In what appears to be a showdown battle for the restoration of democracy, justice and the rule of law, one of Lanka’s leading activists has called on all associations of professional and civic action groups to come forward and save Sri Lanka from the grave consequences of a growing culture of impunity.
The legal activist Upul Jayasuriya, who was recently re-elected unanimously as President of the Bar Association of Sri Lanka (BASL) which gives leadership to about 14,000 lawyers said in a TV interview on Tuesday he was sad that many other associations of professionals were keeping silent in Sri Lanka’s hour of crisis when the very pillars of democracy were crumbling. Mr. Jayasuriya in a hard hitting interview reminded other professionals like doctors, engineers, accountants and civic action groups of the dreaded warning given by a German poet Martin Niemöller who wrote about how he kept silent when the Nazi’s came to his city, because it did not affect him. He kept silent even when they came to his town and village and down the street because it did not affect him. But finally when he heard the dreaded midnight knock on his own door, there was no one left to save him.
According to the BASL President, the breaking point came when the 17th Amendment –one of the most progressive pieces of legislation introduced in Sri Lanka--was scrapped and replaced by the 18th Amendment which gave absolute power to an already powerful executive presidency. As a result the independent Police Commission, the independent Public Service Commission, the independent Elections Commission and the independent Judicial Service Commission were dismantled and they came under the executive presidency.
As a result the independence of the Police Department and the judicial services have been damaged to such a degree that most people have lost or are losing faith in the two vital institutions for the maintenance of the law and order. As Mr. Jayasuriyua and other activists have pointed out, there have been at least 35 cases in recent years where suspects in various cases have been killed by the Police even before their trial. We have heard of trial by the media and instances where people were convicted before their trials. Now we seem to have degenerated into an era when suspects are killed before their trial. The Police claim they were acting in self-defence and the police spokesman says a full inquiry is being held but eventually little or nothing happens.
According to opposition critics and most independent analysts, the present police spokesman in recent months has been acting more like a government spokesman and his statements that full and impartial investigations are being conducted, have become somewhat of a joke.
As for bribery corruption or frauds, most independent analysts say the cancer has reached its worst proportions with billions in public funds being plundered. Mr. Jayasuriya revealed that the latest case where an official had allegedly taken more than Rs. 400,000 as a bribe from a person in Maharagama. The official was initially arrested and remanded but when the pressure and the spotlight were taken away, he was quietly discharged.
Mr. Jayasuriya with sarcasm told the government that if it did not want to check the growing cancer of bribery corruption and fraud it might as well legalise those vices and say a minister could take one million an MP half a million and other politicians or officials a few lakhs. He said the judicial service was on the verge of a breakdown. There were good judges of integrity but they were being intimidated, pressured or threatened in various ways by those who claim to be close to the ruling family dynasty.
The BASL President’s warning and appeal are a wake-up call to right-thinking Sri Lankans. If the breakdown and degeneration continue, what we will be leaving for our children and future generations may be something like the anarchy of a Somalia or Rwanda.
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