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Crime Wave Causes Concern

By Niranjala Ariyawansha and Raisa Wickrematunge

Last Sunday, the body of a man was found on Marine Drive, his throat slashed. On the same day, an 80 year old was found in Mirihana, dead due to ‘mysterious circumstances.’ The very next day, a twenty two year old was killed in Boralesgamuwa- a case of mistaken identity. These are just a few of the tragic tales we read – tales of violence, which seem to be occurring with increased frequency. A crime wave is sweeping the country, many charge, and the Government is dragging its feet in terms of preventive measures. More ominous is the whispered claim that many of the offenders are either lower-rung ruling party politicians, or those who are ‘well connected’ politically. However, the police say that the crime rate is in fact on a downward trend, a claim that they support with statistics. The Sunday Leader sought the views of some prominent members of civil society on this issue.

J.C. Weliamuna

Prominent human rights lawyer and Executive Director of Transparency International, J. C. Weliamuna said that the issue of violence is not purely post-war. “This just shows that the police doesn’t have time to solve crime, because on the one hand they are entrusted to do things that the police is not supposed to do, for instance to be security guards to politicians,” he said.
In terms of root causes, Weliamuna said that he did not know of any survey done by criminologists or sociologists on the issue of rising violent crime. He added that Sri Lankan society had grown used to seeing killing, and added that impunity afforded to politicians often played a factor.
”The culprits of major crimes are mostly connected to politicians, especially those on the Government side. Even Opposition politicians can commit crimes with impunity and they can simply cross over and get protection,” he said adding that police would often not touch the case.
The law enforcement mechanism is subject to political dictates, he said- and often, law enforcement themselves are responsible. He cited the recent Welikada prison riot, saying the police response amounted to an ‘absolute crime’ with no justice provided for victims. Weliamuna also spoke of killings and abductions in the North and South, which to this day remain unsolved. The spike in violence can be seen even at the Magistrate Courts level, he added.
“Occasionally, you will see families murdered. Once, that was exceptional. These days, one day in court you will hear about the rape and murder of a family, or a large number of people killed in one place, and so many other crimes,” Weliamuna said.

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Professor Rohan Gunaratne

Security specialist Professor Rohan Gunaratne said that it was expected that there would be a rise in ordinary and serious crime as Sri Lanka was still returning to normalcy after three decades of conflict. The strategy to fight crime is not to address the symptom – the act of crime – but to take preventive and rehabilitative steps, he said. In order to reduce crime, the Professor said, three steps should be taken. First, National Crime Prevention Council should be set up where policemen build partnerships with community organizations, religious bodies, educational institutions and the media. Through neighbourhood watch programmes and essay competitions, for instance, a more disciplined society could be built, he said. The Government should also have a better rehabilitation system so that prison inmates and detainees do not go back to crime, he added. Claiming that Sri Lanka’s terrorist rehabilitation programme was hailed as a global model, he advocated using a similar model for prisoners as well. As a deterrent step, the Professor also called for the re-introduction of the death penalty for drug traffickers, murderers and terrorists.

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Professor Harendra De Silva

Professor Harendra De Silva provided some much needed insight into the situation, saying that the law of the land does not adequately deal with the crimes taking place today. ”The respect the common man has for the judiciary is lessened and the fear of committing crimes, even murder is less, as people are aware of the fact that the law does not apply to people in high positions,” said Prof. Harendra De Silva.
The professor also observed that during the conflict period, there were many deserters from the Army who were desperately seeking some sort of income. For many such persons, violence, including murder was nothing new. Many had become mentally aligned towards such heinous activities. Citing the period soon after the Vietnam War, the Professor pointed out that many soldiers returning from Vietnam to the United States suffered from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder that prompted them to take part in various sorts of violent behaviour. However, according to Police, in the year 2008, about 1924 murders took place. The data is not very accurate but it gives a picture of the violence that is steadily increasing in the country, said Professor Harendra De Silva. 579 people were killed this year alone up until November. While this is a drop from last year’s figures, what is disturbing is that reported crimes are growing steadily more violent; despite continued police presence and recruitment. Could this be, as Professor de Silva said, growing bravado due to political impunity? That is for the reader to decide.

