Insights and opinions from our contributors on the current issues happening in the region



SRI LANKA: Black Sunday - Mourning the death of criminal investigating capacity

Sri Lanka Black Sunday

By BASIL FERNANDO, Asian Human Rights Commission
March 8, 2021

In answering the call of the Catholic Bishops Conference of Sri Lanka, the faithful living in various parts of the country wore black and attended the churches as a protest against the failure to provide justice for all those who were killed in the Easter Sunday bombings in 2019. They also participated in silent protests. This Black Sunday is a good occasion to reflect back not only on the lives that were lost on that blackened Easter Sunday, but also the general nature of the threats posed to human life in Sri Lanka where protection has become an extremely difficult problem.

All this time, the two governments, the one that was in power and what is in power now have concentrated more on creating a political discourse around the Easter Sunday massacre. However, what they have completely failed to focus on is the investigation that was required for a grave crime. No amount of presidential commissions can replace the most primary requirement in dealing with crimes that is the need for criminal investigations. Presidential commissions are not and cannot be the means of inquiring into a crime in terms of the criminal law. That is the task of criminal investigators.

In a modern society, the prevention of crime and also punishment for crimes that has already been taken place can happen only when there is a dedicated, competent and efficient criminal justice system. It is the investigators who could find the details of the actual criminals who carried out these bomb attacks and the conspirators who were criminally involved in the crime.

Criminal investigations are a function of the policing department. It is perhaps the most important function of a police department to have the kind of investigators that would find all the evidence that is required which reveals the crime and those who are involved in the crime. Gathering of evidence from the point of view of the criminal law and the evidence law of a country is the only way by which the criminals can be found and also they could be successfully prosecuted.

The people who sit as presidential commissioners are not part of the police investigating division, nor do they have the necessary means and competence to be investigators.

Proverbially the task of a criminal investigator is illustrated by a character like Sherlock Holmes created by Agatha Christie in her stories. The criminal investigator uses the methods which have been developed over centuries in order to gather facts relating to a crime and thereafter to analyze these facts to arrive at conclusions about the individuals who were involved in carrying out the crime from many points of view.

If the Catholic Bishops Conference of Sri Lanka and all others who are concerned with bringing the perpetrators of the bomb blast which killed large number of persons are to make an intelligent contribution to resolving of this neglected problem, their concentration should be to scrutinize the manner in which the criminal investigations into these bomb blasts have been carried out.

If such a scrutiny is carried out, one glaring fact will come to the attention of anyone concerned, that is that something has gone radically wrong in the criminal investigation capacity of the Sri Lankan police. Whatever may be the cause of this loss of capacity for thorough and comprehensive criminal investigations leading to tangible results, the important matter now is to address the loss of this all-important capacity in order to ensure the security of people. When the police function of criminal investigations is lost, everything is lost from the point of view of the capacity to investigate and prosecute criminals. That situation exists overwhelmingly in Sri Lanka for the past few decades.

When the President Gotabaya speaks of security, he always refers to security at the time of civilian conflict like that of the LTTE where the idea is very different to the security that should prevail within a society in normal times. The primary agencies in the times of conflict in maintaining national security is the military. However, the primary agency that is in charge of dealing with crimes including criminal investigations is the National Police Service. In the utterances made by President Gotabaya or any other leading figure in the government, there is hardly any mention of the resuscitating of the criminal investigating capacity of the Sri Lankan police.

The same could be said of the previous government also. They too completely neglected the development of an independent criminal investigation branch which is not dependent on the manipulations of politicians but carry out their functions only within the professional limits that are part of the philosophies and the practices relating to criminal prosecutions. In fact, in recent times, all the governments have conspired and acted continuously to undermine the criminal investigating capacity of the Sri Lankan police.

By the end of the colonial period, and in the early years after the independence, there were very important developments where much resources were allocated in order to develop a kind of professional criminal investigating department which could stand in par with other similar institutions in other parts of the world. In fact the achievements of the criminal investigators of the time was remarkable.

However that is not the situation today. Among many causes that has caused the deterioration is the fact of trying to manipulate the criminal investigation department for various political uses. On the one hand, use this department in order to target political opponents and on the other, undo and erase evidence against those whom for political reasons, the government wants to exonerate. Both ways have affected the system badly.

That damaged criminal investigation department is the source from which the Sri Lanka’s ability to deal with serious criminal investigations rose. That is the root that needs to be addressed if those who are demanding accountability for the crimes committed on the Easter Sunday should concentrate their effort on.

