| by Shanie
“You say it’s peace
When you put the blame on the innocent
You say it’s stability
When you protect culprits.
You say it’s honesty
When you hide the reports,
And hush the inquiries,
Spreading falsehood among the nations
Having a laugh at a restless land,Divided and wounded.”
– Basil Fernando
( April 21, 2012, Colombo, Sri Lanka Guardian) Basil Fernando, the indefatigable human rights activist now with the Asian Human Rights Commission in Hong Kong, wrote the poem JustSociety, from which the above is taken, in 1983. But it could well have been today. The methods and the strategies employed in 1983 seem to be once again being used with equal or even more devastating effect. Groundviews website states that there were 29 known cases of abductions in February and March alone. But this white van abductions culture is something that has returned to our political scene with a vengeance over the last several months. These 29 recorded cases over the last two months mean that there were abductions every other day, an alarming average. These cases do not include the abduction of two prominent members of the JVP dissident group People’s Struggle Movement transformed this week into a new political party formation as the Frontline Socialist Party. It will be recalled that two other young activists of the same political group disappeared in Jaffna in December of last year and their fate is still not known.
|File Photo:- Basil Fernando|
The abduction of Premakumar Gunaratnam and Dimuthu Attygalle is an intriguing one. Apparently, Gunaratnam who migrated to Australia some years ago had acquired Australian citizenship after he had changed his name to Noel Mudalige. He had returned to Sri Lanka in September last year on a valid Australian Passport after obtaining a visa. Back in Sri Lanka, he had reverted to his original name, overstayed his visa, perhaps hoping that the authorities would not be able to link him with his earlier name of Premakumar Gunaratnam. But obviously his bluff became known to the authorities either before or after his abduction when the house where he was staying at Kiribathgoda was ransacked and his documents and computer removed by the abductors. All this was done in a very professional manner with the neighbours being asked to switch off lights, etc. From subsequent events, we can assume that the abductors did not intend to detain Gunaratnam and Attygalle for too long. The inauguration of the new political party was fixed for Monday 9th April and it appears the intention was to kill the new opposition party at birth by abducting and detaining their potential leader before the inauguration. Only time will tell whether the new political party will be still-born or will come through its birth pangs with new strength and vigour.
When the Australian High
Commissioner, acting on a complaint made by his wife in Australia, intervened over the week-end over the disappearance, the Defence Secretary reportedly had quite nonchalantly told the High Commissioner that no Australian citizen by the name Premakumar Gunaratnam had arrived in Sri Lanka and asked the High Commissioner to furnish more details. The Defence Secretary would have known by then that although the man was known by the name Gunaratnam in Sri Lanka, he arrived here on an Australian Passport that bore his changed name of Noel Mudalige. For whatever reason, the Defence Secretary did not want to be transparent with the High Commissioner. This was however not the diplomatic way of dealing with the representative of another government and would have done little to enhance Sri Lanka’s diplomatic image among the nations of the world who followed these events.
Worse still, in the last Sunday Island the Defence Secretary suggests some wrong doing by the Australian High Commission. He asks a rhetorical question: ‘It will be interesting to know at what stage the Australian HC in Colombo was informed of the alleged disappearance of Mudalige; when Australia provided the Sri Lankan a new identity and whether he would now seek another identity from Australia or some other country as his Australian identity was exposed.’ The last two questions could have been addressed to Gunaratnam/Mudalige by the Defence Secretary when the former was in Colombo. Only he can answer them, not the Australian High Commissioner. The first two questions can easily be ascertained from the Australian authorities if the Defence Secretary still does not know.
From the facts now available to us, it appears that Gunaratnam aka Mudalige arrived legitimately in Sri Lanka in September as an Australian citizen and overstayed his visa. As a foreign citizen, he had no right then to lead a new political party. Whether this information was available to any member of the new party is not known. Whatever it was, it appears that he was clearly in breach of Sri Lanka’s immigration laws; so his deportation back to Australia was right. But there is a clearly defined procedure, under our laws, to detain a foreign national staying illegally in the country and to arrange for his deportation thereafter. The rule of law must prevail. The government will no doubt claim that neither they nor any of their agents were responsible for the abductions. But a sceptical public is hardly likely to buy that story, knowing the history of earlier political abductions.
