Trip to Colombo. April 2012. I do not personal the copyright to the music or the video.
Video Rating: / five
Trip to Colombo. April 2012. I do not personal the copyright to the music or the video.
Trip to Colombo. April 2012. I do not personal the copyright to the music or the video.
Video Rating: / five
Review of Narrative of Justice: told through stories of torture victims, 400 cases of torture from Sri Lanka, By Basil Fernando, published in 2013 by the Asian Human Rights Commission.
My first impression was that I was overwhelmed because of the sheer number of cases and the diversity of the ways in which people were tortured. What started sinking into me was the question, “What has happened as a result of all this? Has society taken notice of it?” How can people possibly stay indifferent after reading this?
Let this book sink into the consciousness of the people. Let people start talking about it. And as they start talking about it, they will find difficulty accepting that this happened in their midst. This is not something they can erase by saying it happened in the past. It is something which is very much there and will continue as a transgenerational trauma for the people.
These narratives of trauma will seriously affect the fabric of society even 50 years from now and affect how people become immune to happenings around them; until and unless there is accountability and people decide to act.
It has been seen that until and unless we start accounting for trauma happening in our midst, it starts affecting every trade, every core, every part of society in different ways, and becomes a part of society like a cancer or virus and grow and grow. And until and unless people are made accountable – and I don’t mean accountable in the legal sense, I mean accountable in the moral sense, accountable in the sense of accepting it – it would be very difficult to call Sri Lanka a mature society at any time in the near future. If we see societies, in their growth and their evolution, they come to a point when they have to take accountability for their wrongs before they can become mature. We see that for any society to call itself a developed or mature society, at some point they have to account for the wrongs they have closed their eyes to. For example, America had to deal with the issues of slavery and the Vietnam War before they could cross over to the next phase.
To me, what I am reading in this book is appalling, it is abhorrent. I am an Indian, but when I see that this has happened right across from me, it makes me feel, ‘My God, how can we stay indifferent to it?’
The maturity of a society is a very important issue. What you find when you read through these cases is that the events relating to which such serious acts of torture have been done are trivialities. Somebody loses some small thing and then a person is brought to the police station. Without even asking them a single question, that person is tortured. Sometimes they are beaten, hung on a beam and, in recent cases, chili is put on their private parts and eyes. These acts are done by average law enforcement officers. Looking at this treatment from the point of view of a human being, we understand that there is something radically wrong. They do not seem to feel critical, they do not ask, ‘Should I do this kind of thing?’ Nobody seems to be asking that question.
We are not seeing something new. The only thing about this book is that it has recorded something that has been going on for a long time, virtually since a policing system was established. In the modern sense, a policing system comes into being in Sri Lanka only with the British. They celebrated their 146thth anniversary for the formal start of the policing system recently. Ever since that time, there has been a big contradiction involved. On the one hand, this is the way through which you introduce the idea of justice; if a murder takes place, there should be justice in court. Justice meaning justice for the victim, and also justice for the accused. On the other hand, at that very same point, law enforcement agencies began to do very stupid things and seriously affected the legal process. This has gone on for so long.
The fact is that, at the moment, people are immune, and not necessarily due to fear. Fear may play a part due to insurgencies in recent times, but police torture did not begin with insurgencies. Endemic police torture began much earlier.
When the book was published, we were not revealing anything that anybody didn’t know. The book puts in print form what many people haven noted. They may not have noted it in detail because people tend not to look at some issues, so the book gives an enormous amount of details.
The book is, first of all, a collective. When you read an individual torture case, the human mind brushes it aside. It is very difficult to stay with it. The next thing we do is deny its significance. We say, ‘Oh, it was an individual case,’ or we somehow rationalize that the person deserved it. This book puts cases together, which makes many people say, ‘All these people who were tortured, they did not deserve it.’ There are so many cases, so many – I was trying to see why they were tortured; it seemed to be for trivial reasons, it didn’t make sense. They could have used simple questions. ‘Did you do this?’ ‘Did this happen?’ People are tortured about the most trivial, most inane things.
A book like this makes it very difficult for people to discount and dismiss torture. Torture rests on the denial of society. I would say that the more we have thicker, fatter book, the more we have collectives, the more it will shake the conscience of people because you sometimes need a big impact in order to shake people up. Individual cases, five cases or ten cases do not do that; but if you have five hundred cases, one thousand cases, then it shakes you up. Simply speaking, it makes you ask, ‘What is happening in our society?’
Even the most pessimistic person would say that at least 90% of the people in these cases did not do anything close to deserving this treatment. The most common reason I have seen for the acceptance of torture is the belief that the tortured person was probably a thief or a terrorist, or in some other way somehow deserved it.
This kind of a book cuts across that whole argument without explicitly saying so.
Another issue is the overall effect on society from the behaviour of the police. Here you have a seriously disturbed police/society relationship. To my understanding, it is not something that is going to go away, because it has been established on a mass level.
In societies that have such a mass level of torture by the police, there is a serious rupture in the law enforcement and in the concepts of justice and society, because most people only see justice through the prism of the police.
