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Sri Lankan abuse of Presidential Pardon

Sri Lanks: The abuse of Presidential Pardon is an abdication of the state responsibility to control crime

The Panadura High Court judge, Kusala Sarojani Weerawardana, found ten Presidential Security Division (PSD) officers who were accused of assaulting two famous songsters Rookantha Gunathilike and Chanta Chandraleka Perera to be guilty of the charges and sentenced them to four and a half years of rigorous imprisonment. The PSD officers entered the living premises of the two famous singers, shaved their heads and assaulted them in the year 2000. The PSD officers did this due to the two singers participating publically at an opposition UNP political rally. The attack on the two singers was political revenge for them participating in the opposition rally. At the time of the attack Chandrika Bandaranaike was the executive president. The Presidential Security Division became notorious during this time as they were used for political attacks on opponents of the government.

On April 11, 2014, the ten former PSD officers were released from prison as they were granted Presidential Pardons. On an earlier occasion, Mary Juliet Monica Fernando, the wife of the Minister of Parliamentary and Christian Affairs, Melroy Fernando, who was charged and found guilty of murder, was also released on a presidential pardon in 2008.

The pardon by the head of the state is done for specified reasons in any country. Such pardon is not meant to forgive persons who have committed serious crimes and certainly not for the purpose of favouring political allies. However, there is no surprise that this kind of thing happens in Sri Lanka as the president does not consider himself bound by any conventions or ethical and moral considerations in the use of his extraordinary powers. Above all, it is no longer considered essential to weigh the impact of such pardons on the processes of crime control. It can be said that crime control is not considered a primary state obligation in Sri Lanka.

A huge list of cases of uninvestigated crimes glaringly speaks of the loss of commitment on the part of the government to stand firmly on the issue of crime control. From around the country there are large numbers of complaints that rise routinely, expressing serious frustration about the failure of the state to deal with crime.

What is disturbing is the message imparted by such negligence which is that the issue of crime control is no longer a priority of the Sri Lankan state. There can be no worse contribution to creating public insecurity than such an impression of the blatant absence of concern for crime control.

Some may argue that this is a matter of no surprise as those who are most closely connected to the government are the criminal elements in society. The government relies on the friendship and the contributions of drug dealers and others involved in illegal businesses. In almost all areas of the country many of the close allies of the government are also those who have criminal allegations against them. This has gone to the extent of the failure to prosecute serious crimes against foreigners that government politicians are alleged to be involved in so as not to disturb such criminal links.

Among the objectives that any government finds most difficult to achieve is the problem of crime control. Any reading into political science of modern times will demonstrate how in the creation of a modern state one of the primary factors that influence things has been the need for state intervention for crime control. In fact, the origin of the social contract theories is usually traced to the need felt by people to protect themselves by agreeing to give enormous power to the state for doing so. The vast development of criminal investigation mechanisms globally and the associated development of the court systems have revolved around the achievement of the primary objective of crime control. It has been a primary realisation that if a state fails to control crime it will itself become a victim of criminal forces.

One of the results of the introduction of the executive presidential system in Sri Lanka was the granting of the exercise of power without any responsibility and accountability. The president’s capacity to stand about the law and all accountability processes has come to a point when the state can abdicate its primary responsibility of protecting people from crime. The Sri Lankan government is preoccupied with only one objective and that is the protection of itself. For this purpose the governments ally themselves with anyone including the criminal elements.

For this very reason the state is unable to take firm action against those who abuse state power such as these officers who abused the power of the Presidential Security Division. Even when the court finds such officers guilty the president grants them pardon. Thus, the impunity is guaranteed even against court orders. What this means to the ordinary citizen is that he or she will have to live in a bewildered state having no one to protect them from criminals?

ENDS

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