| by Tisaranee Gunasekara
Why do you allow these men who are in power to rob you step by step, openly and in secret, of one domain of your rights after another, until one day nothing, nothing at all will be left but a mechanised state system presided over by criminals and drunks?”
The White Rose (Leaflet III)
( April 01, 2012, Colombo, Sri Lanka Guardian) Last week the Rajapaksa brothers saved the life of a man. And by doing so demonstrated, again, that they are the progenitors of the white van pestilence; and the driving force of Sri Lanka’s state of lawlessness.
Sagara Senaratne, businessman and former provincial councillor, was abducted on March 26th. His abductors assaulted him, demanding Rs. 50 million. Fortunately for Mr. Senaratne, his brother-in-law is a person of some consequence: Minister Jeevan Kumaratunga. Informed of the abduction, Minister Kumaratunga reportedly contacted the President and the Defence Secretary. It was the right move; “…the driver of the white van received a phone call, after which he said, ‘let’s dump him’” (Sri Lanka Mirror – 28.3.2012). Mr. Senaratne was ‘dumped’ unharmed and ordered to pay the money to a bank account. Mr. Senaratne is no ingrate; he did not hesitate to name and thank his saviours, declaring that “….he owes his life to President Mahinda Rajapaksa and defence secretary Gotabhaya Rajapaksa….. If not for the mediation by Kumaratunga and the two Rajapaksas, he told ‘Divaina’ that he would not have been alive today, adding that he was immensely grateful for them for having saved his life” (ibid).
If Mr. Senaratne’s grateful assertions are accurate, the Rajapaksa Siblings knew the identity of the abductors, were able to contact them while they were on the job and had absolute control over them. The consequent context cannot but give rise to several questions of public import. How did President Rajapaksa and/or Defence Secretary Rajapaksa know who to contact in order to save Mr. Senaratne? How did they know the contact details of the abductors? Why have they withheld this vital information from the police? Why did the abductors obey them? If they could save Mr. Senaratne why did they not save other white van victims?
If they have both knowledge of and control over the white vans, why are they permitting this monstrosity to continue?
If the Siblings’ intervention made the abductors release their prey immediately, does it not demonstrate that the Rajapaksas are the masters of this Hydra? And if so, can we (reasonably or intelligently) expect the Rajapaksas to rein in their own forces of murder, rapine and pillage or to implement the LLRC Report, voluntarily?
Was a close relative of a senior minister abducted to warn all non-Rajapaksa UPFA leaders that the Siblings have the power of life and death over every single one of them plus their kith and kin? Or did the white van squad, in between ‘official’ duties, engage in a bit of moonlighting, to augment their incomes. If so, will they extend their extramural activities from extortion to robbery, rape, murder or child abuse, with time?
Do we refrain from asking these obvious questions because we know the answers already? And hope that hiding our collective head in the sands is the only way to keep the horror out? Last month’s blotched abduction of Kolonnawa UC Chairman revealed that some (if not all) abductors are serving soldiers. Armed with weapons and impunity, with absolute power over their victims and unreachable by law, would these veterans of the Eelam War see much of a difference between the North then and the South now? Unless remedial measures are taken, can Sri Lanka be prevented from degenerating into a mire of lawlessness, at the mercy of tyrannical rulers and their armed and dangerous acolytes?
Lawlessness and Societal Insecurity
The police apprehended the suspects in the gruesome murder of two Buddhist monks within 48 hours. The police have failed to implement an almost-three-month-old-order by Additional Magistrate Prasanna Alwis to arrest parliamentarian Duminda Silva.Why are the police admirably efficacious in some cases and unbelievably inept in others? Speaking at the funeral ceremony for the two murdered monks, Rev. Bellanwila Wimalarathne Thero attributed the remarkable job done by the police in the Kotte case to the absence of any political involvement. It is political interference which impedes the police from doing their job, the senior prelate opined.
The Kotte suspects lacked political connections. Thus there was no pressure from on-high compelling the police to tarry, ignore and forget. Free to do their job, the police acted in record time. But murder suspect Duminda Silva belongs to a politically protected species. Thus the police cannot reach him, any more than they can stop the white vans.
Since in Rajapaksa Sri Lanka, political power and patronage are passports to impunity, more and more UPFA politicians are taking to a life of crime. For instance, “Police intelligence has prepared a list of more than 50 local government politicians involved in drug trafficking… The list… has named an MP of Colombo and four deputy ministers from Gampaha, Ratnapura, Kalutara and Puttalam as those who are harbouring the drug traffickers…” (Sri Lanka Mirror – 22.3.2012). A concoction of drugs and politics reportedly paved the way to the Kahawatte dual-murder. Worse horrors will follow so long as criminals occupy high places.
The lawlessness at the top is breeding a concomitant lawlessness at the bottom.
When a society loses confidence in law enforcement and judicial authorities, it responds to the resultant sense of insecurity and helplessness with long periods of apathy interrupted by brief spurts of vigilantism. As rulers and law enforcement authorities punish without trial or conviction, the public too seeks solace in their own brand of vigilantism, whenever possible. The disturbing attack on the lawyer representing the suspects in the Kotte murder case is but a signal of this general malaise. The judicial system is being undermined, from the top, the bottom, and from within. In the end, only a façade will be left, just courts, judges, lawyers and dead-letter laws. The right to a fair trial and true justice will be the main casualties of this generalised lawlessness.
The 17th Amendment was enacted in the hope of depoliticising key areas of the state, especially the police and the judiciary. This attempt was destroyed by the 18th Amendment which rendered politicisation and political interference constitutional and legal. Had the Police Commission been truly independent, it could have provided a modicum of support for those officials who want to do their job, even in the face of political interference. With the Police Commission degraded to the level of a presidential appendage that possibility has vanished. As the police become political serfs, and people respond to the resultant plague of impunity with doses of anarchy, societal insecurity increases exponentially. Lawlessness, lack of accountability, abuse and impunity are thus not just Northern problems; nor are they war-related aberrations which died with the onset of peace. These pestilences are alive and well and in the process of invading the South. If the common danger is not understood, and combated, this country will become an unliveable place, a lawless land in which the only relief from official abuse and impunity lies in the opposite excess of mob justice.