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The killing of Balavarnam Sivakumar

by Dr A.C.Visvalingam

Perhaps the most sickening TV news item seen by Sri Lankans in recent times was the cold-blooded murder of the mentally ill Balavarnam Sivakumar of Ratmalana. It is understood that a police constable named Dimuthu Somnas has been remanded in connection with this attack. A few of his fellow constables are also said to be likely to be taken into custody. These arrests will predictably divert attention away from those criminals who started the whole thing by beating and chasing Sivakumar into the sea initially, and the other policemen who helped Somnas and his accomplices finish off the job by looking on, doing nothing.

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(Courtesy: Daily Mirror)

It has also been reported that the Bambapilitiya Police had been informed but had taken no action to stop the unrelenting assault. Most of the citizens who were witness to this monstrous exhibition of brutality would undoubtedly have been fearful of the consequences of interfering with its vicious participants. In these circumstances, the action taken by a few concerned citizens to alert the Bambalapitiya Police and the TNL TV Station tells us that there were at least a few decent persons there who had the conscience to try to do something to stop this inhuman killing. Considering the sad fate of many media institutions and personnel during the past few years, TNL TV and its personnel deserve our thanks and praise for their courageous exposure of this terrible episode.

The Citizens’ Movement for Good Governance (CIMOGG) has little doubt that the videoed evidence will establish to the satisfaction of the courts that Somnas, his accomplices and the inactive Police spectators were the direct and immediate perpetrators of this crime. On the other hand, CIMOGG’s view is that those in power who have steadily and unrelentingly destroyed the independence and professionalism of the Police force are the real wrongdoers behind this and a myriad other examples of the gross dehumanisation of Sri Lanka’s law enforcement apparatus.

The moral responsibility for this pitiful state of affairs rests fairly and squarely on those persons who first foisted the omnipotent Executive Presidency on this hapless country and those who have subsequently exploited it for their own personal ends, barefacedly breaching their promises to abolish it. Under cover of the immunity given to the President, which frees the incumbent from being sued in person in the courts, successive holders of this office have gone about violating the Constitution with chilling purposefulness.

In the early days of the 1978 Constitution, policemen who were found guilty by the courts of various misdemeanours were given promotions and their fines paid by the State. After the Police had successfully got a rapist convicted and sentenced to jail, he was pardoned and made a JP, in order to please a key Minister of the government of the time. Large numbers of SLFP supporters were punished or killed on fabricated grounds that they were JVPers, at a time when the public was paralysed with fear by the savagery practised by the latter in dealing with those whom they wanted to eliminate. Later, a notorious criminal believed to have been responsible for more than one murder was employed as a high profile bodyguard by a President. Well-known artistes who appeared on political platforms had their houses set on fire.

At least one woman supporter of a rival political party was paraded naked through the streets whilst the Police remained unmoved. Still later, media businesses and members of the media themselves have been subjected to increased threats, assault, arson and murder by those supporting powerful interests. The villains who carried out these acts were not worried about being caught and charged by the Police, who they knew feared political victimisation, if they did their duty. No one seriously expected the Police to bring to justice those who were responsible for these offences. There are scores of more well-known examples of impunity and the lack of accountability of the administration.

Encouraged by the knowledge that they will not be called to account for supporting or failing to investigate crimes which help the government of the time being in power, a frighteningly large number of the Police have conveniently expanded their activities into areas outside the political arena. It appears that they think nothing of arresting and torturing suspects or even persons who they know are innocent, not only with a view to solving crimes but even to help the odd friends’ or benefactors’ private agendas.

From there, it was but a small step, when torture had probably resulted in irreversible physical damage to a victim, to get rid of the evidence by creating a false scenario of Police weapons being snatched, or grenades being flung at the Police by a heavily manacled suspect, to justify shooting him in cold blood. We do not deny the significant probability that a good number of those who were shot were well-known drug-dealers, murderers or rapists, regarding whose guilt the Police would have been certain in their own minds. As for the unidentified, tortured bodies in swamps and other even less accessible places, we cannot but speculate half-blindly. The point is not whether the Police were right in eliminating criminals but that they failed to do so within the ambit of the Rule of Law.

