|Tuesday, 1 July 2003|
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Curbing crime sensitively
While there is likely to be broad agreement in the country on the need for the current crackdown on crime, the question has been raised in some quarters whether we are back in the "barriers and checkpoints" era when civil liberties suffered curtailment on account of the imposition of stringent security measures necessitated by war. To be sure, intense checking of civilians at security barriers and checkpoints bespoke some of the nightmarish consequences of war, prior to the launching of the current peace process by the Government.
Fortunately for the public, the current security checks are conducted with some deftness and are not as stifling as those which were imposed in the years immediately prior to the launching of the current peace process, when "peace through war" was the favoured strategy. In those years, the barriers and security checkpoints in areas which were even as distant from the theatre of war as Colombo, only helped in perpetuating among the public a siege mentality. We could only hope that this would not be our lot once again.
While reducing crime and bringing criminal elements to heel should be the aim of the State, utmost care and caution should be exercised while carrying out these operations in population centres of particularly a multi-ethnic nature.
The security personnel carrying out these checks need to ensure that the sensitivities of the public are respected at all times. Situations which could be given a communal colouring should be avoided, for these create a sense of grievance among some communities. We are by no means strangers to these situations because in times past many members of minority communities complained of harassment at security check points and road barriers. Hopefully there wouldn't be reason for such complaints on this occasion which is witnessing the enforcement of less obtrusive security measures.
However, events the like of which reportedly occurred at a resort hotel in Digana, a few days back, would need to be prevented to ensure that developments with a communal slant are avoided. We don't see any reason why any fora which are attended by members of the minority communities should be broken into, as long as the events are conducted with a lawful intent. Nor are establishments banned from employing members of the minority communities. Why should the mere presence of members of the Tamil community at a gathering give rise to suspicion, we wonder, if the business being conducted is perfectly lawful?
At this juncture there is understandable anxiety among some law enforcers, given the nature of some of the security threats we are faced with.
However, extreme reactions to sensitive situations need to be avoided at all costs. One of the most effective paths to communal harmony is the observance of human rights.
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