HUMAN RIGHTS Part 6
Posted on January 24th, 2023

KAMALIKA PIERIS

Human Rights have taken root in Sri Lanka and are peddled by Human Rights devotees with great enthusiasm and little critical inquiry. When I suggested that a mentally retarded girl, who had been successfully integrated into the community, should be sterilized, I received the reply ‘but that is a Right. ’

Human Rights have been used for various purposes in Sri Lanka, some of which are totally unrelated to the well being of Sri Lanka .The media reported in 2014 that Human Rights activists have gone to the Supreme Court to stop the government from sending back Afghan, Iranian and Pakistani refugees.

But Human Rights have also been used in Sri Lanka   for political purposes. Human Rights were used to help the Eelam war. The government complained that when they arrested persons involved in the Eelam war,   Human Rights defenders and their organizations intervened and got them released.

Human Rights was used to ‘punish’ the war winning army. In 2019, Human Rights Commission of Sri Lanka has taken upon itself the task of vetting security personnel for United Nation’s Peace Keeping Missions. In doing so, the Human Rights Commission of Sri Lanka had exceeded its mandate.

There were complaints to the President about the problems created by Human Rights Council in this matter by delaying clearance. Since 2004, Sri Lanka had been sending troops on UN missions and at present a large contingent from Sri Lanka is serving in different parts of the world. Our forces are in high demand due to their discipline and valor, said the President. Sri Lanka will be at a loss when there is an undue delay in deploying Sri Lanka officers to UN missions, and it will not only have a negative impact on the economy but also damage the trust and faith the UN had placed on Sri Lanka. 

Human Rights defenders have intervened in police work. The Police force is responsible for the maintenance of law and order and is empowered to carry out arrests of criminals. But on several occasions police prosecutions have been obstructed by Human Rights defenders, on the grounds that they are infringing on Human Rights, said Tassie Seneviratne, former Senior Superintendent of Police. This deterred effective police action. Police are confronted with diverse interpretations of their actions under Human Rights law, he said. Arrests considered a violation in Fundamental rights, is accepted when the same case is entered under criminal law.

In October 2015 students engaged in the protest march organized by the Inter Student Collective for the Protection of Higher National Diploma in Accountancy were brutally attacked by the police. The students were on their way to the University Grants Commission to ask that the HNDA be given degree status.

Human Rights Commission of Sri Lanka (HRCSL) inquired into the incident and had recommended that the police pay compensation to the students injured in the incident. HRCSL recommended that a female student injured in the incident be paid Rs. 25,000 as compensation and eight other students who were also injured be paid Rs. 15,000 each. HRCSL said that those who gave orders for the police to act in the manner they did on the day of the protest should also be held accountable and action taken against them.

But the police did not accept this. They took Human Rights Commission to courts, challenging the charge that the Police must pay compensation. I am unable to find out what happened thereafter in this landmark case.

Human Rights   devotees in Sri Lanka have used Human Rights   in ways which violate the main principle of Human Rights, which is the value of ordinary human lives. Human Rights devotees agreed that drug addiction was bad and it is important to curb drug trafficking, but declared that policies for controlling drug trafficking must adhere to Human Rights standards.

Lawyers protested over the deaths of three criminals, Tinkering Lasantha, Makandure Madush and Uru Juwa who had died in Police custody.  In 2020, Bar Association drew attention to the fact that that Samarasinghe Arachchige Madush Lakshitha alias Makandure Madush was killed in what the police claimed a shootout between them and the underworld at Applewatte Housing scheme in Oct 2020.

Madush is accused of numerous crimes, including the killing of other underworld figures, such as ‘Kos Malli’ and ‘Samayan’ and an attempt at killing Police Narcotics Bureau’s Neomal Rangajeewa. While in prison, Madush had had got Southern Provincial Council Member Danny Hiththetiya killed through an accomplice. He had carried out a number of armed robberies as well. His main activity was smuggling drugs from Iran and Afghanistan by sea to Sri Lanka, Bangladesh and the Maldives.

However, lawyers representing the underworld figures wrote to the Bar Association of Sri Lanka asking the Association to condemn the death and to take up the matter with the authorities.The Committee for Protecting Rights of Prisoners called upon the Human Rights Commission to hold an impartial inquiry into Madush’s death.   It said that that the killing of persons arrested by the Police and prisoners had been going on in Sri Lanka for many years.

Other underworld figures    who were in prison thought the same would happen to them. Janith Madhusanka alias Podi Lassie , a notorious underworld drug kingpin, filed a writ petition in the Court of Appeal, seeking an order from the court to provide him with adequate protection. He was detained in the Boossa High Security prison over several criminal offences.

 Podi Lassie claimed to have received threats to his life and has requested the Court to order prison officials to take measures to ensure his personal safety. They are duty bound to ensure the safety of inmates who are held in prison custody. Court of Appeal decided to issue notices on the respondents, including the Boossa Prison Superintendent, the Chief Jailor of the Boossa prison, the Prison Commissioner General and the Attorney General.

H. L. Lasantha alias Tinkering Lasantha was killed while in police custody n 2021. He was involved in multiple criminal activities. Tinkering Lasantha’s lawyer had notified the Bar Association that .he has information that his client who had been arrested by Kalutara police will be killed in custody by the police under the pretext of it happening during a shoot-out whilst being taken to show weapons. The lawyer pointed out that Tinkering hadn’t been produced before a magistrate either.

