The Harassment and Persecution of Judges and Lawyers - July 1989 - June 1990
"The practice of the law itself was made the target of attack. Many of our members who accepted briefs to challenge the denial of fundamental rights found themselves at the receiving end of mortal threats. Some were removed from our midst with violence. Others had to seek safer havens abroad".
The cases below discuss ten murders of lawyers and twelve other cases of harassment. In addition, there were reports of at least 20 other lawyers who were threatened with death to prevent them from continuing their work on habeas corpus petitions on behalf of "disappeared" prisoners and others arrested in southern Sri Lanka. These lawyers wish to remain unnamed: some are still in Sri Lanka and fear repercussions from any publicity; others have left the country, but fear reprisals to family members still in the country.
According to the Sri Lankan General Council of the Bar, there were 1500 habeas corpus petitions pending before the Court of Appeal in Colombo (where all such petitions must be filed) in March 1990. There was a marked increase in the number of habeas corpus petitions, particularly in the south, filed between 1985 and 1989, reflecting a growing problem of arbitrary detention. (There were 29 filed in 1985; 188 in 1986; 298 in 1987; 476 in 1988; and 431 for the first eight months of 1989.) Many people have been discovered in detention only after habeas corpus petitions have been filed. Currently, however, individual lawyers have virtually stopped filing new writs of habeas corpus out of fear of reprisals, particularly after the murder of Charitha Lankapura (see below). This function has been partly taken over by the BASL and civil liberties groups.
An upsurge in death squad killings over the past year coincided with the re-imposition of the state of emergency on 20 June 1989 as a response to widespread violence by the Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna (People's Liberation Front; JVP). (In January 1989, President Premadasa had lifted the state of emergency imposed since 1983) The government reported 6,517 killings by the JVP between 1987 and mid-March 1990. According to Amnesty International, following the re-imposition of the state of emergency, "government security forces did little to conceal their resort to widespread murder." Due to the lack of judicial inquiries into these killings, it is often difficult to assign responsibility.
Bringing to justice the perpetrators of violent acts -- against lawyers or others -- has presented serious problems. Only in exceptional cases, where the victim was well known or the case widely publicised, were extra-judicial executions in Sri Lanka the subject of official inquiries. Police inquiries have rarely been successful in identifying suspects. In addition, lawyers and witnesses involved in investigations have been threatened and warned that they will be killed if they continue to press charges or testify about allegations of human rights violations by security personnel.
Some have been killed in the apparent effort to prevent the prosecution of security forces personnel. After the death of Kanchana Abhayapala on 28 August 1989 (see below), the Bar Association met with President Premadasa on 4 September 1989, urging the Government to appoint a Commission of Inquiry headed by a judge Supreme Court Judge to inquire into and report on the killings. Subsequent to this appeal, three other lawyers were killed but Commissions of Inquiry were not appointed and no suspects were brought to court. At its meeting with the President, the BASL also suggested that the government invite the international Committee of the Red Cross to Sri Lanka; the Government did later invite the ICRC to Sri Lanka to trace missing persons.
The year 1989 began with tense relations between the legal profession and the police. After the killing of Wijedasa Liyanarachchi on 3 September 1988, the Bar Association of Sri Lanka passed a resolution barring its members from providing legal assistance to any police officer until those responsible for Liyanarachchi's death were brought to justice. (Liyanarachchi had represented suspected members of a guerilla movement; he died from severe injuries received during detention. The trial of the Superintendent of Police and three police officers indicted for Liyanarachchi's murder has been delayed because of the difficulty the defendants have had in obtaining counsel. Previous counsel, Ian Wickramanayake, resigned after a murder attempt against him. He had received a warning not to act in the case. Then, on I April 1989, Wickramanayake was attacked at his home by JVP gunmen. He escaped and went into hiding. The trial for Liyanarachchi's murder was scheduled to begin on 1 December 1989. On 6 June1990, the case was postponed until 25 July 1990, in response to a motion by one of the accused.)
After the election of a new Bar Association president in March 1989, the BASL called upon President Premadasa to discuss the problems with the police. President Premadasa then requested Earnest Perera, Inspector General of Police, to help resolve the problem amicably. Perera issued a directive in April 1989 to the police which included guidelines for police action in the event of the detention of a lawyer.
