6 July, 2022


Reflections On The Killings In The Prisons And The Impeachment Of The CJ

By Basil Fernando

Basil Fernando

Humankind has at least a few millenniums of experience in keeping prisons. It is part of the unfortunate predicament of humanity that there is this need to have prisons. However, over these long years, through bitter experiences, humanity has learned to lessen the suffering involved for the inmates of prisons and to make the whole experience within the bounds of humane limits and within the framework of human cooperation.

The art of governance is the art of achieving cooperation among disparate factions. Perhaps the hardest aspect in achieving that cooperation is when certain aspects of liberty are removed from some individuals as a matter of punishment for whatever wrong they may have done. Achieving cooperation under these circumstances requires enormous human ingenuity, where people who are confined into a position of having limited freedoms understand that it is for their own good under the given circumstances to adjust to certain rules within the prisons. In this difficult endeavor, humanity has made enormous progress.

A hallmark of such progress was when the philosophy of governance changed with the influence of enlightenment thinkers in Europe. Among so many intellectual contributions, what stand out are the approaches of John Locke and Jean-Jaques Rousseau, who laid the foundations for rules of governance that were adopted after the French Revolution and in the drafting of the American constitution. Through a completely different path, Britain too has developed its own principles of governance.

It was those principles and the philosophies on which they were founded that created the groundwork for dealing with the problem of prisoners through a completely different perspective. While, out of necessity, certain restrictions were brought upon persons who were found to be guilty of crimes, at the same time there was the development of methodologies within which they could cooperate with the authorities with as limited amount of coercion as possible.

With the arrival of the British in Sri Lanka, these philosophies and principles found their way into the Sri Lankan administration of justice. It was to the credit of the talent and the ingenuity of generations of Sri Lankans who were able to grasp these principles and establish the rules and procedures within which cooperation with the prison population and the prison authorities were established.

This came to an abrupt end with the introduction of the 1972 and 1978 constitutions, which changed the principles of governance from the fundamental ideas of the enlightenment into crude manipulations by local politicians, who forgot the ideas of cooperation and reduced governance to direct control of the population for their own ends. This same philosophy spread into the prisons. The first, the most inhumane and barbaric treatment of prisoners, took place on a large scale in July 1983, when a large number of Tamil prisoners were killed inside prison.

The incidents of this weekend are the second most barbaric act, which was a result of a rejection of the principles of governance on which the behavior of authorities were based. Like all authorities in the country, the prison authorities today are manipulated by the authoritarian system and the inner structure of the prison system has broken down.

Instead of a system of cooperation, a system of crude coercion has been introduced and this is now done under the tutelage of the Ministry of Defence. A former Executive President, DB Wijetunga, once said that wherever DIG Udugampala went, there were complaints about disappearances. It can now be said that wherever the Ministry of Defence enters, there are killings and other forms of cruelties perpetrated on the population. This is manifest in the way that the people of the North and East are treated now. It is the same kind of manipulation that has entered into the control of prisons and the large scale killings of the prisoners during this weekend, which were a direct result of STF interventions, which are done under the control of the Ministry of Defence.

Like the entirety of the country, which has lost the system of governance on the principles of the enlightenment, now the prison authorities have been dragged into a similar type of chaos as that exists throughout the country.

It is this same kind of chaos that is reflected in the impeachment proceedings. Under the kind of coercive methodologies that are now employed, the crushing of one individual, a woman who is now the Chief Justice, may be a simple task. However, what is being destroyed is not just one individual but whatever that remains from an old structure of governance, where the protection of the dignity of the individual was kept in the hands of the judiciary alone. Perhaps the greatest Chief Justice in Sri Lankan history, Sir Sidney Abraham, epitomized this role by his historic judgment in the Bracegirldle case, where an order of the representative of the Queen, the governor of Sri Lanka, was declared null and void and quashed by the court. It is that structure of governance and the principles of independence of the judiciary that is being destroyed now.

The despicable cruelty in the prisons and the arrogant interference into the independence of the judiciary are all a part of the sinking of the foundations on which Sri Lankan civil administration and administration of justice are based.

The Executive Presidential system is the greatest danger to the nation and the greatest danger to the Sri Lankan people to remain as a civilized people.

The killing of prisoners, who are in the protective custody of the state, is the worst act that any civilized people could ever do. In Sri Lanka that has happened now and it is no surprise then that, at the same time, the final blows are dealt on the independence of the judiciary.

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Latest comments

  • 0

    All these events are leading the country into economic sanctions in the future!
    Beware of the ides of march (in 2013)

    • 0

      No Need to wait till 2013.
      it is happening now.
      you can see around?

  • 0

    The person responsible for the prison riot is hiding in China to avoid prosecution.

  • 0

    Repealing 13A is Not a Choice but a Matter of Economic and Political Survival – by Dilrook Kannangara – Voices against the 13A increase with time. Mockery of the 13A is seen from the predicament the country is on today which will take a heavy toll on each of the three pillars of governance; add to it the fourth pillar of provincial councils! Indeed, if provincial councils must be referred to pass a parliamentary act, these futile units of governance must be another governance pillar. Each year the provincial councils guzzle $1.3 billion (in 2012 terms). It doesn’t give a corresponding benefit to the nation. With a very tight budget for next year, provincial councils are an obvious target for finding money for worthwhile causes (LankaWeb ; 5 November 2012).

  • 0


    “The person responsible for the prison riot is hiding in China to avoid prosecution.”

    You know the person who is responsible for the prison riots in 2012.

    Do you know the person who was responsible for the prison riots in 1983 in which scores of Tamil remand prisoners were massacred by Sinhala/Buddhist inmates.