If I look at police torture behaviorally, one of the things I notice is that when policemen torture regularly it becomes a part of them and even when they are just talking, even in inane conversations, there is some aspect of torture coming through.
When I was asked by the courts in India to do interviews in prisons and detention centers, I would often have the following experience: I would be interviewing and making some progress. A police officer would enter the room just to find out what was happening and I would say we were talking. (Whether it was a suspect or a witness, it was immaterial.) He would say something to the effect of, “Oh, they haven’t told you everything yet?” and he would go and slap them hard. It would happen right in front of me and I became quite particular about sitting in such a way that I was blocking the door so that they wouldn’t be able to go to the person straight away. They would move so fast after asking whether the witness or suspect had told me everything.
This interaction would be about several things: the person has wasted my time, police time, and he has no right to do so; and a slap or a hit is something that is very natural, so why shouldn’t I? This officer, not someone who has been involved in the interrogation or investigation, would think that because he has slapped the person I was interviewing, that person would tell me everything. And since I can’t and won’t slap – I was known to the police as a gentleman talker, they would laugh about it – this would somehow be the last straw that would make the person talk.
And then the officer would immediately turn back into themselves, and they would say, “Dr. Mithra, why don’t we go and have a cup of tea? I have given them something to think about.” He would turn to the person and say, “We are coming back in five minutes and I am going to show you what I can do.”
It would ruin everything. Whether the interviewed person is innocent or guilty, no person deserves to be slapped or talked to like that. It has become a part of these police officers. Slapping has become a very routine thing for them. They cannot talk without slapping.
The same thing happens to policemen who have had no formal training, who are corrupt, and where the system for the rule of law has completely fallen apart. There is no notion of what they are supposed to do with a suspect or a victim, except that they need to use brute force in order to get at whatever they want; and they seldom want the truth. People who search for the truth know that violence is divorced from truth. Violence and truth never go together. With these policemen, violence has become an integral part of them.
These people, when they are called up – if a cycle has been lost or something similar – automatically start with violence. That is a sign of a sick police force and its sick relationship with society.
Any sane society needs to look at it very seriously. The situation is comparable to India and Pakistan, where the police is also very sick.
What we see from the police is a very mechanical and reflexive reaction to suspects and how they should be dealt with.
It is possible to deduce some things from the behavior of a policeman who assaults interviewees, as mentioned above. Firstly, it is clear that he is not a thinking being. He is not observing anything. A rational person who wants to know what is happening would ask how it is going, would ask if he could talk to me privately. These officers would do none of that. They would just walk in and slap. It is a person who is not a thinking being, who has no value for truth, and who is not compassionate at all. Interestingly, when I would talk to them about compassion, they would say that a policeman should not be compassionate. I would say that you can be tough and yet compassionate.
What we are seeing is a model. A model has been inbuilt into these people with certain ideals. An ideal, for example, of not being compassionate. ‘If I am to achieve anything, I should not be compassionate. I should be tough, physically tough.’ It’s a kind of model within which thinking has no place.
Thinking has been replaced with violence. There is no place for thinking, exploring, finding out. I think that the police force should be able to think clearly. It scares me because, for police who cannot think clearly, the only recourse left to them is violence and to go about things in a tragic way.
The second issue is compassion and it is very interesting that, in many interviews with suspects, they disclose information only if someone is talking to them compassionately. It doesn’t mean condoning anything. I have to be tough and go about finding information, but I can understand why they may have done something, how they may have been brought up. Many people share more when they speak to someone who they think respects them. Police officers, particularly the ones in charge of interrogation, may do well to learn this principle. Then torture would go down significantly and they would be much better at solving their cases.
The above idea of teaching interview skills is, of course, in line with our ideals; the ideals of rationality. However, if we try to understand what has happened to create a situation like this, some other problems come to mind. Although we say that, from the point of view of proper training, there have been no interview and other skills taught, there has actually been a kind of training going on. It is a training that is based on officers from the earlier generation; when a young man comes to work, he is trained like an apprentice. On the job training.
They are brainwashed and conditioned into accepting certain ideals, which should be brought to the surface more. They believe that when they are dealing with criminals, they need to give up the idea that violence is bad. In this particular job, they tell themselves, violence is valid. There is a big contradiction in their whole philosophy. The law enforcement officer is supposed to eliminate violence in the whole of society. But they have an idea that that can be done only through violence.
What is the cultural model here? We are not dealing with abnormal people or anything like that. We are dealing conditioned people who have gone through a long period of training – a different kind of training, true – but with different kinds of ideals.
The training in the South Asian context has primarily been about law and order. It has never been about investigation. The police have neither been taught nor know that their goal is supposed to be to value truth. The younger officer always learns about torture from his senior officer. He sees that the only thing that can save his skin is a confession. It doesn’t matter whether the person confessing has done anything or not, they just want the confession.
