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 Post subject: Lawlessness in Sri Lanka
 Post Posted: Tue May 22, 2007 7:13 pm 
Lawlessness in Sri Lanka

Copyright © 2007 News.Yahoo.com / AFP
by Barry Parker / Tue May 22, 2007

Cases of murder, abduction, disappearance and intimidation surface now almost daily in Sri Lanka as the South Asian nation appears to be sliding into lawlessness and war.

With a truce between the government and the rebel Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) in tatters and peace talks long since abandoned, rights workers and the media fear the situation is spiralling out of control.

The government is pressing for a military victory over the Tigers, and a series of tit-for-tat clashes have left heavy casualties on both sides -- as well as discrepancies over the true body count.

But away from the front lines, bloodshed is just as frequent and usually involves civilians, although it is seldom clear who is behind the day-to-day violence.

"The situation is out of control," said Sunander Deshapriya of the Centre for Policy Alternatives, a private think tank.

"What we are seeing today is uncertainty. We do not know who is doing what. It is very difficult to find out who is responsible, violence is so widespread," Deshapriya said.

"It is also very difficult to see the situation improving."

Almost 5,000 people have been killed since December 2005, according to the defence ministry.

And more than 700 people are reported to have "disappeared" in the past year in Sri Lanka, where at least 60,000 people have been killed in the Tamil separatist conflict since 1972.

Such a climate of fear has not been seen on the island since 1987-1990, when the army crushed a Marxist Sinhalese uprising at the official cost of 16,750 dead and thousands more missing.

Britain halted debt relief this month in anger at the government's human rights records, and major donor Japan is reviewing its position. Germany stopped aid last December.

The United States has also dropped the usual diplomatic niceties, publicly accusing Sri Lanka of reneging on promises to protect human rights.

"People are more fearful and face more difficulties. Overall, there has been a deterioration in Sri Lanka's human rights record," said US Assistant Secretary of State Richard Boucher on a visit to Sri Lanka this month.

He travelled to the northern Jaffna peninsula, where 350,000 civilians and 40,000 government troops have lived under virtual siege conditions since the army closed the only land access in August after rebel attacks.

Laxman Gunasekera, president of the South Asian Free Media Alliance (SAFMA) in Sri Lanka, said abductions were rampant -- "but not a single government authority is prepared to acknowledge abductions and give us a figure."

"We have an impression of a lack of control by the state itself," he said.

Sri Lanka's Human Rights Minister Mahinda Samarasinghe told AFP the lack of official figures was a "lacuna" and said the government was battling to ensure a human rights commission functioned independently.

This involved setting up a witness protection scheme and safe houses, and arranging for political asylum in the West when necessary.

"It's a serious situation we have to grapple with," he said. "I know it's hard for people to understand that we are making progress."

The minister pointed to the ongoing return of thousands of refugees to eastern areas where troops have captured territory from the LTTE.

But journalist groups accuse authorities of trying to silence anyone who dissents from the official line.

"Journalists face public abuse, violent physical assault, threats, deaths, abduction and murder ... in all parts of the country," including LTTE-held areas, said SAFMA's Gunasekera.

"The picture is not one of improvement, but worsening conditions," he said. "The reality is bleak."

The independent Sri Lanka Press Institute is creating a safety fund to help journalists facing death threats. It is looking at providing mobile phones to local reporters and running a safe house in the capital.

Tamil journalists have borne the brunt of the onslaught. Several told AFP they live in fear for their lives and can no longer work normally or risk using their names on air or in print.

In eastern Batticaloa district, only one Tamil journalist remains at work today, several months after the army ousted the LTTE from the Tamil-majority area. Others have fled, among them the president of a Tamil journalists union.

Nadesapillai Vithyatharan, chief editor of the Tamil-language Uthayan newspaper -- the only paper to publish in Jaffna for the last 20 years without interruption -- refuses to back down.

He says he will not close despite a squeeze from the authorities which has resulted in the daily cutting its pages from 20 to four, and printing on any paper it can find. Circulation has dropped from 24,000 to 4,000.

"We have lost five staff in the last 18 months," he said. "I have had grenades tossed into my room, but I am ready for anything."

