23 February, 2024


The Human Rights Question In The South

By Rajan Hoole –

Rajan Hoole

Rajan Hoole

The Year 1988: The Red Moon Over Sri Lanka And The Dawn Of New Wisdom – Part 4

A particular context in which these accusations came up was the murder in police custody of the lawyer Wijedasa Liyannarachchi whose corpse was found to have more than 100 injuries. The SLFP was quick to play a leading role in protests highlighting for the first time in its 36 year history, gross violations by the state forces, which had though been long common in Tamil areas. For the elite, the Liyannarachchi affair gave them an occasion to give public expression to one side of their confused feelings. On the one hand the State, which had vocally and violently championed the Sinhalese cause in earlier years, was then killing Sinhalese youth in large numbers. On the other, while the elite were disconcerted by the JVP’s murderous violence, its apparent anti-Indian and subtly anti-Tamil rhetoric struck a responsive chord.

In this situation, the elite’s response was similar to that of the Tamil elite in the mid-80s. Although not absolutely safe, it felt safer for the elite to rain indignation against the Government’s violations – the violence of the known devil. Thus for them condemning the latter and being silent on the JVP’s violations, thereby giving them a certain legitimacy, became a fashionable way of feeling good. It was shallow and self-serving, having a useful purpose only when the JVP seemed like succeeding. This was the context behind the protest by an influential section of the intelligentsia when Liyannarachchi was killed. There were also those who had consistently protested against human rights violations over the years. They were a minority. Earlier, Human Rights had been an expression that had been spat upon as a pastime of Tamil lovers. But during the latter half of 1988, and only then, Human Rights became a very respectable term in the South of Sri Lanka.

Liyannarachchi had been working on habeas corpus cases in the South from the offices of the senior lawyer Ranjit Abeyasuriya, who was associated with the SLFP. He was abducted in Colombo upon leaving these offices on 25th August 1988 and taken by the Police to Tangalle, in DIG Udugampola’s area. A month earlier several members of Udugampola’s family had been murdered when the JVP attacked his ancestral home in the Deep South. Once the alarm was sounded over Liyannarachchi’s safety, it was decided to move him to Colombo. The Batalanda Commission has since found that Minister Ranil Wickremasinghe was instrumental in giving the CSU unit at Kelaniya custody of Liyannarachchi and that this unit was responsible for the torture to which he finally succumbed.

The Bar Association took an unprecedented step. The Association resolved (Sunday Times 11.9.88) that “no member of the Association would appear for a police officer in any court until all police officers connected with the arrest and death of Mr. Liyannarachchi are interdicted and criminal proceedings are instituted against them forthwith”.

The resolution was evidently drafted in haste under the clamour of the moment. To be consistent, the Bar Association should have taken the position that none of its members would appear in a case where there is good reason to believe that the prospective client is guilty of the offence he has been charged with. For, there could have arisen a situation where the Attorney General charged in court the very man who was beyond reasonable doubt Liyannarachchi’s killer. The accused in turn may have retained a brilliant member of the Bar Association who found holes in the Attorney General’s case, and got the killer released.

Further ironies were brought out by Qadri Ismail (Sunday Times 11 Sept. 88), who confirmed that Liyannarachchi had long been a member of the JVP, but added that his rank was not known. He pointed out that the Bar Association had failed to condemn the JVP’s murder of the lady lawyer Amara Vellappili in Hambantota, who had been a United Socialist Alliance candidate in April’s provincial council elections. Nor had the Association condemned the murder in July 1983 of 53 detainees in Welikade Prison. Ismail further asked whether this selective protest meant that “the Association thinks it correct that those who support the Indo-Lanka-Accord be killed”. Lucien Rajakarunayake writing in the Sunday Times (25.9.88) captured the irony with the title “Rule of law or lawyers?”