There is a formula that is used in investigations. Fa + L = C, where Fa, ‘force of assertion’ plus L, ‘leverage’, equals a confession. In that, the more force the officer applies onto a person, the more likely that the officer will get a confession for himself. And the officer learns that this is how he can do well at his job, how he can excel, so he feels he needs that confession at any cost. Truth is actually the biggest casualty and nobody bothers about that.
Once they have the confession they have to move onto another case, but the goal is just that, the confession. The role model for that officer is the senior police officer. You can see that the senior police officer has been trained by his senior officer and, if you asked them, they would say that nowhere along the way has anybody taught them the rules of scientific investigation or about how to conduct interviews and interrogations. These things are not known to us in the South Asian context. I have observed training sessions in several police academies and when I asked the trainees and officers which model they use for investigation, they would say, ‘What models are you talking about?’ There are well established models that are used by other police forces but they are not used much in South Asia.
For example, there is a model called the Reid model. It is a seven stage process where you lead a suspect through different stages to see whether they have done it or not, and at the end the closest you can come to is ‘yes, there is a possibility that he may have done it.’ You leave it there because you know that there is a possibility that you may be wrong. This is an area that is highly subjective, emotions are very volatile, and where your bias can affect you. What you see from this book is that there is nothing remotely like this used when dealing with suspects – or rather, in dealing with any person who is called to the police station. What they actually do is completely crude and, in a way, inhuman and barbaric. What scares me is that these officers are actually bigger criminals than the criminals outside. So are people going to say that they are managing their society with these people? Because someone whose thinking is warped can’t solve problems, someone who has no compassion for people should not be doing such an important job. How can a sane society be expected to have a police force like this? That is the question.
What this book does is to provide a considerable amount of evidence on a cultural model.
It establishes how normative it is, how deeply it has gone in, and it completely ridicules the idea that torture is linked with terrorism, ethnic violence or any other serious issue from which society faces danger. I mean, does society face a danger from someone who is suspected of stealing a bicycle? It is ridiculous. If you are taking torture to that level, it completely debunks this idea that torture is essential for maintaining society, for protecting it from terror or anything like that.
This is plain inhuman violence that they are doing to their own people.
The title of this book is Narrative of Justice. It is essentially a narrative of the absence of justice in the process of investigating crime. If we take it deeper, in the cultural model, something further gets revealed. In most of the cases, people are taken in for trivial matters. But then what we find is that, when it comes to serious crimes, these very same people don’t use the same method. There is almost an indifference to dealing with crime. Taking two examples from Sri Lanka: A DIG of police has now been arrested because he took three million rupees to kill a businessman, who had taken some 30 million rupees from another businessman. That businessman hired a policeman to assassinate the other. Another example: there was another case where one politician, along with a gang of drug addicts, shot at a group of people, including a prominent politician, and five people died. He is still a Member of Parliament.
In both serious criminal cases, nobody used violence on them.
The police keep a certain façade of doing some activities, filing cases, getting some confessions, and then putting them on paper. Whether, after three or four years, someone is acquitted etc., nobody is bothered. In virtually all these 400 cases, there are no trials. They don’t go that far. They aren’t bothered. They have to pass through the moment when there is a report of a crime. Some reports have to be filed about it so they get their promotion and they can remain in their job. If they don’t, they get into trouble. Within this cultural model, justice seems to be completely absent, and that is more shocking.
Torture is most often not used in serious crimes; rather, it is used for when someone is suspected of a petty crime. For serious crimes, crimes of mass violence or political crimes, the police hold off until and unless they feel that they have sufficient backing in case things go wrong. They tread carefully in those cases. When it comes to small crimes, most police officers are much more bothered about the numbers. They always say that there should only be a small number of crimes in their area – and by crimes they mean petty crimes. That is something that they think they can reduce by creating a climate of fear.
One of the most common things they say in India is, ‘They are no longer scared of us.’ They confessed and lamented about that to me when I was working there. ‘People are no longer scared of us.’ Making people scared of them has been the most dominant tool in their hands, and the more they use that indiscriminately, the more they are successful police officers in their own eyes.
It is partly about the numbers. The more they do it to a larger number of people, the more that they are successful police officers in their own eyes. Their self-image is much better if they have done it to a larger number of people.
In a police officer’s thinking, it would go like this: today, if I have slapped 10 boys, then I have done my job. But if I say that I have slapped one person who is involved in political crimes, then that doesn’t fit very well. So how many people have I slapped, how many people have I beaten, how many people have I put fear into? This is one of the primary ways a police officer actually retains their self-esteem in our countries. The number here matters a great deal.
We are dealing with something very serious. Something very deep, culturally; even the model of how police measure themselves. However they were beforehand, once they enter this work and become integrated into the system, their own self-image undergoes a transformation.
They have to slap, beat, torture people in order to be good at their job, and this is the way they to be a successful police officer. This is what is told to the new people who join by their seniors.
It is a police force who cannot actually be part of a sane society in any way. They cannot talk without violence; they cannot talk without slapping or hitting. A police force that cannot talk properly is a very sick police force.
