Advocacy, Galle, Hambantota, Human Security, Jaffna, Peace and Conflict

The Death of a Priest

Writing through shackles – Notes of a Citizen Journalist

I my column for Ravaya & Groundviews this week I explore the killing of a citizen, a priest, in Jaffna. The manner in which it which it was reported in the Sinhala media, and the occurrence of similar killings elsewhere in the country, I argue is indicative of the dire peril we are facing with regard to human rights and human dignity in Sri Lanka.

Read the full article here -  The Death of a Priest

  • An interesting article. But it omits some important truths. The question is, did the soldiers who shot him know that he was an “innocent” pastor? Did they just kill him for afternoon entertainment or was it because they genuinely thought he was a threat.

    The reality is that the Sri Lankan law enforcers have to compensate for lack of resources, technology and manpower by using brute force. It’s impossible to determine if a person who jumps a checkpoint without stopping is a terrorist or a civilian who just didn’t happen to see the soldiers. They can’t take that chance in a situation like that.

    This is not something that only applies to the Tamils in the North. As Sunanda explains in his article, there have been such incidents in Ambalangoda, Rathgama and elsewhere where the victims were Sinhalese. It’s easy to write reports and go on marches around the Lipton Circus shouting “Stop Torture and Killings” and other creative (not) slogans. It doesn’t do justice to the enormous pressure that these officers are under. Anyone in similar circumstances would do the same. We’ve seen the same (and worse) happening in Afghanistan, Iraq, Palestine, Lebanon and many other countries, where the perpetrators were two of the best armies of the world. If you cannot compare our military to the US or Israel, what do you compare us against, the Salvation Army?

    They’ve got no option but to do these things to counter the threat posed by terrorists in the North and organised criminals (many of them trained army deserters). If they do things any differently, there would be an incredible amount of crime in the South and terrorist attacks all over the country. That’s why overkill is necessary. If someone innocent dies by accident, of course they would try to cover up by planting evidence. I can understand that. If there’s irrefutable proof that something has happened, the government would have no option but to punish those involved, but it’s not the government’s duty to go after its own soldiers and police officers who are doing such a vital duty to protect the country.

    I don’t think it’s right, and there are many things in the world that are not “right”. I accept them as the reality of life.

  • Des

    Great article Sunanda, there is a terrible cycle of lethargy, lack of effort to find out the real story, turning a blind eye etc etc that keeps perpetuating the same problems, in my opinion.

    I think poorly paid journalists are part of the problem or what happened in Jaffna would have come to light faster and reporting on it would have been better. And if people don’t know what is happening, they are going to continue to think the same way they have before.

    Journalists in the mainstream Sinhala newspapers (all the newspapers actually) are very poorly paid and understandably wouldn’t put their balls on the line to get to the bottom of a story.

    No doubt there are those who would like to ignore rather than find out, but there are many journalists who are just hampered by bad salaries, lack of money to travel and investigate etc.
    Salaries of 10,000 to 15,000 is the norm (or on the high side actually). These journalists have no money to travel to Jaffna, let alone out of the country, so I urge newspaper publishers in Sri Lanka to WAKE UP and realize that you are screwing with the country.

    The economic element and poverty in this country just cannot be ignored, a problem that is uppermost in the minds of the majority Sinhalese.

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  • Che

    Response to JM: international standards of military accountability are absolute concepts, not relative to whether the US or Israeli military is more sophisticated than their Sri Lankan counterpart and therefore requires a wider margin of appreciation. Standards are uniform for every military in the world as well as non-State actors such as the LTTE.

  • Sanjana Hattotuwa

    Response to JM:

    “… but it’s not the government’s duty to go after its own soldiers and police officers who are doing such a vital duty to protect the country.”

    Sorry JM – but it is, and I believe is part of the “democratic” part of the socialist republic Sri Lanka claims it is.

    “I don’t think it’s right, and there are many things in the world that are not “right”. I accept them as the reality of life.”

    Accepting degenerating standards of behaviour in the State and its military & policy is of course your prerogative – one made easier perhaps by the comfort zone of being int he diaspora, which after all, is the most vehemently in support of war because they are the least affected by its socio-economic and political fall-out in the country. To many of us involved in securing and strengthening human rights, the responsibility to protect (or R2P as it is called in the UN) falls squarely on the shoulders of elected and democratic government – the protection being for civilian populations from genocide, war crimes, ethnic cleansing and crimes against humanity. R2P, post 2005, is now a matter of global policy, even though tenets of it are contested by actors such as US for obviously parochial reasons.