If that does not happen, all that will happen is a merely repetition of what has happened already during the last two years and that is to keep a farcical situation about ensuring justice for the victims and survivors of this massacre. It is not only about this massacre but also about almost all serious crimes.

The prosecutor cannot replace the functions of the investigator. If the investigator fails, all that the prosecutors could do is to make all kinds of public promises and public statements which themselves are essentially farcical in nature.

Thus, those who lost their lives in the Easter Sunday massacre has a message for all the people living in Sri Lanka now; that message is “if the security of life is to be guaranteed then first of all ensure that the crimes committed against us be criminally investigated and by doing that, make our loss of our life meaningful for the rest of the country so that similar occurrences would be prevented by the very knowledge that the country is capable of getting at any criminal of whatever orientation or inclination at the shortest possible time.

If there was a well functioning criminal investigation unit, it would have received information about the crime even long before it would have happened. For people to trust the police, it is essential that they have a conviction that whether information that is given to the police will lead to inquiries and that the capacity of the investigators are such and they are capable of finding the truth.

It was a paralyzed and dysfunctional criminal investigation capacity on the Sri Lankan police that is the root cause of the possibility of doing such drastic criminal act.

Life of everybody in Sri Lanka is at risk. If a serious crime happens, it would be an uphill task to get a proper complaint registered at a police station which would lead to the beginning of an investigation. There are hundreds of complaints which take place where the people complain not only on bigger issues but comparatively smaller issues. It is so difficult for people to even register a proper complaint at the police stations.

In one of such incidents on a matter of attempted murder, a man who was the victim and his family made all possible attempts to get a complaint registered. Initially, the relevant police station had no interest in registering the complaint. After much pestering when the police moved to registering the complaint, they did it so carelessly that the affected person did not want to sign that statement. Even after getting this unsatisfactory statement, police made no attempt to visit the crime scene and to do any kind of credible investigation.

The man had to go to the ASP, SP many times over and over again over few weeks and despite of many promises no investigation was made. Thereafter he complained to the Inspector General of Police, Police Commission and Human Rights Commission. All he got was a letter from the IGP saying that his complaint will be looked into by a senior officer attached to the area where the incident has taken place. And when this person contacted the assigned officer, he was given a date and when he went there, the investigation into his complaint was postponed for another two months.

That incident is not an exception. That is the way things happen in Sri Lanka to almost everybody who does not have any kind of political clout if he goes to get a complaint registered at a police station.

A neglected policing system with an extremely poor criminal investigation division is what Sri Lanka has to deal with any crimes including such horrible crimes as the Easter Sunday massacre. It would just be nothing less than a joke if those concerned keep on expecting that the criminal perpetrators of this crime would be punished while the nature of the investigating mechanism that exists in Sri Lanka is in such a collapsed state.

It has become the duty of all people of good will, including the religious leaders, the intellectuals and everyone to give highest priority to the demand of immediate actions on the part of the government of Sri Lanka to address the issue of serious defects of the policing system in Sri Lanka and in particular serious defects of the police investigation divisions in Sri Lanka.

If that does not happen, punishing the perpetrators of Easter Sunday massacre will be just to wait for a pie in the sky.





Be proactive and not just reactive

March 8, 2021

WE have to be both, of course, but between the two, it’s being proactive that is more important, since that would clearly show that we are truly driven with love, that there is growth and development in our life, that we are exercising our creativity and sense of initiative.

Being reactive is, of course, important too, otherwise we would be regarded as dead or, at least, insensitive. But being reactive comes more of an instinctive action. We cannot help but react and respond in some way to any stimulus that would come our way, be it small or big. In fact, we have to react if we, at least, want to be aware of what is happening around us.

It’s in being proactive that we have to pay more attention and where we have to train ourselves more. We are notorious for our tendency to fall into routine, and from there into complacency and passivity. We should not allow ourselves to be trapped by routine.

Not that routine is unimportant. It is important and it plays a crucial role in our life! It serves as some kind of a stable structure and foundation of our day, giving us a clear path of how our day should go. Without it, our day would most likely become messy, confusing and chaotic.

But it should be made a living structure, not a dead one. It should give us many openings to allow us to discover new things in life, new possibilities for branching out and going to the next level in our life, especially in the spiritual and moral aspects.

