3 December, 2020

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Enforced Disappearances: Turned Sri Lankans Into A Broken-Hearted People

By Basil Fernando –

Basil Fernando

Enforced disappearances and deprivation of enforceable entitlements have turned Sri Lankans into a broken-hearted people

Yesterday, we discussed several protests that took place in Asia. They are the students protest in Hong Kong; the protests of the people fighting against eviction from their lands by the Onkareshwar Dam project in Madhya Pradesh, India; the fight against the abuse of blasphemy law in Pakistan in the case of Rimsha, the 14-year-old mentally handicapped girl; and the student protest in Sri Lanka.

We noted that while in all the other three instances there was massive support for the protestors from the local media after the incidents had been revealed, the Sri Lankan media was almost completely silent about the attacks on the students by the government.

We also noted that in the other instances the governments showed tolerance towards the protestors and there was no use of violence against them. In contrast, in Sri Lanka the police, who arrived in large numbers, used brutal violence. Tear gas and baton charges were used against the peaceful demonstrators and some were arrested and charged. Added to this a heavy propaganda campaign was carried out by the government spokesman, and this was given wide publicity through the state media, which said that the violence was provoked by the students and that there are investigations are being carried out against them.

In all the other three instances the governments concerned at least partially granted the relief demanded by the protestors. The Hong Kong authorities promised not to enforce the proposed new curriculum on moral and national education that the students were objecting to; in India the Madhya Pradesh government promised to grant all the demands of the protestors, who stood neck-deep in water for seventeen days, and appointed a five-member committee to deal with the matter completely within 90 days by giving land for land and stopping the rise of the dam’s water levels. In Pakistan, where protesting against the blasphemy law has remained difficult for a long time, the court released the young girl on bail and the government provided her with protection to move out of the location. Also, the police have arrested the cleric that made the false charges against the girl and charged him in turn with blasphemy.

What all this shows is that there is at least a certain degree of willingness to negotiate with the protestors, and to treat protest as a legitimate means by which citizens may express grievances and demand urgent action when they are frustrated with the negligence of the authorities. Such negotiations are possible when the idea of rule by consent is treated as the foundation of the legitimacy of a government. What the Sri Lankan government showed in this instance was that they derive their power purely by physical force and the idea of government by consent no longer has a practical relevance.

How did Sri Lankans come to accept rule by brutal force? Why have the citizens cowed down to this way of being ruled? How have the mass movements, which were at one time so vibrant in Sri Lanka, become so subdued? Why is the media so self-censored in the face of brutal violations of all the basic norms of democracy and rule of law? Why is everybody so unwilling to lend support for those who come forward to protest for legitimate reasons?

The answer to all this is not difficult to find. It lies in the way enforced disappearances have been used as an effective tool to suppress public protest. The fear of abduction followed by torture and many other forms of harassment, probably ending in an enforced disappearance, is now an impression so deeply embedded in the psyche of the Sri Lankan people.

While all that happens, the legal machinery of investigations into complaints, prosecution of offenders and even the judicial independence has been so badly undermined. That investigations into complaints against the state’s abuse of its powers and of the use of naked violence will not take place is now known to everyone.  The examples are available of such refusals to investigate, not in their hundreds, but in their thousands.

The Sri Lankan people have being reduced to persons with no enforceable legal entitlements. The Constitution does have a bill of rights and many fundamental rights are mentioned. There are many statutes that have criminalised violence of various forms against the people. However, the enforcement mechanism has been suppressed and by now it can be said that, virtually, an enforcement mechanism against violations of rights no longer exists.

A long period of the abuse by way of enforced disappearances, illegal arrest and detention, torture, denial of fair trial, suppression of freedom of opinion and expression, publication and association have virtually made the Sri Lankan people into a broken-hearted people who have lost faith in their legal rights.

When there is no possibility of the enforcement of entitlements, the idea of citizenship becomes a hollow one.

