Photo courtesy of Indian Express

The Human Rights Commission of Sri Lanka (HRCSL) calling the IGP and the Army Commander for questioning about the failure to prevent the attack on peaceful demonstrators on May 9 is an important and significant move. DIG Deshabandu Tennakoon, who is alleged have contributed to the attacks, has also been called by the HRCSL. It is fully within the mandate of the HRCSL to hold law enforcement authorities accountable for the wrongs that may been done directly or indirectly by their omissions.

The debt crisis is threatening the stability of Sri Lanka. Central Bank Governor Dr. Nandalal Weerasinghe has expressed in no uncertain terms the danger that the nation was in. Within one or two weeks, the country will sink further into a situation where there are 12 hour power cuts and the queues much longer than those being experienced now. The rescue time is short. The reserves available for essential imports are inadequate to meet the demand for basic necessities.

He said that everything depends on the restoration of law and order and political stability, adding that in order to put into effect essential plans for dealing with the critical economic situation, political support was necessary for the technical work that is involved. There is work to be done by the Finance Minister and certain laws are necessary to implement the economic plans of the Central Bank. For example, taxes had to raised because one of the causes for the present catastrophe was the removal of certain taxes after the current government came into power.

Dr. Weerasinghe pointed out that the events that started with the killing in Rambukkana and escalated due to attacks on demonstrators on May 9 had upset the plans they were working on. The political stability necessary for implementing the Central Bank’s plans to proceed with the negotiations with the IMF and others must be put in place.

This comes to the core of the mandate of the HRCSL which, in terms of the Paris Principles, is to promote and protect human rights; that cannot be done unless the law and order remains stable.

Unless implementation mechanisms of the law are functional and are able to carry out their legal mandates effectively, it is not possible to create conditions for economic recovery. What this refers to is the capacity of the state institutions that are supposed to maintain law and order being able to investigate violations of the law and a system of prosecution that is trustworthy and is able to contribute to the implementation of the law. The function of the police and the prosecutorial systems are essential aspects of restoring law and order and creating the environment necessary for economic recovery.

The work of these two institutions must be supported by a strong, effective and independent judiciary that is the foundation of a functioning justice system. It is a fundamental principle of the rule of law that the control of the justice system must be the judiciary itself. The judicial function, judicial role and judicial independence are essential aspects of maintaining a stable society.

It is in this area that the HRCSL should contribute in the immediate future. The HRCSL should be willing to assist the police to achieve institutional reforms that are essential for it to be functional and continue forward. Several years of the neglect has brought it into disrepute and its capacities have been seriously undermined.

The deterioration of the institutional capacities of the police is connected to the political interference into the institutions that are working. The principle that no one should be allowed to interfere with the administration of justice has been lost to a great extent. Without the restoration of this principle in an effective manner, it is not possible for the policing institutions to carry out many of their essential tasks. These tasks are maintaining the law and order by quick responses to possible violations, investigations into violations that could lead to successful prosecutions and cooperation with the prosecutors and the judiciary in order to ensure that the law is enforced and respected.

Policing institutions have suffered enormous setbacks. Had it not been for this, the events of May 9, where attacks on peaceful demonstrators led to nationwide violence, could easily have been avoided. The evidence shows that several policemen assisted in criminal acts on the peaceful demonstrators by directly or indirectly cooperating with and giving cover to the perpetrators of the crimes. On the other hand, omissions on the part of the police, including the IGP, contributed to the further degeneration of the situation.

Like the policing institution, the Attorney General’s Department also has run into great distrust due to its compliance with criminal elements, whether in the political establishment or outside. The politicization of this once prestigious department is a great national tragedy.

This has to be stopped forthwith if the expectations of the Central Bank Governor and those who are dealing with the task of trying to recover from the catastrophic economic downfall are to be achieved.

What the HRCSL can do in this aspect is manifold. First, the HRCSL must seek the support of volunteer groups of lawyers and other experts and thoroughly study the defects of the existing system of law enforcement and make recommendations to the government on the urgently needed reforms. The HRCSL can cooperate with the Bar Association and others to develop a set of recommendations to guide politicians to take quick action on strengthening the nation’s law enforcement capacity.

Accompanying an understanding of what is required to improve these institutions should be the work of the HRCSL to educate the public about the reforms. General education on human rights or conducting inquiries into a few cases will not suffice at a critical moment like this. The HRCSL can seek the help of the media to present their message to the nation about reforms of law enforcement agencies that are essential to the protection of human rights.

To fulfill this educational function, the HRSCL would need to improve its media capacity. There would be many who would voluntarily carry out a nationwide education program on the reforms as well as judicial reforms.

Many others would help the HRCSL to open up a dialogue on how to respond to the Central Bank governor’s request for the quick restoration of law and order and a greater cooperation from the political establishment to the work of the Central Bank.