    Were they ever caught and punished by the state?

  • 0

    A senior Police officer was rattling off the names of some dead inmates and the crimes they are said to have committed as if to convey the idea that they are better gone than alive – an obvious attempt at justifying the killings. This massacre is a crime against humanity. Do you seriously believe that this regime will hold an impartial inquiry and punish the culprits behind it?

  • 0

    What an absolute load of rubbish!

    What does “civilized” mean?: becoming civil – city-building, in other words.

    So, before come charging in, like the Light Brigade, Basil Fernando, why not consider the long history of Sri Lanka, known to its Tamil people, in their language as Shri Ilankai/Ilangai. Notice a similarity?

    EELAM is, in fact, the South Indian (Madrassi) name for our country.


    The British Legacy: Divide and Rule; Worship the White Pommy King

    The Dutch Legacy: Bringing Indian chiefs to enslave the “low-castes”

    The Portuguese Legacy: Branding crosses on the foreheads of fishermen

    The Kandyan Legacy: The last remaining Kingdom to hold out

    The Ratnapuran Legacy: Trace the theft of Sri Lankan gems overseas

    The Anuradhapuran Legacy: The First Capital city in Lanka/Ilunkai

    The Yaapanan Legacy: investigate the Laws of Yaapana (Jaffna) Kings

    The Tissamaharama Legacy: investigate the laws of Ruhuna Kingdom

    The Polonnaruwan Legacy: investigate the laws of Polonnaruwa

    The Thirincomalan Legacy: investigate the Alagaratnam family history

    The Kotte Legacy: investigate the Dutch Slave trade at the time

    The Ruhunan Legacy: Investigate the beautiful kingdom of the far south

    The Gampahan Legacy: Investigate the laws of Gampaha and Gampola

    And THEN you get to the laws of our Indigenous people, whose blood flows in all of us who have names with their unique sounds in them.

    THEY are the ones who created Sri Lanka’s civilizations, not the Portuguese, Dutch, British and Indian – they, as can be expected, were jealous and wanted to destroy it all, after plundering what ever they thought was valuable.

    But they had to leave a few buildings standing, by the time the British finally deceived their way to Kandy, and gave Kundhe a new name. One with a double spelling, with a double meaning. That was their modus operandi, centuries before they started to try and rule the world.

    And they DID try that. That much is obvious from their popular anthem:

    “Rule Britannia, Britannia Rules the Waves”

    They thought they did, but they didn’t. Ever. It was just hype. Boasting, as usual.

    Anyone with a smattering of history would realise that the Dutch ruled the waves before the British did, and it was a Dutch International Lawyer, Hugo Grotius, who formulated the Laws of the Sea and the Laws of Claiming Unoccupied Land. Captain James Cook (not Kirk!) was supposed to be obeying these Laws when he sailed, in the trail of the Dutch and tried to claim what the Dutch had already named and charted, as New Holland. That is where I live, and I am a citizen of this country, and this country alone. I was told, at the time, that I had to renounce my Sri Lankan citizenship if I wanted to become and Australian one.

    I was, however, born in London. So maybe I have a legal right to claim the British Throne…with the Crown thrown in!

    It’s high time the expat population stopped attacking this beautiful land with poisonous words. We’ve all had enough of it.

    And as of the “civilized” prisons where they don’t kill anyone: have you ever been inside an Australian prison, American prison or a British one? Did you wonder why so many inmates are black? And have you heard about how many of these people were executed in the State of Texas by the “compassionate conservative” George Bush junior?

    Please, guys, do some Wikipaedia research into the use of “live ammo” in movie making since the early days of Hollywood. Not just the movies of SAM PECKINPAH, but those of his heroes, and the “stars” who did the shooting (of living “extras”, much to their horror). You’ll find some interesting names: John Wayne, Clint Eastwood, Kris Kistoffersen…and many more.

    Yes, whether you like it or not, all the TV and MOVIE violence, horror and gore was made using the same method of achieving “realism”. That’s why Sam Peckinpah was also known as “Bloody Sam”, and his friend was called “Gore Vidal”.

    Still want to watch TV?

    HUB (history department)

  • 0


    In response to your request in another page, I checked with a close relative who retired early 90s highup in the Irrigation Dept ladder.
    Winslow Thambiah Ivers Alagaratnam was the 1st native Lankan to have been the DI. A honourable, hardworking man who loved his job his friends jocularly referred to him as “Walking to Infinity” since he walked long miles during his days when cars/jeeps were unheard of. Men of that vintage gave back much more to their Dept than what they earned as salary – their only income. I understand he was married to an Anketell. You have every reason to be proud of your rich parentage.


  • 0

    Well written article.It doesn’t matter whether we inherited good governance from British, Portuguese,Dutch or our ancient kings.No point playing musical chairs in a sinking ship arguing about those controversies.As mentioned in the article the law of jungle is gradually replacing the democratic civil administration and more dangerously people seem to be extremely ignorant about this developing danger.Media is scared to voice in fear of reprisals and public has decided to mind their own business and survive somehow.This government does not care about human rights or fair play.They appear unheard about democratic governance.The international scrutiny has not been able to made any productive changes in their attitudes. We are heading towards another Chinese colony like Tibet and very soon we will be ruled at gun point openly with the blessing of oppressive command of them.

  • 0

    In May and June 1995,bodies of tamils who had been torured, floating on waterways in & around colombo, appeared.
    22 STF personnel were arested and charged. The trial did not proceed as the accused refused to appear in court,and state counsel for the prosection too,failed to attend court.
    STF are involved in the recent shooting deaths of 27 prisoners and wounding many more at the Welikada Prison last week.

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