When we are properly proactive, that is, with a proactiveness that is truly animated by love for God and for others, we will notice a certain drive and bursting energy in ourselves. We would be looking for new possibilities, never contented with what we already have, even if in our human estimation, we may be regarded as having accomplished much already.

This proactiveness will never do away with routine. In fact, it may appear to be doing the same thing day in and day out, and yet the love and the quality with which we would be doing the routine things always grows and improves. It never says enough. It never stops at a certain level.

To be sure, this proactiveness can only be a consequence of our identification with God who is the very proactiveness himself. God never stops in his creativity, in his love, in finding ways to save us even if we actively go against him. We have to channel in our life God’s proactiveness.

A proactiveness that is simply a product of human effort can never go far. It would have no defenses against our own natural limitations, not to mention, the infranatural weaknesses we have that are brought about by our sin. Such proactiveness will certainly be short-lived only.

Also to be properly proactive is not only meant for a few people who we may consider as having the appropriate temperament and are enjoying some lucky breaks in life. It is for all, since everyone is supposed to identify himself with God in whose image and likeness we have been created.

So, to train ourselves to be properly proactive basically involves fulfilling our duty to relate ourselves with God as best that we could. There is no other formula we can use to achieve this goal of being properly proactive.





Where is God when we suffer?

February 27, 2021

THAT’S one of the FAQs in life – frequently asked questions many people, even among pious folks, make when they are made to suffer one way or the other. It only reveals that their faith is not yet that strong and deep, since the obvious answer is that God is right in the middle of their suffering.

Let’s remember that God is always with us through his continuing providence over all his creation. In our case, as human persons, he is with us in a most intimate way, that is, in our heart and mind, in our soul. The problem is that we often ignore him or take him for granted.

As our Catechism puts it, providence are “the dispositions by which God guides his creation toward their perfection…By his providence God protects and governs all things which he has made…(n. 302)

Furthermore, the Catechism says that “the solicitude of divine providence is concrete and immediate; God cares for all, from the least things to the great events of the world and its history.” (n. 303)

In other words, God is always with us. He is constantly intervening in our life, directing us to him and showing us the way of how to live or go through the different experiences, situations and circumstances we can encounter in our life. He never abandons us. It’s rather us who can abandon him, again reprising St. Augustine’s observation that God is with us but we are not with him.

When we suffer, it’s not because God wants us to suffer. Suffering and eventually death are always a result, a consequence of sin, ours and those of the others. But God in Christ through the Holy Spirit shows us how to handle suffering. He is always with us when we suffer and assures us through Christ’s words: “In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” (Jn 16,33)

And St. Paul himself has assured us that the sting of death has been taken away (cfr. 1 Cor 15,55), because Christ has conquered both sin and death with his passion, death and resurrection. Thus, St. Paul teaches us that “if we have been united with him (Christ) in a death like his, we will certainly also be united with him in a resurrection like his.” (Rom 6,5)

The precious lesson to learn from all this is that when we suffer, we should be guided mainly by our faith, and not just by our own human estimations. Otherwise, there is no other way but to go to the extent of questioning even the existence and love of God for us.

Yes, in this life, we can never escape from suffering and death, no matter how much we try. We just have to learn to suffer and die, the way Christ suffered and died for us, to convert our suffering and death into a way of our own salvation and a great help for the salvation of the others.

We should overcome our tendency to go through our suffering guided only by our feelings and many other natural and worldly factors. We have to learn how to be quick to suffer with Christ. That’s when we can manage to remain at peace and ever hopeful in the midst of our suffering. That’s when we can see how with God, everything will always work out for the good!





When we commit mistakes

February 16, 2021

WE all commit mistakes. That’s an undeniable fact of life. They can vary from small to big, minor to major, something just mechanical or typographical to something mortally spiritual and immoral. They can simply be accidental or maliciously intentional. This is not to mention that are there those we know and those we are not aware of.

We have to learn how to deal with them, since whether we like it or not, they are an unavoidable part of our life. While it’s true that our initial and spontaneous reaction to our mistakes is that of disappointment, frustration, sadness and the like, we have to see to it that we get past that stage as soon as possible. There’s no use staying long there, rotting away in guilt feelings, since it would not be good for us. It would not be healthy for us.

Let’s be quick to look at the positive side of all this negative aspect of our life. We know that God allows us to commit mistakes because of the misuse of our freedom, our weaknesses and limitations, and, of course, the many temptations we have around. But let’s remember that God is always in control and knows how to derive good from evil. So let’s not worry more than we should.

