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‘Stemming the Crime Wave: The Role of Law and Society’

In the backdrop of the ever-rising incidents of murder, assault, rape and other crime in all parts of the world, addressing the crime rate and the prevention of crime have become a prime concern for most societies in the world today.

In Sri Lanka too the occurrence of crimes appalling to the human conscience every now and then has sent wake up calls to the people as well as the law enforcement authorities of the need for tangible measures to combat the crime wave.

Among the causes often cited for the rapid increase in the crime rate are the inadequacy of legal provisions for the effective prosecution of criminals, the inefficiency of the law enforcement authorities and the lack of a comprehensive programme for crime prevention on the part of the authorities.

Provided that a comprehensive legal framework and a committed police service are essential to prevent crime, one cannot also understate the role members of the public could play in addressing the increasing crime rate.

In fact, the Criminal Procedure Code of Sri Lanka contains specific provision imposing an obligation on the general public to be vigilant and provide information regarding the commission of crime to the relevant authorities.

What measures should really be taken to combat the escalating crime rate ? Is it necessary to update our laws and introduce new procedures for the fair and expeditious prosecution suspects ? On the other hand, can the problem be solved by ensuring the efficiency of law enforcement mechanisms ? What is the responsibility of the society and the ordinary masses in bringing the culprits to justice and in the prevention of crime ?

Take sometime to ponder over the above issues as we take up ‘Stemming the Crime Wave: The Role of Law and Society’ on Daily News Debate from this week. Send in your contributions (in 750-1,000 words) to ‘Daily News Debate’, Daily News, Associated Newspapers of Ceylon Limited, PO Box 1217, Colombo, or via e-mail to debate@dailynews.lk before June 30, 2007.

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Society can play a major role in minimising crime

CRIME PREVENTION: The debate seeks to discuss the role of Law and Society in stemming crime. The two aspects are interlinked and reinforce each other. Since the issue discussed is vast and complex, this article will focus on the aspect of society primarily.

It is necessary, at the outset to define society to give justice to the issue discussed. Society should be defined to include our society, society in other countries, and the international community. What happen in society in other countries and at the international level have an impact on our society.

The causes of crime are many and varied. They vary from society to society. Sri Lanka’s situation is made more complicated by the ongoing ethnic conflict. Causes of crime in Sri Lanka could be discussed at both the fundamental and practical levels. Fundamentally, one reason for increase in crimes is the decline and erosion of ethical and religious values.

Social exclusion through lack of opportunity, poverty and various forms of discrimination too leads to crime. Our inability to resolve conflicts amicably and peacefully is another factor.

Causes of crime, at the practical and empirical level, include proliferation of illegal firearms and light arms, increase in underworld activity and increased availability and use of drugs and narcotics.

Firearms procured and used by entities other than the government are illegal. Proliferation of illegal firearms is attributed to procurement of arms by the LTTE, local production of firearms by people and desertions from the army with their firearms.

The LTTE procurement of fire arms is facilitated by the international environment relating to the manufacture and sale of firearms. There is a demand for arms for defence purposes from countries around the world.

This has given rise to manufacture of and trade in fire arms. For some countries it has become a significant source of foreign exchange.

Further in pursuance of their national interest, some countries supply arms to friendly countries to achieve their national objectives. Although there are restrictions on arms sales, procurement of arms by armed groups in various countries is possible through various ways and means.

Much could be done at the society level to minimise the incidence of crimes. There are both long-term and short-term measures. As a long-term measure there is a need to arrest the decline of religious and ethical values in society. Throughout history there have been some principles that govern human growth and happiness.

They are guidelines for human behaviour that are proven to have enduring permanent value. They include fairness, honesty, integrity, humility, fidelity, temperance, human dignity, service courage, justice, patience, industry, simplicity and modesty. They are the foundation for happiness and success.

They are part of every major religion and ethical systems. In recent times the emphasis has shifted somewhat to a new paradigm called “personality ethics”. It is now believed that success could be achieved through personality growth, acquiring certain attitudes, behaviours, skills and techniques.

Human and public relations techniques and positive mental attitude are two aspects of personality ethics. These elements of personality ethics are beneficial and even necessary for success.

