By Tisaranee Gunasekara –
“Most sovereigns are afraid of enlightened people.” – Baron d’Holbach (Christianity Unveiled)
Less than 48 hours later, on September 13th, five JVP campaign offices were attacked[ii]. As ever, the perpetrators got away scot-free.
The presence of the STF did not deter the attackers of Moneragala any more than the presence of the STF/military in numbers or the imposition of curfew deterred the rioters of Aluthgama[iii]. In both cases, the purveyors of violence knew themselves to be above the law.
In Moneragala, election has turned into a mini-war. Last week, within a period of 72 hours, 21 opposition campaign offices were attacked. On the final weekend of August, nine opposition campaign offices (four UNP; five JVP) were targeted[iv].
Even as police in Moneragala continued to fail spectacularly, the police in Kurunegala notched a magnificent success. They managed to find the four year old girl who was abducted from her home, reportedly to be offered as a human sacrifice to obtain buried treasure. The child was returned unharmed to her parents and the suspects taken into custody. A barbaric crime and a horrendous tragedy were prevented.
The toddler was abducted on September 9th. She was found on September 12th. It took the police just three days to crack the case.
In Jaffna the police are yet to unearth the naval ratings who allegedly gang-raped two little girls, repeatedly[v]. Yet when an eight year old girl was raped and murdered in Batticaloa, the police managed to crack the case fast and arrest the alleged perpetrator, a neighbour[vi].
When politics do not intervene, Lankan police can be quite an effective crime-busting force. It is when politics intervene that the police become outstandingly inept.
The President publicly laughed off the news about election violence in Moneragala. This week, his nephew and UPFA chief ministerial candidate Shashindra Rajapaksa followed suit. The younger Rajapaksa proclaimed that “election violence in Moneragala is an illusion created by uninformed individuals”. He said that a few incidents of lawbreaking are inevitable in elections and warned that it is “purely unnecessary to magnify and publicise these small incidents.”[vii]
With such clear signals from power-wielders, is it any surprise that the police have been unable to stem the tide of lawlessness in Moneragala?
Though elections will be held in the Badulla district as well, campaigning there has been largely peaceful. In the run up to the Uva poll, violence and lawlessness are concentrated in Moneragala. Moneragala is special because Shashindra Rajapaksa is contesting from that district. When a member of the Ruling Family contests, mere victories do not suffice; only spectacular victories will do. That is why while Badulla is relatively quiet while Monregala is seething.
Violence-ridden Moneragala foretells the sort of campaign the Rajapaksas will wage during the upcoming presidential election.
According to Minister Wimal Weerawansa, Western diplomats are hatching a new ‘conspiracy’. They plan to divide the Sinhala vote, prevent Mahinda Rajapaksa from winning an outright victory, push the election into a second round and ignite a ‘social-media revolution’[viii]. Pure fantasy, admittedly, but still worthy of attention because of what it reveals about the Rajapaksa mindset. The Siblings are not totally confident of an outright victory at the Presidential election. Consequently they will adopt a no-holds-barred approach to the election, doing whatever it takes to win outright and win big. And the resultant tides of violence will victimise Sinhala-Buddhists as much as Tamils, Muslims and Christians.
In his inaugural address as the new UN High Commissioner of Human Rights, Zeid Ra’ad al-Hussein made a special reference to Sri Lanka. He expressed concern about “threats levelled against the human rights community” and deplored “the incitement and violence against the country’s Muslim and Christian minorities”[ix]. The new UNHRC Chief is no Kamalesh Sharma, determined not to see, hear or talk evil about the Rajapaksas. Ere long, the JHU-BBS types will accuse Mr. al-Hussein of being a Jihadist (probably an agent of ISIS) just as they accused Ms. Pillay of being a Tigress.
If Sinhala-Buddhists discard the distorting ethno-religious lens and take a clear look at the violence racking Moneragala, they will understand why stemming the tide of impunity in Sri Lanka is necessary for the security and wellbeing of all Lankans.
The events in Moneragala prove beyond reasonable doubt that impunity is a national malaise which can victimise any Lankan who is not a member of the Rajapaksa family. Impunity is a Tamil problem, Muslim problem, a Christian problem and a Sinhala-Buddhist problem.
Impunity cannot be countered without accountability. And the events of the last several years prove beyond any doubt that accountability cannot be achieved via an exclusively national effort.
Take, for instance, the incident of Deputy Minister Mervyn Silva tying a Samurdhi official to a tree. Mr. Silva was so confident of being able to escape the consequences of his crime that he invited media personnel to witness him perpetrating it[x]. And he was right. Despite the presence of ample cast-iron evidence, the SLFP disciplinary committee found Mr. Silva not guilty[xi] and the President made him a cabinet minister. The already traumatised victim was frightened into implicating himself. Today the former government official is a bakery employee in Saudi Arabia[xii].
Similar tactics were used when Ven. Watareka Vijitha Thero was assaulted and when Mervyn Silva’s son attacked a senior military intelligence official. The victims were made to take the blame, turning the crime into a non-crime and enabling the perpetrators to saunter away.
Impunity cannot be stemmed nor accountability achieved via national processes alone; certainly not after the enactment of the 13th Amendment and the fraudulent impeachment. The UNHRC investigation is important because it will make the Rajapaksas realise that though they are immune to national justice, there will be a price to pay internationally. Such knowledge might make them rethink some of their more extreme plans.
The cabinet has decreed that new passports must contain all ten fingerprints of the passport-holders. In an even more bizarrely oppressive move, the regime has ordered tourist hotels to provide the police with details about all local visitors. “One well informed source said such data were often transmitted by the Police Station concerned to the District Intelligence Bureau (DIB). They in turn forward that information to the State Intelligence Service (SIS) at Cambridge Place Colombo. In other words, Police will know when a Sri Lankan with or without their family are holidaying and in which resort…”[xiii] (This order is probably unconstitutional; it should be debated in parliament and contested in the courts).
The Rajapaksas have no intention of giving up power. They will do whatever it takes to win elections and to destroy actual and potential dissent. Just as the upcoming presidential and parliamentary elections will be extremely violent affairs, a third term for Mahinda Rajapaksa will mean an even more unfree, insecure and unjust existence for every Lankan.
Preventing that future is a national task. But national does not mean autarkic. The UNHRC investigation is causing the Rajapaksas some worries. That should be welcome news in Moneragala as well.
[xiii] No Privacy for Lankan holidaymakers: Bing Brother to be informed – The Sunday Times – 14.9.2014