Sri Lanka: Ignoring Crime Prevention is a Sri Lankan Policy

Asia Human Rights
February 27, 2018
Reproduced with Permission
Asian Human Rights Commission

The idea of good governance in Sri Lanka seems to be - to make lot of good promises and thereafter to ignore all of them. This is not only an internal policy, but this seems also to be our international policy particularly with regard to the United Nations Human Rights Council. Of course, when you do these kinds of things it is not possible to prevent it from being unnoticed. The Human Rights High Commissioner's report on Sri Lanka this year, clearly indicates the High Commissioner has seen through both sides of that coin; that is, the ease with which Sri Lanka has agreed to whatever requests that the Council has made to it and also the ease with which all that had been agreed, has been ignored.

In fact, no Sri Lankan would, ever be surprised by this dual capacity. Anyone who knows about the dysfunctional nature of Sri Lanka's legal system - particularly the criminal justice system - knows that these promises that are made to improve the human rights situation in Sri Lanka is simply unrealizable. The protection of human rights requires a functional legal system. Sri Lanka's legal system is far below that requirement.

In 2017, 20th of September the Sectoral Oversight Committee on Legal Affairs (anti-corruption) and Media issued a Report "On Recommendations pertaining to the Expeditious and Efficient Administration of Criminal Justice" which was presented to the Parliament of Sri Lanka by the Chairman of the Committee Ajith Mannapperuma M.P. This report clearly pointed out that the state of the judicial system is shameful and outdated.

This Committee also pointed out that on the average a criminal trial into a serious crime takes at least 17 years to conclude. This is not about mega crimes such as mega corruption and other many heinous crimes, about which nothing has ever been done, and we can assume that in the near future nothing will be done.

The problem that the Committee was pointing out to, was what are usually called ordinary crimes such as murder, attempted murder, causing of grievous bodily harm, robbery, rape, sexual abuse of children and such other horrible things which in most countries today, would take around one year to finish - from the time of commencement of the investigations till the time of the final verdict. The Committee understood the core of the problem of the absence of criminal justice in Sri Lanka and expressed it very clearly. What the Committee said was of no surprise to any adult Sri Lankan. It is not only a lay person who knows this, but also the judges, the prosecutors, policemen, the prison officials, and above all the criminals in the country know this. For an average criminal it is a matter of joy to know that such delays is what would keep him out of a prison. But to the average citizen what it means is that if you or one of your family members becomes a victim of crime, it is rather a sad thing. However, the Democratic Socialist Republic of Sri Lanka would not think of the matter in the same way. It is a Republic in which the commitment for the eradication of crime, takes one of the least priorities.

Now let us go back to this Committee again. To the credit of the Committee, they have taken their task seriously and suggested to the Ministry of Justice that within six months from the 20th of September 2017 at least the following recommendations must be done to address the problem.

Further to the above measures, it is also recommended that attention of the Ministry of Justice should be drawn to the Attorney General's Report dated 30.08.2017. It should specially be remembered that Attorney General's Department is not just one more Government Department and the facilities and the environment necessary for it to carry out its special responsibilities should be the obligation of the State. We also like to point out that the Central Bank of Sri Lanka, the Parliament and similar institutions with special responsibilities have been provided with special allowances and provided with special facilities. We wish to state that raising the Attorney General's Department to a special position as the above can easily be justified.

Seeking a solution to the scarcity of stenographers which is one of the reasons for the delays in courts and for continuous hearing of cases.

Recommendations for making the work of the Commissions on Bribery and Corruption efficient.

After the inquiries by the Commission for Bribery and Corruption, in the past 23 years, the accused have been found guilty for the crime of "corruption" only on three occasions. It must be said that this is a sad reflection of the manner in which the Commission works at present and also about its powers. Absence of competent lawyers in the Commission has been recognised as a serious problem. Besides, no local legislation has been instituted in order to incorporate into the Sri Lankan Law, the provisions of the United Nations Convention on Corruption. [Emphasis-ours] [Excerpt from an unofficial translation of the original report in Sinhala]

Reclaiming the wealth that has been acquired through crimes

The law for reclaiming by the state the wealth that has been acquired through crimes should be considered a national priority and should be passed urgently. Further, the Ministry of Justice must accept as a responsibility to introduce a new law on the above mentioned matters and amendment of other regulations and put into effect on an urgent basis.

The Ministry of Justice should be responsible to place before the parliament within two weeks the assessment of allocations necessary for the implementation of the above mentioned recommendations.

This Committee will take steps to place before the Minister responsible for this subject the Minister of Justice, His Excellency the Prime Minster and His Excellency the President.

At the same time it is the responsibility of the Ministry of Justice to take all steps to implement all the recommendations completely within six months of placing of this report before the Parliament.

The Committee will fortnightly monitor and review the progress of the implementation of this report. …"

Low priority for crime prevention

Well, the due date by which all these things were expected to happen is the 20th of March 2018! Up till now, there is no sign of anything happening.

What kind of human rights protection could you expect from any government that ascribes such a low priority to eradicate the most serious threat to life and liberty and the honour of women and children?

Human Rights protection is not about a great pie in the skies. It is about very simple things; like protecting people from murder, robbery, theft, rape and child abuse, and of course from dangerous drugs.

Why are these elementary things, matters of least importance in the Republic of Sri Lanka? There may be many explanations, but there is one explanation which stands out. This is that a serious policy for eradication of crime is very dangerous to many people who occupy high positions and also to those who make their money, thanks to low priority given to crime elimination.

That is the reality of the Sri Lankan nation. People have got used to it. And "people prefer" to sacrifice their own lives and liberties so that criminals can thrive.

This perhaps is the reality that the High Commissioner for Human Rights should spend forty days in quiet meditation on, if he wants his words to carry some significance - as it should - since he is speaking on behalf of the highest human rights body in the world.