29 October, 2020

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Rule Of Law Breaking In Sri Lanka

By Kishali Pinto-Jayawardena

By Kishali Pinto-Jayawardena

By Kishali Pinto-Jayawardena

Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott’s recent statement during the Commonwealth Heads of Government (CHOGM) meeting in Colombo that Australia does not condone torture but that ‘sometimes, in difficult circumstances, difficult things happen’ is deplorably simplistic.

First, the Australian Prime Minister’s assertion is contrary to international law as well as Sri Lanka’s own Constitution which prohibits torture without exception. Second, this remark underscores a basic lack of understanding regarding the problem of impunity that Sri Lanka, now the chair of the Commonwealth, faces.

The Prime Minister’s assumption that the problem of torture arose and was confined to the parameters of the thirty year conflict between the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) and government troops in the north and east of the country is misinformed.

Far from being limited to times of active fighting, the use of torture by state officers is endemic and routine.  It is part of an overall problem of state impunity for human rights violators and continues post-war after the LTTE was defeated by government troops in 2009.

The victims range from individuals of minority Tamil ethnicity accused of being terrorists to persons of majority Sinhala ethnicity who are subjected to abuse on a variety of grounds. Examples include a teenager accused of petty crime, a lawyer who dared to ‘talk back’ to a traffic police officer and a dock employee mistakenly arrested as he bore the same name as a wanted criminal. Businessmen have been abducted and tortured in efforts to extract ransom from them.

A 1994 law which penalised torture has not been effective in courts due to lack of political will on the part of prosecutors and the police. The judiciary has little authority. In late 2012, Sri Lanka’s Chief Justice, who incurred the displeasure of the government, was brought before government parliamentarians, humiliated and tossed out of office.

Protests by judges and lawyers proved to be of no avail.

The negation of the law and of the courts form an essential part of the Sri Lankan government’s post-war militarisation of government.

The brothers work it out

Overwhelming power lies in the hands of the President and his brothers, one of whom is the Secretary to the Ministry of Defence and the other, a powerful Minister. A third brother is the Speaker of Parliament. Certainly it is not in jest that Sri Lankans speak of their monarchic ruling family which is above the law.

Efforts to reverse this post-war militarisation process have not been successful. The government’s own commission into post-war reconciliation (2010) recommended that the Department of the Police be de-militarised, brought out of the command responsibility of the President’s brother, the Secretary to the Ministry of Defence, and transformed into a civilian law enforcement agency.

After foot-dragging on this recommendation for two years, the government established a ministry of law and order with supervisory authority over the police but appointed a former military officer as its secretary. It was clear that this was purely a superficial measure taken to deflect criticism.

Increasingly, the military is being used in ordinary law and order situations with predictable excesses, not only in the former war-torn north and east, but in other parts of the country as well.

Several months ago, three innocent individuals died and more than twenty five civilians were injured when the army shot at unarmed Sinhalese demonstrators at a village near Colombo. The demonstrators were demanding that ground-water contamination in their area, allegedly by a factory whose owners had links to the government, be stopped.

Inhumane assaults by soldiers of protestors and journalists as well as abuse of priests were recorded. This is one of many instances where live ammunition was used against protestors.

Australia needs to stand-up on Sri Lanka

Rebutting the Australian Prime Minister’s perception that post-war life is better than it used to be, militarised law enforcement is firmly part of every-day life for Sri Lankans. These unpleasant realities underlie Sri Lanka’s gleaming new highways and spruced-up cities put in place for visitors to CHOGM.

Yet many parts of Sri Lanka have become vast criminal enterprises, run by corrupt politicians where courts of law have little voice, law enforcers have become the law breakers and torture, rape, even murder, remains uninvestigated.

In the north and east, the Tamil population is subjected to routine surveillance by a military administration.

At higher risk are former LTTE detainees and members of their families who are literally at the mercy of the military. Many of these people flee the country in despair. Even though provincial elections were held in the Northern peninsula resulting in the Tamil people voting en masse for the Tamil National Alliance (TNA) recently, the lack of effective devolved power to the TNA has yet to result in practical change in the lives of these people.

In this context, Prime Minister Abbott’s misinformed prevarications on Sri Lanka while handing over the chairmanship of the Commonwealth does not reflect favourably on Australian foreign policy.

His unconditional donation of two retired patrol boats to Sri Lanka’s government in order to assist deterring people smuggling operations came even as a senior navy officer was arrested by the Sri Lankan government for masterminding the people smugglers.

This seemingly carefully choreographed move during the CHOGM summit raises troubling questions as to the exact purposes for which these patrol boats may be used.

These are certainly questions that the Australian people should direct towards their Prime Minister. And perhaps it is time that Australia honestly examines its own commitment to much vaunted Commonwealth values of democracy and the Rule of Law.

*A version of this article appeared in Lawyers Weekly, Sydney, Australia, 27th November 2013

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Latest comments

  • 1
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    Pinto,
    Get a life!!![Edited out]

  • 7
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    What beats me is how you sexist ignorant rajapaksa supporters can only howl when you cannot respond to logical critical writings.

