Colombo, Economy, Human Rights, Human Security, Media and Communications, Peace and Conflict

Going for the Kill in More Ways than One

What does the failed abduction attempt against Namal Perera of the Sri Lanka Press Institute (SLPI), which turned into a brutal assault on him and his friend Mahinda Ratnaweera , Political Officer at the British High Commission, tell us about the Rule of Law, human rights protection, the culture of impunity and law and order in Sri Lanka today ?   It took place in close proximity to a major security checkpoint, an army installation and ironically enough, the media ministry and not in the early hours of the morning or at dead of night, but in the evening on a busy road with considerable traffic.  

The sheer chutzpah and audacity of the attackers is a further reminder of the culture of impunity.  Who would dare to perpetrate such a dastardly deed in this vicinity at this time if they were not “cock sure” of being able to get away with it?  How will the array of apparatchiks and flunkeys in the regime spin this  one?   And how will the new IGP and the Cabinet Sub – committee on threats to the media, acquit themselves?  After all, if the regime is not responsible for the attack they are responsible for ensuring that the perpetrators of the attack are speedily brought to justice.  As the Free Media Movement (FMM) statement points out, investigation of the attack, indictment and conviction of the perpetrators, will be a “litmus test” of the commitment and effectiveness of the Cabinet sub -committee.   

Indeed, all media and human rights organizations must ensure that this is the case in respect of this sub-committee.  The tendency of the regime to move from denial to “offence as the best form of defence” and then to the appointment of commissions and committees whose work disappears into the ether, must be stopped if we as a society are serious about democratic rights and human dignity.  

Given the gravity of the issue, we need to know as to whether it is the case that at the heart of the regime is an individual or group of individuals who are running amok and who cannot be controlled by those elected to run our government.  Be it ignorance or helplessness, or command or complicity, these attacks against the media in particular, constitute an incriminating trail that leads back to the regime and to the heart of darkness within it.   The vicious antics of the Defence Secretary ranging from the chilling threats and warnings spewed out to a newspaper editor and then to the Lake House journalists, following the horrific attack on Keith Noyarh, are known.   Nothing has been done about any of this,  except for the Cabinet sub committee.   It would be a sad day indeed if it turns out to be the case that the media were duped by this act of apparent solicitousness in the way that the international community, despite warnings, were either taken or willingly went along for the ride as far as the Commission of Inquiry (COI) and the International Independent Group of Eminent Persons (IIGEP) was concerned.   There is good reason too, to add the All Party Representatives Conference (APRC) to this list.

At a time when the GSP Plus concession could be on the line because of the attitude towards key human rights instruments and their implementation, one would have thought that the deterrence, prevention, investigation, indictment and conviction of human rights violations and perpetrators should be given the highest priority.   We are treated instead to the demeaning and despicable spectacle of brutal assaults, vicious tongue  lashings, the tear gassing of monks and prolonged detentions without charge.  The second part of the Army Commander’s statement, where he is quoted as saying that in the war against the LTTE, the regime is not going after territory but going for the kill, could well be the epitaph of the regime as far as democratic rights are concerned as well.

There has to be a way to get through to this regime that it has a fundamental responsibility for the human rights protection of all of its citizens that extends beyond the artful spin of apparatchiks and hypocritical rhetoric of its front men. There can be no denying a growing belief that there is an element within the security establishment that is nasty and brutish and which cannot even begin to comprehend the role and responsibility of the security forces within a functioning democracy.  And given the “Ranaviruvan rhetoric” extolling the bravery, patrioticism and heroism of the armed forces, this rotten cabal should be read the riot act in no uncertain terms.  What they are doing is a rank disservice and a slap in the face to their colleagues on the battlefront extolled as heroes.  Will the patriotic movements, movements against terrorism, freedom fronts, national and otherwise, take this up in earnest, please ?

We have just gone through the Universal Peer Review Process at the Geneva Human Rights Council and lost our re-election bid to it.  The IIGEP has gone, the Witness and Victim Protection Bill is in limbo and the ACF request to the French government to consider taking the murder of its humanitarian workers before an international tribunal is being considered.  GSP Plus comes up for renewal in October.

Going for the kill, literally or metaphorically in this context, is not the answer.