After the killings of Charitha Lankapura on 7 July 1989 and Kanchana Abhayapala on 28 August 1989, the attack on lan Wickramanayake, and the death threats to Prins Gunasekera, the BASL on 6 September 1989 sent a memorandum to President Premadasa. It commented:
Today the administration of justice is in serious jeopardy. This is because the legal profession which plays an important and integral role in the administration of justice is under threat. Lawyers are officers of court in law as well as in fact, and if they are under threat they can no longer function effectively.
The Bar Association called on President Premadasa to condemn the killings and the threats to lawyers, to obtain the expertise of the United Nations on the protection of practising lawyers, to appoint a Commission of Inquiry into the death of Kanchana Abhayapaia, and to ensure government co-operation with the Bar Association in protecting lawyers. As a result of the memorandum, the President publicly condemned the killing of lawyers, but no Commission was appointed.
After a series of meetings with government officials and resolutions by the Bar Association, the government agreed on 15 January 1990 to provide compensation to families of the lawyers killed. A spouse of a lawyer would receive US$1,300 and other next of kin would receive US$650. In late January 1990, however, tensions again rose when Foreign Minister and State Minister for Defence Ranjan Wijeratne alleged that funds received by BASL from abroad had been channeled to subversives.
The Bar Association stated that the funds, received from the governments of Australia and Canada and international non-governmental organisations, supported its work "to provide legal assistance for persons pursuing legal remedies for the alleged violation of constitutionally guaranteed human rights." The Minister withdrew the allegations and apologised to bar officials.
Kanchana Abhayapala: lawyer who had filed numerous habeas corpus petitions on behalf of people alleged to have been detained illegally or who had "disappeared". On 28 August 1989, he was killed by an unidentified gunman who came to his home and shot him twice in the chest as soon as he opened the door. His father, who was standing behind him, was seriously injured by the same bullets. He had received death threats in early July from anonymous callers who warned him to stop filing habeas corpus petitions and who claimed to be responsible for the murder of Charitha Lankapura (see below).
One caller warned him, 'We have killed Lankapura. We have three others in our list, especially you and Prins Gunasekera. Hereafter, if you appear for one single habeas corpus application for JVPers you will be killed. Remember one habeas corpus application. This is the final warning we are giving you". He did not filed any habeas corpus petitions following the threat. There has been no independent investigation by the government, despite numerous appeals by the BASL and domestic and international human rights groups.
A.B. Attanayake: lawyer. In August 1989, he was abducted from his boarding house. An anonymous caller informed the Secretary that Attanayake was in their custody. He was later dropped off, blindfolded, near the residence of a BASL officer, after appeals by BASL officials to the Secretary to the Minister of Defence and the Service Chiefs.
Rohitha Bulathwala: lawyer. He was a research assistant to a judge of the Court of Appeals and a member of a panel of lawyers providing legal aid to the Movement for Inter-racial Justice and Equality. He was arrested at his residence at Negombo on II September 1989. The Negombo Bar Association contacted the President of the Bar Association who in turn appealed to the authorities for his release. Bulathwala was released two days after he was arrested.
Dharmadasa Gomes:lawyer. He has received death threats from anonymous callers, apparently for his filing of numerous habeas corpus petitions on behalf of persons detained and "disappeared." The callers have warned him to stop filing habeas corpus petitions.
Prins Gunasekera: lawyer. He has filed numerous petitions on behalf of persons who alleged that they were illegally detained and those who have "disappeared" while in the custody of the security forces. In July 1989, Gunasekera was threatened that if he continued to file habeas corpus petitions, he would be killed. On 18 August 1989, a caller reportedly claimed that human rights lawyers were "getting members of the army and the police killed" by Sinhalese militants and warned that this would not be allowed to continue. The caller also claimed responsibility for the death of Charitha Lankapura (see below). In the light of the death threats and the killing of Lankapura and Kanchana Abhayapala (see above), two human rights lawyers who worked with him, he left Sri Lanka in early September. He was granted asylum in the United Kingdom in October. In January 1990, the Foreign Minister and State Minister for Defence, Ranjan Wijeratne, accused Gunasekara of directing a propaganda campaign to discredit the Sri Lankan government.