    So if a woman writes logically like \Tisaranee or \Kishali whose fine ability with language cannot be matched by any of you, you can only howl in frustration like a dog and say, get a life, get a man, get a child!!

    It is crude ignorant and illiterate comments like this that has frittered away sympathy felt for Sri Lanka in the West as a result of the murderous LTTE. Like your medamulana paymasters, you must learn the art of shrewd engagement.

    Sexist abuse of women like this who confront the powerful knowing the consequences is a waste of your own energy. There are reasons of conscience driving them. Your crude abuse will not stop that.

    So get it at least now, if you have simple brains which may be a stretch. Otherwise, get a life yourself!

    • 1
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      Beast!!!
      Is this logical critical writing to you???? How lame!!!

      • 0
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        So then please add a strong argument to prove your last comment. Issue focusing on ” RULE OF LAW” is the foundation if the bugger rulers ever grasped it. That is clear to everyone but appearently not the case with you and the ilk … shame shame ..

      • 2
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        Wait until they come and rape you next. Perhaps, even if you or your lovely ones being raped by them, you would not change your views – because you guys still feel that MR regime liberated the country from LTTERs. But the truth is it was India and US.
        Did you bugger question why the US did not utter a word after British cameron louded his remarks on human right violations in SL. What caused US to stay dead silent in this regard ? Why do the US stay mum wihtout interviewing Shravendra Silva in terms of war crime related issues ? Why did they arrange that SILVA to work as what he is today.. is that just because of his crdentials? What has he got. similar to SENIOR diplomat… ? What could a former army barbarian deliver as a diplomat ? You buggers are made hallozinated. … When you guys would ever awake… then all is done to the nation… SHAME on stupid folks :(

        • 0
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          Wathie,
          You know you are mentally retarded right?

          • 1
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            Email, you are nothing but a dumb ass. If the cap suits you put it on!

            • 0
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              [Edited out]

            • 0
              1

              [Edited out]

      • 0
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        email, Of course it is.

    • 4
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      This is a puzzle to me too. Majority of lankens are the rural villagers. Most of them are reported to be literate. Why they let MR regime to abuse them repeatedly stays unanswered. Why the Radio programs, TV programs, Web sites explain the opposite while SLGO and its media are on a totally positive views prove us that zero press freedom is the case in SL. It is just the show, as BBC reiterates, they the authorities of media units allow journalists to raise their questions, but none of these are appeared in local media. This brutal men born to Rajapakshe family are a long term curse for entire world. Like a deadly cancer that the patient fights WITHOUT cure……………………….. dangerous—————–
      Chogm was not successful to the eyes of Eu countries. Yestrday, they warned the tourists travelling to lanka. Headline was intolerance of the state. Also people are informed about the updates – not as CW chairman, but alleged war criminal. .. IN COMING WEEKS, WE CAN READ MORE SIMILAR TO WHAT IS COMING FROM SYRIA….. well done … unfortunately, all these are on the cost of poor man..

  • 0
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    Mad!!! Has it ever been consistent and robust to write this topic now?

  • 4
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    Kishali Pinto-Jayawardena, Well said, voices of reason are now rising above Sinhala Buddhist extremism of the Bhikkus and ruling elite prevailing for several decades.

  • 4
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    Pinto is just pissed off that Abbot didn’t pulloff a Ca-moron. You see pinto, what abbot says is Australia can’t meddle in the affairs of Sri Lanka just because there are some instances of power abuse. If they do there will be people asking why Australia is not criticizing USA for maintaining Guantanamo bay. The shortcomings of us will have to be fixed by us. The disgruntled anti-government sections demanding that foreign leaders criticize the government is really lame. Foreign leaders owe you nothing.

  • 0
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    Quote “What caused US to stay dead silent in this regard ?” Its because of RACISM.
    White Cameron thinks he is Superior to Black Obama.

    KPJ if you experience a leak do not expect Cameron or Obama to fix it.
    You are used to Bar-sel Fern & do yell to the outside world to seek assistance to stop your leak ?

    • 0
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      USA is not part of the Commonwealth, so there was no pressure for them to say anything about Sri Lanka.

  • 1
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    Methinks thou art being generous and kind to a perfect SCOUNDREL!

  • 0
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    This woman [Edited out]

  • 0
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    Ms Pinto@
    This is a great article.
    But you will see, not many commentators would add their bits to this.
    That alone shows, how our peoples react towards the laws. For many, no matter the law is there or not, they just want to live with or without law. I wish this country we should a have rule of law to the manner as it is in Singapore. Germany, Switzerland and other Eu countries also are law bound countries, but law that work in S pore as I noticed is RIGOROUS.

  • 0
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    KISHALI:

    If you wrote this article to the LAWYER’s WEEKLY, most probably, you are also a lawyer. But, you should had been a very incompetent lawyer that is why you chose Journalism as the vocation.

    The way you judge, the whole earth is the heaven for animals and convicts and not for Human-humans of godly-humans.

    You article is CRAP.

  • 0
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    When low-bred law makers are at work “Rule Of Law Breaking In Sri Lanka” will continue. The only remedy is to get rid of them

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