Centre for Policy Alternatives on 11 August, 2013

Interview with Dr. Paikiasothy Saravanamuttu on Weliweriya violence

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Transcript of an in-house interview with CPA’s Executive Director, Dr. Paikiasothy Saravanamuttu on the recent violence in Weliweriya. See also CPA’s press release in this regard.

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I think the most important thing with regards to what happened in Weliweriya is the simple fact that it is now becoming standard operating procedure that when citizens in this country exercising their democratic right to protest come out the police abdicate its responsibility for control and calls in special forces who then come in with live ammunition and presumably orders to shoot- and shoot to kill. Because we have on the instances of the export processing zone, in the instances of those in Chilaw and now in Weliweriya innocent people –unarmed innocent people being shot and killed.

If this is a functioning democracy there has to be a chain of command, there has to be someone in authority who takes responsibility for what happened. We have to know as to whether specific orders are given as to whether this has become de facto – by default- a standard operating procedure. In addition to that consider the political fallout in terms of international scrutiny of human rights situation and even two former representatives of Sri Lanka in the international community at the human rights council in Geneva in particular coming out and talking about the credibility and legitimacy of a state that behaves in this fashion with regard to its own citizens. One of them has talked in terms of lending credibility to the argument that was originally made way back in 2005 and 2006 about the need for a field office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights in Sri Lanka.

Politically also I think an incident of this nature especially in a village like Weliweriya brings to the fore the question of if the special forces, if the army can behave like this as far as citizens in the South are concerned how did they actually behave in respect of civilians in the North. Are these allegations of war crimes – egregious human rights violations – the stuff of myth and slander or are they actually things that happened? We have now the account of the priest for example in the church; of the nuns in the church… something needs to be done and done fast.

If the position of the government is that now with CHOGM coming up with the High Commissioners visit before that everything should appear to be peaceful and calm, that the best way of ensuring that is to come out heavy handed against anyone who decides to demonstrate or show dissent, I think they are being very stupid, apart from anything else, apart from the criminality and the purely narrow political point of view, I think it’s really stupid to do this because what it does at the end of the day is it deepens the gap, the deficit with regards to reconciliation, with regard to governance, with regard to human rights protection, with regard to democracy.

Instead of throwing responsibility at each other I think there needs to be a unified and strong demand for a credible independent investigation, which gets to the bottom of the shooting, those who behaved in this way should be prosecuted and convicted and there should be a clear example set that this is not government policy, this behaviour is totally unacceptable in a functioning democracy, I think the opposition should use this as an opportunity to rally people behind the point about restoring rule of law and accountability in this country.