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Home > Tamils - a Nation without a State > Struggle for Tamil Eelam > Democracy, Sri Lanka StyleDeath threats and escalation of violence in Sri Lanka says Asian Human Rights Commission

 Democracy Continues, Sri Lanka Style...

Death threats and escalation of violence in Sri Lanka
Asian Human Rights Commission, 17 May 2005

[see also Sri Lanka's Sustained Attacks on Tamil Journalists - the Record Speaks]

The increase in death threats and intimidation to activists and journalists in Sri Lanka are alarming. In particular, there is concern that the situation may degenerate into that similar to the terror of the late 1980s.

The law enforcement authorities have lost all semblance of control, with extrajudicial killings and death threats being made openly. Two prominent journalists have recently received death threats as have individuals from the Centre of Policy Alternatives. These threats, consisting of nasty letters, were common in Sri Lanka during the late 1980s and were followed by killings, even in broad daylight. The number of disappearances in the South itself during that time is estimated to be around 30,000.

At that time, the prevailing lawlessness was taken advantage of to settle personal grievances as well. A large number of children were killed in the 1980s, only for the reason of family rivalry and pettiness, with some political pretext as a cover. It is quite likely that the current threatening letters will soon multiply around the country and be used as a cover for many crimes. Life throughout Sri Lanka is becoming extremely dangerous yet again.

One of the groups most attacked today are the independent, non governmental organisations. These groups are being portrayed as traitors to the motherland, which is the latest justification for extrajudicial killings and other abuses. However, the existence of these independent groups is essential to the functioning of a democracy and to the defense and protection of vulnerable and marginalized groups in society, such as the poor.

There are two major causes for the present instigation of violence. One is the arrival of foreign money for the projects relating to the tsunami. As is usual all over the world, part of this money is channeled through independent, non governmental organisations in order to ensure that the money and services reach the recipients as promptly and effectively as possible. In Sri Lanka however, this has caused resentment within the government bureaucracy and certain political parties. While their criticism of these independent groups is that they may swindle the money, in fact, they want control of the funds for political or even personal gain. It is for this reason that a tremendous struggle to wrestle the tsunami funds from these groups is occurring.

Secondly, Sri Lanka is a country with a long history of caste discrimination and low consideration for the poor; that the poor are now becoming more vocal and making claims for themselves is greatly resented by the ruling elite. There have been many instances where affluent groups and individuals have attempted to grab the share of the poor, such as when the 'three-posha' ('food with three ingredients'), designed for malnourished pregnant women, was taken to feed pigs owned by the wealthy. There are also political groups who want to gain influence among the people and want to use the funds for their own work.

The uncertain political situation is also reason for the current instigation of violence and intimidation. The likelihood of elections in the not so distant future is an opportunity to create greater chaos that could be mobilized for various political purposes. Such chaos also makes it possible to engage in voter intimidation and electoral fraud on a larger scale, as well as to intimidate and assassinate political opponents. Above all, political participation by the ordinary people can be seriously hampered by creating such a cycle of fear.

Ultimately however, the root cause for the persistence of this violence and its possible degeneration is the ineffectiveness of the law enforcement agencies, which the Asian Human Rights Commission has consistently pointed out. By this ineffectiveness, the agencies play a passive role in the prevention of grave human rights abuses. In Sri Lanka as elsewhere, the connivance of the police either directly or by their passivity is what leads to the escalation of violence. Despite constant calls for improved law enforcement through better investigation and facilities, the situation continues to worsen. There is no way out of this situation but to pressure the Sri Lankan police to perform its duties competently and without corruption.

We urge the Sri Lankan government, the opposition parties and the public to intervene forcefully to get the law enforcement agencies to perform their basic tasks. A thorough investigation into police performance of law enforcement is essential. To avoid this issue may mean not only a large scale loss of life, but a return of society to a more primitive state. Sri Lanka's prospect of being caught up in another brutal cycle of violence is now very real. If action is not taken immediately, there may hardly be time to reverse this process. We urge the international community to take note of this situation and to encourage and assist Sri Lankan to address it.



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