On our part, we should just strengthen our faith and trust in God, reinforcing our conviction that God is always a father to us. He knows us very well, including our weaknesses, and he understands why we commit mistakes and, thus, gives due allowance for them.

Though he may be angry for a while, it is undeniable that he is eager to forgive us and to give us the appropriate graces to repair and heal what is defective and sick in us. In this, we should have no doubt. We should be quick to pick up the pieces, begin again and move on.

Let’s always keep in mind those reassuring words of St. Paul: “Where sin abounded, grace did more abound.” (Rom 5,20) And, “In all things, God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.” (Rom 8,28)

Indeed our mistakes can occasion many good things in us. They can show us where we are weak at and thus direct our attention to these areas where we should give the appropriate action.

If we are humble enough, these mistakes can also lead us to get closer to God, since they would make us feel more vividly our great need for him. Yes, our mistakes can nourish our humility, reversing that notorious tendency of ours to be proud and conceited. Indeed, our mistakes can serve as a strong stimulus for our sanctification.

The important thing to remember is that we consider our mistakes from the point of view of our faith, and never just from our own ideas. This latter way can only lead us to despair and other worse possibilities.

It would be helpful to realize deeply and always that before God we are always like little children irrespective of the high status we may be enjoying at present. Especially when we commit mistakes, we should feel the need to go to him rather than run away from him, which can only make things worse.

Yes, our mistakes can be and should be a blessing in disguise for us!




Marriage is no joke

January 30, 2021

For fun, people nowadays often make and trade jokes about marriage. Some of the recent ones that managed to tickle me are the following:

- I had some words with my wife, and she had some paragraphs with me. (Bill Clinton)

- There’s a way of transferring funds that is even faster than electronic banking. It’s called marriage. (Michael Jordan)

- A good wife always forgives her husband when she’s wrong. (Barack Obama)

- When you are in love, wonders happen. But once you get married, you wonder, what happened. (Steve Jobs)

We obviously should not take these jokes seriously, although many people say that they contain some grain of truth. Well, jokes will always have some grain of truth in them, otherwise they would not be funny. But that’s because whatever grain of truth they have is taken out of context or is not referred to the over-all nature and character of marriage. The grain of truth should therefore be taken with a grain of salt.

We need to see to it that we understand the real nature and purpose of marriage and the means of how to live it properly. For this, we need to go to its creator who is God and not us.

Many of the problems that arise in marriage nowadays precisely spring from the fact the many people nowadays do not anymore refer things to God to know their true nature, purpose and the proper means to use and live them.

People seem to prefer to refer marriage to their own ideas only, to their own consensus, which even in their best condition cannot cope with all the possible scenarios that marriage can occasion. They think that with their own ideas and their own powers alone or with the help of others only, they can make marriage work. With that mindset, it will just be a matter of time before they get disappointed and contradicted.

We need to understand that marriage is, first of all, a creation of God. It is not our own making, our own invention. As such, we need to go to God to understand it properly and to live it as it should be lived.

Marriage is meant for the proper development of humanity according to the designs that God has for mankind. It is meant for man and woman to generate love and to keep that love going not only for themselves, but also for God and for everybody else. In fact, it is meant to reflect the very love of God for mankind, for the Church.

It is meant for the establishment of a family, for the propagation of mankind, for the proper upbringing, education and formation of children, and for the good and welfare of the spouses and society in general.

More importantly, marriage has to be understood as a path of sanctification and apostolate for the persons involved. As such, it will always be involved in the drama of human salvation. There will be light and shadows, successes and defeats, gains and losses, good times and bad times, but in the end, if we do our part by uniting ourselves with Christ, we will also enjoy the victory of Christ. Christ always has the last word.

So, while we can make some fun about marriage, let’s see to it that we fully understand that marriage is no joke. It is a serious business about our relation with God!





Why do we need to be baptized?

January 11, 2021

IF as a human person we already are created in God’s image and likeness, why do we need to be baptized? Isn’t it a redundancy to be baptized since we cannot help but be God’s image and likeness as early as upon our conception in our mother’s womb? Doesn’t the fact that we have intelligence and will, even if still in the stage of potency at the start of our existence, prove that we are already God’s image and likeness? Why do we still need to be baptized?

