Sri Lanka’s Human Rights Commission, during the past six months, has recorded 170 torture complaints against government authorities, which included a majority of complaints against the Department of Police.
Human Rights Commissioner Dr. Prathbha Mahanamahewa told Ceylon Today out of the 170 complaints, 125 complaints have been made against the police.
“Up to 20 June 2012 there are 170 torture complaints, received by the Human Rights Commission. While a majority has been against the police, the rest of the complaints are against the armed forces, government officers, additional secretaries and other public officers. We, however, cannot say if these are true or false until the investigations are completed,” he said.
However, in comparison with last year’s complaints, there is a marked reduction in the number of complaints that have been received by the Human Rights Commission. The reason, perhaps, is that many awareness programmes have been conducted throughout the country. During the war period however, there were very serious complaints of torture cases, however, the complaints received recently are mainly of verbal abuse and minor torture cases.
In the case of the police, they try to obtain evidence in order to file and support cases. Therefore, when they question a suspect, for instance to recover a weapon or any robbery or criminal action, when the suspects refuse to divulge information, they tend to use force to obtain a confession.
However, we investigate these cases and only forward recommendations, as we cannot pass judgment, as we are not a court.
Dr. Mahanamahewa further said, it is important to forge cordial relations between the police and the general public in order to minimize the rift and create a sense of trust between them. For instance, when an accident occurs where there are hundreds of bystanders, they are reluctant to give evidence due to the hassles they will have to face. Therefore, it is important for us to actually change the whole legal system.
Police Media Spokesperson SP Ajith Rohana said police officials are always instructed not to use violence and torture when conducting investigations.
However, he noted, the police can use their power to subdue those who resist the police orders and to disperse those who engage in activities that threaten the public lives and properties, such as unlawful protests and gatherings.
Rohana observed, however, all these complaints do not constitute torture and cruelty.
Ceylon Today spoke to the Military Spokesperson Brigadier Ruwan Wanigasuriya regarding the allegations against the army on torture that stress the SL Army adopts a zero tolerance policy on torture. “There is no torture used as a means in any investigation, in case of allegations against any member of the army, immediate and appropriate disciplinary action will be taken, against those found guilty.
The army does not use torture as a means of obtaining information in investigations. Our policy is very clear, and it is zero tolerance on torture. Even a case of assault is taken very seriously, and action taken if the accused is found guilty. If there are allegations, the army will investigate and take action in accordance with the legal procedures governing the army.
Recently however, there have been two complaints made to the Human Rights Commission by two army soldiers against the Military Police, where they have alleged, they were subject to a certain degree of torture. On these two counts the army has appointed two courts of inquiry and investigations are in progress. The perpetrators will certainly be taken to task once the investigations are completed,” he added.
The spokesperson reiterated, these two cases are not made by the public against the army, but by two soldiers against the Military Police.
By Camelia Nathaniel