The Freedom of Thought, Conscience and Religion, the Freedom from Torture, the Right to Equality, the Freedom from Arbitrary Arrest, Detention and Punishment, the Prohibition of Retroactive Penal Legislation, the Freedom of Speech, Assembly, Association and Movement are basic rights and freedom all citizens of our country irrespective of race religion or ethnicity enjoy.
These rights are enshrined in Chapter III of the Constitution of the Democratic Socialist Republic of Sri Lanka.
It was therefore with shock, trepidation and bewilderment, ‘We The Citizens’ of Sri Lanka read in the October 18 issue of the ‘Daily Mirror’, that the Minister of Public Security was planning to introduce a piece of legislation to exonerate policemen automatically from any allegation of violating Fundamental Rights (FR) if and when the complaints against them by anyone are not inquired and concluded in a period of six months!
Was this just the Public Security Minister ‘shooting from the hip’ so-to-say or was this part of the collective wisdom of the Cabinet of Ministers which the Public Security Minister giving voice to?
Is this piece of legislation part of the new Constitution which every government which was elected into power after the death of the late President J.R. Jayawardene has kept promising the masses of this country?
The aim of a new Constitution was to supposedly to give greater freedom and security to the masses. If so, how does exonerating those accused of infringing on the fundamental rights of citizens help in the promotion of rights?
According to the simple reasoning of the Minister, “Policemen have become suspects in FR cases filed by the public while doing their duty correctly and obediently. We are in the process of providing these police officers some relief. There were about 35 in the waiting list to be promoted to the rank of ASP. Granting of these promotions had been held up as they have FR petitions against them in the Supreme Court,”
In 1992, no lesser person than present Prime Minister and former President Mahinda Rajapaksa himself, campaigned to pressure the then UNP regime into investigating enforced disappearances during the JVP insurgency, when thousands disappeared from the south of the country during the JVP insurgency.
Many of the disappeared were innocent.
Then MP Rajapaksa also co-convened the ‘Mothers’ Front which campaigned against the disappearances of their husbands and children. The Front’s objectives included the creation of an independent commission to investigate the disappearance of thousands of people since 1987 and an inquiry into the fate of the disappeared and compensation for dependents of victims. According to media reports published at the time, the Mothers Front also demanded Government reveal the names of persons being detained by the state.
The Bishop of Mannar, in submissions to the LLRC claimed 146,679 persons went missing in the Vanni District during the War on Terror. Both former President Rajapaksa and the Bishop of Mannar are good and honourable men, neither of whom wished to slur the name of their country. Theirs was a cry for justice
More recently (October 12, 2021) the Sri Lanka Collective Against Torture (SLCT) highlighted a number of cases of torture and unlawful detention during which basically is over two decades after the insurgencies.
In its Annual report of 2019, the Human Rights Commission reported Complaints of torture remained more or less the same as in previous years, proving that eliminating the deeply entrenched practice in law enforcement requires strong political will and sustained, long term interventions.
If it were not such a sad reflection on governance of the day, one would not be blamed for laughing off the sentiments expressed by the Public Security Minister.
He seems to be more worried that 35 police officers who have been accused of violating fundamental rights of the citizens of this country and have not received their promotions, rather than the violations of fundamental rights which is enshrined in the Constitution of the country.
To us ordinary mortals, it appears the Minister is testing the waters to check public reaction to an attempt to provide impunity to those violating the basic rights of the people of this country.