Sanath Karalliyadda: lawyer and member of the non-governmental human rights organisation, the Kandy District Citizens Committee. He had appeared in many cases against the police. Karalliyadda was abducted the evening of 26 October 1989 by armed men in Kandy. Witnesses said that one of the men was wearing an army uniform. The morning after he was abducted, Karalliyadda's body was found by the side of the road about half a mile from his home; he had been shot with a pistol, and 19,000 rupees ($US494) and some jewellery had been taken from him. On the day of his funeral, several posters in Karalliyadda's hometown warned people, especially lawyers, that they faced death if they attended the funeral. The posters were signed "ratu makara" (Red Dragon), the name of a "vigilante" group in the Kandy area. The BASL has called for the appointment of a Commission of Inquiry to investigate the murder.
Karalliyadda had been the attorney for the family of a 16-year-old student who was shot dead by police during a June 1989 demonstration. Seven police officers are currently under investigation by the Teldeniya Magistrates Court for the boy’s killing. Witnesses to the killing, including Karalliyadda's clerk, Sena Rankothge, and another lawyers clerk, Edward Kulatunge, have also been killed. At least two others who gave evidence against the police at the inquiry have been reportedly abducted and killed.
The senior lawyer in this trial, Parakrama Ranasinghe, has also received death threats. He and at least one other lawyer who has appeared at the magisterial inquiry have repeatedly been sought out by groups of armed men wearing civilian clothes. (For safety reasons, the name of the second lawyer is withheld.) The two lawyers went into hiding and subsequently left the country. The magistrate who conducted the inquiry, Neil Perera, is also said to have gone into hiding. Karalliyadda was also involved in the investigation of Wijedasa Liyanarachchi's death in custody. (See 1989 CIJL report.)
Charitha Lankapura: lawyer, known for the hundreds of habeas corpus petitions he filed on behalf of persons in southern Sri Lanka who had disappeared after arrest by the Sri Lankan security forces or who alleged that their detention was illegal. He was killed at about 2 p.m. on 7 July 1989 at his boarding house in Slave Island, Colombo, by two gunmen in civilian clothing who shot him in the neck from an open window. Before his death, Lankapura had received anonymous death threats on the telephone. The callers had warned him to stop filing writs of habeas corpus. Police have begun an investigation, but there has been no independent inquiry board set up and no arrests for the murder. Soon after Lankapura's death, two lawyers who worked closely with him, Kanchana Abhayapala and Prins Gunasekara (see above), received death threats from an anonymous caller who claimed responsibility for Lankapura's death and warned them that if they did not stop filing habeas corpus petitions, they would also be killed.
Neville Nissanka: lawyer practising in Gampala. On 3 October 1989, he was abducted by unidentified persons. The next day, his dead body was discovered in front of his house.
Ranjith Panamulla: lawyer who has received death threats from unidentified callers who have warned him to stop filing habeas corpus petitions on behalf of illegally detained and "disappeared" persons.
Sam Tambimuttu: Tamil lawyer, Member of Parliament, and a spokesperson for the Parliamentarv Human Rights Group in Sri Lanka. He was killed in May 1990, when gunmen on motorcycles fired at close range into his car. His wife, Kala, who was travelling with him, was also shot; she died later from her injuries. The murders occurred outside the Canadian High Commission in Colombo. Tambimuttu had just obtained a visa to visit North America and the United Kingdom to meet with human rights groups to discuss human rights violations in Sri Lanka, including the latest attacks by the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE).
Batty Weerakoon: lawyer, trade unionist, and leader of the Lanka Sama Samaja Party (LSSP). On 30 May 1990 and 1st June 1990, he received death threats because of his representation of Dr. Manorani Saravanamuttu in a magisterial inquiry into the abduction and killing of her son, Richard de Zoysa. After his investigation into the case, Weerakoon was convinced that de Zoysa, a broadcaster, journalist and actor, was killed by police personnel in Colombo. On 30 May 1990, an anonymous caller told Weerakoon that he should not attend court on 1 June because the "procedures related to the death of a traitor."
On 1 June, upon returning home from court, Weerakoon received a letter from the "Organisation for the Protection of the Motherland" which said:
"Action to win human rights for people who have been traitorous to the country is itself traitorous action. Therefore please be warned that your life rests on the manner in which you react to this letter. Neither the security forces nor the police nor any other groups can protect you. It is only your silence on the matter stated above that can protect you."