Under pressure, governments have appointed several Commissions of Inquiry to pacify the public until interest, as expected, wanes in respect of the current burning issue and is transferred to a fresher social or political drama. These Commissions were invariably given limited terms of reference and investigational resources. The final reports, unless innocuous, have almost never been published in full, although extracts unfavourable to the government’s opponents were freely leaked to the press.

When it was realised that the decline of governance and the Rule of Law had gone too far, the 17th Amendment was passed unanimously by Parliament in 2001 because all MPs, on a miraculously serendipitous day, thought of the country first and agreed to depoliticise the Elections Commission, the Public Service, the Police Commission, the Judiciary, the Human Rights Commission, and so on. As is generally the case with laws that are passed hurriedly, there were a few critical shortcomings in the Amendment but it was a huge step forward to control the unprincipled and arbitrary exercise of executive power.

From the experience gained in the first three years, the Amendment could very easily have been improved to remove all identified defects. However, President Kumaratunge went against the intent and spirit of this Amendment by relying on a minor technicality to avoid appointing the Elections Commission, accusing one of the nominees of being politically partisan. Her Ministers, too, had come to find it irksome that they could not get their hangers-on appointed to good positions or stations over more deserving candidates in the face of the Public Service Commission and the National Police Commission.

Upon coming into power, President Rajapakse, instead of getting the cooperation of the other parties to set right the deficiencies in the 17th Amendment, found many number of excuses for not making use of his enormous authority to get the Constitutional Council reactivated, and thereby prevented the key Commissions mentioned above from being appointed. By this means, he has wrongfully arrogated to himself vast autocratic and monopolistic powers over the entire machinery of government. The disastrous effect this has had in exacerbating the conditions which restrain the Police from acting independently and, instead, acting with unlimited licence in the interests of the government has blunted the sensibilities of many policemen to the extreme extent witnessed during the assassination of Sivakumar.

Mr Malinda Seneviratne reminded us a few days ago of the following observation of the late Mr Ran Banda Seneviratne: "There was a time when, if a dog died, there would be fifty people wondering whose dog it was, how it died, and what needed to be done; now, even if fifty people died, not a dog would be bothered". It is a matter for the most extreme regret that our successive Presidents have contributed in no small measure to this change of values. We, therefore, call upon President Rajapakse to supplement his reputation as a successful "war" leader by getting all parties together to resurrect the 17th Amendment, with the revisions needed.

We also urge him to exploit the cooperation promised by the UNP and the JVP to get rid of the accursed Executive Presidency and reform the structure of government to ensure a much greater separation of powers between the legislature, the executive and the judiciary than the present hybrid model, the unsuitability of which become more and more apparent by the day. If he succeeds in getting this done, he will set Sri Lanka on a lawful and productive trajectory that would earn him an enduring reputation as a great peacetime leader and statesman. Among the many great outcomes of that step would be that the Police force would be able to regain the superb reputation that it had at the time of independence and not continue to display to the world how unprofessional and sadistic too many of its members have become.

Dr A.C.Visvalingam is President of Citizens’ Movement for Good Governance
www:cimogg-srilanka.org

9 Comments

The general feeling in the establishment is that they can get away with anything hence the climate of impunity. This has come into being due to several reasons.

1. Political interference in the day to day affairs of Police and Armed forces.
2. Political appointments as well as transfers, victimisation etc in the Police force.
3. Political recruitments to the Police force. Recruitment of unsuitable people. Lack of training, indiscipline etc.
4. Use of large number of selected officers for the protection of Politicians, Ministers, Presidential Security.
5. Easy issue of Arms to policeman. No discretion as to if these are neccesary in the circumstances.
6. The General feeling of superiority felt by the Police over ordinary people. Daily harrassment of people to allow VIP movements, No parking, No entry, Arbitrary arrests etc.

