KAHAWATTE, located in the Ratnapura District of the Province of Sabaragamuwa, has been the scene of gruesome murders in June/July 2011 as well; and the issue of this recent double murder has been bubbling in the media for over a month now.
There is public dismay at the fact that law enforcement has failed, as the culprits are yet to be apprehended, and the dominant view is that the perpetrators are being protected through political influence. There is, in fact, no clear evidence of political interference, though the possibility cannot be ruled out either.
There are stronger grounds for suspecting political pressure in other recent cases of Police failing to apprehend offenders, such as the murder of a tourist in the town of Tangalle, the daylight shooting of political advisor Bharatha Lakshman Premachandra, the abduction of a suspect outside the Supreme Court complex, a burned body left on the road in Colombo 5, the disappearance of two political activists of the new JVP faction and the continuance of the white van phenomenon – most recently to abduct a businessman who filed a Fundamental Rights application against the Police.
This high correlation of Police failure to perceived political pressure over the years has made the latter the dominant explanation for the failure of the Police to find the culprit in Kahawatte. Statements ascribed to the Police suggest that even when opposed to political pressure, they have an attitude of powerlessness. Ethical standards and dignity of the profession are not imagined to counter political pressures.
Opposition political parties have engaged liberally in public criticism, but have not succeeded in using other democratic mechanisms such as social mobilisation and parliamentary select committees to address the problem. This means that the people are left with little else but to take the law into their own hands.
Incidentally, there is a newspaper report of a businessman lodging an extortion claim against a Deputy Minister and while the so-called public official’s name has not been mentioned, the complainer’s name is freely circulated. Surely at such a point, given the prevalence of thug politics in Sri Lanka, it is prudent to fear for his safety? It is another incident when the law protects those in power rather than the public.
The four burned houses in Kahawatte is another example of how Police inaction has resulted in chaos. Even though public distrust of the law is nothing new, the fact that more and more people are taking matters into their own hands is a strong denouncement of the state of justice and human rights in this country. It is all the more poignant because the Government is keen to unite the people against the UNHRC by presenting itself as a victim, but is unable or unwilling to implement policies that will benefit the general public.
If the Government is looking for a place to start, then surely this is the place. Promote an independent Police and Judiciary so the people do not become the jury and executioner. If not, the people will continue to take the law into their hands and repeated incidents over the last few months have demonstrated that the people are not reluctant to take the Government and its corrupt officials to task.