The government appointed armed security for Weerakoon and, in a letter to the Civil Rights Movement of Sri Lanka, the Secretary to the President stated that the President had directed that "those responsible for the death threats on him should be apprehended and dealt with according to the law." However, those responsible for the threats have not been identified, nor has any in-depth investigation been undertaken. In addition, two plainclothes officers assigned to protect Weerakoon have themselves received death threats. On the morning of 22 June 1990, two letters addressed to the police officers by name arrived at Weerakoon's house. The letters warned the guards to leave Weerakoon, or face death. The BASL informed the Inspector General of Police (IGP) of the threats and that no police inquiries had been made on the threats. The IGP said that he would see if security could be increased that night and would look into the lack of inquiries.
In a 25 June letter to the police, Weerakoon asserted that the specific nature of the death threats suggested that the threats came from within the police. On 28 June, a letter from K.H.J. Wijayadasa, Secretary to the President, stated that the President acknowledged receipt of Weerakoon's letter and would take appropriate action concerning the threats to Weerakoon and his security guards. On 8 July 1990, Superintendent of Police (Colombo South) Lal Ratnayake and Assistant Superintendent of Police Ignatius recorded Weerakoon's statement on the death threats against him. They informed him that they were not investigating and had only been told to record his statement.
In recent times, Weerakoon has come under serious threat from the JVP. This is perhaps because of his leadership in the Lanka Sama Samaja Party, a legal left-wing party that has worked within the democratic process. Sixteen of its members have been killed, allegedly by the JVP.
Weerasuriya: Colombo lawyer. He was arrested in October 1989 and released almost immediately. Despite inquiries by the BASL, the authorities were still unable to give an explanation for the arrest.
According to the Bar Association of Sri Lanka, the following lawyers were also harassed or killed in the past year. (Complete information was not available at the time of publication.)
Amirthalingam: lawyer killed by the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE). It is believed that he was killed because of his leadership in the Tamil United Liberation Front(TULF).
J.M.B.Bandara: senior lawyer, active member of the Communist Party. He appeared in numerous cases under the emergency regulations. He is believed to have been killed by the JVP, perhaps because of his political activism.
Jayatillake: lawyer in Kandy. He was abducted and detained blindfolded until his release, which was obtained through the intervention of the Bar Association.
C. Kotelawala: lawyer. He was abducted from his residence after the death of Neviile Nissanka and questioned about Nissanka. Within a few days, Kotelawala was released, following protests by the Bar Association.
Leslie: lawyer, member of the Provincial Council of the LSSP Party. He handled cases under the emergency regulations and cases for a Roman Catholic organisation in the free trade zones. JVP militants entered his home in July 1984 and requested him to give up his political activities. When he refused, he was shot.
Metuwan Samarasinghe: lawyer attached to the Colombo Municipal Council. He was abducted in October 1989 from his quarters and kept blindfolded until his release.
Wijewickrema: Matara lawyer. She was taken into custody by the Akuressa Police. Later, the Secretary of the Bar Association of Sri Lanka was informed of her arrest. The authorities were contacted, and Wijewickrema was released.
Yogeswaran: lawyer and Member of Parliament. He was killed by LTTE.
The brutality was unbelievable: homes and shops were burnt, cars were doused with gasoline and lit, sometimes with the occupant inside; some people were hacked to death, others burnt alive. Thirty-five political prisoners were killed by irate regulars in the country's maximum security prison. The next day seventeen more were slaughtered in the same manner. There was a total breakdown of law and order in the nation that had been touted by foreign governments as the model of stability, the apogee of free enterprise. A few days and the illusion was shattered: the house of cards had crumbled.
The antagonism between Tamils and Sinhalese is rooted in the country's history but has been exacerbated into interethnic violence only since 1956. Sporadic riots, characterised by extreme brutality, occurred periodically, but what was striking about the present events was their scale which was beyond anything that had ever occurred before, and the fact that the marauders were not uncontrolled mobs on the rampage (this occurred later) but, at least on the first day (25 July), they were well-organised groups who had electoral lists of Tamil houses and enterprises and systematically went about destroying them. It is this aspect of the problem the political organisation of violence that I shall deal with in this article.
Violence has been practised by both sides but, prior to this, the systematic organisation of violence was characteristic only of the Tamil extremists (terrorists) of the North and they for the most part targeted their attacks on police and military personnel and occasionally on Tamil politicians who supported the government of President J.R. Jayawardene When violent acts were committed, the brutality on both sides was extreme.
Tamil terrorists who killed service personnel were not content with killing perse but indulged also in disfiguring the bodies and desecrating corpses. This time however the Sinhalese outdid all others in the scale and brutality of their violence. Like the Tamil terrorists of the North, their violence too was organised; it had a planned, systematic character. This political organisation of violence, I believe, goes beyond the problem of Tamil Sinhalese ethnic conflicts and has larger political implications for the future of democracy in the island.
