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(Extra) Judicial Killing

It continues to adulate Rohana Wijeweera who orchestrated the terror from a comfortable estate bungalow and made sacrificial lambs of tens and thousands of our youth for his ideology of ‘national-socialist’ liberation. The behaviour of Sri Lankan politicians seems to be based on an amoral axiom: "There are no permanent loves or loyalties, just shifting dalliances".

by Dr. Nalin Swaris

(March 18, Colombo, Sri Lanka Guardian) Peering ‘between the blinds’ of our justice system, I was reminded of the eighteenth century French statesman Marie Joseph Lafayette’s considered view on capital punishment: "Till the infallibility of human judgment shall have been proven to me, I shall demand the abolition of the death penalty." In the Sri Lankan context, it is not merely the fallibility of human judgement, but the parlous state of the three pillars of our democracy, the Legislature, the Judiciary and the Executive that should give cause for serious concern when discussing the matter of capital punishment.
Can we safely entrust matters which affect the life and death of citizens into the hands of the people who represent these institutions? Minister John Ameratunga visited Welikade Prison to ready the gallows for executions with TV crews on hand to give publicity to what he no doubt considered was a politically popular move. One wonders whether he had paused to ponder that this very same prison was the scene of horrendous extra judicial killings in July 1983. On Monday the 25th of July 1983, blood thirsty ghouls broke into the maximum security ward of Welikade Prison and bludgeoned to death thirty five Tamil prisoners held under the now non-activated PTA.

The then UNP government took no steps to prevent a repetition of these extra judicial killings and two days later a further eighteen Tamil prisoners were killed. Only a few of these prisoners had been convicted. Charges were pending against a small number, but the majority had been detained under the PTA. A magisterial inquiry was held into the deaths. Prison officials who testified claimed the killings were the result of "a prison riot" and that they could not identify any of the persons responsible! Like so many other atrocities committed with official collusion at least, post factum, the matter has been swept under the carpet. So much for our justice system. Senior members of the present government including the Prime Minister, the current Ministers of the Interior and of Justice were cabinet ministers in J.R. Jayewardene’s ‘dharmishta’ government when these and other atrocities took place in July 1983. Whether in government or in opposition, our politicians who support judicial killings can hardly wrap themselves in mantles of innocence with regard to extra judicial killings. The entire nation, including its religious leaders, has opted to carry on as usual as if the reign of terror (1987-90) in what is now called ‘the South’, happened in some other land. Not in this Paradise. But the loved ones of the victims can not forget the horrendous bloodletting of that period. They remain traumatized by those dreadful events. Who the hell cares? The JVP held the entire country to ransom by unleashing terror throughout the land. Paralleling LTTE practice, clandestine kangaroo courts met and sentenced to death individuals arbitrarily nominated as ‘enemies of the people’ and brutally gunned down by faceless hit and run killers.

Even ordinary citizen who had no choice but to go to work under emergency regulations were killed for disobeying JVP strike orders. The litany of atrocities committed in the name of ‘deshapremi-ness’ continues to horripilate those who care to remember. The official backlash was a savage orgy of overkill. Tens of thousand of young men and women were dragged from their homes by shadowy death squads, brutally tortured to extract confessions and then killed. These were not clinical executions. The mutilated bodies were piled up in public places and burned, ‘necklaced’ to prevent identification and to instill terror into villagers.

These scenes of savagery were witnessed by little boys and girls too young to comprehend such horrors. It is not far fetched to assert that the current break down in law and order and of the justice system began then. The JVP’s ‘return to democracy’ is cynically cited by pro-LTTE peaceniks to argue that the Tigers too would follow suit. But has the JVP with its ideological commitment to ‘revolutionary violence’ really changed? It has yet to publicly express any self criticism for the politics and terror and killing it unleashed for nearly two and a half years.

It continues to adulate Rohana Wijeweera who orchestrated the terror from a comfortable estate bungalow and made sacrificial lambs of tens and thousands of our youth for his ideology of ‘national-socialist’ liberation. The behaviour of Sri Lankan politicians seems to be based on an amoral axiom: "There are no permanent loves or loyalties, just shifting dalliances". Who among the hundreds of thousands of men and women from all walks of life who came to Colombo to grieve with Chandrika Bandanaieke the brutal killing of her husband and her children’s father Vijaya Kumaratunga, would have imagined that the JVP would be politically embraced by her?

