Rewarding Illegality; Enthroning Injustice
By Tisaranee Gunasekara
The prince who neglects or violates his trust is more a brigand than the robber-chief”
Byron (The Two Foscari)
The long-awaited LLRC report is, finally, ready. But can it promote accountability or assure justice in a country where contempt for law is a hallmark of governance?
Until last month, those who felt unprotected by the Lankan legal-system and, consequently, appealed for international intercession, were either Tamils or Rajapaksa-opponents. Last month, a brother of Bharatha Lakshman Premachandra sought the help of the Commonwealth to ensure justice for his murdered-sibling. This is a pivotal development. If the regime blatantly shields the man who reportedly ordered the public-slaughter of a senior SLFP leader, can Tamil war-victims expect any justice under Rajapaksa-Rule? Given the Rajapaksa-readiness to protect loyal-criminals, can the LLRC Report amount to anything beyond a declaration of pious intents and false assurances?
Last week, Duminda Silva departed in style, to seek treatment in a foreign hospital. In a lawful state he would have been placed under arrest (while in hospital). But Sri Lanka is not a lawful land; here primacy is accorded not to law or justice but to the needs, whims and fancies of the rulers. The grand-manner of Silva’s departure (he was accorded the sort of protection a senior minister would envy – doubtless by the Defence Ministry of which he is a monitoring-MP) foretells that he will not be held legally-accountable for the Kolonnawa-quadruple murders.
The Ruling-Siblings help their loyalists to evade the law with the same pugnacious-assiduity with which they use the law to punish their opponents. So Gen. Sarath Fonseka, the Tiger-slayer, is in jail, convicted of a financial misdemeanour. President Rajapaksa, who refused to show him any clemency, speedily pardoned the former Mayor of Kandy convicted by a court of law of misappropriating public funds. Murderers or thieves, child-rapists or abductors – the long arm of the law is not long enough to catch them (or strong enough to hold them), if they have the right-connections.
Impunity is thus an emblematic feature of the Rajapaksa regime. There is one law for the Rajapaksas and their current favourites and another law for the rest of us. They play; we pay.
The Niemöller-Law is not limited to political repression. Injustice and illegality too are cancers which infect even those who are convinced of their imperviousness. For instance, the proposed Expropriation Bill shares a motive force with the planed mass-eviction of Colombo’s poor. The Rajapaksas have expensive tastes and extravagant needs; selling/leasing land is an excellent way of making a quick-buck, if there is enough land to vend. This, plus the need to de-empower and punish anti-government communities and individuals, is the primary-motive behind most Rajapaksa attempts at land-grabbing and asset-expropriation.
In a delicious irony, the regime’s planned expropriation of ‘non-performing, under-performing and under-utilised properties’ coincides with the latest COPE Report on 249 government ventures which grossed a collective loss of over Rs.19 billion during 2007-2009. So what does the government plan to do with such gargantuan (and unnecessary) white-elephants as Mihin Air and Lankaputhra Bank? Why does the regime not focus on improving the performance of its own ‘non-performing, under-performing and under-utilised properties’ instead of expropriating the properties of others, from Colombo’s poor and Kalpitiya fisherfolk to leading businessmen?
When will the upper and middle classes understand that they too will be subjected to the same injustices as Northern Tamils or Colombo’s poor, sooner or later?
In the North, impunity continues to reign. For instance, on September 20, seven policemen assaulted a suspect inside the premises of the Jaffna court: “Udaya Pushparaja Antony Nithyaraja… had voluntarily gone to the court and appeared before the Magistrate through his lawyer… The Magistrate after considering the police submissions and court documents, released him. However, seven police officers in civilian clothes arrested him and started beating Antony in the presence of the Magistrate, lawyers, court staff and a large number of people. He was dragged to the Jaffna Headquarters Police Station for detention” (Asian Human Rights Commission – 23.9.2011). The perpetrators of this particular crime were arrested thanks to the courageous stand taken by Jaffna lawyers. But in general, the permissiveness of the power-wielders and the powerlessness of the victims enable perpetrators of every sort of crime, from murder to rape, to escape justice in the North.
The Rajapaksa-practice of ignoring, subverting and twisting the law is undermining the justice-system and creating a societal-perception that a person with right-connections can get away with any crime. Increasingly the Southern public too is beginning to perceive the law as a highly partisan, discriminatory entity, which functions as the servant of the powerful and the scourge of the powerless. The resultant loss of faith in the legal system is compelling more and more people to gather together to seek their own brand of ‘justice’. For instance, enraged villagers attacked the properties of the two main suspects (one an army captain) in the killing of a popular doctor in Karandeniya. Clearly the Southern-public is becoming aware that the army and the police are beginning to act with impunity even in the Sinhala-heartlands.
One month ago, Bharatha Lakshman Premachandra would not have thought that a fate akin to that of innumerable civilian Tamils will befall him. That the unthinkable did happen is a warning that the Rajapaksas, like Cronus, will devour their own Sinhala and SLFP children.
Child Rape and the Brutalisation of Society 10 percent to 14 percent of underage girls are sexually abused in Sri Lanka annually and around 7 percent get pregnant at a very young age, according to the Family Health Bureau (Sri Lanka Mirror – 29.10.2011).
Logically, rationally this situation should concern not just the government or the opposition, but every Lankan. Unfortunately, these devastating statistics hardly caused a stir. That indifference is indicative of a deadly-malaise in our society, a habit of almost ruthless indifference, a dangerous lack of compassion, which is becoming ingrained.
This societal indifference to child abuse is mirrored in the abominable tendency on the part of the judiciary to treat this most heinous crime with unpardonable leniency. “A study carried out by Lawyers for Human Rights and Development (LHRD), has found that since 2008 there had been a trend in imposing suspended sentences in cases of rape and child molestation… the study had revealed that even convicts of gang rape of underage females including school children had been given suspended sentences by courts” (Daily Mirror – 24.6.2011).
Wars brutalise societies and make them pitiless. Thus physical and psychological demilitarisation is necessary for societies to revert to peaceful-modes of thinking and doing. Lankan peace, on the contrary, is characterised by increased militarisation, including of hitherto non-militarised spaces. The regime promotes the notion of the military as the embodiment of all that is good and virtuous. This veneration of power and force is impeding the advent of a kinder, gentler societal-ethos. When force and power are regarded as the most desirable qualities, powerlessness becomes an embarrassing weakness. Such a society, instead of protecting its most powerless members (children, minorities, dissidents) will be indifferent to their plight. That indifference will embolden official and unofficial criminals, spurring them to reach wider and higher for victims.
Indifference to child-abuse heralds the jungle for everyone.