 Post subject: Crimes they commit
 Post Posted: Tue May 22, 2007 7:27 pm 
Crimes they commit
In a country where a High Court judge was felled in broad daylight, how can witnesses’ safety be guaranteed?

There is something fundamentally wrong with our society. Our religiosity knows no bounds. We are a nation given to ‘loud speaker sermons’ in the morning, in the evening and sometimes throughout the day. Such is our greed! Families are broken, brother kills brother and even children kill their ageing parents just for a parcel of land.

Man consumed with greed and hatred is worse than even the worst beast in the wild. Nothing demonstrates the barbarity of man better than instances such as contract killings.

In a recent multiple murder at Delgoda five members of the same family were chopped to death. Among them were two children. The pictures of the victims we front-paged yesterday were shocking and heartrending. The police believe their massacre was over a land dispute.

Some years ago, a similar crime was perpetrated against a family at Hokandara. All five members were brutally killed by a gang of hired killers because of a tussle over a property matter.

What we are witnessing is a frightening trend. Contract killers are a dime a dozen. There is a surfeit of lethal weapons for hire in the underworld. The police are collaborating with criminals. So, the beastly elements who seek shortcuts in legal wrangles oftentimes resort to the elimination of their rivals.

Witnesses are massacred together with their families. The public are becoming increasingly wary of coming forward to give evidence against criminals for fear of reprisals. The situation is so serious that the people are scared of giving evidence despite even assurances of their safety by the highest in the land. The massacre of the Tamil youth in Trincomalee allegedly by some security forces personnel is a case in point. President Mahinda Rajapakse told a group of newspapers editors last week that the probe into that heinous crime had run into a legal snag for want of evidence. In a country where a High Court judge was felled in broad daylight, how can witnesses’ safety be guaranteed?

Premeditated crimes are popularly ascribed to the fact that punishment meted out to criminals is not in keeping with the severity of their action and therefore it falls short of having a deterrent impact. Hence, the demand for the implementation of the capital punishment.

Whether the hangman’s noose is going to be an effective remedy is debatable, but the fact remains that the criminals whose death sentence has been commuted to life imprisonment are making a mockery of the suspension of the death penalty and the leniency of political leaders, who are keeping the hangman at bay, by staging demonstrations and demanding that their sentences be further reduced!

Laws delays, low conviction rate and corruption in the criminal justice system are also said to be some reasons why criminals are becoming emboldened by the day to carry out their sordid operations with apparently no concern for the consequences of their action. Court cases usually drag on for ages and most suspects get bail unless involved in high profile cases. Perhaps, the compilers of the Guinness Book of World Records must seriously consider including Sri Lanka’s long-drawn court cases, some of which are disposed of only after the litigants concerned cross the great divide.

These flaws have led to the erosion of public confidence in the justice system, as manifest in the high incidence of violence due to people opting to settle their scores outside the legal system. We are fast moving towards a society guided by the law of the jungle: Slay or be slain!

However, the brutalisation of society cannot be simply attributed to a flawed legal system alone. There is something fundamentally wrong with our society. Our religiosity knows no bounds. We are a nation given to ‘loud speaker sermons’ in the morning, in the evening and sometimes throughout the day.

We get an overdose of preaching every day and thirstily imbibe religious teachings until they ooze from every pore of ours. But, we are quite adept at making fences ‘walk’ into neighbours’ land surreptitiously at night or grabbing someone else’s property thus triggering clashes that end up in bloodletting.

It was also our insatiable greed for land that drove some of us into a watery mass grave in the tsunami disaster. When the sea rolled back before the killer waves came, some people rushed in to block out the seabed! Such is our greed! Families are broken, brother kills brother and even children kill their ageing parents just for a parcel of land.

There are said to be four types of laughter or hathara hina, as they say: An unfaithful woman laughs when her husband caresses her child who is not his; death laughs when mortals postpone things; wealth laughs when people strive to amass it and the earth laughs when people fight over land. Those of us who are engaged in land disputes are only having the earth in fits of laughter!

But, it is only wishful thinking that freeing a brutalised society from violence is a task that can be accomplished through effective enforcement of the law alone. What we are grappling with is a deep rooted social problem and it needs to be treated as such in trying to find a solution, of which punishment is only one aspect however essential it may be.

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