By Surendra Ajit Rupasinghe
As usual, there are conflicting presentations and interpretations being made in relation to the recent incident where two Tamil students riding on a motorbike had died in Jaffna. One version is that the Police had shot and killed one of them and that the other had died when the motorbike had subsequently crashed into a wall. In that case, the Police officers on duty, charged with the duty to protect and serve, would be responsible for serious violation of the law, taking the lives of two innocent civilians. This version is supported by the claim that the autopsy report had indicated a bullet wound found on the body of one of the students. The other version officially given by the Police authorities is that they had died due to an accident, where they had crashed into the wall. As usual, special investigations are to be conducted to ascertain the truth of the case. If it is proven that they had been shot at by the Police officers resulting in their death, that in itself would be illegal- and criminal. But more importantly, if this is the case, then the fact that the Police Authorities at the very top of the pyramid had tried to cover it up constitutes an unpardonable crime against the people. It simply would add another piling case of rampant criminal injustice and abuse of power by the Police and to the litany of criminal injustice committed against the Tamil people. If there had been even an attempt at a cover up and a case of repeated criminal impunity, and If justice is to be made into another glaring travesty, on trial would not just be the two police officers but the judicial system, the system of law enforcement, the Ranil-Sirisena Regime and the State itself.
Who is to be held accountable for the death of these two students? The issue of accountability, truth and justice hangs in balance in this case, as much as accountability, truth and justice for violation of human rights related to the war. Every human life matters. The scale and magnitude does not matter as much as the issue of whether the targeting of Tamil civilians and the criminal culture of impunity still prevails. Let us try to analyze the issue at hand. This is important since there is a reputed pattern of police brutality in general and a damning culture of cover up and impunity by the State that corrode all sense of justice, rule of law and civilized decency, that has long since ravaged the political landscape in the Land of Lanka. The important question remains, what is the ultimate structural source, the generative causes, of the culture of impunity, along with such recurrent cover-ups that have cumulatively contributed towards a generalized breakdown of the rule of law and erosion of elemental democratic norms, accompanied by a cynical disregard for the value of life, and a resulting profound loss of faith in the institutions of governance? There are piling allegations and evidence of the role of top senior members of the armed forces, the police and the defense establishment in cases of calculated murder as in the case of Lasantha Wickrematunga, Prageeth Eknaligoda, Thajudeen and others, and of involvement in cases of astronomical corruption such as in the MIG aircraft and Avant Guard cases. The situation gets horrific when the Executive President demands that he must be informed and must authorize any arrests of such persons before hand. He warns against and undermines the integrity of the very investigative agencies set up on his watch for processing and prosecuting high crimes by the previous regime. The President and the Prime Minister are seen wining and dining with the very people from the deposed Rajapakse Regime they vowed to the people they would prosecute, and some are even restored and glorified as Ministers. This alarming situation makes it imperative that we get to the roots of this corroding malignant cancer of criminal impunity that continues to inflict mortal blows to democratic foundations and to our collective civilized existence, and which transforms the entire electorate into sheer gullible morons. That is why the case of accountability over the death of the two students acquires immediacy and potency. Whether the police officers in question are to be found to be criminally liable or not, whether through accident, sudden provocation, instinctual response, criminal negligence or by calculated design, the fact is that we must eradicate the generative source of this incurable pattern of intolerable behavior by officials and representatives of the State that violates and defiles our collective existence as a civilized human community. Deliberately lying and deceiving the people, laying waste to the Rule of Law for political gain, and perpetuating the culture of impunity by whomever must be eradicated- and the people have every constitutional and moral right to demand as such by directly exercising their supreme power and inviolable sovereignty.
Interdicting or transferring the police officers in such cases and paying some compensation to the victims is the routine practice. However, this particular incident takes on far more serious constitutional and political implications and consequences. If the Police, as the primary institution responsible for maintaining civil peace and law and order, has attempted to cover it up, it is a gross violation of fundamental constitutional and human rights. The fact that it involves Tamil students adds on yet another political dimension, given that there are already allegations of repeated violations of human rights by the law enforcement agencies against the Tamil population in the North. These allegations include abductions, extortion, torture and sexual abuse. It acquires explosive dimensions given that the Tamil people in the North already feel besieged, suffocated and threatened by a highly militarized environment, where such an incident could serve to inflame passions of being continuously victimized by systemic and institutionalized violation directed against them as Tamils, by the State. It would pour fuel to an already volatile and simmering sense of being victimized, demeaned, subjugated, being preyed upon and betrayed.
It is easy to victimize the Police officers in question as the perpetrators and to prosecute and punish them – if that ever happens! Of course, all offenders and perpetrators must be legally prosecuted. But, they function as agents of the State. Are these incidents isolated incidents, or even occasional aberrations. Those who commit such violations are officially trained and commanded by the State as its official watch-dogs to enforce its writ, without question. They interpret and enforce the law as they are expected to by the structures of power and the social relations of domination they are sworn to defend. The police officers, and indeed the entire apparatus of law enforcement, are instruments of the State- instruments of coercion and violent repression. Whether in Rathupaswela, Chilaw, Katunayake or Jaffna, whether war crimes or bestial sexual atrocities, whether the politics of terror, the fundamental structural generative cause is the overriding imperative of the ruling regime governed by the dominant ideology and politics of the State.