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Murder In Dehiwala

Manjula’s brother Amila AND Manjula’s family

It was just around midnight when four youth came to meet Manjula Deshapriya at No. 2489 in Saranankara Road, Dehiwala on November 18. The woman, who owns the house Manjuala has rented, tapped on the door and said some persons from Manjula’s mother’s village in Galle had come to meet him. However, Manjula noticed that the group of visitors was persons whom he had frequently seen around the area. It appeared that the persons who had come wanted to speak to Manjula out in the open and there seemed nothing suspicious about it. It was an L-shaped lane and they began their discussion a few metres away from the house.

This is Manjula’s story:
They are not my friends, but I have seen them often. They were drunk. They said that one of their three-wheelers had been stolen and claimed that some of my friends were responsible for it. So you are also involved in it, so make sure that you return the three-wheeler.”
“I told them that, ‘I don’t know anything about it. I’m a mason earning daily wages. My mother is a domestic. We may be poor but we never resort to robbery. Please leave me alone,’ I said. However, they assaulted me several times and despite my pleadings, one person drew out a knife and threatened me. I was really scared. However, the others said it would do and they got on to a three-wheeler and left. I didn’t go home but walked to the Kohuwala Police. It was around 1 am and they told me it was handled by the Boralesgamuwa police and as it was not a very big incident, told me to make the complaint in the morning.” When he came home around 2 am all his family were outside the house and looking for him. After some time he went into the house to drink some water. Suddenly all heard Manjula crying out loud. Manjula’s younger brother Amila, who was suffering from a mental ailment, had been hacked to death on his bed. The assailants had entered the house from the back door and had murdered Amila mistaking him to be Manjula. He had been stabbed 18 times.

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Dr. Paikiasothy  Saravanamuttu

Meanwhile, Dr. Paikiasothy Saravanamuttu from the Centre of Policy Analysis said there were serious problems in terms of law and order and rule of law in Sri Lanka. Dr. Saravanamuttu said he needed to look closer at crime statistics before he could say if crime had, in fact, increased. He added that often issues which were buried in the background in the midst of war were often highlighted post-war, and thus this issue might have existed even earlier.
”Before we can say there has been an increase in violent killings, murders and lawlessness, we have to find out whether it is a consequence of the end of the war, of people having weapons and being able to use them, or…the unwillingness to deal with the problems that arose from war,” he added. Alluding to the popular speculation that army deserters were also behind some of the violence, he said that while he did not have evidence to support the claims, it would make sense that those who had witnessed scenes of terrible violence would inflict it themselves. “It might not be a primary cause, but it could be a contributing cause,” he said. “The population has been brutalised by war, and the value of human life has been degraded, sad to say,” he observed.

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Dr. Jehan Perera

Dr. Jehan Perera of the National Peace Council however was of the view that Army deserters were involved in the spike in crime, though he added that he had not done much research on the topic. “We need to invest in healing these people too, we can’t just ignore them. Just as we reach out to the Tamil people, we must reach out to these deserters too and give them healing. Using law and order alone isn’t enough,” he said.
”The increase in the level and brutality of violence is an indication that our society has still not healed from the war. Robberies and thefts have always been a problem. What is particularly a cause for concern is that these are now accompanied by murder,” he said. Dr. Perera attributed this to the fact that the war was brutal — a no-mercy war, on both sides, from the massacres at Mullaitivu when the army camp was overrun, and the surrender of police in the east, the execution of prisoners and the bloody final stages of the war.
However, Dr. Perera observed that the violence seen is happening despite massive investment being made in security and security forces. Therefore, he said, “A heavy responsibility lay upon Supreme Court judges for being the guardians and protectors of the constitution to uphold the canons of the constitution’s predominance and its supremacy over all other institutions and authorities. Alas, in Sri Lanka, the Supreme Court is itself under siege.” “There is a need for post-war healing.
The government must set the example. It has by far the most power and influence in the country. They have to make a special effort to restore moral order. What happened during the war must be made an aberration,” he said. He bemoaned the fact that people in power were openly using thuggery to get their way and called for Government leaders to set a good example.
“The police cannot act with the integrity they would like to act with as they are under the power of the same government leaders who use violence when they want to,” Dr. Perera said.  “I believe that in these dark times, we need our religious leaders to give moral leadership and educate people that outward rituals of worship matter not, and that we need to treat others with the same devotion and concern we treat our own,” observed Dr. Perera.

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