H.W. Jayewardene QC who had been the pioneer president of the Bar Association wrote to H.L. de Silva, the then president, accusing the Association of ‘gross betrayal of obligations owed by a lawyer’ and said that he was resigning his membership. He further charged that the Association was in breach of Articles 6, 8 and 10 of the UDHR (Universal Declaration of Human Rights) and Article 14 of the ICCPR (International Covenant of Civil and Political Rights). Responding to criticism, H.L. de Silva said in a statement (CDN 22.9.88) that the Bar Association’s action is of an interim nature and “is performed in the larger interests of the community which must be protected at all costs from torture, cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment which is a far greater evil that needs to be eliminated”. From about 10th October the situation deteriorated rapidly and the Bar Association’s boycott was overtaken by events.

After the resumption of war with the LTTE in June 1990, all the evils of extra-judicial licence became the daily routine in the North-East, which in Colombo, and for the Bar Association, remained a reality out-of-sight and out-of-mind. H.L. de Silva’s subsequent analysis of the question of a federal arrangement for Sri Lanka in mid-1991, gave no weight to the bearing of gross violations on the question (see Sect.23.7.8).

To be continued..

*From Rajan Hooles “Sri Lanka: Arrogance of Power  – Myth, Decadence and Murder”. Thanks to Rajan for giving us permission to republish. To read earlier parts click here

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Latest comments

  • 2

    Dr. Hoole

    I like what you did for human rites in 80s, 90s and 00s. Great work.
    My Naana tells me you are a “cool guy.”

    Specialy I like when you say – in 1988 blaming only the govement for human rite violaton was “a fashionable way of feeling good” Dont you think this is what hapening again at present time? I think the only diference this time is that the LTTE and JVP suppoters also join the human rites business people in blamin only the govement show. Yes I agree that human rites business is a fashion show.

    But I know you are not like those show business people. When you did your great work you were force to go hiding. That meen you were doing it right. Thank you. God bless you.

    Kutti Machan (and my Naana)

  • 0

    Human Rights ,,,,Mmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmm or Retribution ??????

    Don’t you feel sad to hear that a pro ltte Diaspora mother in the U.K. kills her two sons and kills herself ?? Why ???????

    Why is Channel 4 facing the wraught of the people? Whom did they deceive this time ?

    Oh !!!!!!!!! What came of our Prime Minister Rudrakumar? How many people’s money he attempted to cheat?

    Oh !!!! those Americans…. why did not the Prime Minister Rudrakumar not told that they wanted Sri Lanka to use “cluster bombs”?
    Bad set up. Sri Lanka did not fall in to the trap.
    At least now will the anti-GOSL and pro-ltte’ers appreciate the GOSL?
    Nooooooooooo…….. these pro-ltte tamils will never. How unfortunate.
    They prefer to face retribution than to making peace with GOSL?

    That Rapp fellow asks Gota why did you not prosecute ltte’ers but rehabilitate them?

    Finally what did the Americans want to see what was under the saree that Indian lady diplomat wore? Funny justice. She was no crimi8nal.


    • 2


      I am not educashional like you. But I think it is wron to bring the stori of the Lundon woman into this.

      I agree with you the human rites business peepul like HRW, AI, UN-IRC, Navia Pilli, Paakiya, Nimalie, Sunaka Priya, Goat Wise, Pranky Harris, Kallan Makkara are tellin lot of lies about Sri Lanka war with Tigers. In fact these human rites industree peepul are tellin more lies than the Sri Lanka Govenmen about the war. Becos it is fashion (see uda, I mean above) to support the bad guys, these evil peepul have taken the side of LTTE and receiving advise from the Tiger Kottiyas about what kind of storyies to tell about the Sri Lanka war to the internazi comeedy (IC). Too bad for us the poor peepul of this cuntry.

      But the Lundon insident is a trajeedy (sadness) that happen to an indivual. Due to psycologie – you know perssonal – probems. My Naana say sumtime some womin can get psycologie sickness after childberth. She say it can happen in any socity and there were many such sad insidents repoted before, pecially in Western socitys where many peepul feel lonely – living alone without suport from relaysons. So we must feel sorry for that poor woman accoring to my Naana. I hope you are not mad with me for tellin this.

      Kutti Machan
      (with my Naana)

  • 2

    [Edited out]

  • 0

    Stupid again. No sense

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