As Karl Marx analyzed, ‘the State is a specialized apparatus for exercising the dictatorship of its ruling class’. The State is the supreme embodiment of ‘legitimate’ armed power and has the monopoly of the use of violence. It decides and dictates the ruling values and norms of social behavior. It decides whether you live or die. The institutions, culture and practice of law enforcement are extensions and reflections of the ruling ideology and politics of the State. If a State is constructed as the constitutional rule of a terrorist class dictatorship, based on the principles and foundations of chauvinist hegemony and supremacy, all its institutions, agencies and enforcers shall function accordingly. This is particularly the case with the armed forces, including the Police, since these agencies are constitutionally required to blindly obey and enforce the dictates of the State- as defined by its ruling class. The Regime may enforce its rule and domain under draconian legislation as the infamous PTA. It may violate the rule of law as routine practice. Yet, the armed forces of the State are constitutionally required to obey and follow orders. They are sworn to defend the State and to carry out its commands. War crimes by individual soldiers are extreme expressions of the ideology and politics of the Regime in power, and ultimately of the State. Those who carry out orders or simply imbibe the ideology and politics of the State fanatically are readily made into scapegoats to get the heat off the real source. The Mahinda Rajapakse Regime, inasmuch as the Ranil-Sirisena Regime are simply logical projections- evolutionary reincarnations of the very same defunct feudal-colonial ruling class that, in turn, command a draconian class dictatorship over the State and all of society. The inescapable theoretical implication is that without a thoroughgoing, radical democratic overhaul and transformation of the State and replacing its bloodied, criminal class dictatorship with a genuine and vibrant democratic state ruled by and for the people, systemic criminal violence and violation, and the culture of impunity and cover-up shall intensify and be the order of the day.
The persistent criminal violation of human rights against the Tamil people is made possible and necessary by the policy of the State in maintaining a generalized system of militarized administration over the Tamil people. Particularly in the North and East, the armed forces, including the Police, function as agents of military occupation and political subjugation. This militarized occupation is aimed at terrorizing the Tamil people into mute submission and to facilitate continuing Sinhala colonization of the Province. It is an expression of the ideology and politics of supremacist-chauvinist domination. Or else, what is the need for such a massive deployment of security forces when the LTTE has been militarily liquidated and there is supposed to be peace and normalcy, and we are supposed to be moving towards reconciliation? Is this is why places of Buddhist worship are being constructed randomly, without any proper authorization, even where there are no Buddhist residents? Is this is why the armed forces carry on massive land grabbing, engage in agricultural projects and in setting up other lucrative businesses, while constructing permanent cantonments for their families? If the Tamil people are regarded by the State as mere ‘alien’ minorities who should submit to an inferior status, then it would be natural and inevitable that they would be shot down as having no worth or value as expendable human beings.
In a situation of military occupation driven by the politics of conquest and national subjugation aimed at liquidating any notion of Tamil nationhood by enforcing the hegemony of a supremacist, theocratic, Sinhala Buddhist Unitary State, both the occupiers and the occupied live in a permanent and volatile state of instinctual fear and volatile insecurity. The occupying forces and the occupied victims live in a state of acute anxiety, not knowing what to expect from each other at any moment. The occupying forces feel surrounded by an unknown enemy and the entire population is regarded as the potential enemy. This is while the population under occupation feels constantly besieged, encircled and threatened by a hostile force out to abuse, violate and suppress them as potential enemies of the State.
If they were shot at, it is neither by accident, nor as an aberration that the two students met their cruel fate. Nor are the police officers involved the real perpetrators. Transferring or prosecuting them will not address the real issue at hand – even though individual citizens and officers of the State found to be guilty of crimes must be legally prosecuted. But, this will only be an exercise in patching up the wound, plastering the surface, while it festers and spreads inside. If there is ever to be peaceful coexistence and if reconciliation is to have any meaning and impact, the entire ingrained ideological tribal-feudal mind-set that generates the hateful and spiteful perception of the Tamil people as ‘alien’ minorities living in the privileged Land of the Sinhala-Buddhist nation, at best to be tolerated and subordinated, and as the historical enemies of the State, must be dismantled and overthrown. The State has to be subjected to a profound, radical and irrevocable process of democratization and humanization, so all nations, nationalities and religious communities can all share and nurture this land and function as equal partners and architects of the State. The first and foremost foundational and enduring solution to this engulfing crisis of civilization lies in resolving the burning issues of injustice, oppression, betrayal and national subjugation felt by the Tamil people by negotiating a democratic solution that would provide dignity, equality, security, autonomy and democratic freedom, based on the right of national self-determination – however defined. Dismantling the regime of military occupation, along with the supremacist – hegemonic, unitary State that necessitates it, is a fundamental and essential requirement in this process of pursuing a negotiated democratic political solution. Then only can we begin to bury the horrendous legacy of enforced division, violent conflict, brutal terror and internecine war to achieve enduring peace, national unity, reconciliation and democratic freedom as the people of Lanka, within an undivided and united country.