Abductions, Security Establishment and International Pressure
The alleged abduction and the subsequent release of Premakumar Gunaratnam and Dimuthu Attygalle, two key leaders of the breakaway JVP Frontline Socialist Party (FSP) in Sri Lanka, reveal the importance of ‘international pressure’ in safeguarding human rights of people in any country, including the right to life, at least as a ‘necessary evil’ under trying conditions of suppression of dissent and threats of enforced ‘disappearances,’ ‘torture’ and ‘extra-judicial killings.’
It is believed that during the last six months or so, over 50 persons and mainly political activists and journalists have disappeared from the streets of Colomboand Jaffna in Sri Lanka, and two of them were Lalith Kumar Weeraraj and Kugan Muruganathan who belonged to the same political movement as Gunaratnam and Attygalle. The previous two disappeared in Jaffna on the Human Rights Day on 10 December 2011 and their whereabouts are still unknown.
Luckily this time, Premakumar Gunaratnam was a dual citizen of Australia and Sri Lanka and the Australian government brought pressure on the security establishment of the country to release Gunaratnam, along with other missions and UN agencies. As a result, Ms Attygalle also was released relatively unharmed. This matter was handled quite delicately on the Australian side by the Australian High Commissioner to Sri Lanka, Ms Robyn Mudie, who is supposed to have immense experience in human rights matters.
Apart from direct pressure from the Australian authorities, the recent UN Human Council resolution against Sri Lanka seems to have worked quite effectively on this instance as a ‘deterrent’ to prevent anything dramatically nasty for the two who were undoubtedly abducted by the security forces.
Ms Attygalle however claimed that she was ‘blindfolded,’ ‘gagged’ and ‘threatened’ apart from being kept in a secluded room for two days. She was initially questioned along with Gunaratnam, particularly on their now launched new political movement called the Frontline Socialist Party. The trauma inflicted on Ms Attygalle, a former teacher and a committed feminist, undoubtedly should be condemned by all sectors of society and the international community.
I would particularly urge the Vice Chancellors Committee in Sri Lanka and all academics to do so as a symbol of their avowed commitment to democracy, peace, human rights and justice in the Sri Lanka society. There are some brave academics who have already done so. The VC’s Committee first came to open on public issues when there was a danger of a former Army General taking over the political reins in the country during the last Presidential elections in January 2010.
If that were slightly tainted with political bias, they can now show their political impartiality by standing against the suppression of human rights, rule of law and democracy in the country. Otherwise they may soon lose their credibility among academics and students at large.
Almost as a justification for the supposed abduction, the ‘Ministry of External Affairs’ has now issued a statement intended to “Shed light on Premakuar Gunaratnam and Ms Dimuthu Attygalle” (Asian Tribune, 10 April 2012). Far from being the eloquent language of the Minister or his assistants, the poorly drafted statement shows the depth or the ‘dungeon’ to which the ‘foreign affairs’ in the country has now seeped into through the infiltrated ‘security hands’ by blatantly defending the gross violations of human rights such as ‘abductions and disappearances.’
Except perhaps the Frontline Socialist Party, those who asked for the release of Gunaratnam and/or Attygalle did not condone or subscribe to the politics of the duo or their past or present activities. Raising the issue of abduction was merely a question of human rights, rule of law, due process and democracy.
I was listening to an emotional appeal by Gunaratnam’s wife Dr Chandra Somaratna on ABC TV in Australia and even she being a past activist said that “if my husband has done anything wrong, please deal with the matter within the legal framework. But please don’t kill him.”
There are overlapping ‘allegations’ that the ‘Ministry’ has made ‘against’ particularly Gunaratnam but almost nothing against Ms Attygalle, except her political activities. The first allegation is about Gunaratnam changing the name three times! But what is not revealed is his name at birth, which shows by birth he was a Tamil now leading a political party in the South predominantly of the Sinhalese apart from the Muslims.
The security establishment, now turning the government against reconciliation, apparently wants to sabotage any effort of solidarity between different communities at the grassroots or civil society level and the suppression of real identities of people seems to be part and parcel of this effort.
It is a common practice of many migrants in Australia to change their former names into simple names but in the case of Gunaratnam it is quite possible that his change of name both in Australia and in Sri Lanka was prompted by political reasons. Sri Lanka is now reputed to have a ‘secret service’ (SLSS) which can go beyond borders and ‘abduct’ people as they did in the case of Kumar Pathmanadan or KP. Under repressive conditions in many countries, political activists use several aliases. This is also not uncommon in the case of Sri Lanka although it is not admirable in open politics or democracy.
The second allegation refers to his ‘political history,’ quite unimportant to the issue of abduction and the statement reveals that “these are circumstances which have come to light in the course of detailed interrogation by the police” which admittedly shows that he was interrogated during the abduction and thereafter.
The third point while ‘denying the abduction’ argues that the delays in reporting the abductions to the police “throw considerable doubt on the reliability and trustworthiness of the version of the events.” The same is repeated as the fourth point in the case of Ms Attygalle and claims that there was almost one day delay in reporting the abduction to the police!
The fifth point is almost farcical questioning why Gunaratnam was staying alone in that particular night at a party-built secluded house if his party had elaborate arrangements for all these days for his personal security. From the statement it appears that the security was monitoring his whereabouts very carefully during the period and it is possible that the duo was abducted at a vulnerable juncture together or separately. Hence were the alleged ‘unreliable and untrustworthy’ versions.
It was immediately after that, the statement says as the sixth point that “Mr. Gunaratnam’s wife who made several public statements about his alleged abduction, had stated categorically to the Police that she had not lived with her husband since 7th November 2006, and had no knowledge of his whereabouts.”
While disputing the versions of abduction by Gunaratnam and Attygalle as the last point, prior to that there is only one valid accusation leveled against Gunaratnam in point seven which says “It is quite clear that Mr. Gunaratnam was staying in this country illegally for more than 5 months. His visa had expired 5 months ago.” Even this validity of the point seven is questionable if Gunaratnam is a dual citizen and still holds a citizenship in Sri Lanka.
All dual citizens should be able to freely live in Sri Lanka including myself and if one enters the country on the Australian passport that should be clearly mentioned to authorities or informed the immigration later before the issued visa is expired. In this case Gunaratnam has done something ‘unlawful’ but that is not a reason to abduct or torture him.
If my ‘content analysis’ of the statement supposed to be by the ‘Ministry of External Affairs’ is correct, there are two important conclusions to emerge. First is that the origin of this statement cannot be the Ministry of External Affairs. Sri Lanka apparently is in a very serious situation where the ‘security establishment’ apparently has encroached into other ministries and in this case the Ministry of External Affairs.
Second is that the ‘security establishment’ is now peeping into peoples’ personal matters. Political activists, diplomats, civil servants, journalists and academics should beware of this serious situation. Even some Ministers might come under this category. As Gunaratnam and Attygalle were abducted, they will be abducted or exposed at the most vulnerable situations. The next victim perhaps will be Dr. Dayan Jayatillake.
There can be arguments ‘for and against’ the ‘international pressure’ on the issues of human rights in Sri Lanka and elsewhere. I have always maintained that State sovereignty is ‘limited and relative’ on the issues of human rights or otherwise abhorrent and gross violations could take place in any country in the name of sovereignty.
Those who do not believe in this proposition at least should consider ‘international pressure’ as a ‘necessary evil’ or otherwise even their reputation or rights or even survival may be in jeopardy. The government of Sri Lanka has reached a stage of crossing the border line by resisting ‘reconciliation’ and indulging in gross violations and blatant lies.