What we are actually confronted by in this book and other evidence is the need for a complete shift of orientation in the policing system. In other words, it is not about crime investigation that you have to first agree on. First they must ask, ‘What is this for? What are the social objectives this serves?’ When those objectives are changed, then new kinds of models develop, people are trained and people operate within that model.
But we have created a certain model years ago, maybe by accident. Maybe they couldn’t run a system – when these systems were introduced by the British, they were a colonizing power and they had limited resources, and their own thinking was limited in their own countries, where there wasn’t policing as it is today. We should approach this problem by searching for what the cultural model is here and why, rather than to find a few patches of this or that solution. What is first needed is a societal discussion.
In India, there are two kinds of police stations. Some are old police stations, and some are the new ones coming up. How do you separate the two? The old ones only have police barracks. Why? Because during the British times, colonial times, and after, it was felt that it was best to separate the police from the local people as much as possible. If they were closer to the local people, they would be more compassionate. That was not allowed. Changing that idea in India has been a very tough issue. We still have some who say, ‘No, it should be separate, they should not be allowed to meet.’ Even today, some think that police are not supposed to mix and deal with people except for the purposes of spying and collecting information. They are not really supposed to try to understand because that is supposed to make you very subjective and very weak inside. You have a situation in the whole of South Asia in which there is a very deep rooted malady, where the police force is trained to produce only fear and psychosis in the population. That is what needs to be attacked in order to create a sane society. The longer it remains, the longer society remains unable to heal.
This book goes further than the police and goes into insights into the overall society. There are things that, in the modern sense, would be called ‘insanity’ and we somehow pretend to accept them, pretend not to notice, and we carry on. There is something sick and deep, and this can be the beginnings of a discussion with this kind of evidence placed in front of people. This requires very serious thinking about the society itself.
When the police is unable to discharge its functions, the society is one step closer to cracking down again, closer to anarchy, tribalism, baying for the blood of people, like what you see happening in Dehli recently with all the mass demonstrations taking place. Nobody trusts the police; everybody sees them as corrupt.
*Dr. Rajat Mitra is an internationally reputed Indian Psychologist
Sri Lanka’s former Army Commander Sarath Fonseka freed ….
Video Rating: 5 / five
Presidency, of course is the problem! We are all concerned about the day to day happenings in the country, not so much of the Deraniyagala killing, but mostly of the Weliweriya shooting at present. The latter has overtaken by the former. But we should not lose sight of the larger picture and the key structural issues behind our predicament, if we need to genuinely seek solutions to our problems. Only passing comments on structural issues, either way, might not be sufficient. What we are facing is a systemic crisis without any exaggeration.
The President has not come up with any apology or even a statement after the brutal Weliweriya shooting. After all he is the Commander in Chief of the Armed Forces (not his brother!) in addition to being the Head of State and the Head of Government. It is unlikely that he would, except perhaps through his Secretary. That is the ‘immunity’ he enjoys under the Presidential Constitution. This is not to say that a statement or even an apology would ameliorate the situation.
‘Family bandyism’ of the Rajapaksas or MR’s split personality (smile and thuggery) might explain the specific nature of the regime, but not the generic character of the regime-system. Anyway, his personality has changed a lot after becoming the President and particularly after the end of the war. Perhaps it has lot to do with the happenings at the last stages of the war. There appears to be a serious deterioration in the ethical and moral premises of the regime and the personality.
The way the regime operates today is not so much different to the regimes operated under the presidential system previously, with some variations, except that the present situation is much worse than before. We are familiar with the way the situation of the ethnic pogrom against the Tamils was handled in July 1983 under JR Jayewardene regime. That propelled the beginning of the brutal war for two and a half decades. We are also familiar with the way the second insurrection was quelled in 1989/90 under the Premadasa regime not to speak of other atrocities. Of course the uprising had to be suppressed but not the killings of Wijeweera or others after taken into custody. The Matale grave yard is supposed to belong to that period. It is only recently that some security personnel of the former President CBK finally were convicted harassing and assaulting two prominent artists those days. Perhaps only sane President was DB Wijetunga for a brief period! But even he was insane in his utterances like denying any ethnic conflict in the country.
Are those just questions of personalities? I don’t think so. I would argue that the presidential system was primarily responsible of course along with the personalities involved. Parliamentary systems also could become degenerated and Prime Ministers also could act like authoritarian Presidents. Margaret Thatcher might be the best recent past example. But that is not a structural condition. It is also possible that ‘family bandyism’ exists even under a parliamentary system unless other measures are not taken and unless the political culture is changed. That is also our past experience before 1978.
Parliamentarianism and Presidentialism are not polar opposites. But there is a fundamental difference in terms of representative democracy and that matters most for accountability, transparency, responsibility and finally for democracy itself. We use representative democracy because direct democracy is not practical and also perhaps people are not interested. In a parliamentary democracy people elect a general assembly called Parliament for primarily legislative purposes and an executive emerges or selected within that which is again responsible for that Parliament. This is the best system.