What, then, is the background to this violence, unprecedented in the recent history of a country designated by the people themselves as Dhamma Dipa, "the land of the Buddha's Dharma,"a doctrine of non-violence and compassion? I am a Sinhalese and a Buddhist and this is the troubling question that I ask myself. To even attempt an answer one must focus first on the issue of the erosion of the law and the institutions of justice and with it the political institutionalisation of violence in Sri Lanka.
THE INSTITUTIONALISATION OF POLITICAL VIOLENCE
One of the fascinating problems of population growth in Sri Lanka is the relative absence of huge cities on the scale of other Asian nations (excluding Burma). People seemed to prefer to migrate into villages, and up to the forties this was the dominant pattern. Through time, however, this had an unfortunate effect in destroying the homogeneous kin-based nature of village society, and producing a variety of social groups in village life competing for scarce resources. The spill over from increasingly large and heterogeneous villages centred in the little market towns scattered all over Sri Lanka, and of course into Colombo, the one large city in the nation. The trade in these market towns is controlled by Sinhalese, Tamil and Muslim merchants.
Racial violence was often sparked by business competition. Merchants employ the dispossessed proletarians of these towns to eliminate business rivals specially during periods of post election political violence. In addition to these anomic market towns colonisation schemes where surplus villagers were siphoned off to new irrigation projects generally in the north central and southern dry zones became increasingly important after independence (1948). The recruitment to the colonisation schemes took place from crowded village areas. Settlers were often chosen by local members of Parliament, from party supporters- As a result settlements not communities were created. Often, in more recent projects, total outsiders have come in and taken over the political control of colonies.
In addition, outsiders from the city of Colombo and its suburbs have begun to infiltrate old villages as small-time merchants and entrepreneurs. Practically all civil disturbances post election riots endemic after the sixties, and race riots—have occurred primarily in these lumpen colonisation schemes, in the anemic market towns and in the city of Colombo. These civil disturbances have never been a village problem--though it wilt soon become one as the villages change their character.
One of the features of the politics of Sri Lanka since the sixties is the use made by politicians of all parties, of these dissatisfied urban people. Nowadays it is routine to use them to intimidate opponents or voters. Since the sixties it has been commonplace for ordinary citizens to use phrases like "so-and-so's (politician's) thugs." Furthermore, increasingly disturbing trends have occurred in the use of these elements for political "thuggery" (as it is called in Sri Lanka)- These are not my inventions: they have been widely reported in the local press.
1. Thugs who are at the service of politicians in power are linked on the local level to merchants, some of them genuine businessmen but others involved in a variety of illegal activities, the most common of which are kassippu (moonshine) distillation, marijuana cultivation and distribution, and felling of timber from forest reserves. In recent visits to villages in Sri Lanka I have come across members of Parliament serving remote areas actively involved in these activities, especially the latter two.
2, Police who oppose these activities or prosecute these People can be, and often are, transferred out of the area or cowed into acquiescence of illegal activity. Several newspaper editorials over the last few years have underscored this trend. The result has been the demoralisation and corruption of the police force. village people I interviewed in many parts of the nation often mentioned that the police are in the hands of the local MP or local undesirable. The view is widespread that some of the institutions of justice have become an alienating force turned against the people themselves.
The most disturbing trend in the institutionalisation of violence occurred in the massive election victory of the UNP (the present ruling party) in 1977, in its relations with the trade union known as the Jatika Sevaka Sangamaya (National Workers Organisation), hereafter referred to as JSS.
Prior to the election of the present government in 1977, the JSS was a minuscule working-class trade union (most unions being controlled by the Marxist parties of Sri Lanka). Today the J.S.S. is the single largest trade union in the country and has an effective say in the working of government offices and corporations, Its president is Cyril Matthew, the Minister of Industries, whose name has been explicitly mentioned by several foreign correspondents as an inveterate enemy of the Tamil minority.
How did the J.S.S. come into prominence?. The answer is simple but one that has frightening implications. Traditionally the leftist unions provided a Trotskyite or Marxist ideology for the working classes. Whatever one may think of these ideologies they had the effect of filling the empty space in the conscience of people with a specifically working-class ideology. With the massive election victory of the UNP the J.S.S, came into prominence.
