Mirissa and Midigama attacks reflect Sri Lanka’s brutal realities

How were these illegal constructions permitted to operate in the first instance? Was the Coast Conservation Department, deaf, dumb and blind to these infractions under a new political dispensation which promised the enforcement of the law? And should not the Excise Department be held accountable for the collusion of their officers in permitting the illegal sale of liquor by these outlets? It is ludicrous that a Minster of this Government is reduced to the state of apologizing to the public for being unable to summon responsible officers of the Excise Department to account for its duties in this regard. And further, to what extent are Sri Lankan women safe when they walk the beaches of the South and elsewhere in this country? To what extent are there unreported rapes and incidents of sexual harassment or just plain harassment which are not treated seriously by law enforcement authorities?

Certainly a sterner hand is warranted in bringing offenders to justice. Unlike in the past, telephone calls do not go out from politicians to judicial officers commanding to rule in a particular way in cases before them but that does not suffice to address the problem. The arrest of thugs who operate under cover of political impunity cannot be sufficient either. As has happened in the past, these characters may be arrested but then let out on bail with the cases falling by the wayside.

A lack of confidence in the system
In fact, as has been documented in many instances, police officers themselves collude with such miscreants with little or no disciplinary action being enforced against them. In that regard, the appeal of the Inspector General of Police for the assaulted tourists to return and testify to the facts in the two instances is ironic. Similar appeals have been issued to victims of assault in other cases, including in several cases where journalists had been assaulted and brutalized during the previous regime. They have been asked to return to Sri Lanka to testify.

But who will want to take that risk given the fundamental lack of confidence in the law enforcement process and the lack of safety for witnesses in the criminal justice system? Let alone foreigners, will Sri Lankans wish to subject themselves to such an ordeal? A major promise of this Government when it came into power was that it would enact and effectively implement a Victim and Witness Protection Act.

Though a law was enacted and a Victim and Witness Protection Authority established, it was weak-kneed in many respects, not the least of which was that the police was given the task of spearheading its protection division. This was likened by many cynics to be akin to giving the fox the duty to guard the hen house, as it were. Since then, the Government has taken no interest in its activation, only parroting the fact of the enactment of this law at periodic sessions of the United Nations in Geneva and elsewhere. It appears that even pretending commitment to the idea of witness and victim protection is not evidenced any longer.

Our ghosts of the past
What happened at Mirissa and Midigama were not isolated incidents but reflections of a daily lived reality in Sri Lanka, not only for tourists but also for citizens, where at any given point, the law can yield to bestiality with catastrophic consequences. That is what war, political savagery and the abandonment of the Rule of Law has brought about for this country.

Exorcising these ghosts of the past will be remarkably arduous, if at all, this is indeed possible.

- Kishali Pinto -Jayawardena | The Sunday Times - Focus on Rights

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