24th October 1999
Talk of "disposable sacrifices" and the media are all excited. The term disposable sacrifice was recently used in the context of the dastardly killing of a journalist. Disposable sacrifices however are not new to Sri Lankan politics.
The biggest of them all was in June 1990 when more than 600 policemen were offered as a human sacrifice by a surrender order from the President of Sri Lanka. Unlike the case of the slain journalist, a "disposable sacrifice," the 600 policemen were offered as a human sacrifice when they were fighting a war for the very government which betrayed them to the very devil incarnate. These policemen were resisting a fierce LTTE attack with volleys of mortar fire directed at them, and defiant words exchanged for three and a half hours, when the surrender order was given.
Ivan Boteju who was ASP Kalmunai, and his men were not willing to surrender and protested, insisting that they will be tortured and killed if they surrender, and opted to fight back. The presidential order, however, was specific - in effect denying the policemen their lawful right of defence, and they were forced to obey.
The LTTE took ASP Boteju and his men to the Tirukkovil jungles, blindfolded them, tied their hands behind their backs, got them to lie down and massacred them by spraying bullets into them. This huge human sacrifice was so unbelievable that one even wondered whether it was part of a stupid Malayalam mantram.
The sad aspect of it is that they are now a forgotten lot. Reference is made to this tragedy by the government only as a mud-slinging exercise against the previous government, but no concrete action is taken to compensate the sacrifice in proportion to the facts and circumstances unparalleled in the history of the whole world.
To illustrate the indifference of the authorities towards these men, I wish to point out how ASP Boteju got less recognition comparatively than many of his colleagues and juniors who have scored more from less deserving performances with political backing.
He was due for promotion to the rank of S.P. on October 1, 1989 according to the normal scheme of promotions. However, he was not promoted as SP on the due date, as he did not pass a formal exam as required for confirmation in the rank of ASP. He had no time to sit the exam because he was serving in operational areas since his promotion to the rank ASP and the Police Department was unable to find someone willing to serve in Kalmunai to relieve him even after he had long completed his term in operational areas.
But there were precedents when rapid promotions had been granted to others within very short periods, long before due dates, exempting them from exams. The case of ASP Boteju was by far the more deserving for exemption from exams and promotion on due date, in which case his posthumous promotion to the next rank as in all cases of policemen killed in action, would have been to rank of D.I.G. –So simple as that, but this was not to be. I took this matter up during the previous government as well as the present government but without any response.
The UNP government treated this tragedy as something that happened in the normal course of events because the facts and circumstances were embarrassing to it. The surrender order by President was denied in Parliament and in the media.
The PA government for reasons unknown is not broaching the topic of investigating this holocaust and compensating the families adequately.
The present police hierarchy is also shy to recognize the sacrifices made by those who stayed back and faced the brunt of everything, while many of them did a 'tactical retreat' to more "salubrious climes". Those who stayed back are treated as traitors who worked for the enemy (UNP) thus mixing up loyalty to the country and the service, with loyalty to political parties.
What I wish to stress here is that the 600 men fought for the unitary status of Sri Lanka. It is ironical that there is no state of unity in Sri Lanka even for a unitary state. Party politics with the police top brass taking sides, is undermining the will of the people, and leaving those who perform their duty without fear or favour, stranded. Whither then Sri-Lanka's unitary state for which the 600 policemen sacrificed their lives?
Throwing the good out with the bad
By: Kishali Pinto Jayawardena
Given the high degree of reasonable and unreasonable dissent stirred up over the Equal Opportunity Bill, it was a pity that the Bill was withdrawn so precipitously from the Supreme Court on Monday.
If it went to hearing, arguments raised by the unprecedented forty two petitioners opposing the Bill, arguments to the contrary by the intervenient-petitioner supporting certain provisions of the Bill as well as the summing up and determination by the Court would have assuredly marked a legal moment of some note in the chequered socio- political and legal history of this country. It would have been interesting to examine the specific nature of the worms crawling out of the woodwork, which arguments, fevered or otherwise, would have stood up to the cold dissecting light of strict legality, the thinking of the Court towards the whole and a pruned Bill might then have been presented to the House.