Several political leaders emerged who had access to, and control over, the slums and anomic are as of the city, prominent among them being Mr. Premadasa, the Prime Minister and Minister for Housing, whose power base was Central Colombo (once the power base of the Communist party leader), one of the most crowded areas in the city; and Mr, M.H. Mohammed, Minister of Transport, who was the Parliamentary member for Borella (which also contains one of the largest slums in the city). With the expansion of the economy, produced by the free enterprise policy of the government, jobs in the working class sector were increasingly given to members of this lumpen proletariat who swelled the ranks of the J.S.S. soon members of other unions were intimidated and forced to join it.
The J.S,S. was without a working-class ideology; its leadership owed personal allegiances to party bosses. It is in a sense an exaggerated version of what I noted in the Smaller market towns where culturally dispossessed people serve as Small bands of thugs for local merchants and politicians. However, before 1977 these bands of thugs served their masters but had no institutionalised authority. The J.S.S. changed this. They were now organised and effectively controlled government offices and corporations and wielded enough power to transfer and intimidate even high officials unpopular with them.
Furthermore, the J.S.S. was provided with an ideology, the Sinhala-Buddhist political ideology. The precarious identity of marginal people was thus given a new reality and meaning: a political and nationalist ideology. The nature of this ideology was spelled out by their president, Matthew, in a speech in Parliament on August 4, soon after the recent riots.
Matthew's thesis was that we should adopt the Malaysian example as set out by Mahathir Bin Mohammed in his book, The Malay Dilemma. In this book Mahathir states, says Matthew, that while the Malays are for a free enterprise system, they should not allow other racial groups to compete with Malays. Consequently, protection must be initially afforded the Malay community.
Furthermore, Islam should be upheld and propagated. Malays have no place else to go whereas the Chinese can go to China and the Indians to India. The Malays are the original or indigenous people of Malaya and the only people who can claim Malaya as their one and only country. In accordance with the practice all over the world (sic), this confers on the Malays certain inalienable rights over the forms and obligations of citizenship which can be imposed on citizens of non-indigenous origin.
This dubious thesis can be applied, says Matthew, even better to the Sri Lankan situation. Malaya has 53 percent Malays and 35 percent Chinese, Sri Lanka has 74 percent Sinhalese and 17 percent Tamils. In spite of this disproportion, Tamils dominate every aspect of professional and economic life. you do not have to go to Madras, he says, come to Colombo and you'll see the Pettah dominated by South Indians ---no longer, since Pettah was burnt down. The Sinhalese also have nowhere to go, but Tamils can go to India, The Sinhalese have been extraordinarily patient.
In Malaya, there was a political rally by Chinese in May 1969 when they jeered at Malay policemen. The Malay government squashed it, "killling all the Chinese who were there." We, however, says Matthew, have been patient for ten years and now "what had happened there has occurred in Sri Lanka also." Earlier in his speech Matthew quoted from another speech he made in Parliament: "By non-violent methods or violent ones the Sinhalese people are ready" to prevent the division of the country. (The summary of Matthew's speech and preceding quotes are from Hansard (Parliamentary Debates), August 4,1983,pp. 13138-1324)
Such an ideology has a great deal of appeal to the Sinhalese, but it is also fostered by the Tamil elite who self-consciously identify with the Tamils of South India. The Sinhalese identity nowadays is predicated on the view that since they speak an Indo-European language, they are of North Indian origin whereas the Dravidian-speaking Tamils are from the South. The historical reality however is totally different. Except perhaps for the oldest stratum of settlers prior to 500 B.C., almost all subsequent settlers in Sri Lanka came from South India, mostly from Tamil Nadu, Orissa, and Kerala and quickly became Sinhalized.
In fact, some of the most vociferously anti-Tamil castes among the Sinhalese were post-fifteenth-century migrants from South India. By contrast, the Tamils of Jaffna and the East Coast have been in Sri Lanka from at least the tenth to the fourteenth centuries A.D., if not earlier. They also came from diverse parts of South India though the Jaffna (Northern) Tamils now claim that they came from Tamil Nadu. As I stated earlier the only group of recent Tamil immigrants are the estate populations of the hill country brought over by the British in the middle and late nineteenth century. Both sides share antagonistic myths that are opposed to historical reality and like human beings everywhere act in terms of the former--with tragic consequences.