The answer to these questions may require some thorough explanation. And we can begin by affirming that indeed we have been created in God’s image and likeness. That was what happened when God decided to create man through the creation of our first parents, Adam and Eve. They came to being in the perfect condition of what is known as the state of original justice, where no sin entered into the scene yet. They were created holy.

But we know what happened in Paradise, the place where our first parents were first placed to be tested if what God wants them to be is also what they would want to be. They flunked the test, and thus became alienated from God. They lost that original holiness and everything that went with it—immortality, integrity, impassibility, etc. The original image and likeness of God was damaged and needed to be recreated.

Though having flunked the test and deserving some punishment, they were not completely abandoned by God our creator. Instead, a very complex plan or economy of salvation was launched by God, so to speak, to rescue mankind. This took place when the Son of God became man, started to preach and do many good things, and finally paid for our sins through his passion, death and resurrection.

This time, our continuing creation and testing would need that we be conformed to the God-made-man, the pattern of our humanity and the redeemer of our damaged humanity, Jesus Christ. And this conformity of ours to Christ starts to take place at the sacrament of baptism which was instituted by Christ himself through his own baptism in the River Jordan.

With baptism, we have Christ as the pattern of our salvation, the way, the truth and the life, embedded, so to speak, in our life. That is why we need to be baptized. It is to recover our original dignity as true children of God, his image and likeness, meant to participate in the very life of God.

With Christ, we can receive the supernatural grace that would enable us to attain our ideal state. It would not be enough for us to know God with our intelligence and to love him with our will, without God’s grace through Christ.

We need to clarify and emphasize the importance and necessity of baptism since there is now a trend to downplay this sacrament in our life. But even before that problem came to be, the usual issue is that many people do not realize the implications of the sacrament—that we need to duly correspond to the abiding redemptive action of Christ all throughout our life.

We have to be aware that once baptized we commit ourselves to vitally identify ourselves with Christ, which is going to be a lifelong process!





God never fails us

December 19, 2020

Especially in our dark and difficult moments, which these days are not anymore uncommon, when we feel so miserable that we can think that we have been deserted by God, we need to react immediately and reassure ourselves strongly that God never fails us.

It might be a good idea to rally the power of our faith that tells us that God takes care of everything. There is really nothing to worry even if we are made to suffer, since that suffering, if united to that of Christ, becomes something purifying and redemptive not only to oneself but also to everybody else.

It might be a good idea to come up with the different arguments of our faith to buoy up our drooping spirit that is weighed down by our many challenges in this life. God is a God of mercy and compassion. He will take up all our suffering more than us bearing them ourselves alone.

Precisely God sent the Son to us to save us. And this Son, Jesus Christ, perfected his redemptive work on us by assuming all our sins through his passion and death on the cross. He conquered sin and death and gave us the possibility of eternal life of bliss with God in heaven through his resurrection.

The merits of this redemptive work of Christ are made effective all throughout time through the mechanism of the sacramental economy that is provided by the Church.

Christ himself has told us that while troubles would unavoidably come our way in this life, we should not worry too much because he has overcome whatever troubles we may have. (cfr. Jn 16,33)

And so, let us assume the same thinking and reactions that St. Paul beautifully articulated when we are faced with all sorts of difficulties in life. At one time, he said, “If He (God) who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also, along with him, freely give us all things.” (Rom 8,32)

Earlier, St. Paul said that “in all things, God works for the good of those who love him.” (Rom 8,28) And the Catechism reinforces this kind of reasoning of how good can be derived even from evil by teaching us that:

“…God in his almighty providence can bring a good from the consequences of an evil, even a moral evil, caused by his creatures: ‘It was not you,’ said Joseph to his brothers, ‘who sent me here, but God…You meant evil against me, but God meant it for good, to bring it about that many people should be kept alive.’

“From the greatest moral evil ever committed—the rejection and murder of God’s only Son, caused by the sins of all men – God, by his grace that ‘abounded all the more,’ brought the greatest of good: the glorification of Christ and our redemption.” (CCC 312)

So let us not over-react when troubles come our way by allowing ourselves to fall into lasting anger, bitterness, hatred, sadness, discouragement, etc. Let us just be game and sport about the drama in our life.

It may be helpful to familiarize ourselves with the story of Job who handled the test of his faith very well in the face of the many difficulties and misfortunes he suffered, if only to strengthen our conviction that God never fails us. (Job 1,6-22)



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