SRI LANKA: Human Rights Day statement – The phantom limb in human rights protection

A phantom limb is the sensation that an amputated or missing limb is still attached to the body and is moving appropriately with other body parts. The pronouncement of the Sri Lankan government that it has adequate local mechanisms to deal with investigations into human rights violations reflects a similar mentality. The recent statement of Mahinda Samarasinghe, the Minister for Disaster Management and Human Rights is the latest expression of this same mentality. Where are these investigation mechanisms, one may ask and the answer would not be different to one that might come from an amputee who feels as if his missing limb still exists, like the missing limb a credible investigation mechanism simply does not exist.

The amputation of the investigation mechanism for human rights abuses has taken place over a long period of time with the operation of emergency regulations, anti terrorism laws and the deliberate dismantling of the basic institutions of public administration including the institutions of the administration of justice. The large scale killings that took place in 1971 and 1986 to the 1990 period in the south and the continuous repression in the north and east from 1978 to the present day required that no credible investigations could be allowed into allegations of human rights abuses as it would cause unrest in the military and this would affect the stability of the ruling political regimes. The limitations imposed on investigations naturally infected the prosecution system under the Attorney General’s Department, which was often required to cooperate in the cover up of the perpetrators and guarantee them impunity. The independence of the judiciary was crushed by the pressures from the presidential system as well as through legal limitations imposed by various constitutional amendments and emergency laws.

The former Supreme Court Judge K.M.M.B. Kulatunga recalls a time when Sri Lanka did have a competent criminal investigations capacity within its police, even to deal with very serious crimes as evidenced in many cases reported in the new law reports. These included political cases such as the assassination of Prime Minister S.W.R.D. Bandaranaike and the attempted coup of 1962. However, this system was seriously interfered with in order to facilitate the causing of extrajudicial killings, disappearances and torture on a large scale through the police, military and paramilitary groups. Today the system does not have the capacity to even investigate ordinary crimes let alone those crimes done with the connivance of political authorities for military purposes. The ugly situation that prevails is manifested through the constant killing of arrested persons in police custody, allegedly whey they try to throw grenades at police officers while they are taken to find concealed objects. The falsification of information in order to justify crimes committed by state agencies, which would appear to any reasonable person as pathetically ridiculous, is offered in the name of the sovereign state of Sri Lanka by the state agents and its propaganda units.

The phantom limb on criminal investigations in Sri Lanka is manifest daily in many of the statements that come out under various propaganda units such as the Peace Secretariat, the Geneva Consulate, the office of the Minister of Disaster Management and Human Rights, the Secretariat of Defense and even in the name of the President himself. The claim of the existence of a competent and credible criminal investigation capacity is offered both as a cover up for the incapacity and unwillingness to investigate human rights abuses, as well as to counteract any calls for assistance to the Sri Lankan government by the international community by way of human rights monitoring through the United Nations. The phantom limb mentality prevents the finding of real solutions to the real problems that make Sri Lanka one of the most lawless places in the world.

The Asian Human Rights Commission in the past ten years has consistently pointed out the way the Sri Lankan criminal justice system has become dysfunctional (kindly see  Sri Lanka’s Dysfunctional Criminal Justice System). As long as this situation remains, life will remain a nightmare to all civilians in the country. To this civilian nightmare is now added the targeting of civilians by the LTTE, the government as well as other paramilitary groups which operate freely in the country. This climate is also unscrupulously used naturally by the criminal elements who try to profit from this situation by way of all sorts of crimes including kidnapping for ransom.

It is not possible to protect the people with a phantom limb. The sooner this illusion is demolished the better it will be for all the people of Sri Lanka.

Download the report in PDF format here: The State of Human Rights in Eleven Asian Nations in 2007: Sri Lanka

Document Type : Statement
Document ID : AS-280-2007
Countries : Sri Lanka,