The Sunday Leader

Law Out Of Order?

With regard to the recent incidents where the police were unable to address public disorder, a general notion has surfaced that the state of law and order in the country is at stake. The Weliweriya incident, where a public demonstration demanding access to clean water ended up with three people dead and some injured, is a clear indication of failure to maintain law and order.

Many hold the view that the police did not use all the powers vested with them to control the situation. The military had taken over the situation even before the police tried out the traditional methods such as tear gas and rubber bullets to disperse the mob. Others are of the view that it as a problem with policymaking, where the military is given police powers under the emergency act, whereas the military is not trained in public disorder management.

Even though the government intended to set up an independent police commission according to the LLRC recommendations, by taking it under the Ministry of Law and Order, many seem to think that the police still does not function independently. The Ministry of Law and Order was established in August this year with President Mahinda Rajapaksa himself as the minister in charge and ex-military personnel Major General (Rtd) Nanda Mallawarachchi as the Secretary to the ministry. In a gazette issued by the president, the police department was removed from the Ministry of Defense and was taken under the Ministry of Law and Order, however, not addressing the core of the problem.

Several parties expressed their views to The Sunday Leader on the state of law and order in the current context

 

Sunil Handunnetti, Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna MP

When the entire governing system is treacherous and riddled with bribery and corruption, we cannot expect the police to be detached from all that.

The plight of those who try to take action against the prevailing fraudulent system face a tragic ending. They are either being remanded or transferred.

Therefore, those in the police department are hesitant to interfere in matters where there is high political influence. When we look at the incidents that took place in the recent past, this situation is obvious. As a result, the public has lost faith in the law and order of the country.

The crime rate is on the rise and nobody dares to take action against the criminals as they are often backed by those who are in power. We can expect the police to maintain law and order only if the existing system supports it. Without any commitment from the top level to maintain law and order in the country, it is hopeless.
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Suresh Premachandran, Tamil National Alliance MP

We do not have proper machinery in the North to maintain law and order. Recently, several abductions and robberies were reported from the Northern Province and disruptions to law and order continue in the area.

The police have not been able to take any actions. However, there is still heavy presence of the army which is creating a culture of impunity. Similar conditions apply to the other areas of the country.

There is no independent police commission even though it is has now been taken under the Ministry of Law and Order. The police acts according to the whims and fancies of the government.

The police need to be capable of acting independently and maintain law and order in their area without having to seek support of the military when situations that disturb law and order arise.

There are definitely high political influences in the police. Besides, when police officers are being transferred to the North or East, it is generally perceived as a punishment transfer. Most of the officers tend to neglect their duties due to this general notion.

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Upul Jayasooriya, President, Bar Association of Sri Lanka

In the current context, there is neither law nor order in the country.

The policymakers of the country are greatly responsible for this condition.

The police powers were vested with the army, navy and the air force under the emergency law, even though they are not trained to carry out the functions of the police.

Army forces are trained to shoot, and they shoot to kill. The police are the unit that is trained to manage public disorders. They have strategies like rubber bullets and tear gas to disperse the mob.

The police do not make the policies of the country. It is the responsibility of the politicians to make the policies. Police powers being vested with the army shows the chaotic nature of law and order in the country.

Only the powerful and mighty enjoy these disorders as they can do anything within this system for their advantage. The poor with no political or financial setup are subjected to unfair treatment and are the only ones who abide by the law.
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Dr Paikiasothy Saravanamuttu,
Executive Director Center
for Policy Alternatives

The common practice of the police at present is that when there is a public demonstration they call in for the security forces and the special task forces. The military come prepared to kill.

With regard to the fishermen’s case, the Export Processing Zone case and Weliweriya case in the recent past, the police took the same measures by calling in for military which aggravated the situation.

There is lot that needs to be done to reinforce law and order in the country. There has to be a political vision to ensure law and order that is shared through the best practices of the governance.

Decisions related to law and order were previously taken under the Ministry of Defense and are now taken under the Ministry of Law and Order where President Mahinda Rajapaksa himself acts as the minister-in-charge.

The secretary of the ministry is also an ex-military person, which is against the LLRC recommendations. There has to be independent oversight commissions for the state agencies as it cited under the 17th amendment. That has to be reinstituted.

The prime responsibility of the government is to maintain law and order while protecting human rights, which they have failed to do.

