SRI LANKA: Fear syndrome continues to grip the Sri Lankan nation

Fear continues to grip members of Sri Lanka’s judicial system, media and key witnesses in criminal cases – and rightly so. In only the last few days, a state counsel has revealed that death threats have been made against him due to his involvement in a particular case. Similarly, a torture victim of a well-known torture case, Mr Nimal Silva Gunaratne, has sought intervention by several government agencies, including the Inspector General of Police and the Human Rights Commission of Sri Lanka, to save him from imminent threats of assassination. The alleged perpetrator in his case is an ASP. Meanwhile, Chandana Seneviratne, a micro-biologist attached to the Health Department, has sought the help of a local newspaper to publicise threats to his life. These threats originate from certain police officers of the Kadawatte Police Station who have allegedly endangered Chandana’s life due to a disagreement some time back.  Additionally, some journalists who were threatened in several ways, are too afraid to take up the matter in public, fearing that contempt of court or other charges might be made against them without just cause.

Such is the situation that Sri Lanka finds itself in today.  Threats made upon the lives of persons involved in legal cases, is quickly becoming common practice in a country where the rule of law no longer exists. This practice, in turn, is causing a fear psychosis to spread amongst Sri Lankans and is thus destroying the social fabric of the country.

It is within this context that the declaration of emergency was called following the tsunami and the anti-crime campaign.  While the declared aim may have been directed towards particular groups and in reducing crime, history tells us that in Sri Lanka emergencies often serve another cause. Past practice during declared emergencies in Sri Lanka has seen influential persons with connections to unscrupulous elements of the law, avenging whatever grievances they may have with innocent civilians.  The Ambilipiya Children’s story, during the time of the terror in the late eighties, in particular demonstrates this point.  In more recent times, the thousands of deaths that have occurred during times of emergency in Sri Lanka, speaks volumes to the tremendous weaknesses in the criminal justice system and the manipulative elements that exist within it. Such manipulative elements at times of emergency and instability are near on impossible to eradicate and therefore thrive in the Sri Lankan context. As a result, the persons who are experiencing fear as described above, are in fact, among those who are left vulnerable to such manipulative elements taking their revenge.

The Asian Human Rights Commission, which has regularly highlighted the plight of such persons, wishes to bring to the notice of the Sri Lankan public and the state the enormous fear syndrome that has spread across the country.  It is this syndrome that makes lawyers fear appearing on behalf of clients whose grievances are against law enforcement agencies.  It is this same fear also, that makes lawyers wary of too enthusiastically advocating such claims as this may lead to serious risk and threat.  It is the type of fear that makes journalists afraid to speak out or write about stories relating to law enforcement agencies.  It is the type of fear that leads people to believe that it would be unrealistic to expect justice and fair play.

This is the situation that those who are concerned with democracy, justice and human rights face in Sri Lanka today. At a time when the basic institutions that uphold fair play and decency are in a state of collapse and when those who seek improvement and change to the system are frightened into silence, there is little hope left in Sri Lanka that democracy, justice and human rights will prevail. If this state of affairs is not addressed, not only will the lives of many innocent people be at risk, but Sri Lanka will reach a point of complete societal collapse from which recovery may never occur.

Document Type : Statement
Document ID : AS-29-2005
Countries : Sri Lanka,