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Speech in Parliament – 6 October 2011

Mr. Deputy Chairman of Committees, I had intended to speak on the principles of this Bill, but,  after having heard the speeches before me, it may be worthwhile to spend some time responding to some of the suggestions and the arguments made. I do not think I want to engage in the game of atrocity snap that the Hon. Chief Opposition Whip began, because it would be only too easy to refer to problems with the Police at the time when he was a very junior Member of Parliament who, of course, was not able in those days to protest against the excesses.

But, listening to the speech of the Hon. Member on the National List from the TNA, I think what we are missing is a historical perspective on the role of the Police. I was glad though that he mentioned that the role of the Police for a long time in this country, indeed from the day the Police was set up, was as a tool of Government to oppress the people of the country. That is why I thought that the rather facile distinction he made between the military and the Police was out of place. Unfortunately, we know that the role of the Police, not only in this country but in many other countries worldwide, has contributed to excesses and it is the role of the Government, the legislature and the institutions such as the Police Academy to reduce these abuses as much as possible.

I think we in Sri Lanka have suffered much because of the events of the last 20 or 30 years. Of course I have a certain sympathy for the Hon TNA member because much of the institutionalization of police abuses took place with regard to ethnic tensions, not only in the ’50s and ’60s but most appallingly in the early ’80s. None of us can forget that perhaps the worst instance of Police being used as a political tool was in Jaffna in 1981 with the attacks on Members of the TULF and the burning of the Jaffna Public Library. But, though Police officers were held to be the tools, the actual inspiration came from Ministers in the Government. That institutionalization continued over the next few years because when the courts found against the Police for the violation of human rights, Government had absolutely no qualms whatsoever about promoting the police officers concerned and indeed paying their fines. It made it very clear that with abuses such as in the “Pavidi Handa” case and in the violation of the rights of the mother of the then Inspector-General of Police, Mr. Rudra Rajasingham, Government thought it was perfectly okay that  rights had been violated. Those institutionalized problems are things that we have needed to address, but it has been difficult.

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Rajiva Wijesinha

December 2011
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