“Throw a spanner in the works”

download“Throw a spanner in the works” is to do something that prevents a plan or activity from succeeding. In Sri Lanka, the Joint Opposition (JO) made-up of key players of the previous regime is building a wall of defense to protect individuals responsible for fraud, racketeering, embezzlement and various malpractices. The one that impacted the people most was the enforced disappearance, rampant during the past regime, deployed to eliminate different layers of leadership to weaken their political resolve for a political fairness and justice and to spread terror among people. While investigations are progressing to take legal action, the proposed rally by the JO is throwing spanner in the works to disturb the actions against them and to stall the legal actions.

Throughout the post-independence era the UNP and the SLFP had ruled the country in turns and both of them had failed to fulfill popular aspirations. Between the years 1971 to 2009, Sri Lanka had two Southern insurgencies and a Northern uprising that led to a bloody civil war, when the security forces resorting to widespread extrajudicial executions and disappearances in confronting armed opposition. During this long period reprisal killings were committed openly by men in uniform and in a country where disappearances were almost unknown to the people; Sinhalese and Tamils both took the full brunt of enforced disappearance strategy of successive governments used as a counter insurgency tool to eliminate opponents targeting those perceived as critical of the government, supportive of the opposition movements or involved in armed conflict, which directly affected tens of thousands of individuals, their families and entire communities.

A 1999 study by the United Nations found that Sri Lanka had the second highest number of disappearances in the world and that 12,000 Sri Lankans had disappeared after being detained by the Sri Lankan security forces. A few years earlier the Sri Lankan government had estimated that 17,000 people had disappeared. By 2003 the Red Cross had received 20,000 complaints of disappearances during the Civil War of which 9,000 had been resolved but the remaining 11,000 were still being investigated. More enforced disappearances took place during the past regime from 2004 when the battle was on full steam to 2009 and beyond during the negative peace years to 2014, in almost all the cases the blame was directed to the different armed units of the state. But because they never identified themselves at the time incident occured and as little evidence was left behind it was impossible to link the state officials to the abduction and subsequent torture or killing. It is said the arrests carried out were consistent and had a pattern, where men in plainclothes with their faces covered would arrive in white vans without license plates. Almost always there was no witness to the act thus presenting a difficult problem of proof; even when there are witnesses who knew the identity of the perpetrators, are reluctant to come forward for fear of reprisals.

Most cases of enforced disappearance had occurred in Jaffna, Mannar and Vavuniya districts in the Northern Province, that were all under strict military control and the second most affected region was the Eastern Province and further cases were reported in Colombo, but most of these victims originated from North and East Provinces. In addition to these abductions there were tens of thousands of individuals who surrendered themselves to the security forces after the war ended and at the request of the State hundreds of youths were handed over by family members for rehabilitation to the security forces. When the New Coalition Government took power in 2015 this was one of the key grievances of the Tamil people, well notified by TNA that needed resolution. But it is an uphill task for the government with all evidence suppressed by authorities that supported the previous regime and with the UN resolutions requesting investigations on war crimes still unresolved. The government was more on a defensive mode and any actions taken to resolve this problem was testing the patience of the grieved people. In the meantime the Joint Opposition has capitalized on the delay, “thrown a spanner in the works” with the proposed rally to confuse the people in the country and destabilize the government in the parliament.

Latest episode stemming from the terror acts of the past regime was the fast-unto death campaign by few elderly women in Vavuniya; demanding immediate answers from the State on the whereabouts of their kith and kin, who were subjected to enforced disappearances during the onslaught by the tri-forces that led to the silencing the Tamil resistance in 2009 and during negative peace years to 2014. They were joined by many other civil groups and strike was set to spread to other areas, was finally called off after a state minister met them and gave written assurance to take up their demands to the government leadership with a view to resolve the matter. The Joint Opposition will however continue to “throw more spanners in the works” to destabilize the government and confuse the people; it will only stop the day the people pick and support the actions of hard to come by true leaders in Sri Lanka.