By Basil Fernando –
The late Mr. A.C. Soyza (Bunty), a well-known criminal lawyer and the president of the Bar Association, was retained by a group of young, radical leftists, who had been charged for their political work. During the consultations in prepartion for the trial, Mr. Soyza used to chat with these young radicals. One of these young persons told Mr. Soyza, “You lawyers are doing all this work only for money, no?” Then Mr. Soyza told these young people, “One day, when there are no lawyers, you will understand the value of lawyers.”
In some cultures, there is no deep understanding of the value of liberty and what it means to lose it.
Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn made a similar observation after great catastrophes had been faced in Russia, in the following words:
“And how we burned in the camps later, thinking: What would things have been like if every Security operative, when he went out at night to make an arrest, had been uncertain whether he would return alive and had to say good-bye to his family? Or if, during periods of mass arrests, as for example in Leningrad, when they arrested a quarter of the entire city, people had not simply sat there in their lairs, paling with terror at every bang of the downstairs door and at every step on the staircase, but had understood they had nothing left to lose and had boldly set up in the downstairs hall an ambush of half a dozen people with axes, hammers, pokers, or whatever else was at hand?… The Organs would very quickly have suffered a shortage of officers and transport and, notwithstanding all of Stalin’s thirst, the cursed machine would have ground to a halt! If…if…We didn’t love freedom enough. And even more – we had no awareness of the real situation…. We purely and simply deserved everything that happened afterward.”
― Aleksandr I. Solzhenitsyn, The Gulag Archipelago
Many Sri Lankans, with great shock, have now begun to realize that something that they never thought of is going to happen. One of the most valued things in the country, despite the tremendous limitations it had, was the independence of the judiciary. It is finally going to be lost. The judiciary as an independent branch of governance will cease to exist.
All kinds of ifs about how this could have been prevented are of little use now. Sri Lanka, which has witnessed some of the worst kinds of human rights violations, such as mass-scale forced disappearances, extra-judicial killings, rampant torture, illegal arrest and detention and unbelievable levels of corruption, extreme rise in crime and every form of abuse of power, will soon realize that what they have already suffered is nothing compared to what is to come.
It is only when the independence of the judiciary is lost that everyone, including those who are causing this loss, will begin to realize under what horrors they will have to live when there is no institution to protect the basic liberties.
Yes, as the late Mr. Bunty Soyza said, it is only when we lose these things that we will begin to realize what we have lost.