The executive is crucial in the state structure, whether parliamentary or presidential, because it is the body which guides and directs the bureaucracy and the armed forces which can easily trample on people’s human rights and whose services (in the case of bureaucracy) are crucial in delivering or not delivering necessary services to the people including ‘clean water’ in the case of Weliweriya!
The judiciary could be structurally independent in both systems; however the tendency to trample on the judiciary is high (or almost certain in some countries) under the presidential system than in a parliamentary democracy. Sri Lanka is a clear example for both.
In a presidential system, there are two (confusing) electoral processes. One is to elect a Parliament primarily for legislative purposes. Then there is another process to elect a President for executive purposes directly by the people. Superficially, this may appear more democratic, but that is not the case. The distance between the people and the President is so vast and not punctuated by intermediary process. A President’s responsibility to Parliament is only nominal if at all. This is the dangerous aspect of a presidential system which can easily create authoritarianism or much worse as he/she controls the military and the bureaucracy. I am only outlining the barebones in this article.
In a parliamentary system, the executive functions are pinned down to extensive procedures and these procedures are effective unless there is something basically wrong in party politics. In a presidential system there may be some procedures (i.e. COPE in Sri Lanka) but those procedures may or may not be effective. Most Presidents might be laughing at them.
The main point is that there are inbuilt structural reasons for any presidential system to become authoritarian unless there are strong constitutional traditions in a country. This is the very reason why even the US presidential system was criticised by Woodrow Wilson although he didn’t make any attempt to change it! Presidential system in the US was an evolution, but when it was introduced in other countries the very purpose was to have a strong government or a strongly ruler disregarding the rule of law and human rights. The following was what JR Jayewardene said about democratic freedoms and rule of law when he argued for a presidential system in the country (Selected Speeches, 1944-1973, p. 91).
A democratic system of Government includes what are termed democratic freedoms, the freedom to vote, freedom of opposition, freedom of speech and writing, and the rule of law, among other freedoms. Do these freedoms alone satisfy the people? I do not think so.
Usually there is no denial on the part of anyone who believes or defends a presidential system that there would be a democratic deficit as a result of a presidential system. In the case of Sri Lanka, however, this deficit is colossal. The shooting at Weliweriya and the Presidential system are interlinked. As the popular saying goes, ‘there is no point in shouting that the snake is biting (kanavo, kanavo!),’ if you put the fellow inside your sarong.
There is another constitutional factor relevant to Weliweriya shooting. Who is the Member of Parliament for the Weliweriya area? What was he doing? No one can answer this question I believe. In the previous representative system, it belonged to the Gampaha seat and it was SD Bandaranaike who represented the people in the area in Parliament in 1977. Those days there was a close connection between the people and the parliamentary representative and in any local issue, the MP intervened or mediated. This has almost completely disappeared to the thin air under the present Presidential Constitution. I recollect during my young days in the Moratuwa electorate how close and how responsible the MPs behaved with the people. This is the same where I live now in Australia, the electorate called the Green Way. In Sri Lanka, this has changed to create an authoritarian system even MPs divorced from the people not to speak of the President.
When the presidential system was introduced to Sri Lanka it was mainly defended on the basis of an economic argument. I happened to interview President Jayewardene in April 1993 and he opined that it was also created to defend the country from possible separatism that time. He said that there was a call to ‘do a de Gaulle.’ But the experience has proved otherwise. The country became ripped apart after the introduction of the presidential system. One may argue whether this is a direct result or not. It may be true that the presidential system perhaps facilitated the defeating of the LTTE quickly, but at a particular cost to democracy. The saying goes that ‘when you fall into the pit you have to come out from the same opening.’
President Rajapaksa has gone beyond de Galle or Jayewardene. In fact he has virtually ‘done a Mugabe’ with the 18th Amendment. With the massive military and the bureaucracy under his beck and call he hopes to continue to be the ruler of this country like President Mugabe in Zimbabwe unless it is stopped through a broad and a strong opposition through democratic campaigning. What is important is to end the vicious cycle of violence and violations by terminating the presidential system by an authentic parliamentary system with a fair system of devolution of power.
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The Rajapaksa regime increasingly appears to consist of twin forces within it, one civilian and the other military. The so-called UPFA government or the Cabinet is only a façade for the regime which is based mainly on the military and the bureaucracy. The UPFA even with the old left parties within it only have a decreasing influence on the civilian part of the regime. The Parliament with a feeble opposition appears to supply humour and entertainment to the cynical public these days. These are the culminating results of the presidential system and the recent subjugation of the independence of the judiciary as part of that same culmination. Just recollect how the Parliamentary Select Committee (PSC) behaved on the question of the impeachment of the Chief Justice. It was farcical and demeaning to the hilt.
The most alarming immediate development is the deployment of military troops in quelling a civilian protest in Weliweriya on 1 August without any justification or the backing of even emergency regulations. In a protest of villagers, asking for clean water, the military intervention has killed 1 civilian and injuring 15 others. The question has been rightly asked who gave the orders. There is no point in asking even the person responsible to resign because that will not happen in current Sri Lanka. A participant in the protest explained the brutal behaviour of the troops equating it to the LTTE attack on the Temple of the Tooth in Kandy in 1988, reminiscent still in the public mind.