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Latest comments

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    You are asking .. “.. How have the mass movements, which were at one time so vibrant in Sri Lanka, become so subdued?…”

    How could you figure out it when you are not rational and not clear in mind due to your hatred and anger towards SL?
    Your writing is so pathetic that people who have legitimate criticisms are very reluctant to voice their concern …

    By the way, have you recetly been to the country or just reading too too much into the LTTE rump’s propaganda from outside and writing bs?

    Yesterday, that peaceful protesters against nuclear power in India were shot and a protester was killed …. Infamous chief minister, Jayalalitha had given 5lakhs to the family of the victim … Any thoughts about it, Basil?

    One reason for lack of mass movement is that the people of SL are still enjoying the ‘SUMMER’ after three decades of terror of your friends and the goodwill towards the government as indicated by the recent elections.
    Other reason probably is that the pathtetic opposition which is lead by the people of your calibre whose only desire is to shame and fail the country ….
    For a vibrant democracy, country needs strong oppostion … but not a opposition lead by set of people like you who write only bs which amount to nothing ….

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    Mr.Bruno Umbato you are a very funny person. Just remember that nothing lasts forever. Many despots have thought that they could rule forever…but from Ferdinand Marcos to Gaddafi they have all got their just rewards. Instead of blaming the opposition, why don’t you talk about the 18th amendment that was brought in so that despot Roger Pox and his family could rule indefinitely? Why don’t you talk about the apathy of the voters who don’t vote anymore because after the election the people they voted for cross over to the government because they have been bribed or offered plum ministerial posts? There will come a day when the Roger Pox family will either meet the end that Gaddafi and his family did, or they will have to flee the country (probably to China) like the Tunisian President Ben Ali did. One day your summer will turn to winter while our winter will turn to summer. Anica vata sankara the Buddha said. Nothing is permanent. :)

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      Bean writes “…. Gaddafi they have all got their just rewards …”
      What about the rewards the architects of the ‘Arabian SUMMER’ got?
      Read the papers today ..
      The ugliest incident any country could face in a another country, “a diplomat getting killed” had just happend in Lybia where the SUMMER is in action … Whatever anybody could say about Gaddafi, it would never have been happened under him … What a pathetic way to enforce SUMMERS ….. Lybia is getting ungovernable like Iraq …
      When the guys like you talking about ‘summer’ , what you mean is ‘ANARCHY’ , nothing else ….
      Everybody knows why Basil, Kumar D, Bean talks about SUMMER … They just want chaos, anarchy to take place so that they could get to their agenda …. ‘To deny the rightful place to the 80% of the population called Sinhalese Budhists’ … They do not mind to go to any extreme including the division of the tiny land of (268 X 139) miles to pieces …
      But, desperation of you guys are very obvious … Could anybody believe that Kumar D is Promoting Monk Sobitha to contest the next presidential election? What a desperation!
      You are partly correct when you say “… Instead of blaming opposition … “, Bean …
      You would have been more correct if you say ” …. Because there is no credible oppostion at all … “

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    I would rate 18th amendment as the biggest theft of my franchise,where a clearly unimportant bill was rushed through within few hours,a bill so unneccesary,so greedy exept try to keep one man and his family in power, try to make a country and it’s people impotent.

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    “The law is meant for law breakers and not for those who comply”.

    The head of the UNHRC, Navi Pillay is visiting Sri Lanka(SL) at a time our world is in dire need of justice. Justified responses by the UN to injustices, exceeding tolerable limits, have become necessary in SL and Syria. appropriately, the UN General Assembly will debate on the Rule of Law(RoL) this month.

    A report by the UN Secretary General, in preparation for this event, calls for; Respect for the RoL at national and international levels; Delivering just outcomes in the daily life od individuals; and Accountability for laws consistent with internatilonal human rights norms.

    The purpose of RoL is to ensure that justice permeates society at every level. For too long SL has sought protection under the principle of “state sovereignty” and has gotten away with war crimes, Tamil genocide and land grab.

    Adherence to international minimum standards of substantive justice as well as procedural jusstice will now become obligatory for SL.

    Above all, RoL will translate into the ability to have recourse to international adjudicative mechanisms, to settle disputes peacefully.

    And, the unresolved national problem of Tamil Eelam would be settled peacefully, using UN mechanisms.

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