That was a brave act indeed. Having a tough-as-nails “Dirty Harry” serving the nation as an enforcer of the country’s laws deserves a national award- another Deshabandu, perhaps. Like the heroic Horatius who single-handedly held the bridge across the Tiber, Sri Lanka’s khaki-clad warrior not only stopped two peaceful women protesters from crossing the boundaries [...]


Uniformed lawbreakers a disgrace to nation


That was a brave act indeed. Having a tough-as-nails “Dirty Harry” serving the nation as an enforcer of the country’s laws deserves a national award- another Deshabandu, perhaps.

Like the heroic Horatius who single-handedly held the bridge across the Tiber, Sri Lanka’s khaki-clad warrior not only stopped two peaceful women protesters from crossing the boundaries of Panadura but he almost felled one or two female cops by holding them by the scruff of their necks.

Handling a woman is no easy task as many men will certify even under threat of a three-month vacation courtesy of the PTA. But to manhandle three or four in one go as it were– now that is surely an act of supreme valour.

By now the heroism of the officer-in-charge of some police station in the Panadura area has surely spread to many parts of the world thanks to modern technology.

It may not have erased COP27, the world climate change summit from the media headlines. But his name and photograph would have already been entered in the records of the Office of the UN High Commissioner of Human Rights and those maintained by other countries keeping their eyes fixed on the happenings in one of Asia’s earliest democracies (if not its first) heading, as critics claim, for its own political nadir as did the country’s economy during the heady days of the Gotabaya Rajapaksa regime and earlier.

So when the next update on Sri Lanka is presented to the UNHRC in March next year, chief inspector So-and- So’s name is bound to figure along with the names of other khakied foot-soldiers in the High Commissioner’s review.

The Panadura fiasco is only the most recent of police hijinks. And it is not only the police that have tarnished Sri Lanka’s image locally and internationally, in recent times. Many will recall a kick-boxing army colonel kicking in the chest a member of the public at a petrol filling station and a military man manhandling a policeman on duty at another filling station.

There were incidents, all caught on camera, of gun-wielding ranking policemen trying to pistol-whip demonstrators who were protesting against shortages. There were at least two such attempts which I saw on video clips.

This raises another vital issue. Are these incidents investigated, who inquire into them and have those responsible for violating the constitutional rights of the citizenry or other laws been held accountable and appropriately dealt with?

Police spokesman SSP Nihal Thalduwa was cited as telling the media that a special team headed by an ASP from the Panadura division and appointed by the senior DIG of the western province was inquiring into this highly publicised incident.

So it is an ASP, who is probably one rank higher than the police officer involved, and from the same Panadura Division and probably known to the OIC that is to conduct the inquiry. And the DIG who appoints the investigation team appears to be the same senior police officer whose name has cropped up several times as the one who stood by when the goons coming out of Temple Trees attacked the aragalists that May morning and in other matters.

Given the history of police investigations into their own and public faith in the impartiality of such investigations not to mention the integrity of some who delve into what are obviously despicable acts, it is scant wonder that public faith in the police as a reliable, fair institution mandated to enforce the law and maintain order is even lower than our foreign reserves. And in many cases they act with such impunity because they have political backing, are the henchmen of local politicians and have the nod from some in the government, to act at will.

One might recall that it was not too long ago that the IGP conceded publicly that of some 185 police OICs that assumed office some 130-odd were on the recommendations of politicians, that some of those interviewed for the post should not have been interviewed at all and some others did not have the necessary criteria to assume the post. These figures I recall from memory and might not be accurate.

Well, that ‘confession’ speaks for itself. It needs no expatiation.

A character in a Charles Dickens novel said the law is an ass. Does that make some of those who supposedly enforce the law, asses? Or would that be to insult the four-legged?

Maybe in this instance, the officer will be transferred out to some wilderness where he could do even worse in obscurity and all will be forgotten and even forgiven.

But the international spotlight has been on Sri Lanka for some time now and increasingly so and each such incident where public rights are abused and trampled on, is added to the litany of other abuses that the UN has now collated into a sizeable library.

Whenever a UN agency or one of its special rapporteurs presents a withering report on the conduct of the Sri Lanka government and its violations of human rights and humanitarian laws there is a cacophony of protests from some within our ‘charmed’ circles.

The criticism is common enough. International agencies/bodies including the UN, exceed their mandates and intervene, if not interfere, in the country’s internal affairs. This is not their business, goes the usual refrain.

Most often it happens before or after the Geneva sessions of the UNHRC or when the UN High Commissioner of Human Rights releases updates on the situation in the country as a follow-up to resolutions passed by the UN Human Rights Council (UNHRC).

While the absence of a mandate is a highly contentious argument which persons more learned in the subject would dismiss as spurious, it might be argued that all this fuss and bother, to put it charitably, would not arise if the government and its institutions do not violate the constitution that they have pledged to honour, and uphold and adhere to the international treaties and conventions this nation as a state party has signed to respect and honour. That gives other State parties the right to intervene.

I refer here mainly to the fundamental rights that our constitution lays down and those provided in the treaties and conventions Sri Lanka as a nation has agreed to abide by.

If such callous conduct as publicly displayed by the police the other day like so many instances of the violation of human rights and the abuse and misuse of laws draw vituperative responses from concerned institutions around the world it should only surprise those to whom human rights and fundamental freedoms assured by democratic systems of governance mean little, particularly the jackbooted gentry of the uniformed kind.

If those who condemn the criticism levelled against Sri Lanka for its human rights abuses, its impunity, its lack of concern in dealing with the corrupt in a genuine search for accountability and punishment of the guilty which even the current government for all its show of democratic governance has failed to undertake, might think of cleansing their dirty stables.

Those who are genuinely concerned about the country and its future must surely wonder why the pompous asses who assume a fake righteousness and blame the world, run shamelessly to the same nations with a begging bowl in the hand seeking a fist full of their dollars.

One must assume that politicians have no shame as long as they can cling to their posts and their perks and let their acolytes fatten themselves and blame the world for Sri Lanka’s predicament.

Space does not permit discussion of the mandate issue referred to above and the blame that government ministers and their lackeys now love to place on the country’s diplomatic missions for failure to win over critical foreign governments, when the problem really lies at home in their own conduct and policies, the politicisation of institutions that should act independently and the consistent refusal to hold the exploiters of Sri Lanka accountable.

Let them show the way first. Replace this outpouring of pompous rhetoric with acts of dignity and respect for the people of the country they rule if they wish to win the respect of the world. To win respect one must earn respect is an old truism.

(Neville de Silva is a veteran Sri Lankan journalist who was Assistant Editor of the Hong Kong Standard and worked for Gemini News Service in London. Later he was Deputy Chief-of-Mission in Bangkok and Deputy High Commissioner in London)


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