This is one incident which was committed in broad daylight. There are many others. Take the instance of the burning of an opposition MP's residence at Puttlam, the killing of Lasantha etc. No action is forthcoming, hence we can assume that this is due to orders from above. There may other cases we dont know about. Hence all these will continue unless the Politicians who are causing this are reformed and their powers cut down. Mainly this is to do with the powers of the Executive who is also Commander In Chief, misusing his powers and creating a climate where every one is misusing their powers and no one is there to answer to the problems of the Public.

Posted by: SriLankan | November 5, 2009 10:41 PM

Thank you for info , we will watch in the country humanity level, EU human rights and lot of other comunity watching sri lanka , NOW we have stop every eu land tur in sri lanka.civil administaion LOW AND ODER ,very schämen schämen schämen,

Posted by: manivannan sithiravel | November 6, 2009 05:20 AM

This is the most inhumane act I've ever seen.
I feel depressed and can't imagine why these policemen can't correct themselves even after recent angry public reactions to Angulana and Nipuna Ramanayaka incidents.

Posted by: Harshe | November 6, 2009 06:47 AM

Very sad to read this. Once I can remember when I was traveling in a bus one man got into the bus. we got the liquor smell from him. he was innocently singing to himself without making disturbance to others.he also didn't misbehave. Then the conductor came and pulled him and drag him out of the bus. I felt so sorry for that poor man. As if the conductor has never touched liquor.
I wanted to tell some thing to the conductor but my mother didn't allow me to do so as I am a woman. these people who deal with public should be trained to do their duty with a kind heart.

Posted by: malee | November 6, 2009 09:54 AM

is it a surprise.
Daily mirror reported " Nation was shocked"

They forgot to run a follow up " Nation is relieved now after knowing the identity of the man and his mental status"

Bishop expressed his displeasure, but being reminded that St Peter does not have a TV.

Buddhist monks are relieved, one that was beaten and drowned not a baby elephant. just a huuman being one among the lowest pecking order in Sri Lanka.

Hindu and Muslim priest do not want to open their mouth as they have fear of water.

This is a story of Srilanka the land where the royals and peasants live in a perpetual denial.

Posted by: Fran | November 6, 2009 03:00 PM

Harshe

Now, think of the plight of the people in North and East who have been going through this for decades which lead to the tamil youth militancy and strengthen it
Until southern masses realize this politicians and Chauvinist will continue to take the people for their jolly ride.

Posted by: Fran | November 7, 2009 01:11 AM

It is best a communal flavour is not introduced here. One must accept the Govt is trying to bring some happiness and justice to Tamils. The fault here, I think, is ill-trained Police/Army men that went into the scene.

The youth was clearly of unsound mind and has been throwing stones at cars, trains and allegedly on the Police Station as well. He should have been apprehended without resorting to this brutal physical attack and forced drowning. But the men involved were not confident of their own capabilities to force the man to submission.

Some time ago, there was a death in the precincts of Madurai Meenatchi Amman Temple in India where, similarly, the police killed a man of unsound mind behaving similarly in the "kulam" within the temple premises.

ISS

Posted by: Ilaya Seran Senguttuvan | November 7, 2009 08:58 AM

In any country the Police are there to fight against crimes and protect the people. In Sri Lanka it's other way around. Police is there to take bribes to free the criminals from police custody, kill the innocent people and drown them in the sea. They are allowed to torture the people and rape the women, and if they are lucky in taking any gang leaders in to custody they can bump them off with out taking them to the courts, provided they can come out with some good story to tell the public how a criminal ended his life. These stories are much better than the one we see in the movies. Brave Policemen and the Soldiers of Sri Lanka. Good job to keep the country free of criminals and mentally challanged people. Bravo!!

Posted by: Martin Thomas | November 7, 2009 03:23 PM

A well analysed article, Visva. It is very unfortunate that the disabled and the unfortunate are treated this way, against the well wishes of all religions and moral backgrounds.

Will the politics of Sri Lanka ever improve to be able to stop these attrocities and corruption? That will be the day the country has some sign of change.

The article is written by one of high intelligence and education, but still opted to stay in the island and work for improving the human rights. My very best wishes to you.

Posted by: Canaga | November 9, 2009 02:44 AM

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