Sinhala  Tamil    Seperate    
Governtment of Sri Lanka

Relations with the Police in the North

( Created date: 08-Nov-2012 )

I was deeply impressed, at the last round of Divisional Secretariat Reconciliation Committee meetings held in Mullaitivu, Kilinochchi and Mannar, at the progress made by the police in developing relationships with local communities. The instructions issued by the Inspector General of Police, that all stations should assign one or more policemen to each Grama Niladhari Division, seemed to have been admirably fulfilled, and it was good to note that most Grama Niladharis knew immediately the name of the officer assigned to work with them.
In the few cases where this was not the case, I detected some deficiencies in the GNs themselves, for which I do not blame them, given that we should train them much better. They are the first interface between government and people, and they deserve more than the old-fashioned diary they receive as their official intimation from government of their duties. Though the UNDP has developed a very useful Handbook, clearly it would make sense to set up a formal training programme to help them fulfil expectations.
Meanwhile I hope the Police can take the lead in institutionalizing consultation mechanisms, at least with regard to the wide range of responsibilities with which they are associated. In particular I hope they will contribute to the Women and Children’s Units that that Ministry has planned for every Divisional Secretariat, and assist with the coordination that is required of all government officials involved in social support.
In this regard, I was touched by the concern for school dropouts of the Catholic priest who looks after the Thunukai Divisions. He understood the need for counseling as well as remedial action, and I hope that he will, along with other religious leaders, support the probation officers and the police to set up counseling programmes to help parents as well as children. Since dropping out of school is often the result of economic deprivation, it would make sense also to target vulnerable families with economic support. Interventions by the state need to take account of the interdependency of needs, and for this information is vital. That can only be supplied at Grama Niladhari level, though collation and support should be planned at the next level up, namely the Divisional Secretariat, which has officials in the relevant areas.
That however is only in theory, which is what makes the involvement of the police as well as religious leaders so important. The number of vacancies with regard to what seem to me essential positions nationwide, but particularly in the North, is shocking. Instead of indulging in blanket graduate employment programmes, government should plan more coherently and employ well trained personnel to support the vulnerable, Women and Children and the Elderly and the Disabled. Probation Officers and Counsellors are essential, but they are in short supply, and I see no sense of urgency about filling vacancies. Indeed it was only senior police personnel in the Mullaitivu District who seemed to understand the need, and had begun a programme of training Counsellors with the German Aid Agency, though I have not heard further details of that initiative after I was first told about the idea some months back.
With regard to the police, I found that new personnel seemed to have been dealing effectively with problems that had caused dissatisfaction earlier. Puthukudiyirippu had been a worry a few months back, but the IGP seems to have taken action, and interactions seemed to be better when I was last there a couple of months back. This time round the same was true of Kandaveli, though given the range of problems that were discussed, including illicit alcohol and cattle slaughter, it would be desirable for the police to keep the public informed of all action taken, and court cases that have led to convictions. 
Given the general feeling that the police can be influenced by criminals, it was good to hear of the number of cases brought to trial – though I should note that the punishments were seen, by the police as well as the public, as insufficient for deterrence in some instances. That is however a matter of the legal position and the discretion of magistrates, but what is important is for the police to publicize action so that the public knows that information they provide is acted upon promptly.   
In Mannar certainly, where I had found a dedicated Women and Children’s Desk on my last visit, coordination had led to resolution of what had been a big problem previously, namely the illicit sexual activities around the bus stand. With support from the community, the police had introduced patrolling that had much reduced the problem, as was generally acknowledged.
Thanks were also extended with regard to control of incursions into religious areas. I have noted previously that attempts to criticize the forces in this regard are both inaccurate and counter-productive, since they have been the strongest champions of the rule of law. Their support for the legal owners of land within the Thiruketheeswaran precincts led to the rescinding of a ruling, by civilian authorities without actual knowledge of the situation. I hope they will also be able to enforce the proper legal position, through police action, with regard to an encroachment at Murunkan, which had also caused a lot of heartburn in the area. 
The only area in fact in which I found worries about the activities of the forces was with regard to navy bases in Mannar. I pointed out in discussion that there are three vital principals to be respected in such situations, viz 
  • The State has the right to acquire land for national purposes
  • The State has an obligation to make such acquisitions as small as possible; ie, while national needs must be fulfilled, private lands will not be acquired unless essential.
  • The State has an obligation to provide fair compensation when land is acquired.
This found ready acceptance, but uncertainties about what will happen can cause resentment. That is why, as is happening elsewhere in the Wanni, government must decide what it needs, and act swiftly in accordance with the law to ensure that people can get on with their lives without deprivation. 


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