‘In times of war, the law falls silent’ — Not always!

Checkpoints in the city disappeared following Monday’s Supreme Court ruling. The public who had to undergo untold hardships at those places must be heaving a sigh of relief. But, many seem to worry about the fallout of the withdrawal of the checkpoints at a time the LTTE is stepping up infiltration with a view to wreaking havoc in the city and other civilian centres.

The learned judges know best when it comes to the law. And the Generals and the police top brass know best when it comes to security. What we are experiencing as regards the Supreme Court ruling on checkpoint is the predicament of a democratic state. We have to strike a fine balance between the law and the war. A democratic state battling terrorism has its work cut out in that it cannot match the modi operandi of the enemy. The LTTE has turned the mono ethnic enclave under its control into a hellhole sans democracy and therefore it is able to control infiltration effectively.

Human rights violations go by default in the LTTE-held areas. No one makes a whimper—even the knights in shining armour demonstrating opposite the Fort Railway Station at the drop of a hat turn a blind eye to the human rights situation in those areas. The LTTE abducted two UN workers a few months ago and the UN office in Colombo didn’t dare even inform the UN headquarters of that incident, until this newspaper exposed it. All the INGOs have been keeping their local staff indoors in the Wanni for fear of LTTE abductions. But, we hear of no demonstrations in Kilinochchi or at least in Colombo calling upon the LTTE to ensure the safety of aid workers. Not even the brave UNICEF personnel who recently joined a protest in Colombo demanding better protection for relief workers dare confront the LTTE.

Unlike the LTTE, the government has to respect human rights or incur the wrath of the world community. It is also bound by international covenants and acting in breach of them is to invite international isolation. Locally, those whose rights are violated can take recourse to the law. When some of the Tamils in the Colombo lodges were forcibly evicted by the police a few moons ago, the Supreme Court was successfully moved against the defence establishment and those who were evicted had to be brought back to Colombo. The defence bigwigs who had masterminded that ill-conceived project were made to eat a great deal of humble pie. Now the Ceylon Workers Congress (CWC), which is a constituent party of the ruling coalition, has filed a case against President Rajapaksa and several others for the recent arrest of a large number of Tamil civilians in Colombo. Such a course of action is unthinkable in the Wanni, where our striped friend reigns supreme. (Cynics say the people trapped there are so scared of the LTTE that they are wary of opening their mouths even for a tooth extraction!)

"In times of war, the law falls silent," said Cicero—Inter arma enim silent leges. That shouldn’t necessarily be so! The Supreme Court is right in making meaningful and bold interventions to keep the political and military authorities reminded that the sky is not the limit in the prosecution of the war. The good judges have through path-breaking rulings silenced the international busybodies who are painting a raven black picture of this country as a land where nothing but the law of the jungle prevails.

Security threats that the country faces are enormous. After checkpoints were pulled down during the UNF government, EPDP Leader Douglas Devananda told this newspaper that about 50 suicide bombers had entered the city to trigger waves of explosions when the LTTE thought it opportune to do so. The LTTE must also be having large stocks of arms and ammunition in the city. A few weeks before his untimely death, LTTE spokesman S. P. Tamilselvam had threatened to blow up targets in the southern parts of the country. And the LTTE has started doing that. So, however undesirable security checks may be, they are a necessary evil as we said the other day.

However, opinion is divided on the effectiveness of permanent checkpoints. The defence authorities insist that they are useful but, as is obvious, bypassing them must be child’s play for the LTTE which is capable of entering heavily guarded military installations and wrong-footing the security forces. True, some attempts by the LTTE to smuggle in explosives have been foiled at checkpoints. But, nobody knows how many times the LTTE has succeeded in such missions. Remember a few months ago, the police said two explosive laden vehicles—a blue coloured truck and a car—had entered the city. Did the large number of checkpoints help the police trace those mobile bombs? The answer is an emphatic ‘No’!

There is no legal requirement for security checks to be abandoned and therefore the need is for them to be conducted without causing unnecessary hardships to the public in keeping with the Supreme Court ruling. That, we believe is not an impossible task. A via media is possible.




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