South Asians for Human Rights

Promoting Democracy, Upholding Human Rights

By Milinda Rajasekara

Two recent media reports – among several other similar reports of incidents occurring daily – provided two examples of the manner in which the constitutional provision of equality before the law is treated in this country. According to the first report the Government Medical Officers’ Association (GMOA) had requested the Health Ministry to conduct an investigation against Sabaragamuwa Chief Minister Mahipala Herath for allegedly forcing himself into the Intensive Care Unit (ICU) of the Karapitiya Hospital despite objections raised by the medical staff.

The GMOA has said that the chief minister had gone there to see a patient ignoring the request by the medical staff to refrain from doing so as the ICU was not open for visitors. However, the chief minister has also reportedly lodged a complaint with the Health Ministry against the ICU doctors and the medical staff of the hospital stating that they had obstructed him from visiting the patient. The matter is now under investigation by health authorities.

The other report stated that a traffic sergeant of the Thambuttegama Police, who had been caught riding on the pillion of a motorcycle ridden by a colleague, had been fined Rs.550/-. The offence was detected when the OIC of the Traffic Division in Thambuttegama, Inspector Mahesh Gunasekera was on duty. Inspector Anura Kodituwakku before whom the errant sergeant was produced had ordered that the offender should pay the fine. Chief Minister Herath has obviously followed the practice of many other politicians who think that they are above the law and that the law is meant to be followed only by ordinary citizens – some, like the maverick ‘Kelaniya Doctor’, have, of course, become law unto themselves. Similarly, the police officer who violated the law had apparently thought that he is immune from the laws of the land. He would have expected his colleagues to connive with him in committing the offence. But his expectations were dashed with the Thambuththegama Police officers deciding to enforce the law without discrimination. This commendable example of strictly enforcing the law needs emulation by others in the force at this time when the police force as a whole is subjected to much criticism on account of misdemeanors committed by some in the department. Occasions are not rare where police officers use their positions to take undue advantage over common citizens.

These two incidents show the vital need for strict adherence to the fundamental right to equality enshrined in the Constitution. The Article 12 (1) provides, “All persons are equal before the law and are entitled to equal protection of the law.” Despite its importance it has today become the biggest casualty in this country. It is reduced to a mockery mainly by our politicians who think that they and their kith and kin are a class insulated against the force of the rule of law affecting them. Instances are not rear where politicos’ sons, relatives and supporters get favoured treatment from authorities when they get involved in various cases of wrongdoing. Immediate investigations are ordered by the highest in the land in such cases and steps are also initiated and suspected offenders are even arrested and remanded in ostensible demonstrations of strict enforcement of the law. But soon snags develop or made to develop through manipulation of investigations and the enforcement of the law ends thus paving the way for the offenders to go either scot-free or with minor punishments.

In no other sphere this discriminatory treatment of violators of the law is accentuated than in the area of fraud and corruption. The pace of the law’s majestic march depends on the suspects’ political and personal affiliations and connections with those at the helm of affairs. The suspects and accused who are ready to support the ruling party have a chance of extricating themselves from any charges against them while those with opposition party connections have the law hounding them out in high speed. Flimsiest of evidence is enough for the authorities to galvanise themselves into spasmodic activity in tracking the opposition politicians and supporters. This shows the extent to which the state authorities have embraced party politics in preference to the rule of law thus causing heavy damage to the hallowed concept of equality before the law.

The enforcement of election laws also takes the same form. The posters, banners and cutouts of ruling party politicians remain intact while those belonging to opposition parties are swiftly removed. The government politicians use state property freely while their opposition counterparts are denied even the legitimate access to state property. The way the state media are used for ruling party propaganda ruining in the process their financial viability is indeed scandalous.

So the urgent task before all those concerned about democracy and the rule of law is to honestly commit themselves to steadfast adherence to the cherished principles at all times.

The traditional practice in this country of opposition politicians criticizing ruling party misdeeds and subsequently perpetuating the same while in seats of power has to be shunned.

Source: Daily Mirror – 25.03.2011