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Sri Lanka: The Need to Introduce Studies In Killology

Sri Lanka: The Need to Introduce Studies In Killology

What makes a soldier capable of shooting young boys of 16 and 18 at point blank range with the intent to kill? That is what happened at Rathupaswela, Weliweriya.

Of course, such killings have not been an exception as far as the Sri Lankan armed forces are concerned, judging particularly from the aftermath of the 1971 JVP uprising and beyond. Such killings can be counted in the tens of thousands. Finding answers to the question of what makes such killings possible may throw some light on many areas of Sri Lankan society - in particular, the type of mentality nurtured within the armed forces. Such studies will fall within what is now called 'Killology'.

The term was coined by Lt. Col. Dave Grossman (ret.) of the Killology Research Group in his book published in 1995, On Killing: The Psychological Cost of Learning to Kill in War and Society. Grossman's work has received enormous attention and has also led to much research work by others. Those who wish to get some of his ideas at a glance may find them here on YouTube.

Previous studies have shown that most soldiers, even in combat, shy away from killing. Some studies have even given a rate of only around 20\% as those who would willingly shoot to kill. Such unwillingness to kill is usually attributed to the abhorrence from any species to kill those who belong to the same species. As the abhorrence of killing is an almost universal characteristic, those who kill others suffer from serious remorse, which leads to many mental disorders (as has been shown by various studies).

The knowledge of this psychology within the American armed forces and others later led to various kinds of training and the adoption of technologies to ensure that more effective killing takes place in combat. Thus, in military psychology there has been an enormous emphasis on finding ways of overcoming the resistance to kill and also on finding ways to achieve higher rates of kill despite human resistance, which can be done through the adoption of various types of technology.

The question that needs to be asked is as to how the killings like that of the two boys at Rathupaswela, Weliweriya became possible among some Sri Lankan soldiers. As the killings by the security forces are not only by way of direct shootings, as in the case of those at Rathupaswela, Weliweriya, but also by other means, such as killings after abductions and enforced disappearances, the kind of training and motivation given to make such killings possible requires serious attention. While it has been mentioned that mental disorders arising from killing are a prevalent problem among former soldiers, no serious study has been done into this subject in Sri Lanka. There has only been speculation, such as the reports that a former soldier was responsible for some of the murders in Kahawatte.

In recent times there have been killings in Katunayake and also in Negombo, where a fisherman was shot down while he was getting ready to attend protests relating to the petrol hike. In both these instances the shootings took place at close range and the victims were posing no threat at all to any of the soldiers who opened fire. Similarly, in the killings in police custody, which police often claim occur because the victims were attempting to attack the police, there has not been a single case where independent evidence was able to confirm the police's version of events. What is also evident in such killings is the willingness and readiness of the police to shoot to kill.

The actual circumstances which lead to the creation of such mental conditions – leading to actions that go against the fundamental belief that human beings, like other species, have an abhorrence of the killing of their own - have never become the subject matter at judicial inquiries. In recent times, the police version of events is taken without challenge at many magisterial inquiries and there is no real inquiry into deaths. The families of the victims are also frightened as they could become targets of reprisals by the police or other security agencies. Let us take as an example the case of Sandun Lasitha Kumara Vithana, a cricketer for the Nalanda College and the Colombo Cricket Club. According to the statement made by his mother, who alleged that her son had been assassinated, Sandun had been looking after some property belonging to DIG Vaas Gunawardena (now under arrest for murder in relation to other cases) and this property had been acquired from a Tamil family who fled due to the ethnic violence. The mother, who had visited Sandun after his arrest, said that the subsequent killing was an attempt to erase the evidence relating to the property deals. Despite calls for inquiries, none have been conducted.

In any case, the issue of how the armed forces and the police have developed such an easy going approach to killing is a subject for sociological and psychological studies that could only be carried out by competent persons. Judicial inquiries, even if they happen, do not usually include a probe into the conditioning that creates such abnormal mentalities.

Given the seriousness of such occurrences (which contradict the normal belief that human beings have an abhorrence of killing) within the security and police forces, undertaking such studies is urgently needed. To leave such matters unstudied can only lead to much worse consequences.

However, it is most unlikely that the government will encourage or allow such studies on their own volition. It is only if there is public demand and pressure that such studies will become possible and lead to the consequent public knowledge and debate.

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About AHRC: The Asian Human Rights Commission is a regional non-governmental organisation that monitors human rights in Asia, documents violations and advocates for justice and institutional reform to ensure the protection and promotion of these rights. The Hong Kong-based group was founded in 1984.


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