“I apologize to this mother. I urge forgiveness from all victims who faced attacks and violence that day. Citizen activist Brito Fernando said emotionally. He is a citizen, a human rights activist, and a social activist. Brito Fernando shared his shocking experience at a memorial event for the brutal nature of the Roshen Chanaka assassination ten years ago and the suppression of the trade union struggle. Roshen Chanaka’s mother was also present at the event which was held as an online program.
From the beginning of 2011, the labor movement in Sri Lanka took a heated turn due to a new law to be introduced by the then government to usurp labor rights. The sources said that the destination of a program launched to claim a pension for all private-sector employees, including the Free Trade Zone, was the misuse of their provident fund.
Protests erupted from all quarters against the government’s move, mainly led by workers in the Katunayake and suburban free trade zones. On May 30, 2011, Katunayake was filled by the street workers, led by a mass mobilization of about 30,000 trade unions and civil society organizations. Their only request was to refrain from plundering their provident savings under the guise of a pension they did not claim. This peaceful and unarmed protest movement began to heat up with the government sending armed police and security forces to control it. There was a minor clash and the police and the thugs of the local politicians who came there inhumanely attacked the unarmed workers. There was a shooting and Roshen Chanaka shot at the same time. “On the evening of the 30th we received a call that our son had been shot. At around 7 pm we went to Ragama Hospital to see our son. 31 said the child had to have his leg amputated. We agreed with it. On the 1st we received a message that our son had died.”
Roshen’s mother recalls the incident. According to her, a few days after the incident, the president summoned them and promised to pay compensation to all the victims, including Roshen, and to bring justice through a judicial process. Two cases were filed according to the incident and one case ended unjustly at the time. The case filed by the Attorney General’s Department based on the CID’s case is still pending. Of particular note is the one-man commission appointed by the President to investigate the incident. Former judge Mahanama Tilakaratne was the only member of the commission and the recommendations contained in his report have not yet been implemented. It is also a separate struggle to get the Mahanama Tilakaratne report, which ended 68 months of protests, for justice to be done for Roshen. The request made by Chamila Thushari and Roshen’s mother of the Da Bindu collective under the Freedom of Information Act was rejected on the ground that it was a threat to national security and was later obtained with the intervention of the Information Commission.
“It is unfortunate that politicians are taking advantage of this assassination and the violence that took place at that time,” said Fr. Sarath Iddamalgoda, a social activist. “When the previous government came to power it promised to look into these matters. But during its five years in power, no significant steps were taken to bring about justice. The struggles that took place then are very important. Because it protected the rights of thousands of workers. But this society did not do justice to it,” he said.
“It has been ten years since my son was killed. The issue was not compensation but justice was not done for that murder. As a mother, I have that pain. Justice was not done to any of the children who were beaten then. Some lost their jobs,” said Roshen’s mother.
A number of trade unions and civil society organizations advocating for trade union rights in the free trade zone joined the commemoration. Speaking at the event, Chamila Thushari of the Da Bindu Collective said that this incident, which took place ten years ago, was a dark day in the history of the trade union struggle in Sri Lanka. “Not only had the police but also the thugs of the politicians taken part in attacking the workers. They also brutally beat women. I remember a two-month pregnant woman being kicked in her abdomen by the police. She lost her unborn child. After that, she could never have children. Her husband later abandoned her because she had no children. Many such stories happened then. They did not do justice to anyone. ”
The discussion was attended by a number of organizations, including the Commercial and Industrial Workers ‘Union, the Left Voice, Red, Textiles, Garment, Finished goods and Industrial Workers’ Union, Shramabhimani Kendra, Stand-Up Movement, Liberation Movement. They all vowed to continue this struggle for justice.