The military intervention in civilian life is reported to be a daily occurrence in the Jaffna peninsula very much pervasive and brutal. As the civilians have been so much subdued without much room to engage in peaceful protests like the Weliweriya villagers there has been no much opportunity so far for the military to use its fire power at least openly. One occasion to the contrary was when the university students peacefully engaged in remembrance or heroes day celebrations in December 2012. The harassments and brutality were quite extensive.
What has to be realized in the current context is that the people in the North or in the South are facing the same common enemy and that is the emerging danger of a military or a quasi-military rule in the country destroying all norms of human rights and democracy.
These are developments particularly aftermath of the end of the war and hopefully there would still be possibilities of turning the situation around peacefully and resurrecting democracy with the international good will and even assistance. After all, Sri Lanka is a member of the international community and the United Nations with obligations on human rights, democracy and rule of law. No one should shy away of working towards international solidarity on the Sri Lankan question.
It was understandable when the military strategy dominated the civilian affairs prior to the end of the war in May 2009 and after the LTTE completely broke away from the peace process in July 2006. The country was fighting against a ruthless menace of terrorism. However, as a democratic country, even during the war there were certain international norms that the government and the military should have observed. If the declared ‘zero civilian casualty’ was a genuine proclamation, then after the war that should have been accounted for through independent and reliable investigations of the alleged and obvious deviations from the international humanitarian law. That was not done.
It is a known fact that during the period between 2006 and 2009, the military in the country became doubled in numbers and equipped with high-tech equipment and training. What was obviously neglected was the education or training on human rights and humanitarian law. After the war there was no effort to demobilize the military. Instead it appears that the ordinary soldiers are being politicized and used for other missions. Although in the past the military in Sri Lanka has been a professional army with high professional standards, it is obvious that these have deteriorated especially among the middle and the lower ranks thereafter.
If the government wanted to maintain a disciplined and a professional army after the war, the first thing should have been done to investigate the slighted allegation against any wrong doing during the war particularly between 2006 and 2009 and punish or discipline the perpetrators accordingly. That is the period that matters most for the discipline and the calibre of the military at present. It is also a well-known fact that although the President gave promises to the UN Secretary General on the subject of accountability in May 2009 that promise was not fulfilled for some reason and this reason can be identified as the influence of the military wing of the regime over the civilian leaders.
Weliweriya is not the first occasion that the defence establishment unleashed its strong arm tactics against the civilians in the South not to speak of the much concealed military oppression in the North. In February 2012, the STF was deployed against the protest of fisher folks in Chilaw and killed one, seriously injuring 8 others. The most alarming was the military deployment for the prison riot at Welikada in November 2012 killing 27 and seriously injuring 40 others. It was a gruesome operation violating all international norms on the treatment of prisoners.
There are arguments that the regime or its security establishment is intervening in this manner to maintain and establish law and order in the country. This is not at all a reliable argument. If that is the case, then at least the police should have been intervened in preventing over 75 well- orchestrated goon attacks on religious places of the Muslim and Christian communities in the country during the last three years. At least the perpetrators should have been punished. The newest attack was on 19 July in Mahiyangana. There are all indications that there is close association between the defence establishment and the Sinhala extremist forces that are unleashed against the religious minorities.
These are also the two sectors that have been agitating against the holding of the elections to the Northern Provincial Council. Although the civilian political wisdom has prevailed on the question of holding of the NPC elections for the time being it is not clear in what ways that the attempt would be scuttled by the military wing of the same regime in the future. The most bizarre phenomenon in the current situation in Sri Lanka is that both the civilian and the military wings of the regime are led by the same family! It is most unlikely to perceive a serious split within this family given its past and its kinship cohesiveness.
Therefore, while the regime and with it the ruling politics will oscillate between civilian and military directions from time to time, the general course until the regime is democratically changed would be more and more towards a quasi-military rule in the country.
When you announce that you are going to apply for media accreditation for a routine international political event like the bi-annual Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM) you don’t normally expect a rash of death threats – or to find a senior diplomat from the host country threatening on twitter that he will “make sure you don’t get a visa”.
But this year’s CHOGM is no ordinary event. It is being held in Sri Lanka – whose government is accused of some of the worst war crimes of this century. A country marked today by increasing repression of its Tamil minority and a brutal clamp-down on any government critics, particularly among the press and the judiciary.
When David Cameron controversially announced that he would be attending CHOGM despite calls for a boycott, Alistair Burt, the foreign minister with responsibility for Sri Lanka, went on record to say: “We will make it clear to the Sri Lanka Government that we expect them to guarantee full and unrestricted access for international press covering CHOGM”
The omens for that “guarantee” do not look good.
