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Justice deserved

Comments / {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}} Views / Friday, 29 September 2017 00:00

All law-abiding citizens have to applaud the death sentence handed down to seven suspects of the tragic Vidya rape and murder case on Wednesday. The trial at bar took two and a half years to deliver the much awaited verdict but it was a pivotal and tangible moment of justice being achieved in Sri Lanka. However, there is still a massive need for fast-tracking cases into courts where justice can be dispensed speedily, victims protected and children provided with psycho-social care. 

The Vidya case, as it came to be known, was special because its brutality shocked a nation. It prompted President Maithripala Sirisena to personally take an interest in the case and establish a trial at bar for the case to be fast-tracked. Unfortunately there are many thousands of such cases where victims and families of victims have to wait many years for justice and sometimes not even get the chance to see perpetrators punished. 

While the handling of the Vidya case is laudable, there is an undeniable need to stop making specific cases special and give the same weight and treatment to all rape and abuse cases. This is especially important as abuse cases are notoriously high in Sri Lanka and the judicial process is often not victim friendly.  

Last year, as the Vidya case and others grabbed public attention, many measures were proposed to tighten protection and deliver justice.  A new Children (Judicial Protection) Bill was to have been drafted to fulfil Sri Lanka’s obligations under the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, which requires the formulation of immediate and long-term responses to overcome barriers impeding childcare and the protection of the juvenile justice system. There were also several other measures. 

While statutory protection can be bolstered this way, procedures for investigation and prosecution of child abuse, witness protection and support for the victim are all deficient, according to UNICEF. Tellingly, a third of cases pending in Sri Lanka’s high courts are those involving children, who wait a harrowing five to eight years to get justice, if at all. As court dates are waited on, the perpetrators often roam free while their victims must live in foster homes or shelters.

Authorities should be applauded for showing greater willingness to face up to the problem. However, the dimensions of the crisis remain enormous: over 10,000 child abuse and other cases are currently pending across all courts, according to some estimates and more are being added to this number all the time. The bigger challenge will be to ensure the law is properly implemented.

Effectively dealing with this scourge has been fragmented at best. Legal reforms have been slow and clearing backlogs have been persistently difficult. Even where there is great public pressure to push forward cases such as on anti-corruption issues, the Government has found it tough going, which has resulted in other cases getting even less attention. 

Delivering justice on serious cases such as murder, rape and abuse is a fundamental test of the judicial system of any country. Sri Lanka still needs to overhaul its judicial system to make this happen. Justice delayed is justice denied.

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