Rule of Law and selective Justice
A comparison becomes inevitable of the Gunaratnam/Mudalige case with that of ‘Col Karuna’/Vinayagamoorthy Muralidharan. In the case of the former, Gunaratnam changed his name and obtained a Passport from the Australian authorities under his new name, and then obtained a visa from the Sri Lanka authorities under his name and them entered the country. His crime was in overstaying his visa for which he was rightly deported by the Sri Lanka authorities. In the case of the latter, Muralidharan managed to obtain a Diplomatic Passport from the Sri Lanka authorities using his own photograph but under a false name of Kokila Gunawardene. He was then issued a visa to enter Britain by the British Commission in Colombo on the basis of a Third Party Note issued by the Government of Sri Lanka stating that ‘Kokila Gunawardene’ was an official delegate to a conference in Britain. Muralidharan was subsequently arrested, convicted by the British courts and sentenced to a period in jail. He was deported after he had served his jail term. The manner in which the Diplomatic Passport was released and the Third Party Note requesting a visa was issued could only have been probed by the Government of Sri Lanka. Instead, on his return to Sri Lanka after serving his jail term in Britain, Muralidharan was elected a Vice President of the Sri Lanka Freedom Party and found his way into President Mahinda Rajapaksa’s Cabinet as a Minister of State. It must also be noted that the LLRC has also recommended a probe into the human rights record of Muralidharan and his associates, both while he was the Eastern Commander of the LTTE and even later after his defection from the LTTE. The LLRC is quite right because the rule of law must prevail irrespective of personalities, irrespective of whether the personalities involved are with ‘us’ or with ‘them’.
Two other political abductions
Going back to abductions, Groundviews have also reported some alarming details about two earlier abductions or aborted abductions during the course of last month: “Media reports had presented startling facts about involvement of the government in some of the abductions in March 2012. On 10th March, Mr. Ravindra Udayashantha, a government politician who is the Chairman of Kolonnawa Pradeshiya Sabawa (local government body in the Colombo district), was saved from being abducted when his political supporters intervened. The abductors were apprehended by the supporters, were positively identified as being from the Army and handed over to the Police. The number of the vehicle involved in the abduction, the names of the alleged abductors, their photos and even a video clip have been published. However, the abductors were released from police custody afterwards.
On the 26th of March 2012, former Western provincial councilor Mr. Sagara Senaratne, brother-in-law of Minister Jeevan Kumaratunga was released within hours of being abducted after the abductors had got “a call” while he was still in the van that he had been abducted in. The driver of Mr. Sagara was a eyewitness to the abduction and it appears that “the call” given to abductors to release Mr. Sagara had come after Mr. Sagara’s driver informed Minister Kumaratunga, who in turn had informed President Mahinda Rajapaksa and Defense Secretary Gotabaya Rajapaksa. Mr. Sagara had claimed that he would not be alive if not for the intervention of the Minister, the President and the Defense Secretary. It is not clear how the Rajapaksa brothers and Minister Kumaratunga were able to ensure the release of Mr. Sagara even as he was being taken away by the abductors, without even the involvement of the Police.”
The public can hardly be blamed for believing that the state agencies were responsible for the abduction of the four PSM/FSP activists (Gunaratnam and Attygalle in Colombo and Kugan and Lalith Kumar in Jaffna) when they compare it with the manner in which the authorities handled the two abductions of Udayashantha and Senaratne.
The Appalling Silence of the Good
The government is now facing international and domestic pressure to ensure that the rule of law is followed. A democratic government is duty bound to ensure the safety and security of all citizens. The Police and all law-enforcement agencies of government, including the courts of law, have to adopt a pro-active stance to see that such protection is provided to all citizens. The Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission, appointed by the President and therefore ‘home-grown’ to use the President’s somewhat hackneyed phrase, referring to the abductions and disappearances reported not only from the North-East but from other parts of the country stated that ‘a comprehensive approach to address the issue of missing persons should be found as a matter of urgency as it would otherwise present a serious obstacle to any inclusive and long term process of reconciliation. It is noted that given the past incidents of disappearances from different parts of the country and investigative efforts thereon, the past Commissions have recommended, inter alia, a special mechanism to address this issue and deter future occurrences. These recommendations warrant immediate implementation, as these will help address this serious issue, which has arisen in the human rights context and left unimplemented by successive Governments.’
It is such incidents that make Basil Fernando’s poem relevant today as when he wrote them nearly thirty years ago. A year ago, Dr A C Viswalingam, President of the Citizen’s Movement for Good Governance, released a book Good Governance and the Rule of Law being a collection of statements issued by CIMOGG over the years. In his introduction to this collection, Romesh de Silva PC congratulated Viswalingam on his efforts to make our society and our country better to live in, based on our cherished human values which we acquire at birth and which are the core values of the four major religions of our beloved country. Romesh de Siva also commented that an alarming aspect in our country was apathy. ‘The body politic is totally laid back and accepts everything passively. Misdemeanours prevalent in Sri Lanka would not be tolerated in any reasonably functional democracy.’
Romesh de Silva went on to quote the famous words of Edmund Burke that has been attributed to so many persons: “All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing.’ Martin Luther King re-phrased it when stated: ‘He who passively accepts evil is as much involved in it as he who helps to perpetrate it. He who accepts evil without protesting against it is really cooperating with it.’ And again, ‘History will have to record that the greatest tragedy of this period of social transition was not the strident clamour of the bad people, but the appalling silence of the good people.’