freedom is assassinated
In a horrifying turn of events,
five bodies were unearthed in the outskirts of Colombo on
Friday, bound, blindfolded and dumped in a marsh. According to
initial police reports, it is possible that the victims were all
killed wearing blindfolds.
The incident brings to mind several more similar instances in
which groups of persons have been brutally slain and left to rot
by the wayside in the recent past. Some were more gruesome than
others: there were cases of the assassins having severed the
heads of their victims before dumping their bodies that were
This latest multiple murder assumes grave significance in light
of the large numbers of people being abducted in the capital and
around the country on a daily basis.
According to statistics compiled by the Civil Committee on
Disappearances, 78 people have been abducted in Colombo over the
last four months, and 50 of them are still missing. Those who
have been released have provided accounts of how the assailants
arrived in white vans, were armed with sophisticated weapons and
dressed in plain clothes.
All this is reminiscent of the 1987-89 era, when most of the
disappeared never came back.
Sadly, the action on the part of the authorities to find and
take punitive measures against the perpetrators has been paltry
at best. Investigation after investigation has been suspended or
abandoned, buried with the dead, providing no sense of closure
or justice for the families of the dead. In a country where the
citizen’s basic fundamental right to life is being violated,
time and again, the state has remained mute, and therefore,
culpable to some degree in each one of these slayings.
One of the biggest problems with conflict worldwide is that it
provides the best possible smokescreen for all manner of
criminals to roam free. In the case of Sri Lanka which has been
ensnared in the throes of a civil war for over 20 long years,
conflict has strangled and crippled us both socially and
economically and in the meantime allowed a well armed, dangerous
criminal world to flourish. Exacerbating matters are the
paramilitary groups, whose heinous misdeeds are glossed over or
well concealed from public glare.
One such simmering inferno in Batticaloa looks set to erupt in
the near future, with Karuna’s TMVP running amok, setting
themselves up to replace the tyranny of the Tigers in the same
area not so long ago. It is a dangerous and vicious cycle.
Members of the Eminent Jurists Panel on Terrorism,
Counter-terrorism and Human Rights of the International
Commission of Jurists recently concluded an inquiry on South
Asia and “learned with grave concern about the recent
deterioration of the human rights situation in Sri Lanka,
including large scale human rights violations, such as
extra-judicial killings, torture, enforced disappearances and
According to the Commission’s official website, “serious
concerns were also raised regarding the re-introduction of
counter-terrorism measures contained in the Prevention of
Terrorism Act and in emergency regulations, including a wide
arsenal of terrorism related offences that can be used to
criminalise anybody connected to any broadly defined terror
suspect or to a member of a terrorist group.”
The panel also highlighted the gross human rights violations by
the LTTE in their preliminary findings. During the inquiry in
India, the Panel also heard accounts of human rights abuses by
the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam and “in particular efforts
to silence dissent in territories under its control. The members
of the Panel are concerned that these developments mirror the
framework that has led to widespread and systematic abuses in
the past and ultimately aggravated the conflict,” ICJ says.
There is more concern elsewhere. Following a recent visit to Sri
Lanka by the UN Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial executions,
Phillip Alston, he recommended the need for an international
human rights monitoring mission in Sri Lanka, to address the
rising number of extrajudicial killings and the grave human
rights and humanitarian crisis in the island.
Mr. Alston’s visit came in early 2006, before tensions in the
country had escalated to this degree or new anti-terror laws had
come into effect, granting government agencies wide ranging
powers of arrest and detention. His fact-finding mission in 2007
would tell a far graver story.
In light of all of this and most importantly because the lives
at stake are those of Sri Lankan citizens, the onus is on the
government to provide answers – and do it fast. Instead what is
being allowed to prevail is the law of the jungle and with
nobody being held accountable and police inquiries having become
a joke, all that is achieved is the further slide towards
anarchy and democratic failure.
In an era when the war allows all manner of criminals to take
matters into their own hands, we may soon find ourselves in a
situation where not only paramilitaries, underworld gangs and
unscruplous politicians but even mushrooming organisations
professing to be anti-terrorist, ‘patriotic’ et al, begin to see
violence as a means to eradicate political and ideological
opponents. It has become too easy to do away with one’s
detractors and perceived enemies – child’s play virtually. It is
time to make it harder. It is already too late for hundreds who
have become mere statistics in UN reports, but it is early
enough to protect those who remain.
Let the government act now, to uphold the rule of law, the
rights of the citizen and the independence of the judiciary and
law enforcement agencies. Then and only then, can we salvage
some semblance of democracy.