In the counter terror unleashed by the government, all the members of the JVP politburo with the exception of Somawansa Amaresinghe were exterminated. He managed to escape and has settled down in London like Anton Balasingham the spokesman in exile of the JVP’s mortal enemy the LTTE. (How very even-handed of the British). Amaresinghe was welcomed back by the PA government as a national hero. Addressing his followers at a mass rally in Kalutara, Amaresinghe thumped his chest and boasted that the deshapremis had killed some six thousand traitors and proclaimed: "We shall not kick our history" (into the dustbin). Just for that public admission, he would have been immediately arrested, if it was made in a land where the rule of law prevails. Most of the PA MPs will no doubt heartily support the implementation of the death penalty, because it is the PA which first mooted the idea to arrest the crime wave. This was probably a knee jerk reaction to the horrendous Hokandara murders. At that time the enlightened jurist and current Minister of Constitutional Affairs held the same post in the PA government and the socialist Comrade Batty Weerakoon was Minister of Justice. Batty told the Sunday Leader that he endorsed the decision but that his immediate concern was about finding hangmen to do the job. He then had added with shocking levity that because our society is so brutalized it would not be difficult to find suitable candidates! In the present cabinet the Minister of the Interior is also Minister of Christian Affairs and the Minister of Justice is also Minister of Buddhist Affairs. Amen and Sadhu.

Unenlightened politicians and uninformed public opinion cannot be expected to know that there is no decisive empirical evidence to prove that capital punishment has acted as a deterrent of crime.

For example, 38 states in the USA provide a mandatory death sentence for murder and some grievous crimes. Twelve states do not prescribe capital punishment. Opponents of the death penalty in the USA point out that scholarly studies indicate that the death penalty has not significantly lowered homicide rates. On the contrary, they show that some states with the death penalty continue to have a higher homicide rate than states which do not. Even supporters of capital punishment concede that "the deterrent effect of death penalties on these crimes may not be revealed in aggregate homicide statistics". (Death Sentence: For and Against, Encarta Reference Library, 2003).

Law Makers and Law Breakers

Many of our legislators, and those who aspire to be legislators, have not proved themselves to be the most law abiding of citizens. How many of them have violated elections laws that is to say, have broken the law, to be given the privilege of making laws for the citizens of this country? Several politicians have been indicted for serious crimes. While an ailing and wounded Anthony Michael Fernando, sentenced to a one year prison term for ‘contempt of court’, is chained to a hospital bed, the high and mighty accused of grave crimes, saunter unmanacled and smiling into our halls of justice. If you happen to be rich and powerful you can get a physician to give you a medical certificate declaring you are ill and get yourself admitted to a private hospital to evade summons to appear in court. And you can get enough fat cat lawyers ready to find enough loopholes in the law to get you off the hook. Whereas if you are poor and defenceless, you will be arbitrarily arrested and tortured to extract a confession even if you are innocent of any crime, like Vijitha Yogalingham of Kayts, Angeline Roshana of Narahenpita or Gerard Perera of Wattala. Our criminal investigation system is such that guilt or innocence will be decided by judges according the evidence produced by the police.

The Attorney General’s Office has yet to successfully prosecute police officers alleged to have tortured suspects taken into custody, even in those cases where the Supreme Court has found officers of state had grievously violated the fundamental rights of their arrestees. The National Human Rights Commission has failed take a proactive stand against the systemic resort to torture as a method of criminal investigation. Our justice system has been brought into international, if not national, disrepute by allegations of grave abuses of power by the highest judicial officer of the State.

The Chief Executive of the law in Sri Lanka is by constitutional provision above the rule of law! It is ironic that it is this Chief Executive who will ultimately decide whether a person sentenced to death will be executed or not. Today we have two legal and judicial systems operating in this country and the present government has been willing, for the sake of peace, to bend the justice system in favour of LTTE cadres who have seriously violated Sri Lankan law in territories under its control. It is an open secret that the LTTE continues to violate international humanitarian law and to execute individuals it considers are its enemies.

The decision to implement the death sentence is being taken at a historical juncture when the average citizen has little faith in our legislature, judiciary and executive. Nowadays certain civil society NGOs are selectively indignant about gross violations of human rights and civil liberties, depending on their political predilections or pecuniary interests. Some cynics have remarked that in Sri Lanka, political parties themselves have become a respectable form of ‘organized crime’! The majority of those sentenced to death and executed in the USA are poor blacks. ‘Marxists’ like Batty, when in power, forget that there is such a thing as race and class justice. Do capital punishment advocates seriously believe that this society is genuinely committed to "equal justice under the law,"? Perhaps it may be useful to mind them about what poor Black Americans say about capital punishment: "If you have the capital, you won’t get the punishment".

- Sri Lanka Guardian

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