Bar Association had promptly informed IGP, Human Rights Commission, and the Consortium of Humanitarian Agencies (CHA). However, on 26th November  Tinkering Lasantha had been shot dead while being taken to recover hidden weapons.

Dinithi Melan alias Uru Juwa   was arrested by the Nawagamuwa Police on May 2021. Uru Juwa’ had been wanted in connection with at least four killings, about 20 cases of  ransom  and other offences, including arson, committed between 2015 and 2019 in  the Nawagamuwa and Hanwella Police Divisions. ‘ Lawyers questioned the circumstances in which Uru Juwa died of gunshot injuries on the following day.

The death of persons taken into custody by the police cannot be justified under any circumstances, said lawyers. Responsibility for these killings must lie not only with the persons who carried out the killings but also all those who command them and those who failed to ensure the safety and security of the suspect. The BASL calls upon the IGP to explain his failure to protect the suspect who was in police custody.

Human Rights are now getting extended to animals too. Animals are increasingly recognized as non-human persons” with feelings. In 2022 Basel-Stadt canton in Switzerland voted on whether primates, (apes, chimpanzees, monkeys) should enjoy some of the same basic fundamental rights as humans do. The vote will decide whether to give primates the right to life and the right to “mental and physical integrity”. The animal right group Sentience said primates are highly intelligent and maintain an active social life. They feel pain, grief and compassion.

Switzerland’s Supreme Court  allowed the vote.. The proposal would not extend fundamental rights to all animals, only to primates and it would only apply to cantons and municipalities in Switzerland not to  private persons. This will mark the first time worldwide that people can vote on fundamental rights for non-humans, said the media.

In 2017, The Indian Supreme Court directed Indian States to sterilize every stray dog, allowing only irretrievably ill or rabid dogs to be destroyed. Sterilization is the answer for dog population control not killing, said Delhi High Court, observing that there is no law prohibiting street dog feeding and stating that those who do so show compassion to all living creatures. It  directed India’s Animal Welfare Board to earmark appropriate sites  to establish stray dog feeding stations and ordered the police to protect those feeding street dogs. However, animal lovers observed that when sterilized and vaccinated dogs are removed to shelters, others neither sterilized nor vaccinated take over. Vaccinated dogs living in groups create herd immunity” preventing other dogs coming into their territory.

In Sri Lanka  there is an  emphasis on protecting stray dogs. A  stray  doggie’s right to life was now  getting protected. It is no longer a ‘dog’s life’.  There was a complaint some years ago that stray dogs living in the Peradeniya Gardens and dogs   living in the Kandy Hospital compound had been removed. Dog lovers said that    the occupancy rights of these dogs had been violated. It was argued that these dogs had a sort of prescriptive right to be in these two places. They did not however provide any useful service to either institution.

In 2017, there was a similar protest regarding the dogs at University of Sri Jayewardenepura. The university stands on a large property which does not have a wall surrounding it. As a result, dogs of the neighboring areas enter and move about in it freely, some even living there, said    Sathva Mithra, an NGO.

However, thanks to caring students these dogs have not been allowed to run wild, be disease ridden, and multiply their numbers freely. Succeeding batches of students have taken on themselves the task of caring for these dogs, not only providing them with food but also vaccinating them regularly against rabies, and sterilizing/neutering them, thereby preventing reproduction. They have been getting the support of their parents and even some of the teaching staff for this compassionate task, continued Sathva Mithra,

In fact, a recently retired Vice Chancellor too, had while in office, contributed food for these animals on a few occasions which was a great inspiration to the students. So much love the students had for these for these humble, friendly animals that each one of them was given names to which they promptly respond. With so much loving care and attention, these dogs have always been human-friendly and moved about the university peacefully without harming anyone.   

Sathva Mithra complained that without any prior warning to the students, the Acting VC on the advice of the VC decided to send out all the dogs from the university premises,  caring nothing about the tragic fate that will befall the animals by such hasty unplanned removal and the anguish it would cause the concerned students. It is a pity the VC lacked the humility to discuss with his students this issue of the dogs said the NGO.

Innocent dogs, lovingly cared for by students, were handed over to cruel unethical pest control people for disposal in some other place, or even their destruction. No sooner the students learned of this removal of the dogs, they informed the police and asked the pest control people to return them concluded Sathva Mithra.

The Collective of Citizens Organizations also joined in. it accused Sri Jayewardenepura University administration of hiring a private pets control firm to remove at least 30 dogs ahead of a free sterilization project. They suspected that the dogs had been buried after being made unconscious. The private company admitted receiving a payment amounting to Rs 350,000 for the operation. The NGO wanted to know whether University administration could spend taxpayer’s money to get rid of dogs.

Vice Chancellor of the University of Sri Jayewardenepura  said stray dogs had become a nuisance  on university premises. There were more than 130 stray dogs living inside the university premises and they were a threat to students, academic and non academic staff members. They had bitten 18 students and non academic staff members during the last two months. Following repeated requests made by the students, teachers, non-academic staff members and welfare organizations, the university administration had decided to remove the stray dogs from the campus premises. The university administration had outsourced the task to a private company but some parties with vested interests had spread rumors that the animals were being killed. He said those groups had done nothing for the dogs.

To conclude, Human Rights” does not appear to be concerned about the average citizen’s right to safety and the good life. Human Rights show an utter indifference to pressing social issues such as poverty, social mobility, economic development. Roald Dahl’s  Big Friendly Giant observed Human beans is killing each other. Human beans is the only animal that is killing their own.’ Human Rights does nothing to stop this either.  (Concluded)

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