Matthew's ideology is doubtlessly shared by a vast number of Sinhalese, but the J.S.S. has given it an unprecedented militancy. Moreover, the union has spread its tentacles into other areas of the country. Thus today, the members of Parliament have created through the J.S.S., and through other local groups in small market towns, a complex, powerful series of organisations that can be put to political use. At the same time there has occurred a remarkable change in the composition of political power brokers in the country, even in village areas. Traditionally the vote, and especially the village vote, was delivered or controlled by an educated village elite, coming generally from "respectable" families.
This was true of all parties but especially the UNP, the country's most important conservative party. Today this has changed or is fast changing; political power on the village level is in the hands of those who can control the unemployed and the discontented, primarily the youth.
It is against this context that one must examine specific examples of political violence in recent times. A large number of these events have been documented by the Civil Rights Movement (CRM) of Sri Lanka whose chairman is a highly regarded Anglican bishop, the Rt. Rev. Lakshman Wickramasingha. Here are a few of these cases from the CRM files and my own notes.
1. A series of violent acts occurred in Jaffna in the end of May and early June 1981, of which the most serious was the burning of the Public Library by thugs from outside while the security forces did nothing to stop the arson. The burning of the Public Library was a profoundly symbolic act: the library contained priceless manuscripts pertaining to the identity of the Tamils of Jaffna.
On the Buddhist side it was an unparalleled act of barbarism, since rarely in Sri Lanka's recorded history (and perhaps even in the larger history of Buddhism) was there an example of book burning of this magnitude. The people of Jaffna identified the outsiders as the thugs of a prominent cabinet minister. The rumour in the Sinhalese areas was the same. Yet no action was taken by the President. Next year, the action was repeated in certain parts of the Saburagmuva Province where Tamil shops were destroyed and the homes of Tamil plantation workers pillaged. Again no action was taken by the President against the the government political leaders involved in this affair.
2. A second event pertained to a gathering of artists and writers protesting their being refused work at the government -owned Broadcasting Corporation. A gang of thugs brandishing clubs and knives broke up this meeting, tore up the microphones, and chased away the participants. They shouted, "What kind of artists are you! We are Premddasa's boys." It is of course not likely that Prime Minister Premadasa had any hand in this matter but the thugs chose to make the claim.
Even more disconcerting was a disruption of a meeting of a Sinhalese- Buddhist middle-class organisation where Ediriweera Sarachchandra, Sri Lanka's best-known dramatist, was beaten up. Sarachchandra had written a satirical book called Dharmishta Samajaya (A Just Society) where he highlighted the decay of cultural values brought about by the social and economic policies of the government. The thugs came in buses belonging to the state-owned bus corporation, and the Communist party paper even carried the license numbers of the buses. Sarachchandra himself made a complaint to the police. As in previous cases no police action has taken.
The following are a few examples from thirty-five cases of intimidation and assault documented by the Civil Rights Movement in a publication of October 12,1981:
3. On July 4, 1980, teachers at Maharagama Teachers Training College were picketing peacefully when a Government Transport Board bus No. 23 Sri 2549 came through the college gates, carrying twenty-seven people including a leader of the J .S.S. Thugs got out and began to assault the teacher trainees with rubber belts, stones, bicycle chains, etc. Women were thrown to the ground and waste oil was poured over their clothes and into their eyes and ears. They attempted to run over one girl with the bus. Police arrived about 4:00 p.m. and took a statement. Two hours later people were taken to Colombo South Hospital. Four female teachers were seriously injured.
4. On June 15, 1978, 9:30 a.m., about 400 thugs, members of the J.S.S., threatened six section heads at the Thulhiriya Textile Mills and drove them off the premises. They were forced to resign. The management was warned by the thugs not to allow the six people back. It appeared that only J.S.S. members and those who accepted their terms were allowed to stay in the Mills.
5. On January 3, 1980, the Personnel Manager of the Peoples' Bank was abused and assaulted in his office by J.S.S. officers, in the presence of several members of staff. The police were informed and the four assailants were arrested. However, they were shortly released on minimal bail of R.250/ each. The next day, a J.S.S. official threatened certain staff members near the Head office entrance over this matter.
The management suspended four people from their jobs as a result of this incident. On September 1, 1980, a J.S.S. mob roamed the building, abusing and threatening officers. Eventually, the police were sent for and the Staff Department was put under a police guard. The mob then looted the canteen.
On November 1, /980, the interdicted J.S,S. members were reinstated as a result of pressure exerted on the Personnel Manager to withdraw his complaint. He was later transferred.
