Quest for universal justice

Monday, 31 December 2012 00:00 -     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}

JUSTICE seems to be a stranger even a year after a British tourist was killed in Sri Lanka and his Russian companion attacked by a powerful local politician. With no end in sight, there is very real concern that the perpetrators will be allowed to get away, setting a stark symbol for the environment of impunity that the politically powerful live coddled within.

Understandably, this has provoked criticism among the international community, with British Labour party Parliamentarian Simon Danczuk expressing fears of a cover-up by the Sri Lankan Government.

Red Cross worker Khuram Shaikh was murdered last Christmas and a female travelling companion was attacked. At the time there were many reports that indicated she may have been raped. Eyewitnesses went on record saying that Shaikh had attempted to stop the local politician and his goons from paying uncouth attentions to his friend, resulting in a fight that led to his death.

Subsequently, the politician and his entourage numbering eight surrendered to Police, but were released on bail shortly afterwards. The ruling party under public pressure made a token of withdrawing his membership, but as media attention died away it was reinstated.

UK MP Danczuk is worried that the Government was trying to “quietly drop the case to protect a local politician” – a sentiment that gains credit when 12 months have lapsed with no real progress on the case and little idea of when the court hearings will conclude. The whole event smacks of “political protection” and does no credit to a promise given by President Mahinda Rajapaksa to Shaikh’s brother that justice will be done.

Calling on Foreign Office Minister Alistair Burt to make more robust representations to the Sri Lankan Government at the lack of progress in the case, MP Danczuk insists their counterparts needed to be reminded of how valuable British tourism is.

This is of course a point that the tourism industry does not need to be reminded of. Some of the most lucrative tourists come from the UK and they have the added benefit of respecting the island’s laws. At a time when a 100 Chinese were arrested on fraud charges and Sri Lanka looks to move past the one million arrival target, this is of double significance.

Per capita tourist income is still low and attracting travellers from Europe, especially UK, can be done comparatively easily because they are aware of the destination and are not hindered by issues like communication. Yet, security is of paramount importance, not only to safeguard and promote the industry but also to show the world in real terms how law and order has progressed in Sri Lanka since the end of the war.

Predictably, all these issues are threatening to affect Sri Lanka’s reputation as it hosts the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM) in November 2013. On the basis of this tourist death, there are calls for UK Prime Minister David Cameron to boycott the summit, with detractors insisting that such a step would be justified since justice has not been provided.

At the moment, CHOGM is a secondary matter. What is really needed is for the Government to prove through action that no one is above the law. That means actively promoting justice by concluding the trial and punishing the guilty – irrespective of their political status.