Saturday, June 21, 2014

Aluthgama and the consequences of impunity


The Federation of University Teachers’ Associations (FUTA) vehemently
condemns the violent incidents and complete breakdown of law and order that
transpired in Aluthgama on the 14th and 15th of this month. While condemning all
forms of religious and ethnic intolerance, discrimination and violence, FUTA sees
the Aluthgama incident as an individual expression of a larger systemic problem.
We are perplexed as to how, in a country where the police swiftly seek judicial
orders to prevent university students from holding protest marches, the same
police is unable to anticipate the consequences of an extremist quasi-religious
organization holding a large public rally in an area already simmering with
religious tension. We are also perplexed as to how once violence broke out,
despite heavy police and military presence, the rioting continued unabated for
several hours with much damage to property, businesses, places of worship,
including the death of two Muslim youth.
FUTA believes, as with the recent attack on Ruhuna university students and
lecturers and a number of incidents of intimidation at Jaffna university and the
general stifling of any form of dissent by trade unions, students or other civil
society groups, the Aluthgama incident points to a dangerous culture of impunity
that is nurtured and fostered by those within or close to the current regime.
Certain groups, it appears are above the law and are empowered to unleash
prejudice, hatred and violence at will. If this culture of impunity is allowed to
grow unchecked every individual in this country will fear for their safety and
security. What little faith that exists in the institutions of law and order will
further deteriorate with grave social consequences leading to a situation where
people will increasingly take policing into their hands.
In any multicultural society ethnic and religious tensions do occur but it is the role
of the state to act swiftly and decisively to stem such tensions and protect its
citizens. Sri Lanka has just emerged from 30 years of brutal and lacerating civil
conflict and we can ill afford another ethno-religious conflagration. We call upon
the state, and the current regime who are custodians of the state, to immediately
arrest and prosecute those who incited and perpetrated violence in Aluthgama.
We also call upon the state to immediately take substantive measures to restore
law, order and good governance and to restore people’s faith in the institutions of
law and order. We demand an immediate stop to the unleashing of violence upon
those who hold dissenting views and that the right to democratic protest and
dissent be respected.
Prof. Rohan Fernando


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