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Minilaw in a Lawless Land

| by Tisaranee Gunasekara

"In our world there will be no emotions except fear, rage, triumph and self-abasement…. Always, at every moment, there will be the thrill of victory, the sensation of trampling on an enemy who is helpless." - Orwell (Nineteen Eighty-Four)

( August 25, 2013, Colombo, Sri Lanka Guardian) Just 24 hours after the new Ministry of Law and Order came into existence, an armed gang invaded the home of Mandana Ismail Abeywickrama, Associate Editor of the Sunday Leader.

The Ministry of Law and Order - that has a distinct Orwellian feel, rather like Oceania’s Ministry of Truth (Minitrue), Ministry of Peace (Minipax), Ministry of Love (Miniluv) and Ministry of Plenty (Miniplenty). And as in Orwell’s dystopia, in Rajapaksa Sri Lanka the actual task of the Ministry of Law and Order would be the protection of the Rajapaksa Law and the strengthening of the Rajapaksa Order.

The regime has claimed that the attack on Ms Isamil, her home and her family is a perfectly ordinary robbery. Since three of the attackers are in custody, hopefully the truth will emerge, in a court of law – unless, of course, these prisoners succumb to the same fate which befell innumerable other suspects during the Rajapaksa ‘war on crime’ – killed while trying to escape.

Governments lie. This government rarely tells the truth. It has compromised the integrity of every public institution, from the Central Bank to the Judiciary, from the AG’s Department to the Central Environment Authority.

Dismissing every human right violation, every act of persecution as enemy action or ordinary crime is an integral part of the Rajapaksa modus operandi.

When five students were murdered in Trincomalee in January 2006, the authorities claimed that they were terrorists who died when their own bomb exploded, prematurely. In 2006, a series of horrendous murders took place in the government-controlled North. The regime blamed the Tigers and ordinary criminals; subsequent exposes, especially by the UTHR, revealed that most were committed by state/para-sate killer squads1.

A similar process of ‘Crime and Denial’ is evident in the South. When Justice Manjula Tilakaratne, the Secretary of the Judicial Services Association, was attacked in the run up to the Impeachment of Chief Justice Shirani Bandaranayake, the police and the government declared it to be an ordinary crime. Parliamentarian Arundika Fernando proclaimed in the House that he saw Prageeth Ekneligoda in France. Questioned by the court he amended himself and said that an armed group may have abducted Mr.Ekneligoda and released him, ostensibly in France!2 The parliamentarian was following in the illustrious footsteps of Mohan Peiris who informed the UN Committee Against Torture, "Our current info is that Mr. Ekneligoda has taken refuge in a foreign country.... it's not something that I am saying with a tongue in my cheek, it's something that we are reasonably certain of…."3 But when cross-examined during the court hearing into Mr. Ekneligoda’s disappearance, Mr. Peiris did a consummate volte face: “I have no information that the corpus is alive or not and I do not think the government does either and that God only knows where Ekneligoda is"4.

. Early signs indicate that the regime is planning to lie its way out of the Weliweriya imbroglio. According to media reports, the two state agencies tasked with checking any connection between water-contamination and the glove factory owned by a Rajapaksa-acolyte have come up with two ambiguous reports. The government analyst has said that ‘reduction of pH values cannot exactly be attributed to the factory while the central environmental authority report had no conclusion’5.

Given the de facto nexus between the Rajapaksas and the glove factory, state entities cannot be expected to act in a fair and a judicious manner. The authorities’ blasé dismissal of a political motivation/angle in the Mandana Ismail incident is similarly suspect. According to Ms. Ismail, the intruders said that they were on a contract; they were also reportedly looking for documents. The inescapable conclusion is that this is not quite your average robbery. But the police have already pigeonholed the incident as a normal crime – just as the Elections Commissioner will label every Rajapaksa election free and fair and the army inquiry into the Weliweriya-shooting will exonerate the army.

Using ordinary crime to cover up political persecution is far from rare. Does the Mandana Ismail incident herald a stealth offensive against Rajapaksa critics/opponents - politically motivated attacks made to look like ordinary crimes, murder, robbery, rape et al?

Counterfeit Solutions

The Rajapaksas have a particular panache for creating brand new, politically enamouring bottles for their customary poisonous brew. The new Ministry of Law and Order was hailed by none other than Gotabhaya Rajapaksa as the fulfilment of yet another LLRC recommendation. He seems right, superficially; the police and even the STF are no longer under the Ministry of Defence. On the surface it looks as if Gotabhaya Rajapaksa has lost out, that President Rajapaksa is trying to rein his brother in.

A suitable stooge can tell the UNHRC that the new ministry is indicative of the gravitas accorded by the regime to the strengthening of the rule of law. The Commonwealth Secretary General can proclaim that the establishment of the new ministry proves the correctness of his ‘policy of engagement’. How many countries in the world can boast of a Ministry of Human Rights and a Ministry of Law and Order? With such institutional arrangements can Sri Lanka be anything but a hub of democracy and freedom?

The reality behind this façade is as antithetical as the reality behind other Rajapaksa facades. The Minister of Defence, President Rajapaksa is the Minister of Law and Order; he also controls the Attorney General’s Department for good measure. The Secretary to the new ministry is not a civilian or even a retired cop but a retired military officer. Major General Nanda Mallawarachchi was a one time Army Chief of Staff; he was subsequently appointed by the Rajapaksas as the Ambassador to Indonesia.

So the new ministry is the perfect Rajapaksa ploy. It will enable the Siblings to retain total control over the police while creating the impression that control has been ceded. Can anyone seriously believe that the new secretary will say no to any order by Gotabhaya Rajapaksa?

So what seems – and will be hailed as - a move towards demilitarisation is actually a move towards greater militarization – and more effective Rajapaksa control.

That the Rajapaksas intend to use the military to subdue the South is clear; "Asked whether the army would cease deploying troops in the wake of civilian deaths during the recent army crackdown at Weliweriya, Brigadier Wanigasooriya6 said that troops were constitutionally empowered to participate in operations in support of the police. Responding to further queries….Brigadier Wanigasooriya said that the military couldn’t arbitrarily decide not to deploy troops in the wake of Rathupaswela incident"7.

When the next Weliweriya happens, Gotabhaya Rajapaksa will be in the clear. Since the request for military involvement will come from the Ministry of Law and Order, all consequent Sinhala civilian deaths can, very conveniently, be blamed on Secretary Mallawarachchi. The Rajapaksas will be able to deploy the military to assault and murder any number of democratic opponents without risking even an iota of de jure responsibility.

1 http://www.uthr.org/bulletins/bul39.htm
2 http://www.newsfirst.lk/english/node/27684
3 http://blog.srilankacampaign.org/2012/06/former-attorney-general-testifies-in.html
4 Ibid
5 http://www.colombopage.com/archive_13B/Aug22_1377190125JR.php
6 The Military Spokesman
7 The Island – 22.8.2013

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