| A Statement from the Asian Human Rights Commission
SRI LANKA: The DIGP Ravi Wijegunawardena should be held responsible for the shooting of a fisherman engaged in a peaceful demonstration
( February 20, Colombo, Sri Lanka Guardian) On February 14 a young fisherman, Anthony Fernando, was shot dead while he was engaged with a number of other fishermen in protesting the increase of oil prices which would seriously affect the livelihood of fisherfolk. A large group of policemen led by the Deputy Inspector General of Police for the North Western Province, Ravi Wijegunawardena, was deployed at the demonstration. A group of soldiers and STF officers were also brought in to control the demonstration.
The demonstration was a peaceful one and the participants were mostly fisherfolk. Their basic complaint was that the increase in diesel and kerosene prices will so adversely affect the use of their boats which they use for fishing. The fishermen stated that the increase in costs incurred due to the price hikes virtually made it impossible to carry on with their trade.
Similar demonstrations have been held throughout the country by others also claiming that the oil price hikes are too high and that their livelihoods will be seriously affected.
The shooting of Anthony Fernando happened during these demonstrations. The DIGP Ravi Wijegunawardena, was in overall charge of all the officers deployed to control the demonstrations. Without an order from Mr. Wijegunawardena there would have been no shooting at this demonstration. The police now claim that they are unaware of who shot Anthony Fernando and that they are conducting investigations into the matter.
It is the DIGP Ravi Wijegunawardena who should answerable about all the matters relating to the shooting. Who authorised the live ammunition to be given those who were deployed at the demonstrations? Why was there such live ammunition allowed? Why were there no warning shots before the use of deadly force? These and similar questions can only be answered by the senior officer who was commanding the operation.
In May 2011 a young worker was shot dead at a demonstration held by workers at Katunayake Free Trade Zone. For information please see the Urgent Appeal issued by the Asian Human Rights Commission. In that incident too, the commanding officer was not taken to task about the shooting. The Inspector General of Police however, resigned over the incident.
Whatever be the outcome of the investigation into this recent shooting the primary culprit who should be held responsible is the senior police officer who was commanding the operation. Video footage telecast to the public clearly shows the officer in active command and even ordering the military officers to alight from their vehicles and attack the fishermen.
The trade union movement of the fisherfolk as well as other unions and the political parties of the opposition should take an active part in holding the commanding officers responsible for the shooting. Similar shootings are likely to occur in other demonstrations as almost the entire population is now rising in protest against the unbearable rise in the cost of living due to so many price hikes. Without holding the commanding officer responsible for their actions it is not possible to maintain the rule of law in Sri Lanka.
The government is clearly responsible for this shooting as well as other violence used against the demonstrators. The government should be made accountable for this shooting and all other violence used against people protesting against such an unbearable rise in the cost of living.