But we cannot be truly successful, if our character is flawed and our conduct is not governed by the enduring principles of character ethics. These principles will bring about changes in mind and heart and eventually contribute to minimise crimes.

The government has recognised the need to develop character ethics among the citizens. It has launched and promoted programs in various fields to achieve this objective.

Under the aspect of law the key institutions are the legislature, judiciary, police and the prisons. If the role of these institutions are not effective what could be achieved at the society level would be limited. Prisons for example are responsible for punishment and rehabilitation.

At present there are problems of effectiveness in both these areas. Consequently, the recidivity rate in Sri Lanka seems to be high. If the prisoners are not properly rehabilitated, society will find it difficult to integrate them into its fold.

At the society level there is also a need for change in the attitude of people towards prisoners to achieve successful integration.

Leaving rehabilitation to the prison system alone would not be sufficient. While the emphasis on education and rehabilitation has to be strengthened, mechanisms to report on any misconduct, unethical or illegal behaviour in prisons should be put in place. At the society level independent civilian organisations to oversee education and rehabilitation system appear to be necessary.

In the past two three decades the private sector has developed considerable know how in crime prevention. Private security agencies have emerged throughout the country. They have developed measures for preventing crimes at firms and work places.

The potential for public and private partnerships for crime prevention could be explored. In Sri Lanka many crimes take place between people who know each other. It may be possible to moderate some of the petty disputes and inter personal violence within families by strengthening government social support schemes already in operation and extending their coverage.

Disputes between families in villages and even in cities brew over as period of time. People in the neighbourhood become aware of these conflicts. Village level vigilance committees need to inform village peers, religious leaders and law enforcement authorities before conflicts erupt in violence and crimes.

Peace committees or Samatha Mandalayas have to be proactive to settle these disputes and should not wait till conflicts are referred to them for action.

In some countries firearms held by civilians outnumber those held by security agencies by a factor of six according to studies. The situation in Sri Lanka with regard to small arms and light weapons proliferation is high according to studies.

Action is needed at domestic, country and international level and by the UN to curtail the proliferation of fire arms. In Sri Lanka the problem will be easier to tackle, if a lasting solution to the ethnic problem is found.

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Spread Buddhism’s noble and peaceful message

Economic ills: The steep increase of crime rate in the recent past in our country poses a grave challenge not only to law enforcing authorities but also it has a negative impact on stabilizing democratic tenets which are enshrined in our very constitution.

It is imperative that law enforcing authorities such as judiciary and the police forces are mobilized in full gear to face any threats to human life and property, which if not remedied swiftly and sternly, will have a damning effect on the well-being of our citizenry and good governance.

Therefore the paramount importance of stemming the tide without allowing it to imprint its foot print in our social fabric which would give a carte blanche to lawless elements to have a field day, cannot be underestimated taking into account its probable mind shattering consequences.

Notwithstanding our proud record of being the beneficiaries of an ancient civilisation which was more or less influenced by the precepts of Buddhism, spreading its noble and peaceful message of loving kindness and compassion throughout the country, was eroded significantly after its subjugation to foreign rule very specially to British who too like their predecessors plundered our resources without an iota of conscience.

Furthermore they were instrumental in introducing new values, based on materialism so much so that acquiring of wealth by any means, was considered quite pardonable, specially if the natives were amicable to adept to their way of life.

In this context it is no exaggeration that a small percentage of natives who opted to convert to Christianity, specially with a view to better their condition were able to make headway in their respective professions or trade.

In a Third World country like Sri Lanka in which abject poverty is rampant, the introduction of open economy in 1977 as a panacea for all our problems, gave an impetus to materialism in which puss-button civilization satiating cravings instantly like making instant coffee or instant milk was given a high priority.

Unlike in our ancient agrarian society, in which harmonious relationships were nurtured as a farmers were bound to assist one another at the time of need, the new millennium marked striking changes in which private ownership and personal liberty took a center stage.

In this set-up going-up in social ladder as an individual was given prominence. thus accruing of wealth as a status symbol took precedence over our pristine values. Hence the wealth of a person in a society has had a direct bearing in gauging is value in our social stratification.

