military will attack only in response to LTTE attacks but will not go on the offensive (for details please follow this link –  This means that the chain of command has been breached and the leaders of this offensive acted on their own without the knowledge and approval of their commanders.  Despite of this there is no public announcement that the higher command, including the President, who is the Commander-in-Chief, has initiated any form of inquiry as to how a military unit could have acted independently and engage in this attack on their own.  Given the heavy loss of life and casualties such an inquiry should have followed immediately if the command structure is to be reestablished.  However, the fact that such action has not been taken is perhaps indicative that the internal situation is such that it allows independent actions by units of the army without the prior consultation with and approval of the political authority of the country.

It may be indicative of a distancing of the political authority and the military and the increasingly marginal role that the political authority may be playing in the country, particularly in terms of matters of ‘war and peace’.

The inability of the political authority to exercise its chain of responsibility has also been visible in areas other than the military.  The Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) has extensively documented how the policing system has become dysfunctional and has been failing to function within a framework of command responsibility for a considerable period now.  The analysis of the disintegration of the policing system made by the AHRC has been published in Article 2, Vol. 1, No. 4 (74 pages), Article 3, Vol. 3 No. 1 (103 pages), ALRC Alternative Report on Sri Lanka to the CAT in 2005 (180 pages) and a book entitled an X Ray of the Policing System in Sri Lanka (321 pages).  (The first two reports are available at, the third report is available at and the book may be obtained from the Asian Human Rights Commission.

The clearest manifestation of the disintegration of the policing system is the near complete incapacity of the police to investigate into any of the serious crimes which have happened in the country in recent times.  These include the killing and massacre of civilians, disappearances and abductions, murders and robberies and all types of serious offenses such as drug related crime.  Matters have reached such a point any well-intentioned and serious investigator can be exposed to serious harm from his own colleagues, as alleged in the case of S.I. Douglas Nimal and his wife.  The incapacity to investigate is even worse when the alleged offenders are either the military or the LTTE or some other armed militant group.  The abductions of businessmen as have happened in recent months in Colombo and elsewhere are themselves an indication of the extent of the lawlessness in the country.  An editorial in the Daily Mirror quoted a Colombo businessman who mentioned his fear to travel from his business premises to his house which was near by.

In fact there was common agreement among all political parties about the state dysfunctionalism when the parliament passed the 17th Amendment, the purpose of which was primarily to work towards a strategy to establish command responsibility by way of a Constitutional Council consisting of persons of high integrity and capacity and a number of commissions to supervise the country’s main institutions.  However, the implementation of this constitutional provision was short lived and the Constitutional Council does not exist now; the commissions are no longer appointed in the manner required by the Constitution.

Within this context the attacks took place between the military and the LTTE without any mediation through a political process.  The attacks at Muhamalai by a military unit as well as the attack of the navy officers by the LTTE at Habarana are both direct attacks on each other quite outside whatever may be called the political process or negotiating process.  A brutal warfare between the military, LTTE and other militant groups seems to be happening quite outside any political process.  The influence that the political authority in the country seems to have on these events seems marginal.

It is in this context that the international experts, commissioned by the Co-Chairs have to assess the state of local capacities and the institutions with regard to protecting and monitoring human rights and humanitarian norms.  With the role of the political authority becoming marginal the state of local capacities and institutions with regard to protecting and monitoring human rights and humanitarian norms simply do not exist with any potential to make a difference in a positive direction.  The events mentioned earlier demonstrate instead that things are moving more in a negative direction with no capable institutions to counteract that process.  How the proposed team of experts will deal with this issue and whether they will be able to bring in capacities for monitoring human rights from outside as requested by several sources in recent times is yet to be seen.

Document Type : Statement
Document ID : AS-252-2006
Countries : Sri Lanka,
Issues : Independence of judges & lawyers, Judicial system, Rule of law,