The pattern in these activities documented by CRM is clear: the gangs were organised, they came in government vehicles, they were sometimes accompanied by MPs and for the most part they belonged to the J.S.S., the trade union arm of the government in power. This almost certainly accounts for police inaction. These activities received little public comment in the press largely owing to the fact that the newspapers were either directly owned by the government such as the Lake House group of newspapers, or supported by it. The exception was Attha, the Sinhalese newspaper of the Communist party, but its circulation was limited and its offices closed and sealed by the government for various period of time.
The greatest shock to public opinion, however, occurred as a result of two recent events whereby the Supreme Court decisions seemed to have been openly flouted by the government. In a public meeting held in 1982 by an inter-religious organisation, a police officer seized leaflets that were being distributed.
A Buddhist clergyman filed suit against the police officer. The court held that the police officer had violated the fundamental rights of the petitioner and decreed that damages and costs be directly paid by him. The cabinet, however, promoted this police officer and ordered that the costs and damages be paid out of public funds. This was done the government stated so that "public officers should do their jobs without fear of consequences from adverse court decisions."
The second event followed a similar pattern but received full publicity in all newspapers and outraged the middle-class conscience, which was until now generally favourable to a government that supported their class interests. In this case a senior left politician, Mrs. Vivienne Gunawardene, complained of assault and unlawful arrest by the police during a march to the American embassy in Colombo in protest against the nuclearisation of the military base at Diego Garcia. The Supreme court presided over by three judges held that her arrest was unlawful and unconstitutional, ordered that the state pay her compensation.
On the very day the judgement was issued, the Cabinet presided over by the President promoted one police officer involved in this case. A few days later Practically all newspapers headlined the sensational news that thugs in government-owned buses paraded outside the homes of the three Judges and shouted obscenities at them. The police were conveniently not available when the judges tried to contact them.
I was present in Sri Lanka at this time and it was commonplace for people gathered in bus stops and other public places to speculate whether it was X Minister's thugs or Y Minister's thugs that did it. Prime Minister Premadasa, however, made a strong statement saying that the government took a very serious view of the matter and that "appropriate action will be taken in consultation with the Attorney-General." Thus far nothing has come out of the police inquiries.
It should be remembered however that this open scoffing at the judgement of the Supreme Court on these two occasions is part of a long conflict between the government and judiciary which commenced under the previous government of Mrs. Bandaranaike, particularly during the period 1970-1977. The present government with its political slogan of a "Just Society" promised to rectify these abuses, but in the last few years the rift between the executive and the judiciary seems again to have widened.
Virtually every Tamil I met was of the opinion that the violence against them was organised by the government, and especially by the J.S.S. and the influential politicians who controlled this union. Given the pattern of political intimidation and their extreme nationalist ideology, the view has considerable plausibility.
One of the most shameful events was the refusal of the minor staff of several hospitals to tend or care for the wounded. I know of an upper-class Tamil woman who broke her leg jumping from a balcony as her house was burning. she was removed to a hospital, but it refused to accept her because the minor staff (orderlies and labourers) threatened to strike if she was admitted.
I know of another instance where a Tamil was actually stabbed to death in a hospital bed, allegedly by a minor employee. In these and many other instances, the J.S.S. can be held culpable since the hospital system is almost totally controlled by it.
Indeed, five months earlier the Government Medical Officers Association complained of in-discipline in the hospital system and appealed to the government to protect the medical profession from union thugs. In an editorial of January 4, 1983, the government-owned newspaper, The Daily News, commented on the situation thus;- The issue brings into focus again the part of trade unions in the medical profession, no matter at what level .... Union leaders, no matter where, must not be encouraged to get away through same Show of force....
Sadly, the Government Medical Officers Association is not the only organisation that has protested against the extension of political patronage to hoodlums. Sadly, there is nothing new in this malady.
Sadly enough, it is to be seen in other state-controlled organisations where again, the management apparently lacks the strength to enforce discipline on favoured sections or individuals on their staff.
One thing is clear enough. No state, no government, no party that condemns Naxalite (leftist terrorist groups that operate in Bangal) methods can condone equally outrageous behaviour in any institution under its control.
It is futile to denounce thuggery on the one hand and resort to it or let it or let it go unpunished on other...... Source:
Back to Latest News
Copyright © 1997 LankaWeb News
Home News Business DhammaWeb Info & Services Classified Search