Protecting justice

Saturday, 29 June 2013 00:00 -     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}

The case of the murdered British tourist, which has been beset by allegations of political chicanery, has been moved to Colombo due to suspects allegedly threatening witnesses. This very predictable development is yet another reason as to why political interference needs to be curbed to protect justice in this country. The Criminal Investigations Department (CID) had informed the Colombo Court of this fact during a hearing on Friday, adding that the Attorney General’s Department had been requested to make the change from Tangalle, where the case was being heard previously. Steps to end this impunity and favour of political lackeys would greatly assist to lessen the shadows over the country’s human rights record and the independence of the Judiciary. Such proactive measures would give the Government’s claims about being committed to safeguarding the rule of law in Sri Lanka much-needed credibility at international forums such as the UN Human Rights Council. In addition, and perhaps most importantly, it would end political impunity in Sri Lanka and guarantee the fundamental rights enshrined within the Constitution that all citizens of the country are equal before the law. Given the country’s increasing dependence on tourism, the continued attacks on foreign visitors could seriously hurt lucrative earnings if not nipped in the bud. In March, 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 in investigations 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. Nasir’s visit coincided with another attack on British tourists, allegedly by UNP Member of the Sabaragamuwa Provincial Council Sandeep Samarasinghe. According to reports, Samarasinghe had allegedly attacked the two tourists while they were at his restaurant. The attack resulted in one tourist being admitted to hospital. Reports also detailed that this had prompted Samarasinghe to get himself admitted to a hospital on the charges that he was injured when the tourists assaulted him. This conundrum is now before the courts and it can only be hoped that it is resolved there in due course. 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 from the UPFA 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. This murder is a dual tragedy. On one hand a person died, but it is also symbolic of the deep maleficence politics is having on the justice system of Sri Lanka.