SRI LANKA: Independence without justice – Asian Human Rights Commission
A statement for the commemoration of the independence of Sri Lanka
The 64th commemoration of Sri Lanka’s independence takes place at the time when the country’s justice system is in a hopeless crisis. The abuse of the judicial process for political reasons has created doubts about the independence of the judiciary itself. The government shows no will to respect the rule of law. The police and the Attorney General’s Department are immersed in problems that seem to defy any kind of genuine improvement. Where is justice to be found? This is the question that everyone is asking but no one is able to provide a credible answer.
Almost every day cases come before the courts which reinforces the perception of manipulation in the process of justice. Shocking fabrication of charges quite obviously to achieve petty political revenge comes to the notice of the people all the time. On the other hand the manipulation of criminal investigations as well as the filing of charges with the view to exonerate those who are in politically favourable positions is also quite common. Whether we look into the cases filed against Sarath Fonseka, who perhaps is treated as the most prominent opponent of the present government or cases like those relating to the murder of Baratha Lahksman Premachandra the obvious forms of blatant manipulation of justice is quite manifest. Does anyone believe that there are genuine reasons for the failure to find the murders of Lasantha Wickrematunge and those responsible for the disappearance of Prageeth Ekenaligoda, Lalith Kumar Weeraraj and Kugan Muruganathan and those behind the white van abductions?
The government cynically ignores all criticism relating to the undermining of justice in prominent cases as well as much less prominent cases like those faced by the ordinary citizens throughout the country at every police station and in every court. Despite of consistent criticism in this regard the government neither offers any apology nor makes any promises of improvements.
When justice is in such peril does independence make any sense? Freedom and justice are inseparable. Where justice is undermined freedom is also undermined. A political system that puts its justice system in peril necessarily creates a messy situation not only for the people but also for itself. Good governance without justice is impossible.
The disarray that exists within the policing system, the Attorney General’s Department and the judicial system itself arises from structural reasons. The reasons are to be found within the country’s constitution. This constitution, having placed the executive above the law, has destroyed the functioning of the country’s legal system and the administration of justice. The ruling political parties have, while in opposition, promised to abolish this constitutional system and to create one which is based on the rule of law and democracy. In fact, this has been everyone’s promise and the betrayal of this promise has resulted in the betrayal of the very notions of independence.
Today the government is not in a position to even ensure security on the roads. Discipline on the roads is an indicator of the discipline within a country. The absence of discipline in the country though decried by every politician defies any solution. When the system of law and justice is in crisis there is hardly a possibility for creating discipline in any of the country’s institutions.
Besides this, delays in justice remain a killer disease. The manner in which delays affect justice is simply maddening. A single trial may take five or six years and to add to the chaos many state counsels are transferred during the trial. Any cunning defence lawyer may win even a foolproof case by relying on delays for an acquittal. There are many factors that contribute to these delays. The factor that hangs on justice like a noose is the Government’s Analyst Department. All attempts to cause even limited changes to this accursed department have failed. The present government does not even care to raise a finger against this department.
The government also resist the passing of a witness protection law. Perhaps, there may be those who think, that it is unsafe to protect witnesses. The killing and intimidation of witnesses is a game that is allowed and even encouraged.
The open sabotage of justice, as it is happening now, poses a great threat to the morale of the people. A political system that demoralizes the people is inviting peril to itself and the nation.
The government remains oblivious of this lawless and messy situation. Equally the opposition political parties are also oblivious to this crisis. Politics has become disconnected from the real problems that the people and the system of administration face.
What sense does celebrating independence make in such circumstances. The only sensible decision that any responsible citizen can make is to stay away from any such celebrations. Making a firm commitment to fight for a change in this situation is the need of the hour. It is the citizens who would have to begin the process of making that change. Demands for drastic reforms in the systems of the administration of justice is the only way to respond to the prevailing impasse.