I have now directed three films looking at the events of the last few months of the civil war. The first two were commissioned and broadcast by Channel 4, building on the work of Channel 4 News. The latest, effectively the culmination of three years of investigation, is No Fire Zone: the Killing Fields of Sri Lanka, a 93 minute feature documentary, supported by C4, BRITDOC and others. The films have had a huge impact, winning a number of awards, being cited by the UN and even seeing the team nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize.
In No Fire Zone we use some of the most disturbing video evidence ever recorded, to chronicle how, just four years ago, the Sri Lankan government announced a series of grotesquely misnamed No Fire Zones, encouraged hundreds of thousands of Tamil civilians to gather there for safety – and then systematically shelled them, also denying them adequate food and medicines. Perhaps 40,000, perhaps – as one UN report suggested – 70,000 or even more civilians died, most killed by government shelling. The predicament of the civilians was made worse by the Tamil Tigers who also stand accused of committing war crimes and of preventing civilians from escaping the No Fire Zones.
It is fair to say the government of Sri Lanka does not like me – or others who have reported the truth from Sri Lanka, including C4 News foreign correspondent Jonathan Miller or former BBC Sri Lanka correspondent Frances Harrison, author of a book of Tamil survivors stories.
But when I revealed that I intended to apply for accreditation to CHOGM (as I did when it was last held in Australia in 2011), it provoked an astonishing series of attacks. Comments published online included a series of clear death threats. One of the mildest, in response to my remark: “I trust the Sri Lankan Government will welcome me” read: “Absolutely white van is waiting at the airport.” White vans are notoriously used in the abduction of government critics and are seen as a weapon of terror associated with extra-judicial killings and disappearances.
Another comment said I was welcome in Sri Lanka “only to go back in a coffin”. And another said: “Callum Macrae – do not come to Sri Lanka. You will be abducted in a white van, and sent to meet Lasantha Wikremasinghe (sic).” Lasantha Wickrematunge was the editor and founder of the Sunday Leader – a respected newspaper critical of the Rajapaksa regime. He was shot and killed by unknown assassins in January 2009.
Then – a week ago, as I was touring with the film in Australia – Ambassador Bandula Jayasekara, a senior Sri Lankan diplomat in Sydney and former Chief media advisor to Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapaksa, issued a series of threatening tweets in which he said he would “make sure you don’t get a visa” and accused me of being “hired by (Tiger) terrorists as a full time propagandist for the blood thirsty terror group overseas”.
Indeed, far from condemning the death threats against me, he seems almost to be encouraging the climate of hostility and suspicion which lies behind them. Then last week the Sri Lankan government’s own media minister echoed his words saying: “press freedom… cannot be something that can be framed inside aiding terrorism or being a propagandist for terrorism. So, we will be 100 per cent cautious about who comes to Sri Lanka for CHOGM.”
As I write this the Sri Lankan government has issued a rather more conciliatory statement, suggesting that they will issue visas to those given accreditation by the Commonwealth Secretariat.
We shall see – and the world’s press will now, I hope, be watching very carefully.
*Callum Macrae – Director – No Fire Zone: the Killing Fields of Sri Lanka, www.nofirezone.org Twitter: @nofirezonemovie
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The phrase ‘double standards’ has been given a new definition by the University Grants Commission (UGC). This feat was achieved by the inconsistency in decision-making with regard to a very important function vested by the University Act in the UGC i.e. the granting of “Degree Awarding Status” to institutions of higher education.
The Institute of Technological Studies and the OASIS Hospital (Pvt) Ltd
In 2008, the above institute applied for “Degree Awarding Status” in order to establish a Medical Faculty which grants the MBBS degree. The application was forwarded to the UGC and at its 768th Meeting held on 20.11.2008, a subcommittee was appointed to make recommendations on the proposal to the UGC.
The committee comprised the following most distinguished academics.
Appointment letters were issued on 08.12.2008 and Dr H.H.R. Samarasinghe who was the President of the Sri Lanka Medical Council (SLMC) back then declined to be a member of the subcommittee citing “Conflict of Interest”.
The committee convened 4 times and subsequently forwarded its recommendations to the UGC. The UGC at its 772nd Meeting held on 22.01.2009, considered the subcommittee recommendations and made the following decisions.
The Commission having considered the recommendations made by the Committee decided that the application for establishment of a Medical Faculty attached to the Institute of Technological Studies and OASIS Hospital [Pvt] Ltd cannot be approved in the present form and the shortcomings of the application be conveyed to the Director-General, Board of Investment (BOI) of Sri Lanka.
The Commission also decided that the proposed degree programme should conform to the guidelines given in the documents published by the Sri Lanka Medical Council and the Quality Assurance and Accreditation Council.
It was further decided to convey the following to the Chairman, BOI, and the Chairman of UGC conveyed the same with a letter dated 11.02.2009
(A) The application does not give enough basic details regarding the following areas;
(B) The submitted names of the lecturers for the course are inadequate.
(C) The proposed degree programme should conform to the guidelines given in the following documents published by the Sri Lanka Medical Council and Quality Assurance and Accreditation Council.
