Accountability and respect for the Rule of Law

| by Shanie
“There is no way forward for the world other than a stronger, universal commitment to justice, the rule of law and respect for the human rights of all people…There are two futures ahead of us; one is to continue on the path we are on now with every growing turmoil, conflict, bloodshed and environmental catastrophe; the other is a genuine commitment to global justice. The world’s only super power is currently demonstrating that the use of force cannot make the world safe and stable. My argument is that justice can. But there are rocky times ahead. We must work hard to create a determination amongst the people of the world that will force our governments to commit to the better path. It is the only way in which we can hand on a safe and sustainable world to the next generation.”

(October 29, Colombo, Sri Lanka Guardian) In 2003, Clare Short, former British Minister for International Development, resigned not only from the Cabinet of Tony Blair but also withdrew from the Labour Party whip in Parliament and sat in the House of Commons as an independent Member of Parliament over the Blair government’s decision to go to war in Iraq. A year later, she was to come to Sri Lanka to deliver the Neelan Tiruchelvam Memorial Lecture on ‘Justice and Human Rights for All – the key to Peace and a Sustainable World’. In that lecture, Short spoke of the immorality of the US’s ‘war on terrorism’. If there was no commitment to international law and justice, based on fair rules and equity, it would lead to the dangerous principle that might was right, And that would lead to continuing violence and bloodshed, inflicting terrible suffering and instability. The extract quoted above is from her concluding remarks at the lecture.
There is a growing perception that there is political complicity in many of the acts of violence, abuse of the judicial system and the growing lawlessness in the country.
We have seen Short’s analysis proved right across the globe – in Iraq and Afghanistan, in Libya and Sri Lanka and in so many other parts of the world. The lack of a strong commitment and adherence to the rule of law can only lead to continuing violence and bloodshed. The latest instance of the collapse of the rule of law is what is happening now in Libya. Human rights organizations have repeatedly been critical of the conduct by the rebel forces in Libya in the treatment of prisoners-of-war captured by them. There are over 700 of such prisoners and they have reportedly been subject to abuse and torture. Equally appalling was the extra-judicial killing of Muammar el-Qaddafi. He was captured alive and mobile phone cameras have shown him being punched and kicked and finally with a bloodied head after being shot in the head. It is true that he and his government terrorized the population and routinely tortured and killed political opponents. He even extended his acts of terror internationally as for example with the Lockerbie bombing resulting in the death of 270 people besides damage to houses on the ground, a crime which he later acknowledged and expressed regret. But that and his other crimes of terror do not justify others taking the law into their own hands and dispensing summary justice. We can build a safe world only when even the violators of human rights and the rule of law are also given the protection of the law.

Terrorism and Counter-Terrorism
The same applies to the extra-judicial killing this year of Osama bin Laden on Pakistani territory and of Anwar al-Awlaki on Yemeni territory by the US military. It was again true that Osama, Anwar and their Al-Qaeda network were responsible for acts of terror in various parts of the world, the most devastating of which were the attacks on the twin towers in New York City resulting in the death of nearly 3000 persons. Al-Qaeda was also intolerant of the non-Sunni sects of Islam and routinely targeted Shias, Sufis and Ahmadiyyas. But no government is above the law with a right to kill anyone, even if they are accused of killing her citizens. In the case of Osama, there was an opportunity to apprehend him alive, and in the case of Anwar, he was a US citizen who could have been extradited. Both could have been subject to fair trial under the US judicial system. That would not have been a quick fix but it would have demonstrated the US’ commitment to international human rights and to the rule of law. Terrorist methods are no way to fight terrorism. It may yield short-term results but in the end, they undermine democracy and promote a culture that might is right. In these and the events in Libya, human rights organizations and the UN Commission on Human Rights have charged the perpetrators with violation of human rights. In the case of the killing of el-Qaddafi, they have said that there is evidence that a war crime has been committed.
Clare Short resigned from the Tony Blair government protesting at Britain entering the war in Iraq. Later events have proved her right that the Blair’s justification for the war was a false one. Iraq had no weapons of mass destruction. But probably both the US and UK governments knew that the claim that Iraq possessed WMDs was not true. Their aim was to topple an inconvenient head of a state hostile to them. They succeeded in this and, as in the case of Afghanistan, they were successful in installing a regime which appears to lack any credibility with the people of Iraq. Saddam Hussein was captured and executed after a sham of a trial. Saddam was also undoubtedly involved in abuse of human rights and persecution of political opponents. The only country in the whole region which Saddam ruled, however imperfectly, on secular socialist lines has been destroyed. The US and UK governments are now planning for an early withdrawal of their troops from Iraq, but they leave behind in both Iraq and Afghanistan, two countries with unpopular governments with little control over law and order in their countries. Without foreign troops to back them, both countries could easily descend to a civil war situation.

