SRI LANKA: Foreign Minister’s Assassination and The Law and Order Situation

The Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) expresses shock and condemns the killing of Sri Lanka’s Foreign Minister, Mr. Lakshman Kadirgamar on 12 August 2005. In direct and indirect terms the Government and many other sources have accused the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Elam (LTTE) for the murder. The LTTE has denied this allegation. Though a ceasefire has been in force since 2002, there have been on-going killings, which particularly during the last year, have intensified in the North and East. In more recent months these killings have spilled over into Colombo claiming many lives, including prominent figures such as journalist, Mr. Sivaram, the Chief of the Military Intelligence Unit, Mr. Muthaliff, and now Mr. Kadirgamar. An immediate and thorough investigation has been urged by all concerned so as to bring the perpetrators to justice.

The business community organized under J-Biz, the umbrella organisation of the National Chambers criticised the authorities for the serious break down in law and order and said that the deteriorating security situation is now spilling over into Colombo. The AHRC has been drawing attention to this fact for several years now, by way of reminders almost three times a week to the Sri Lankan authorities, the Inspector General of Police, the Attorney General, National Police Commission and the Human Rights Commission of Sri Lanka. Such letters have also been sent to the President and the Prime Minister. In a newsletter addressed to the Members of the Sri Lankan Parliament, the AHRC has highlighted the deteriorating situation of the rule of law in the country and called for action to be taken to correct this situation. In a newsletter entitled “Command Responsibility” addressed to top ranking police officers in the country the same point has been made vigorously. In a report submitted to the UN Sub Commission on Human Rights in 2004 entitled “Exceptional Collapse of Rule of Law in Sri Lanka”, the situation of the country was highlighted in more detail. However, no significant action has been taken in order to improve this situation.

The result of the degeneration of the rule of law is that killings have become easy throughout the country not only for political reasons but for any reason at all. Out of this situation has grown a strong lobby in the Sri Lankan media for the control of crime. However, instead of addressing the causes of escalating crime, which are basically due to serious defects in the policing system, the prosecution and the judiciary, this lobby mostly cries out for extrajudicial punishments against those who are named as ‘criminals’. The result is that the arrest and  murder of ‘criminals’ under the pretext of trying to control those fleeing arrest spread with the connivance of some police officers at the top and the tacit approval of some politicians. This has resulted in the further breakdown of discipline within the policing system, thus depriving the country of an effective mechanism of criminal investigation without which there cannot be any successful elimination of crime.

The ease with which killings are carried out has also been reflected in many deaths and very serious injuries caused to arrested persons at police stations. Sometimes such assault on citizens by the police have been for no reason at all. One such example was the recent case at Wattegama police where two brother-in-laws who were looking for their motorcycle, which was not in the place where they parked it, were attacked by two police officers with iron rods in such a manner that one of the brothers is now in hospital with three serious bone fractures on his leg which is now fixed to an external fixator. Also in Paliyaguda police station, a 52-year-old man who was suspected of having stolen a cordless telephone was beaten to death by two policemen. Almost every week similar allegations come from police stations across the country but no serious action has been proposed   by the authoritiesto correct this situation.

The National Police Commission (NPC), which is the Constitutional body created for correcting this situation, particularly by being given the charge of controlling discipline, has complained that it does not receive cooperation from the senior policemen and that the necessary resources for execution of the Commission’s mandate has not been given. On its part the NPC has done very little to pressurise the authorities to give it the necessary resources and the backing to execute its function.

In a modern state, the protection of citizens cannot be guaranteed without a competent, efficient and resourceful police service. The simple fact is that Sri Lanka does not have one. Where there is no policing capacity to protect the individual citizens, there cannot be the capacity to protect its more powerful politicians. In recent decades a lot of emphasis has been placed on the police engaging further in the protection of high ranking politicians. In fact one of the principal reasons for the deterioration of the investigating capacity of the police is this aspect of working in effect as body guards for politicians. However, protection functions of the police lie essentially in its investigating capacity. Regarding the assassination of the Foreign Minister, it is said that the shooting was conducted from a nearby house to the minister’s residence. Though the Minster’s residence has been extraordinarily guarded, no investigation activity has been carried out in the neighborhood. The concept of investigations has been replaced with pure direct physical security.

While there is much shock about the senior minister’s assassination and the circumstances surrounding it, there is hardly any alarm or concern in the media or elsewhere about what has happened to the Sri Lankan policing system. If there is one lesson to be learned from this assassination, it is that there is a need to significantly and thoroughly reform the policing system. Failure to do so will only lead to greater insecurity in the country. The government, the opposition, the media and the public must address this single most important issue if repetition of recent events is to be avoided. We once more urge the international community, including those engaged in the peace process and those UN agencies, to bring this issue to the forefront.

We quote the statement made by Mr. Kadirgamar himself at the 63rd Session of the UN Human Rights Commission in Geneva in March 2005, and hope the government will implement what he promised which in fact will address the concerns expressed in this statement:
“the government of Sri Lanka, taking serious note of recent allegations regarding torture while in police custody, has introduced short and long-term preventive mechanisms to address the issue in line with recommendations of treaty bodies. The government of Sri Lanka condemns torture without any reservation”.

Document Type : Statement
Document ID : AS-89-2005
Countries : Sri Lanka,
Issues : Independence of judges & lawyers, Judicial system, Rule of law,