Notebook of a nobody
The arrogance of Power

I met a traveller from an antique land who said: Two vast and trunkless legs of stone stand in the desert… near them, on the sand, half sunk, a shattered visage lies, whose frown, and wrinkled lip, and sneer of cold command, tell that its sculptor well those passions read which yet survive, stamped on these lifeless things, the hand that mocked them and the heart that fed; and on the pedestal these words appear: ‘My name is OZYMANDIAS, king of kings; Look on my works, ye Mighty, and despair!’

Nothing beside remains. Round the decay of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare the lone and level sands stretch far away.

The first Executive President of Sri Lanka once famously said that he had all the powers needed to do anything he wanted, except to make a man a woman. Shelley’s sonnet is a cynical reference to those men, drunk with the arrogance of power, who think that their achievements are so wonderful that other men, mighty and not so mighty, will look upon them only to despair that they cannot achieve similar greatness. Nothing remains of Shelley’s Ozymandias, who called himself the king of kings, except a shattered yet still sneering and frowning visage. It is less than twenty-five years since the first Executive President left office and he is today remembered only for the mess he made of our National Question. Today, another such person, who called himself a supreme leader, faces a debacle that will no doubt in due course lead to oblivion. He too will be remembered only for the mess he created for the community he claimed to represent. But others, now enjoying positions of power, must beware that, by their arrogance and disregard for the rule of law, they too do not suffer the same fate.

The extent of civilian deaths in the current war has become totally unacceptable. Cynical use of propaganda by both sides in blaming each other is insulting and adds to the hurt and pain of the civilians. Propagandists must realise that truth will ultimately become known. It is not long ago that foreign diplomats and human rights agencies were being ridiculed as repeating LTTE propaganda when they stated that around 200,000 civilians were trapped in the government designated ‘no-fire’ zone, when the government claimed that only 70,000 were in the zone. Now, we are told that 150,000 have "fled" from the LTTE and there are still around 50,000 being held as "human shields". But egg in the face does not seem to affect the propagandists and apologists.

Sometime ago Vidyarthan, the editor of a Tamil daily newspaper, was abducted while attending a funeral at Mount Lavinia. The abduction became an arrest. Soon after, In an interview, Defence Secretary Gotabaya Rajapakse referred to Vidyarthan as a terrorist involved in the last air attack in Colombo. He chillingly added that anybody who tried to intervene on his behalf would have ‘blood on his hands’. Now Vidyarthan has been released on a court order as the Police had no evidence against him. In another recent case, a young familied man Steven Sunthararaj was arrested and remanded at the Kollupitiya Police Station. Two years earlier he had worked at the Jaffna Child Protection Authority where his work brought into conflict with a powerful armed group. He had to flee Jaffna and was now working for a human rights organisation in Colombo. Again in the absence of any evidence, the courts ordered his release. He left the Police Station in a vehicle along with his wife and his ten-year old son. Lo and behold, at Dharmapala Mawatha, in broad daylight, he is abducted by uniformed men and forced into the dreaded white van. His whereabouts are not known. In a third case, Santha Fernando, a human rights activist working for a Christian organisation, was travelling for human rights conference in India. At the airport, officials discovered he was carrying documents pertaining to the Sri Lankan conflict which reportedly had been downloaded from the internet and was therefore in the public domain. He was doing nothing illegal, nor were any of the documents forgeries. The documents he was carrying were no more incriminating than that carried by President Mahinda Rajapakse when he was stopped at the airport while leaving to attend an international human rights assembly during his ‘human rights activist’ days as an opposition politician in the eighties. It is now more than a month, and Santha Fernando remains under detention without any charges framed against him.

Upholding the Rule of Law

All this reflects a collapse of the rule of law that the state has a responsibility to uphold. Government propagandists and our media rightly focus on the gross violations of human rights and the terror unleashed on the dissidents and non-conforming civilians by the LTTE in the North. What is happening now only demonstrates to the rest of the world that the state can also do these equally or more effectively than the LTTE. In the ‘liberated’ East, abductions and killings are unfortunately happening with regularity. The recent killing of two young girls, allegedly by armed groups, should have shaken the conscience of all decent minded people. The subsequent killing of "suspects" while in police custody was equally revolting. Several young school students, some of whom have had an outstanding academic record, have been the victims of abductions, disappearances and killings in the East. Another gruesome discovery was that of the mutilated bodies of two men, who had been seen in police custody earlier. The Police explanations for all these have been so utterly unconvincing.

With the re-capture of territory in the East from the LTTE, the government was presented with an opportunity to show that it meant to provide the people with security, democracy and devolution. But progress on all three areas has been disappointingly poor. Security to a battered people cannot be provided by giving impunity to armed groups and others to engage in criminal activity. And there has been no indication that the lessons from the East have been learnt and there is going to be a policy shift in the North when all of Vanni is re-taken. Armed groups continue to be a law unto themselves in the Jaffna Peninsula, and it appears likely that they will continue to operate in the North as they do in the East.

But it is not only in the North and East. that we have a collapse of the rule of law. In a recent Supreme Court case, the learned Judge stated: "We see the growing loss of faith by the public in a force that has come to be seen as an organization to be feared due to the aberrant behavior of a small minority of police officers - rather than a supportive service for which they can look for protection and help. We see the growing feeling of impunity inculcated by those officers that repeatedly get away with inappropriate behaviour, recognizing that their actions will be protected due to political patronage and favour and are likely to receive no disciplinary repercussions at all.

Perhaps the most affected by the slow breakdown of the Police force, are the officers and rankers — the distinct majority of the Police Force, it is to be proudly stated - who operate with integrity and honesty and who easily stand among the best officers of any nation. Some of these loyal officers inevitably find themselves perturbed and discouraged at a system that marginalizes their legitimate successes and dismisses their attempts at honouring their professionalism and character in favor of crafted and nurtured political affiliations. They undoubtedly watch with apprehension, discouragement and frustration as more and more of their peers begin to deviate from the standards once held, feeling that there are no other paths to advancement beside the crooked ones used by some who rise to the top or at the least get away with behavior that should result in their removal or imprisonment It is no surprise when some of them eventually follow the same fate This slow erosion leads to nothing other than a decline of the standards of the Police Force, creating an unhappy and disgruntled lot of officers which will eventually destroy itself by compromising its own integrity and thereby eroding the confidence reposed in them by the public Total breakdown of law and order is the end result with irreparable and irremediable consequences to society and economy. This cannot be allowed to happen.

Those who have undertaken the commitment to become enforcers of the law must come to recognize, if they haven’t already, that such enforcement is crucial to the maintenance and attainment of domestic peace and harmony and, ultimately, it is these traits that are the bedrocks of a sustainable economy that assures prosperity for all. Only through the enforcement of law and order can a nation ultimately come to respect the rule of its laws. Without law and order anarchy— or at least a slow devolution towards it — is the inevitable and fatal result."

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