Ilankai Tamil Sangam

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Death Threats and the Trivialisation of Life in Sri Lanka

The receipt of such threats causes serious stress and fears among the recipients and their family members. As the instances at which such threats are carried out are very many hardly anyone will ignore these threats. Under these circumstances the making of such death threats should be treated as a serious infringement of a right to liberty and security of person and legal procedures should be developed for proper investigation and prosecution of such offenses....

It is the collapse of Sri Lanka's law enforcement system, particularly the policing system that has made such use of death threats possible.

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
AS-031-2007
February 12, 2007

A Statement by the Asian Human Rights Commission

SRI LANKA: Death threats and trivialisation of life in Sri Lanka

On February 8, 2007 a leading politician and a member of the cabinet, Anura Bandaranaike, made a statement in Parliament in which he said that he had received several death threats. He said that “Threats were made not by the president but by those who are close to him. They are misusing the powers given to them by the president.” (From the statement made to Parliament). The minister had made complaints to the police and the investigations into the allegations have begun.

Subsequently the Executive President of the country, Mr. Mahinda Rajapakse stated to the media that there was also a threat to his life and ordered a top level inquiry of an alleged conspiracy to cause physical harm to him. (Sunday Times February 11, 2007). The Executive President sacked three members of the cabinet and removed the security that is usually given to persons holding the post of a minister. Those removed of security included Anura Bandaranaike who had previously complained of threats to his life. On February 11 the president spoke to the nation through the television media and informed about the threat to his security and that this might be linked to acts encouraging the LTTE. A probe has been ordered into these matters.

Another cabinet minister commenting on Anura Bandaranaike's statement said that in real politics death threats happen all the time and that politics means 'maruwa samaga wase', meaning, living with death. This very statement is indicative of the extent to which the use of death threats have become part of the 'normal life' of Sri Lanka. This is an indication of the extent to which intense insecurity is embedded in Sri Lanka life.

The making of death threats has become a common part of day to day life in Sri Lanka. Among those so threatened are politicians, members of various rival factions of armed political groups, journalists, any dissidents and businessmen. However, death threats are also spread into other areas of life as between rivals pursuing legal cases of criminal law or civil nature, complainants who alleged abuse of rights by law enforcement agencies such as torture victims who pursue complaints before courts or the Human Rights Commission and even persons who have petty jealousies at professional or other levels with others.

The receipt of such threats causes serious stress and fears among the recipients and their family members. As the instances at which such threats are carried out are very many hardly anyone will ignore these threats. Under these circumstances the making of such death threats should be treated as a serious infringement of a right to liberty and security of person and legal procedures should be developed for proper investigation and prosecution of such offenses.

The commonality of making death threats happens in Sri Lanka, particularly since the repressive measures adopted by the then government in 1971 to suppress a minor rebellion by a political group know Janatha Vimuckthi Peramuna (JVP). There had been no official count of the persons killed during the repression of this rebellion. However, there is common acceptance that the figure is over 10,000 persons. Again, between 1987 and 1991 over 30,000 people disappeared in the south and a number of commissions appointed by the subsequent governments to report on these incidents have published their official reports. (Please see www.disappearances.org). In the protracted internal conflict in the northeast large numbers of people have been killed or have disappeared. Besides hundreds of thousands of people have been displaced. In all such conflicts the death threats have been posed by groups allegedly associated with rebels as well as with the state.

It is the collapse of Sri Lanka's law enforcement system, particularly the policing system that has made such use of death threats possible. Sri Lanka's policing system is incapable of protecting its people. Often there are fears that death threats are made or carried out with the knowledge of some police officers. Anyway, when people do receive death threats the police often do not take effective action to trace the offenders and to provide protection to the people. The absence of a witness protection law or programme may often place a particular police officer who is to deal with death threats in a position where he does not know what he is supposed to do. There are no police guidelines made on these matters, nor are resources made available to ensure protection. Those who utilise death threats as a means of intimidation are well aware of the limitations of the policing system with regard to this matter. It would be a useful exercise for the National Police Commission to engage the police hierarchy in a discussion on this issue and to develop a proper strategy to effectively wipe this practice out.

The Asian Human Rights Commission is of the view that the widespread nature and the constancy of the making of such death threats as such is a major cause for insecurity in the country.  Therefore the state owes an obligation to take such measures as required to discourage the making of such threats and to find ways to take effective legal action to stop the spread of this practice. However, the AHRC notes that as of now there is no serious attempt to study this situation with a view to finding a solution for the elimination of this practice.

The AHRC urges the Human Rights Council, the UN Human Rights Commissioners Office as well as other UN agencies and international bodies to take up this matter with Sri Lanka as the state party to the ICCPR and to conduct constructive dialogue with a view to bring this practice to an end.

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This statement represents the views of the AHRC and the following organisations based in Sri Lanka: People against Torture - Ekala, Janasansadaya – Panadura, The Home for Torture Victims – Kandy, SETIC – Kandy, Right to Life – Negombo and the Rule of Law Centre – Colombo.

About AHRC: The Asian Human Rights Commission is a regional non-governmental organisation monitoring and lobbying human rights issues in Asia. The Hong Kong-based group was founded in 1984.