A quest for justice

Saturday, 9 March 2013 00:00 -     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}

Dual concerns should prompt the Sri Lankan Government to fast-track crimes committed against tourists, as is clearly evidenced by the current events unfolding over the murder of a British traveller on Christmas Day 2011.

One obvious outcome would be that the growing shadow over Sri Lanka’s human rights and independence of Judiciary would be stopped and perhaps even made lighter. This would undoubtedly make inroads at the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) sessions and give credibility to the Government’s claims for safeguarding rule of law.

In addition, and perhaps most importantly, it would end the political impunity in Sri Lanka and empower the masses to be treated as equals. As the country banks on tourism, the increased attacks that are taking place on tourists would seriously hurt lucrative earnings if not nipped in the bud.

On Friday, the brother of murdered British tourist Kuram Shaikh together with British MP Simon Danczuk visited Sri Lanka to find out what progress has been made 15 months after his brother’s death. Nasir made a deeply emotional appeal to the Sri Lankan Government to provide justice to his dead brother, recalling that as a Red Cross worker Kuram had worked in the most dangerous regions in the world attempting to provide assistance even though it was challenging and emotionally draining work. He described how his brother had called Sri Lanka “beautiful” and wanted to return to discover it more intimately. How ironic it is that he died while on holiday and in a place that he believed he would be safe.

Nasir’s visit coincided with another attack of British tourists allegedly by UNP Member of the Sabaragamuwa Provincial Council Sandeep Samarasinghe. According to reports, he had allegedly attacked the two tourists while they were at his restaurant. It resulted in one tourist being admitted to hospital. Reports also detailed that this had provoked Samarasinghe to get himself admitted to a hospital on the charges that he was injured when the tourists assaulted him. This conundrum is awaited by the courts and it can only be hoped that it arrives there soon.

In the case of Kuram, eight suspects including Tangalle Pradeshiya Sabha Chairman (UPFA) Sampath Vidanapathirana were arrested for allegedly killing the British national and sexually assaulting his girlfriend. Under pressure to maintain one of the country’s most lucrative industries, the ruling party initially expelled Vidanapathirana but later quietly allowed him to re-enter its ranks.

This spate of events, Danczuk frankly noted, was a cause of concern, as it smacked of political patronisation. Danczuk insisted that he would continue to call on British Prime Minister David Cameron to boycott the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM) in November and would even write to the Queen calling her attention to this sad state of affairs.

This disgruntlement was worsened by the refusal of Sri Lanka’s Senior Ministers to meet with the pair, despite early requests. Even President Mahinda Rajapaksa and his brother Economic Development Minister Basil Rajapaksa had received requests that were denied. This was in stark contrast to Nasir’s first visit when he was personally assured by the President that the offenders would be dealt with quickly and effectively. Such mistakes could have deep repercussions for Sri Lanka’s international reputation and economy but at first glance it would seem that no one cares.