Deficiencies in Clinical Teaching
The Committee appointed to appraise the proposal cited the following as “shortcomings” in the process of reaching their conclusion.
a) The patient spectrum in private hospitals is much narrower than in government teaching hospitals. Hence methods to be adopted to ensure adequate coverage of medical conditions for undergraduate clinical training should be considered.
b) Private hospital patients may not be willing to be used for clinical teaching — i.e. examined by medical students (including internal digital examination of rectum and vagina, training in management of childbirth). The minimum number of such procedures required by a student and the feasibility of achieving this should be considered.
c) Although there appears to be several medical and surgical units in the document, there are only two Paediatric units and one Obstetrics & Gynaecology unit. One unit in each of these disciplines will have to be reserved for final year training (equivalent to Professorial units in established medical faculties). The others are required for third and fourth year clinical training. If this is the case:
d) It is suggested that academic posts and qualifications for academic posts conform to those approved by the UGC.
e) A significant part of the bedside teaching is done by Senior Registrars and Registrars (postgraduate trainees of the PGIM, Colombo, preparing for MD and MS degrees and Board Certification as specialists) in state teaching hospitals as consultants cannot be expected to be available around the clock: Such grades of full time “consultants-in-training” do not seem available in the private hospital. Details of such positions should be given serious consideration.
f) Private hospitals usually do not receive the number of acutely ill patients seen in a casualty ward in a state hospital. Private hospitals also lack fully fledged set ups for accident and emergency care. The facilities indicated in the document seem inadequate. Consideration should be given to admission of adequate numbers of acutely ill patients and provision of adequate infrastructure for clinical training.
g) The teaching of Community Medicine is field based. In a setting where primary health care is exclusively delivered by the state sector, the manner in which this subject is to be taught should be detailed.
h) Forensic Medicine is a specialty that is almost exclusively under the purview of the government, sector. How such services will be accessed for clinical training should be considered and outlined.
Consistency and persistence
A revised proposal was submitted by the Institute of Technological Studies and the OASIS Hospital (Pvt) Ltd and a subsequent panel which comprised the following distinguished members denied the requested “Degree Awarding Status” on 2nd September 2010, yet again.
It is pertinent to note that the Institute of Technological Studies and the OASIS Hospital (Pvt) Ltd had the OASIS Hospital which was a fully functional private hospital at the time of applying for the “Degree Awarding Status” and it had not just an OPD with less than 15 patients per day but many disciplines including Surgical, Medical, Gynaecology and Paediatric wards. But it is evident that the high-profile academics of the committees appointed by the UGC were of the opinion that even such an institute is inadequate for an accepted undergraduate training for an MBBS degree.
A different Fortune
However, another institute which was established at or around the same time period had a “different turn of fortune”. Yet another BOI approved project, the South Asian Institute of Technology and Management (SAITM) which also incorporated the word “Technology” (strangely) applied for a Medical Faculty with “Degree Awarding Status” to grant MBBS degrees. The fortunes of SAITM were such that it was granted “Degree Awarding Status” in 2011 by Gazette notification. This was of course way before the institute even started an OPD service in April 2013 which the institute called the “Teaching Hospital”. Unlike the unfortunate OASIS hospital which did not recruit students before it was given recognition, the second institute had already recruited four batches by the time it was granted “Degree Awarding Status”. The four batches, however, were not included in the Gazette notification as the law cannot be applied retrospectively.
Many are wondering what made the very UGC which denied the OASIS hospital in 2009 and 2010 “Degree Awarding Status” was so “convinced” to grant the same to SAITM. Questions are being asked how the latter had fulfilled the same requirements raised by the two expert panels with regard to facilities and training. It is pertinent to know how an institute which still does not have a functioning hospital, can provide the correct “clinical mix” of patients for 10 batches of medical students?
How has the said institute overcome the “obstacles” cited by the two subcommittees with regard to patients and compliance in private sector?
It was revealed at a recent submission to the Supreme Court (SC/FR/512) the actual permanent teaching staff of SAITM comprises many non-medical professionals (A/L teachers, paramedics etc.) and many of the doctors were either MBBS or MD (Russian) qualified doctors. Even some senior lecturers were without post-graduate qualifications. What happened to the suggestion (d) of the subcommittee which specified that “It is suggested that academic posts and qualifications for academic posts conform to those approved by the UGC.”?
Questions to answer
Were there any new “strategies” proposed to be employed by SAITM to avert the obstacle of providing clinical teachers without the services of Post Graduate trainees such as Registrars and Senior Registrars?
What were the proposals to overcome inadequacy of teaching in Forensic Medicine and Community Medicine?
In the face of the Health Ministry’s stern decision NOT to allow government hospitals to be used by a private business venture to profit and the GMOA very clearly and rightfully objecting to the use of state hospitals jeopardizing the teaching of state university students, it is unlikely that the said shortcomings are fulfilled by this institute.
The only possible answer would be that the wisdom of those who “recommend” such institutes to be granted “Degree Awarding Status” would have been much, much higher than those who made the former.
*Dr Sankalpa Marasinghe; Medical Officer, Castle Street Hospital For Women
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