As it is now, it seems certain that the Bill wrung hysterically hard and hung out to dry, will not be brought out of whatever cold storage it has been condemned to, for quite some time to come, if at all. From the standpoint of the petitioners opposing the Bill, this may be the next best thing to heaven but this would be to bypass many obvious positive issues that the Bill could otherwise have addressed.
Trying to make sense out of what happened to the Equal Opportunity Bill requires a gargantuan effort and no mean exercise of common sense. Whatever slim consensus existed on the Bill, it was that the reasoning behind it was praiseworthy. No one after all, can argue that there should not be non-discrimination on the basis of ethnicity, gender, religious or political opinion, language, caste, age or disability. From that satisfyingly vacuous basis, the divergencies were immense.
As the column "Cats Eye" in a daily newspaper put it on Wednesday, "the bill dealt with several major areas which have been the centres of controversy between the majority and minority communities of Sri Lanka for many decades. These are language, ethnicity and religion - three flashpoints for trouble" To think that the Bill with its undoubtedly far- reaching provisions that attempted to stand these flashpoints on their heads, would pass without challenge would have been naïve in the extreme. Monday's fiasco demonstrated firstly therefore that superficial sticking plasters by way of such legislation cannot work without extensive groundwork and a steadier foundation on which to support them.
To argue that the Bill itself was entirely without merit at this point of time would however be to miss the point. It stands to reason that the provisions in the Bill relating to prohibition of discrimination on the grounds of gender, age and disability in work places, accommodation and access to places address urgent issues on which an appreciable consensus could easily have been found.
The applicability of the bar of general non-discrimination to the private sector, with a suitable modifying of the provisions that impose upon employers the duty to furnish reports on the "composition and diversity" of that institution and to "systematically identify and remove any discriminatory barriers", cannot also be subject to much dissension. Thus too, the obligation on the part of both the private sector and the public sector employers to safeguard women in the workplace against sexual harassment. Sexual harassment has been defined in the Bill to closely follow international law standards which prohibits physical contacts and advances, sexually coloured remarks, showing pornography and making sexual demands, whether by words or by actions. This apparently wide range of restrictions have however been specifically interpreted in international law and declared to be objectionable only in situations where the woman has reasonable grounds to believe that her dissent would disadvantage her in connection with her employment including recruitment or promotion or where it creates an hostile working environment.
Meanwhile, the creation of an Equal Opportunity Commission and Tribunal which would look into questions of alleged discrimination in the private and public sector with conciliatory and mediatory powers, again sans the problematic jurisdictional provision which gives these bodies the power to directly impose punitive measures, would have been welcomed. Indeed, an effective functioning of these bodies would have taken much of the burden off the Supreme Court, presently compelled to cope with minute details of promotions, transfers and terminations in public employment.
As it is however, the Bill has been shelved amidst a roar of dissent that has engulfed the good along with the bad. The process by which the Bill came to be so shelved would indeed be an exercise in how not to pass legislation. To give the Ministry of Justice presenting the Bill its due, unlike in the case of other Bills suddenly foisted upon an unsuspecting public, this Bill had been referred to certain sections of the public for their opinion. However, it was apparent that this range of consultation had not been enough. By end September, it was obvious that momentum against the Bill was developing, part undoubtedly hysterical but part reasoned as well.
A wiser Government would have retreated and reconsidered, ideally asking for public representations on the issues. Instead, the Bill was placed on the Order Paper of Parliament on the 7th of October, setting into motion the inevitable process of challenging the Bill and its eventual ignominious withdrawal. Given its past experiences with the Postal Authority Bill and the Universities Amendment Bill, both of which were declared unconstitutional with the latter shamefully being referred to a consultative committee after the jurisdiction of the Supreme Court had already been invoked, one would have thought that the Government had learnt its lessons.
Evidently, one thought wrong. For the future, one can only hope that if the Equal Opportunity Bill achieves nothing else, its ill deserved fate should at least signal a halt to this spectacularly abortive manner of law making.
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