By Tisaranee Gunasekara –
“The whole aim of practical politics is to keep the populace alarmed — and thus clamorous to be led to safety — by menacing it with an endless series of hobgoblins, all of them imaginary.” H.L. Mencken (In Defence of Women).
The day before President Rajapaksa reached Buddha Gaya, with a gargantuan delegation in tow, Lankan parliament passed the Convention on the Suppression of Terrorist Financing (Amendment) Bill. Earlier in the week, a controversy arose when the opposition pointed out a critical lacuna in the Bill: it contained no definition of what constitutes ‘terrorism’ (just as the ‘Sacred Areas Act’ did not contain a definition of ‘Sacred Areas’). On Thursday the Bill was presented, complete with the definition.
Since the Convention is a UN initiative, the government could have used the definition of ‘terrorism’ contained in the original document[i]: But the Rajapaksas wanted a totally laissez faire definition, one which would provide a legal-cover for the most horrendous abuses of power. So the original definition was expanded, to make it completely tractable. In the Rajapaksa definition ‘terrorism’ is also “the use or threat of action i) which is decided to influence the government or to intimidate the public or a section of the public; and ii) which is made for the purpose of advancing a political, religious or ideological purpose, and such action (aa) involves serious violence against a person; (bb) involves serious damage to property; (cc) endangers the life of another person, other than the person committing the action; (dd) creates a serious risk to health or safety of the public or a section of the public; or (ee) is designed seriously to interfere with or seriously to disrupt an electronic system” (The Island – 8.2.2013 – emphasis mine).
Using this definition and with the aid of a cowed-judiciary, the regime can convict any Lankan citizen of aiding and abetting terrorism. This law can be used not just against the political opponents of the regime and Tamils/Muslims; it can be used, with equal ease, against fishermen, farmers and the urban poor, environmentalists, students, trade unionists and middle-class professionals. This is not a Bill which can be abused. This is a Bill drafted for the precise purpose of abuse. With this in place, the regime does not need the PTA.
Juxtapose this new law with the 48 hour detention law and the military’s recommendation that the government should “formulate its own rules to deal with internal war situations” (Daily Mirror – 25.1.2013). That recommendation was contained in the Report of the Army Board of Officers on LLRC Recommendations. The army also rejected the LLRC suggestion to place the police under a civilian ministry: “Board recommends that the Sri Lankan Police be placed under the Ministry of Defence at all times….” (ibid). In a democracy, the military has no business interfering in matters political. But this is not a democracy; and the Army is nothing more than a Rajapaksa mouthpiece/weapon.
The demand for new, more permissive laws to deal with internal conflicts was made by President Rajapaksa himself, some time back. With the judiciary down on its knees, the time is right to bring in laws which would abolish war crimes and turn every excess – however brutal – by the Rajapaksa military into a legal and virtuous act. That law will complete the liberation of the Rajapaksas from the shackles of international conventions/laws, and enable them to abuse Lankans at will.
Imagine the confluence: a definition of terrorism which can be made applicable to any Lankan, any time; a law which extends the initial period of detention to 48 hours; a ‘Colombo Convention’ which permits the Rajapaksas to kill and maim Lankans at will under cover of fighting a terrorist threat; and a militarised police. That confluence will generalise the conditions of the ‘Humanitarian Operation’, making them applicable to the entire country, at all times. For, these are all ‘Enabling Laws’ in the Nazi style. Their purpose is to allow the Rajapaksas to intimidate and punish their enemies and impeders, legally. Once such laws are in place, even the most upright judge has no choice but to abide by them.
Some day, soon, we will look back and wonder how the regime was able to legalise abuse and repression, with such ease and speed, with hardly a squeak from society.
The Way of Rajapaksa Justice
The manner in which the PSC proceeded to conduct impeachment proceedings against the CJ is a forewarning of how courts will function in post-impeachment Sri Lanka.
That the impeachment was based on nothing more than outright lies and unproved allegations was no secret. But the extent to which the Rajapaksas manipulated the entire process in order to punitively dislodge a woman who had dared to stand in their way and stand up to them became evident when hitherto unpublished parts of evidence given by Supreme Court Justice Shranee Thilakawardana before the PSC was made public. According to Justice Thilakawardana’s evidence, “The Special Investigation Unit of the Central Bank had gone into the accounts of Golden Key because there were many petitions that had been sent… they found that there was a very big problem….” (Daily Mirror – 6.2.2013).
The Golden Key investigation was halted soon after Governor Mendis left and Ajith Nivard Cabral came in. Justice Thilakawardane produced the relevant minute: ‘…..the Monetary Board is informed of the above and is invited to approve a discontinuance of the examination commenced in respect of the Golden Key Credit Card Company under Section 11’ (ibid). So the Central Bank knew something was amiss with Golden Key, commenced an investigation and then halted it abruptly, soon after Mr. Cabral became the Governor.
Justice Thilakawardane pointed out that had the investigation continued, the Golden Key disaster could have been minimised and opined that the discontinuance “might have happened after a meeting between Lalith Kotelawala, the Chairman of Ceylinco Conglomerate, and the Central Bank” (ibid).
The deadly discontinuance of Golden Key investigation happened under the Governorship of Rajapaksa appointee and favourite, Ajith Nivard Cabral. If anyone is responsible for the plight of Golden Key depositors, it is not CJ Bandaranayake but Governor Cabral. But Golden Key depositors had better not try to protest outside Mr. Cabral’s house (as was done outside the CJ’s residence), unless they want to be arrested under the new law as terrorists!
Why did the Central Bank make that disastrous decision? What transpired during the meeting between Lalith Kotelawala and the CB? What was Mr. Cabral’s role in all this? Sadly these vital matters will not be investigated so long as the Rajapaksas rule, unless Mr. Cabral falls out of favour!
We need to understand that the main victims of Rajapaksa Überpower will not be the West, but we, the people of Sri Lanka.
A new police unit has been set up to deal with ‘religious tensions’. On January 27th, a statue of Virgin Mary in Avisawella was set ablaze. Last week, Cardinal Malcolm Ranjith (who is not a Rajapaksa-critic, like the courageous Anglican Bishop of Colombo) complained to the IGP that the police instead of searching for culprits are harassing parishioners and the priest.
Connect the dots….
[i] an act “intended to cause death or serious bodily injury to a civilian, or to any other person not taking an active part in the hostilities in a situation of armed conflict when the purpose of such act, by its nature or context, is to intimidate a population, or to compel a government or an international organisation to do or abstain from doing any act” (http://treaties.un.org/doc/db/Terrorism/english-18-11.pdf)
For Sinhala translation click here , translation by Yahapalanaya Lanka