STF is not the solution to the country's lawlessness

| A Statement from the Asian Human Rights Commission

The lawlessness in Sri Lanka is not a problem that the STF can resolve. In fact, the creation of branches within the police like the STF was itself a product of the lawless situation that the country arrived at in the period following 1978.
(October 21, Colombo, Sri Lanka Guardian) In the editorial of the Island on October 19, 2011 with the title: 'Sowing the whirlwind' the opening paragraph is as follows:

SLFP politicians are killing each other as the government has allowed them to rise above the law. When presidential advisor Bharatha Lakshman Premachandra was killed and UPFA MP Duminda Silva received serious injury in a recent turf war, we said the government was reaping the whirlwind, having sowed the wind. It looks as if the government were now sowing the whirlwind!

The editorial also points out that,

LTTE terrorism may be a thing of the past but people are not yet safe. There is hardly a single house/shop that has not been robbed; a woman wearing jewellery cannot walk in public without fear of chain snatchers; businessmen live in eternal fear of extortionists, kidnappers and land grabbers. The police have drawn heavy flak from the public for their contribution to the near collapse of the rule of law but when they really make an effort to hunt down criminals, they become the hunted!

This editorial is a very much belated recognition of the lawlessness that has become part of life in Sri Lanka now. Media channels, like the Island could have done much more to expose the utter depths to which the country has plunged over a considerable period bringing it to a point where ruling party politicians "are killing each other" in broad daylight.

When the country abandoned the supremacy of the law by placing the executive president above the law Sri Lanka entered the path of lawlessness. If there is any clear lesson from history it is that the rule of law cannot survive without the recognition of the principle of the rule of law.

As Baron Tom Bingham, in his much appreciated book, The Rule of Law has stated:

The core of the existing principle is, I suggest, that all persons and authorities within the state, whether public or private, should be bound by and entitled to the benefit of laws publically made, taking effect (generally) in the future and publically administered in the courts.

He illustrates this same point of view when he said, "My formulation owes much to Dicey, but I think it also captures the fundamental truth propounded by the great English philosopher John Locke in 1690 that 'Wherever law ends, tyranny begins. The same point was made by Tom Pain in 1776 when he said 'that in America the law is king. For as in absolute governments the kind is law, so in free countries the law ought to be king; and there ought to be no other."

When the constitution of Sri Lanka itself has dethroned the law the resulting lawlessness is no surprise. It was in 1978 that the whirlwind was sown. It is now that the full impact of this typhoon is felt and it will continue to devastate the country until the basic defect of our legal system, that is the 1978 Constitution, is removed and the supremacy of the law is reestablished.

It is unfortunate that the Island, even at this stage, does not want to recognise the source of the problem of the existing lawlessness as the 1978 Constitution. In fact, rather ludicrously it believes that allowing the Special Task Force (STF) to do whatever it thinks fit is the way to restore the rule of law in Sri Lanka.

In its battle against the underworld, the police have taken out the most potent weapon at its disposal, the STF. The elite police commandos know what they are doing and on no grounds should they be demoralised. While care is taken to ensure that there will be no room for excesses on their part, they must be allowed to operate without looking over their shoulder. If the government seeks to block their operations or victimise them for targeting the UPFA politicians, nothing can prevent the country's slide towards total lawlessness.

The lawlessness in Sri Lanka is not a problem that the STF can resolve. In fact, the creation of branches within the police like the STF was itself a product of the lawless situation that the country arrived at in the period following 1978. As it was pointed out by a police commission in 1995 the emergence of paramilitary forces like the STF is itself one of the reasons for the crisis of the policing system in Sri Lanka.

The problem that Sri Lanka faces is not one that the soldiers or commandos can resolve. It is a problem that only the politicians and the people themselves need to address. The solution lies in finding a strategy to undo the executive presidential system by the abolition of the 1978 Constitution and the establishment of a constitution within which only the law will be considered the king.

The Island tried to have their cake and eat it. They declare quite boldly that the nation, in fact, every house and shop and every policeman, every women and every citizen faces fear and threats due to lawlessness. However, they, at the same time support the executive presidential system where the president and not the law is the king. Such contradictory thinking may itself be a product of the desperation caused by lawlessness. In dangerous times people fantasize that a giant or a god should come to their rescue. To raise the STF to the status of a giant or a god is just delusion. Spreading such delusions does not solve the problem but helps to worsen it.

The real solution lies with a strategy to remove the 1978 Constitution and honest journalism could do a lot in educating the people to face the challenge.