By Emil van der Poorten –
Over the years during which I’ve contributed to the pages of this and other newspapers in Sri Lanka I’ve returned to the matter of accountability of those who dictate the terms of our existence – our “guardians” – more times than I care to remember.
That I’ve never got so much as a ‘rise’ from those to whom the demand was directed was significant though hardly unexpected. However, while it might seem like an exercise in futility with the inevitability of monumental frustration, I would submit that it is an exercise that is absolutely necessary particularly in the context of a deliberate destruction of democracy by those in the seats of power. Why? Because, while you might be consistently denied your democratic rights and your rights to exist as a whole human being, not to continue to speak to those issues is to concede to those guilty of this monumental injustice the right to visit even greater horrors upon us.. You are not merely conceding the battle for justice to the enemies of the people, you are justifying what they seek to do by your silence.
In the matter of seeming futility, in the western world there were Don Quixote and his sidekick, Sancho Panza, and then, in the Kandyan hills, was, apparently, one of my forebears. The latter, while walking the streets of Kandy with a friend during the Esala Perahera season spied the majestic Maligawa Tusker who bore the tooth relic through the town in the famous torch-lit parade. He turned to his friend and asked, “Shall I ask for the Maligawa Tusker?” His friend’s response was that typical of any rational person of that place and of that (or any other) time. It was, “Are you nuts?” or the Sinhala equivalent. However, my ancestor would not drop the idea and said, “Just suppose they give it to me?” As that might suggest, hope springs eternal in the human breast or to paraphrase the famed anthropologist, Margaret Mead, “Don’t ever think that a few people can’t make a difference. Indeed, they are the only ones who ever have.”
I hope that I have set the stage appropriately, with the foregoing, for what follows in the matter of speaking to the horrors of recent Sri Lankan life and the need to do something about it, preventing the recurrence of the incidents I shall refer to and insisting that our “guardians” bring justice to those accused of breaking the law and the charges against whom have been in some manner, ‘stayed.’ Certainly, “Justice delayed, is justice denied” to both the accused and the accuser and that, in all its simplicity, is what needs to be clearly understood without caveats of any kind. The fact that the current abhorrent reality might enable the current regime to maintain its control over our nation only makes the situation that much more obscene and unacceptable.
Let me now get to a few specific cases.
There is the matter of the accusation of sexual assault of a minor female by the man now temporarily domiciled in Singapore, Duminda Silva. Even if there isn’t provision within the Criminal Code for reinstating the charges against him, charges that were mysteriously dropped, the circumstances demand an impartial investigation of the charges first filed with the public having full access to the proceedings and intervener status.
A similar process needs to be adopted in the matter of the murder of Lasantha Wickrematunge, though, in this case, not even the preliminary proceedings have commenced. What this, in fact, entails is the commencement of proceedings that, for reasons best known to those in authority, has not happened.
A similar process is more than indicated in the matter of the disappearance of Prageeth Ekneligoda, with the additional requirement that Mohan Pieris, Advisor to the President, be required to attest, under oath why he made the statement, in an international forum, that this ‘disappeared’ person was alive and well in a country in which he had sought political asylum.
In response to the inordinate delay in bringing to trial the killers of the British Palestinian in Tangalle and the alleged (gang) rape of his female companion, a full and comprehensive inquiry needs to commence immediately with the accused being returned to remand custody until the trial is complete. A very necessary part of this investigation would involve a full and thorough investigation of why this woman was transferred to a private hospital in Colombo rather than the National Hospital if her condition was as serious as reported and why basic police practices were not followed in the matter of interviewing her rather than have the Russian Ambassador spoke to her prior to her being whisked away to Russia, never to be seen again. It is more than obvious that her return to the country of her (gang) rape is obviously essential in the circumstances.
It is essential that the trial of Julampitiye Amare and his co-accused for the totally unprovoked murder of some Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna (JVP) members commence without any further delay and the families of the deceased have adequate state-assisted legal expertise to ensure that the interests of those killed and the JVP are safeguarded. This line of action is suggested because, as has been the case in several recent incidents, such as in the Welikade prison riot, there is a distinct possibility of the accused meeting untimely deaths, thereby ceasing to be a source of potential embarrassment to those who appear to have a vested interest in preventing all the facts of the incident emerging.
These are but a handful of the high-profile events that beg for the application of appropriate legal process if the reputation of this country is to be retrieved and restored. I shall deal with different categories of incident requiring the application of the rule of law in future columns.