The strange case of Ms X
Posted on December 2nd, 2019

Editorial Courtesy The Island

Tuesday 3rd December, 2019

Sri Lanka and Switzerland have got embroiled in a diplomatic row of sorts over the alleged abduction and subsequent release of a Sri Lankan woman working at the Swiss Embassy in Colombo. Curiously, the alleged incident was not reported to the police immediately. The Swiss mission has declined to name ‘the victim’ for reasons of her safety. Let’s, therefore call her Ms X.

Bern is reported to have summoned the Sri Lankan Ambassador to register its protest. Colombo is pressuring Swiss envoy Hanspeter Mock, to co-operate with the ongoing police investigations. It has gone so far as to issue a detailed denial of the Swiss envoy’s claim; insisting that CCTV footage, GSP data, telephone and Uber records, etc. have proved the alleged adduction never took place, it has requested the Swiss embassy to allow Ms X to be interviewed by the police. It also wants her to be examined by a doctor because her employer says she is not well.

The Swiss Embassy claims that Ms X was intimidated and interrogated by her abductors, who sought to elicit information about Chief Inspector Nishantha Silva, who recently left for Switzerland with his family. The abduction drama has eclipsed the issue of the controversial CID officer seeking asylum in Switzerland. It has also helped put Colombo on the back foot.

The Sri Lankan government has claimed that the alleged abduction is part of a plot to discredit it. Some grandees of the incumbent dispensation have a reputation that is difficult to live down. Even if a tippler happens to drink a glass of milk, people think he is consuming toddy, as the local saying goes. It is said that ‘he that has an ill name is half hanged’.

There are three possibilities as regards the Swiss Ambassador’s claim. He is telling the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth, or he has been misled by those who, the government says, are party to a conspiracy to bring it into disrepute, or he finds himself in a position where he cannot admit he erred and misled Bern and the international community. In respect of the counterclaims as well, there are three possibilities; the government is telling the truth, or it is trying to suppress the truth to avoid international condemnation, or the abduction was carried out without its knowledge.

Various arguments anent the alleged abduction smack of circular reasoning. The rivals of the government insist that the abduction really took place because the Swiss Ambassador says so! The apologists of the government argue that the abduction never took place because it has been officially denied! They may go on claiming that the assumptions they are required to prove are true and, therefore, their conclusions are valid, but others who keep an open mind and are desirous of knowing the truth will be left none the wiser.

The question is how to get at the truth. This is a task that cannot be accomplished without a thorough probe. The Sri Lankan police have a pivotal role to play in investigations into the alleged incident and they must be given access to Ms X, who deserves justice if her abduction claim is true.

The alleged abduction has already attracted international media attention and is sure to be used against Sri Lanka in Geneva when the UNHRC has its next session. The Sri Lankan government must, therefore, probe it, and the Swiss Embassy ought to act responsibly and cooperate with the police fully.

The argument that the identity of Ms X will be disclosed and her life endangered if she is allowed to be interviewed by the police does not hold water; if it is true that the abduction has really taken place, as the Swiss embassy insists, then her identity must already be known to her ‘abductors’. An opportunity for the police to question her will not put her in harm’s way because she has taken refuge in the Swiss Embassy. It is imperative that she be examined by a qualified doctor without further delay.

We can only hope that Bern will realise that the alleged abduction of Ms X is not purely a diplomatic issue, and the legal aspects thereof have to be looked into. It will be interesting to see the Swiss Embassy’s response to the government’s denial of its Ambassador’s claim.

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