By Rajan Hoole –
When the system of law enforcement is in crisis, one looks to the parliamentary opposition for corrective influence. But the UNP to which this task devolved, could not address the specific issues above while avoiding responsibility for gross abuses while in power. Whence the UNP and the private media took refuge in a morbid rhetorical game that had little to offer the people.
Contemporary opinion in 1993 blamed Athulathmudali’s murder firmly on the UNP goverment. But by 1997 the private media had taken an about turn. The Commission found Sothi Upali, Cooray’s henchman, to be a key player in the murder. The Sunday Times (27.12.98) published a tear-jerking article by Upali’s lawyer on his client being a victim of the Commission. However, a good paper had a wider responsibility. Public concerns about Cooray and Upali were long-standing. No one dared to talk about them until 1994. To address the issue in this manner is to sweep the crimes of past UNP regimes under the carpet of the sins of commissions of inquiry.
Exposing crimes by operatives of the PA government is essential. But where does one’s credibility stand when one does this in the company of those who, while going to town on abuses by the PA, ASP Karunaratne and Sergeant Amarasinghe, would turn Sirisena Cooray and Sothi Upali into innocent persecuted victims? How did several journalists and activists who stood for democracy get into this blind alley where their concerns were being parodied?
In general, the activities of the non- governmental sector have lacked continuity. Many NGOs campaigned on the Krishanthy Kumarasamy case above, but did not push it to hold the senior officers to account. In the Koneswary case they lacked the stamina to go far beyond the point where the President ordered an inquiry, and finally nothing came of it.
Although the Bindunuwewa massacre of 25th October 2000 (see Sect. 23.4.7) rightly attracted much attention, it is not an isolated event under the PA government. Once torture and disappearance had been admitted by high- ranking officials under the PA and covered up by the Government, the prospect of such incidents remains inherent. In some typical instances where matters became public immediately, the PA government took no meaningful steps.
On the morning of 15th August 1996 two youths, T. Sivanandarajah and N. Thameshkumar of Pandiruppu, were cycling though Kalmunai, on their way to Karaitivu to see a foreign employment agent. They were arrested by STF personnel in Kalmunai. The parents were informed immediately by witnesses. On their way, the parents heard Present Realities and Precarious Options gunshots and the Police chased the people out of town. The Police later summoned the parents to the hospital for an inquiry. They identified their sons whose corpses had gunshot injuries.
The STF claimed that they shot two terrorists who refused to stop and thereby saved the lives of Ministers Ashraff and Fowzie who were visiting the area. The Kalmunai Magistrate found the STF’s version inconsistent even as regards the injuries. However, the Government was flattered by the solicitude of the STF for the ministers. Rewards included, STF Sub-Inspector Kamal Ariyawansa’s promotion to Inspector, Rs. 100 000 cash and the gold chain and watch of Sivanandarajah. One could get promotions for murder and robbery, if committed at the right time and place!
At Customs Road prison, Trincomalee, on the night of 30th October 1996 (vide our Special Report No. 8), the five hard-core LTTE detainees among the 26 grabbed the pistols of two military policemen, killed one of them and escaped. Some of the rest too escaped fearing reprisals and surrendered the following day. The Army killed four detainees who did not escape and a fifth who had broken his leg trying to escape. Those killed were innocents whose detention orders were extended routinely by the magistrate or were due for release.
The Army dumped the dead near the beach to make out that they were shot while escaping. But they all had bullet injuries from firing at close range. The body of Pushpakaran had a badly damaged eye, a broken tooth and a stab wound in the stomach. In both the incidents above, there was a clear case for prosecution. The cover-up was made easy by the lack of public pressure unlike in Bindunuweva. Official commissions have a definite place because when it comes to violations by the State, no other group can match their access to information. It is, however, concerted pressure that would make official commissions to look sharp and do a better job.
*To be continued..
*From Rajan Hoole‘s “Sri Lanka: Arrogance of Power – Myth, Decadence and Murder”. Thanks to Rajan for giving us permission to republish. To read earlier parts click here