It explains why there is an increasing craving for wealth, accruing of which in most instances is done by many unscrupulous people, by not so justifiable but crooked methods.

It is in this set-up there is a tendency for criminal elements to actively involve in their cause, well-knowing that the wealth is worshipped as a demi-god which would give them unlimited power to accelerate their materialistic instincts.

Although it is naive assumption to consider that open economy is the prime culprit for all our social and economic problems as with the introduction of globalisation it has gained a high degree of acceptance throughout the world.

However, ironically the level of poverty in many Third World countries has gone up dramatically, in spite of World Bank and International Monetary Fund predicting otherwise, necessitating a New Economic Order which is more equitable and just addressing the grievances of Third World countries.

In short the expectations of these Third World countries in eradicating the spate of criminal activities such as horrendous murders, rape and robberies from their soil would remain a utopian dream, as far as they do not record a significant degree of development in their respective economies.

In Sri Lankan context, the decades old ethnic strife has a strong impact on criminalisation of our society as we have willingly or unwillingly become immune to atrocities which have become a “non-event” due to their frequency.

This adverse climate is an ideal ground to spawn the seeds of violent confrontation which is manifested in numerous forms threatening demonically our very existence.

The recently phenomenon of kidnapping wealthy business magnates in order to demand ransom money and brutal political killing of civilians can have a negative impact as they are rightly considered as a violation of basic human rights safeguarding of which is entrusted to Law enforcing agencies of these democracies.

Therefore the State which represents the will of the common people is duty bound to maintain Law and Order of the country even under most difficult circumstances.

Any democratically elected government cannot and should not abrogate their cardinal responsibility of safeguarding the basic rights of their citizens without any discrimination such as race, caste or religion, which will go a long way in stabilizing a peaceful and harmonious atmosphere in our trice-blessed country.

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Be on alert and extend full support

TOUGHER LAWS: The time is marching on and the crimes too marching fast steadily, now in our country. It’s a pity and shame, that deadly crimes are on the increase in recent times, than before, and nothing special, or substantial action had been done so far, to erace, or halt these deadly crimes. these days, the crime wave is rapidly increasing in an alarming manner and the people have to live in fear, pain, tension and anxiety.

Daily, the topic of the day in the local media is the deadly crime news occurred somewhere, giving horrid details of several crimes, such as multiple murders, arsons, rapes, child abuses, robberies, gangster riots, cold blooded killings, abductions or kidnapping of somebody innocent and so on.

I do think, that in the first instance, in order to arrest, or contain the crime wave, the state’s responsibility is to enforce, or introduce much tougher laws than today, that we experience and the security of the general public must be established, by the guardians of the law enforcement (Police Force), which must be much strengthened early with proper training and coaching, to face this delicate, vital issue to save the nation !

Secondly, the community or society, should play a very prominent role, to help or assist the police force, in stemming the tide of the deadly crimes. simultaneously, public vigilance is very essential, to prevent any type of terrorism, or crimes, that matters.

For this steady, work-out, there must be the vigilance committees in all areas, (separately) come back to function again as in those days, to help or assist the security forces - (Police, Army, Navy and Air force).

The vigilance committees must care, comfort and guide the people of the areas on this matter. They should co-operate and co-ordinate, with the grama niladaris and the police stations personnel of their respective places, to have good link, friendship and understandings, when and wherever necessary.

Then, finally, the youths and children of the areas too should take part in stemming this worst crime wave. Yes, they should be aware join their parents, guardians and elders in trapping the culprits, for the protection and security reasons, by being alert, or vigilant always.

The parents, teachers and priests (of all religions) of the respective areas, should advise and guide the youths and children in this connection, to arrest the criminals who are unscrupulous elements, or persons.

This a delicate, vital issue, concerning every citizen of this country and it’s our bounden duty. to be on alert, to extend every support in order to wipe out the crimes, that are spreading all over our country. Let us all unite together, to save our nation from this alarming sad situation that we are facing so badly today.

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Gamin Gamata - Presidential Community & Welfare Service
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