By Rajan Hoole –
Law enforcement involves three tiers – the Police, the Attorney General and the Judiciary. Any one of them can have a benignant influence on the others. From the 1970s, in particular, governments have tried to politicise all three in varying degrees. A major break in the character of the Police came in 1977 when they were used in fomenting the 1977 communal violence under Jayewardene (see Sect 2.6 – 2.8). Another stage in the development of impunity can be seen in the UNP government’s response to specific charges of violations in the mid-1980s. If the incident was one of Tamil farmers harvesting paddy being massacred by the Security Forces, Minister Lalith Athulathmudali was quick to discover that they were armed terrorists. It precluded any serious inquiry. Law enforcement came to lie with the whims of the executive.
A disturbing feature of the system is that in any sensitive case the executive decides whether or not an investigation takes place, if investigated how far it should go and whether or not the case is heard in court. Consequently, in some cases, publicity given to police reports filed by commissars have become a substitute for investigation and prosecution. Jayewardene’s ‘Naxalite Plot’ was a clear precedent (see Chapters 4 and 7). Commenting on the Rohana Kumara case, just under 6 months of the murder (Sect. 21.1.4), President Kumaratunge cited an interim report from the Police. One inferred that after conveniently discovering that Kumara’s mother suspected an individual she associated in a private schism, the Police had virtually closed the case!
The Krishanthy Kumarasamy tragedy (Sect. 21.2.9 and our Special Report No.12) shocked the world. Deputy Defence Minister Ratwatte more than 30 days after the incident denied any violations in Jaffna. When the pressure mounted, President Kumaratunge ordered an investigation in mid-October 1996. It was a carefully staged damage limitation exercise. Those immediately responsible for the crime were given death sentences. However, these men were then carrying out chores of torture, murder and disposal of bodies at the behest of colonels, brigadiers, major-generals etc. This aspect clearly surfaced in court and was ignored.
In effect, those convicted were sacrificed to protect those above. The ritual cover-up was aided by the defendants’ inability to afford experienced lawyers. However, the Government received praise. For the first time, it was said, justice had been granted to victims of a crime by state actors. The disturbing point was lost. Justice in a form cut and judiciously packaged came as a gift from President Kumaratunge. It did not come from a right to justice enjoyed by the ordinary citizen. Nor did it come from a professional system dedicated to enforcing the Law impartially. It came rather as part of an order where most things go by convenience and favour.
The executive has over the years developed many options for thwarting justice when it is expedient. In the Welikade prison massacres and in the Ananda Sunil case, both of 1983, the Chief Magistrate, Colombo, delivered verdicts that suited the government of the day. Sect. 21.1.4 gives an instance in 1999 where, by providence as it were, the new Judicial Service Commission replaced the Fort Magistrate who was being inconvenient.
Administrative means of thwarting justice are often more effective and far less awkward than playing with the Judiciary, as Jayewardene blatantly did. The investigation into the paramilitary group PRRA of the late 1980s (see Chapter 17), was done by the Chief Inspector, Chilaw Police, in 1997. The case was transferred to the CID and has slept ever since.
The first major violations by the State during the Kumaratunge presidency concerned the Floating Corpses case (Sect. 21.3.1). The STF men involved were detained and the CID obtained detailed testimony from them on how the murders were committed. IGP Rajaguru told a press conference in August end 1995 that they had a water-tight case. However, the killers were bailed out six months later and evidently went back to work!
A year later Attorney General Sarath Silva told the Sunday Leader (1.Sept.96) that foreign experts had been engaged to identify the bodies and the matter would be concluded soon. However, the Sunday Times reported on 4th May 1997 that the case against the 22 STF men had been taken off the roll in the Colombo Magistrate’s Court. The AG’s Department, the report said, maintained that the delay owed to the non-availability of two reports, one from the University of Glasgow and the other from the Government Analyst’s Department. It is now a dead issue. By comparison, AG Sunil de Silva was transparent in not proceeding with the de Zoysa case (Sect. 18.1). The Embilipitiya students’ case is a further instance of the AG (then Marapone) thwarting action until a change of government (Sect. 18.7).
A system where killers in uniform are routinely bailed out, if ever detained, suppresses justice effectively. In the case of Selliah Subramaniam above, who was killed by the CSU in Vavuniya, the killers were at large and a son who pursued the case found it wise to leave the country. The system armed with draconian powers has too many options to deal with those who challenge it. Given the arbitrary powers of the Police to detain upon ‘suspicion’, robbery and extortion by the Police of unconnected Tamils and Muslims from the North-East who come to the South, or are returning home from foreign employment, has become common. Even at the Colombo International Airport, a Tamil bound for Germany was taken aside ‘on suspicion’ by airport security, threatened, assaulted, forced to sign a huge travellers cheque and loaded into the flight at the last minute. That such things are possible points to the gravity of the problem. The ordinary Tamil will bend and crawl before the system to survive. But what breeds in his mind in response to routine humiliation, has surpassed in intensity the malignancy of the State.
*To be continued..
*From Rajan Hoole‘s “Sri Lanka: Arrogance of Power – Myth, Decadence and Murder”. Thanks to Rajan for giving us permission to republish. To read earlier parts click here