The Law of Legitimacy

Photo by VanveenJF on Unsplash

Prabhakaran, they say, was captured in Mullaitivu during the last days of the war along with his family, tortured, and killed.

Of course, there is no proof about this. Any evidence is circumstantial. What proof exists - if it exists - is probably locked away in some vault.

But the circumstantial evidence is rather strong. I heard the news of his capture on the 15th of may 2009. The news came from two totally disparate sources. One from a friend who said a cousin in the army sent the news, the other from a 15 year old girl who claimed her uncle was in the flight that brought him to Colombo. This was the day before The Beast claimed at the G11 summit in Jordan that I will be going back to a country that has been totally freed from the barbaric acts of the LTTE.

US Embassy cables released by WikiLeaks say that the LTTE tried to surrender but were refused by Gotabhaya.

I was told later by trusted friends who were told by highly-placed trusted friends (yes, hearsay. yes, totally inadmissible in a court of law) that Prabhakaran and his family were tortured before they were killed. But by then it seemed everyone knew.

Probably some of these tales were just revenge fantasies. But knowing the way that humans operate, and knowing that governments are made of humans, some of these tales are quite plausible.

You are welcome to disbelieve me of course. But with the way things are, I think we can accept that the capture and killing of Prabhakaran - like that of Rohana Wijeweera - happened at the hands of the Government.

But capturing and killing Prabhakaran, without bringing him before a court, was an affront to the people of Sri Lanka.

Because an extra-judicial killing, even of someone as hated as Prabhakaran, makes a travesty of the Justice system.

It is the Justice system that stands between society and mob rule. It is the Justice system that makes the execution of Saddam Hussein - a travesty as it was - legal. That is what makes the killings of Osama bin Laden and Muammar Gaddafi wrong. That is what makes the killing of Prabhakaran wrong.

The Court may be biased and the verdict a foregone conclusion. But the forms must be followed. And seen to be followed.

Because that which we call civilisation is but a thin veneer on barbarism and chaos. And the glue that holds civilisation together is The Law. If the Law is seen to be ineffective, or unfair, then Civilisation crumbles. A few policemen can control a riot not because they are better armed, but because there is an in-built - or better yet, programmed - fear and respect for the Law. And a certain fear of chaos and barbarism.

And it is this Law that legitimises a Government.

The Commissioner of Elections may declare a candidate a winner, but the person who declares him President is the Chief Justice. While a King may be legitimised by a Pope or some form of religious leader, it is the jead of the Judicial branch that legitimises a democratically elected (even if only nominally) candidate.

When a Government consistently, and publicly acts in a manner that shows that it has no respect for the law, then it undermines the very thing that makes it legitimate. The only thing that differentiates it from a power-hungry despot, holding on through fear and force of arms.

And Sri Lanka is still - at least nominally - a democracy.

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