Justice in Sri Lanka
That brings us to the sensitive case of Sri Lanka. The deaths of many leaders of the LTTE during the closing days of the war and the extent of civilian deaths during the final weeks of the war have raised many concerns. Like el-Qaddafi, Osama and others, Prabhakaran engaged in acts of terrorism that killed thousands of civilians – the killing of worshippers at a mosque in Kattankudy, the massacre of pilgrims at Anuradhapura, the Central Bank bombing; the list is endless. But all his and the LTTE’s crimes do not justify a lawful government and its security forces from taking the law into their own hands and indulging in extra-judicial killings. We rightly condemn the LTTE for the brutal killing of 600 policemen who had surrendered; is there any justification for us to adopt different standards for the killing of surrendering LTTE cadres, including Prabhakaran, with or without white flags? Like all the killings in Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya and elsewhere which we denounce as being a violation of human rights and the rule of law, we need to use the same yardstick to denounce the murders at home. If we justify these killings because these people were terrorists and murderers, then we are endorsing the immoral and perverse principle that might is right and that two wrongs make one right.
There is a growing perception that there is political complicity in many of the acts of violence, abuse of the judicial system and the growing lawlessness in the country. No one has been indicted for the murder of Lasantha Wickrematunge and no one has been indicted for the killing of Roshan Shanaka in the Katunayake FTZ – both killings with political implications. In the most recent of the killings with political undertones, many believe that police investigations will be lukewarm and that the real killers, the mastermind behind the killing, will go scot free. Only time will tell if this perception is correct but some of the comments made by political bigwigs add strength to the popular perception.
The IGP will do himself and the professional image of the Police department a favour if he ensures that there is a full and independent investigation into all acts of violence, including those involving politicians. Whether the offenders incriminated in the investigations are prosecuted or not is a matter to be decided by the authorities. The Police STF must be commended for their courageous act recently in searching the premises in Negombo of a politician from the ruling political coalition. Political detractors, even political bigwigs, protested saying that the Police had no right to search any premises without a magisterial warrant. It was good therefore to read Gamini Gunawardene, a former Senior DIG, demolishing that argument in a letter to The Island quoting the relevant section in the Police Ordinance which authorizes the Police to search any premises without a warrant when they had information of any unlawful goods being kept in the premises. As Gunawardene pointed out politicians are not exempt from the provisions of the Police Ordinance. We trust the IGP will not be intimidated from doing his professional duty through political intervention. The handsome tributes that continue to be paid, even posthumously to Cyril Herath, a former IGP, for his courageous stand against powerful politicians in order to maintain his own integrity as well as that of the Police, show that it is only the upright who are remembered when they leave office.
The Rule of Law
Adherence to the Rule of Law is fundamental to a democratic and civilized society. There must be transparency and fairness in the application of the law and there must be accountability before the law. Two years ago, the International Bar Association adopted a resolution which stated: ‘The Rule of Law is the foundation of a civilized society. It establishes a transparent process accessible and equal to all. It ensures adherence to principles that both liberate and protect. The International Bar Association calls upon all countries to respect these fundamental principles. It calls upon all its members to speak out in support of the Rule of Law within their respective communities.’

Author: Sri Lanka Guardian

Sri Lanka Guardian has been providing breaking news & views for the progressive community since 2007. We are independent and non-profit.