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SSP Ajith Rohana Police Media Spokesman

The Sri Lanka Police has a good practice of public disorder management.

Earlier, there were demonstrations and protests that took place in public spaces, especially in Colombo Fort, on a daily basis.

The trend has now been discouraged by the police. With regard to the Weliweriya incident, the army was present at a request made by the Gampaha SP just to announce a message from the Defense Ministry. Public disorder management is a very sensitive topic in the modern world.

In problematic situations, we have to respect the rights of the people. Many human rights activists and the international community keep a watch on any type of human rights violation.

Now, we try not to use traditional methods like tear gas and rubber bullets to disperse the mob, as it is a form of human rights violation.

We are trying to develop different methods. I am not in a position to make further statements on the Weliweriya incident. There may have been complications with regard to that incident, yet the police department has been perfectly well equipped to maintain law and order in the country with reference to many other incidents.

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Jehan Perera,
National Peace Council, Executive Director

To a large extent, Sri Lanka is an orderly society. Tourists may see it as a peaceful and hospitable society.

In general, people know if they do something illegal, they risk being caught and punished.

There are no mobs roaming the streets and attacking people recklessly. Therefore, we are a law-abiding society. The problems arise when a top politician or a political ally of the government is involved in the incidents.

Then the system of law and order breaks down. The police may not act independently under these circumstances to obtain justice.

The LLRC report cited that the rule of law should prevail and not the rule of men.  According to LLRC recommendations, the police and other important state institutions should be freed from political control. This is what the 17th Amendment tried to implement.

Unfortunately, it was replaced by the 18th Amendment. We need a 19th Amendment that repeals the 18th Amendment and improves what is in the 17th Amendment

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Brigadier Ruwan Wanigasooriya
Army Spokesman

The police in the country is completely capable of reinforcing law and order.

If a situation is out of their control, they will have to call in for army.

That is the procedure.

It does not mean that they are incapable.

Under certain circumstances, the police has to seek support of the army to avoid acts of mob violence.

We have a very professional police force in the country.

With regard to Weliweriya incident, I am not in a position to make a statement as a court case is underway.
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Ven. Galagoda Aththe Gnanasara thero,
General Secretary, Bodu Bala Sena

When solutions are not being provided to the prime problems faced by people, the people resort to all sorts of means to get the attention of the governing body with the hope to find solutions.

The duty of those who are in power is to provide solutions to those burning problems.

Instead, the ones who are responsible act on their own accord for political gain.

The corruption and unnecessary expenditures of the governing bodies under the prevailing system provoke people to a great extent. Under these circumstances, the police has no power to control the mob.

Establishing additional departments to maintain law and order does not help unless the burning problems of the people are being addressed.

People at the policymaking level should make the right decisions.

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Nishantha Sri Warnasinghe
Jathika Hela Urumaya, National Organizer

The government has an obligation to protect human rights of its citizens.

Both local and international human rights activists are on constant watch to see whether the government takes necessary measures to safeguard human rights of the people.

However, when implementing law and order in the country under certain circumstances, there may be some instances where human rights of the people are being violated.

However, the police are not completely at fault all the time. With regard to the Weliweriya incident, the people who lead the campaign were equally responsible to act in a way that would protect the rights of the people. Access to clean drinking water is a fundamental human right.

Even though their demand was completely acceptable, in the process they violated the rights of other people by closing down main roads and causing disturbances in the area.

When the police cannot control the mob, they have to seek support of the army. However, in this incident, seeking support of the army without executing all their powers was disagreeable.

The political authorities of the area had the capacity to maintain law and order in the area if only they could give a solution to the problem before it reached its climax. The incident could have been prevented before the mob took the law into their hands. The incidents like the murder of the British citizen in a Tangalle hotel are problematic.

At the CHOGM, the government will have to be ready with answers. There are also some other incidents where no action has been taken duty political influences.

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Rishad Badurdeen

The police have not taken necessary steps to maintain law and order with regard to the recent incidents that took place in the country.

The best example is when a Buddhist mob attacked a Muslim mosque in the Grand Pass area, injuring several people.

I informed the police about the incident. Even though the police was present at the scene, they took no actions to stop the mob from attacking.

There is documented video evidence that shows how unconvincingly they responded to a conflict situation.

Sri Lanka Muslim Congress, Cabinet Minister.

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