By Basil Fernando
(February 28, Hong Kong, Sri Lanka Guardian) In talking about Sarath Fonseka’s case and Prof. G.L. Peiris’ media conference some argue that justice should not only be done but must also be seen to be done. However, a course of action which is basically unjust cannot be made to seen as just purely by procedural means. To attempt to do so is hypocrisy and not justice.
Beginning with J.R. Jeyewardene’s initiative to deprive Mrs. Sirimao Bandaranaike’s civil rights with the view that he could win the election more easily without the most competent rival, to the course of action taken against Sarath Fonseka is just one course of action to deny a fair contest. This denial of a fair contest cannot be made just by mere procedural appearances.
What is unjust cannot be made to appear as just. The principle involved is not about perceptions for political implications; perceptions at least in the short run may be what are important for the coming election. However, justice is not basically about politics. It is not about the way the case may influence the next elections. It is about the way the more fundamental relationships between people take place within a society.
For example, the case of the deprivation of civil rights of Mrs. Bandaranaike is no longer important from the point of view of any particular election. J.R. Jeyewardene is now gone as is Mrs. Bandaranaike. They no longer ask for the peoples’ vote. However, the whole affair is very much alive from the point of view of the social relationships in Sri Lanka. The loss of faith in a fair contest for elections and a cynicism generated against the liberal democratic political system is quite a vital factor today. The implications of J.R. Jeyewardene’s act of injustice on that occasion are felt more today than at the time it occurred. Sri Lanka was made into a weaker society from the point of view of justice by that act. And the implication lives on. Ironically, those who are benefiting today from Jeyewardene’s action are his one-time opponents.
By trying to make things which are basically unjust to be seen as just, what is being attacked is the very fundamental beliefs of justice within a society. Once such beliefs are weakened it is easier to make them deteriorate even further by more of the same actions. What was once a serious affair like a free and fair election can be made into a joke.
The implication of Sarath Fonseka’s case is just that. It is turning the very idea of a free and fair election into a joke. In that process it is also undermining the authority of our courts. When the case of President Bush and Al Gore came up before the Supreme Court about the election count in Florida Justice Stevens in giving a dissenting judgment, said that the real losers of this election will be the Supreme Court of the United States. He said,
“……….One thing, however, is certain. Although we may never know with complete certainty the identity of the winner of this year's Presidential election, the identity of the loser is perfectly clear. It is the Nation's confidence in the judge as an impartial guardian of the rule of law."
All societies have the fundamental elements of their moral order. These fundamental elements are not often visible. These moral principles can remain authentic or they can degenerate. The quality of society and its relationships will depend on the quality of its moral order.
It is the moral order in which the elections, courts and justice are grounded upon that is being challenged by actions against Mrs. Bandaranaike to the one against Sarath Fonseka.
Similar attacks are also being made on the very issue of fair trial. Attempts are made to accuse some persons of the assassination of Lasantha Wickrematunge and other journalists, thus trying to create the impression that justice is being done when in fact the actual perpetrators are being substituted by others. In fact, what is being done is to create a mockery of justice. It may give an appearance to the outside world that at last some serious crimes are being dealt with. The creation of that false perception may help some politically in the short run. However, it impairs and damages the society as a whole for a long time to come.
It is better that injustice be seen as injustice rather than making it appear as justice. Injustice when seen as injustice may give rise to indignation and outrage that at one time or another will generate the necessary energy in a society to take corrective action. However, when injustice is accompanied by hypocrisy it creates the cynicism that drowns the energy that is needed to take corrective actions.
By Basil Fernando