With culture of impunity
by Thambu Kanagasabai, LLM [Lond. Former Lecturer in Law, University of Colombo, Sri Lanka], May 28, 2019
April 21st attacks on three Churches and three star Hotels by radicalized Muslims surprised Sri Lanka’s Government, its citizens and the world. They were well pre-planned and co-ordinated to unleash the killings on worshippers in the morning prayers in the ‘Happy Easter|’ day. The worshippers mostly Catholics belonged to all communities with Tamils being the majority.
The Sri Lankan Government’s leadership has apparently ignored the several reliable and precise warnings made on April 04, 09, 11 and 20th by Indian and US intelligent sources. No preventive steps were taken by arresting the masterminds behind the attacks whose identities were alleged to have been supplied to the defence authorities – Secretary and Police Chief. President Maithiripala was informed of the warnings twice or thrice by the Deputy Inspector of Police but he chose to treat them in lighter vein and left the job of handling the warnings to the Inspector General of Police and Secretary and made his planned visits to Thripathy, India and Singapore He did not rush to Sri Lanka on hearing the attacks but arrived as scheduled on April 22, 2019. The President’s calculations and assessment of warnings and events appeared to be of routine nature and less concern. In the meantime, Prime Minister Ranil has sheltered himself under the excuse of “No information and no communication” from any official was conveyed to him even from the President. This explanation only has a face value, but as a Prime Minister he could have remained alert and observed the signs of violence. A Minister of his Cabinet mentioned the impending attack when he was informed by his father to avoid going to Church on Easter Sunday. On the whole, both the President and Prime Minister have failed in their duties to protect their own citizens exhibiting utter callousness and reckless irresponsibility.
In Sri Lanka’s political history, the lives of innocents killed during war or in times of peace do not carry much values expect for political purposes, as happened during the Janatha Vimukthi Perumuna [JVP] risings and Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam [LTTE] war besides several other massacres of innocents during the pogroms against the Tamils in 1956, 1958, 1971, 1977, 1983 and so on and until now.
The root causes for these massacres stem from emboldened Buddhists and racist minded elements encouraged by the culture of impunity. Supremacy of Buddhism played its part for past several years coupled with racialism and majority hegemony.
Muslims have been targeted recently in Teldeniya, Digama and Kandy. Extremists from Buddhists including Bodu Bala Sena were said to be involved. As expected and as usual, impunity for the attackers was doled out. It is to be noted that this culture of impunity is part of the state system being followed from 1958 granting blanket protection to Security Forces from any prosecutions.
An outfit, National Thowheed Jamaat led by Mohd. Zahran is said to be the mastermind behind the attacks aided and abetted by ISIS which has lost its hold in Syria and Iraq after US and its allies battled them out. Since then ISIS remained silent but it found Sri Lanka as a soft target to draw worldwide attention to its active existence. Radical Muslim Zahraan was roped in and other young Muslims followed suit. Many went to Syria and India in 2016 for training and returned according to Military sources. Towheed Jamaat adopted the ISIS strategy and practice of killing of innocents belonging to other faiths and westerners who are considered by them as destroyers of Islam and infidels.
Sri Lankan Government under Mahinda Rajapakshe and his family sought the assistance of Muslims to battle out the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam. It is learnt that Government funds were provided to them. The outfit was almost ignored after the defeat of Mahinda and ISIS stepped in to achieve their own goal and agenda noting the simmering anger among Muslims after the attacks on Mosques and Muslims in 2018. The result was the eight bomb attacks on April 21, 2019 spreading shock, panic and fear among the ordinary citizens. The targets were mostly Tamil Catholics. Zaharaan carefully avoided any killing of Sinhala Buddhists fearing vast scale of reprisals. However reprisals occurred when Sinhala mobs with support from hard lined Buddhists torched some Mosques, destroyed Muslim houses and business establishments in Puttlam, Kurunagala, Negombo, Minuvangoda and Chilaw. Regarding Muslim attackers Government was in possession of details relating to the attackers, and some arrests were made swiftly locating the hideouts, seizing explosives including the sites of training camps.
It is learnt that some top Muslim Government officials were aware of the activities of the outfit and few even lending support. Toeing the official policy of impunity, so far no arrests have been made of suspected top officials, while efforts are also made by some ministers to get the few arrested to be released on bail.
The net result is the reckless actions of few misguided Muslims, have placed the Muslims as a whole under the clouds of suspicion and mistrust. The Government due to its complacency, low calculations and poor risk assessment, has behaved irresponsibly which cost the lives of about 300 innocents. Political rivalry between President and Prime Minister has descended to personal spites forsaking and belittling their roles as protectors of a nation and its own citizens. This serious lapse in the “GOOD GOVERNANCE’ is being exploited by Mahinda Rajapakshe family to advance their political ambitions, no matter about their contribution towards the continuing miseries of Tamils, Muslims, Tamil/Sinhalese Christians since 2009.
Sri Lanka’s malaise of self-interest over national interest appears to be rooted with no cure for ever. The immediate fallout and collateral damage inflicted on the Tamils in the North and East is that they are back to square one under military occupation with attendant fear and insecurity while trapped under sweeping powers given to Military under PTA and Emergency Regulations. Another casualty is the promised constitution and just political settlement to Tamils, all of which will remain frozen until they are made hot by the docile and dormant Tamil leaders. The prospect of accountability and justice for Tamils is further pushed back as the western countries are vying to have a hold on Sri Lanka to work on the menace of ISIS.
As long as the supremacy of Buddhism guaranteeing a foremost place and the racial hegemony prevail, coupled with impunity for the Security Forces, violence among communities always lurks underneath. Adding insult to injury is the bestowing of rewards to alleged war criminals in the form of promotion and keeping those involved in war crimes to continue their services.
It is to be noted that the affected Tamils did not resort to any retaliatory acts but remained calm and silent. A divide and rule policy of all Sri Lankan Governments coupled with the continuing culture of impunity is a recipe for further religious and racial violence by Buddhist extremists and retaliatory violence by the affected parties, providing the politicians with enough armoury to exploit and advance their race for power.
Impunity is in full swing and enjoyed by the Muslim politicians and leaders who possessed information and those who encouraged, assisted, contributed and supplied lethal materials to Thowheed Jamat. No arrests have been made so far against some Security personnel who stood silently and watched while some even assisted the mobs as happed in the state sponsored pogroms against the Tamils in 1956, 1958, 1971, 1977, 1981, 1983 and the genocidal war from 2006-2009.
All these events, actions and inactions by the Government to protect the minorities especially the Tamils for so long provides justification for the Tamils demand for self – rule which they enjoyed before the arrival of western powers who conquered both the Tamils and Sinhalese Kingdoms and the British who gave the freedom, gave the powers to the Majority Sinhalese with a mild clause protecting the Tamils which was also taken away in the 1972 constitution.
It is high time for the United Nations and the International Community to wake up and deliver justice, protection and freedom to the oppressed Tamils in Sri Lanka. This is the earnest request from the suffering Tamils [Hindu/Christians] in the North and East of Sri Lanka.
JUSTICE DELAYED IS JUSTICE DENIED.