“Not a day goes by without reports of police officers overstepping the bounds of the Constitution’
The National Police Commission (NPC) has so far received 752 complaints against the police from October 21, 2015 to date. According to the secretary of the NPC, N. Ariyadasa Cooray, as and when they receive these complaints the NPC calls for a report from the police.
“Currently these reports are being processed, and we are geared to conduct the investigation into these cases. First of all, we have to call for reports from the police, and they may have started preparing these reports already, and I believe that 60 to 70 per cent of the reports are being gathered. We have 9 provincial offices and the complaints received are from the entire island,” he added.
According to Cooray, 60-70 per cent of the cases are complaints about partiality, abuse of power, and police inaction. He said the NPC members had met for a discussion on Friday and were categorising these complaints.
Of over 700 complaints received so far, the latest incidents reported was a youth who had allegedly been killed by police in Embilipitiya.
The following incidents are cautionary tales for anyone who still thinks that they can defy police officers without deadly repercussions, even if it is simply to disagree about a speeding ticket, challenge a search warrant, or defend oneself against an unreasonable or unjust charge. The message they send is that “we, the people”, have very little protection from the police.
There is a saying that ‘to a hammer, everything looks like a nail’. In the scenario that has been playing out in recent years, we the citizenry have become the nails to be hammered by the government’s henchmen, the nation’s law-enforcement agencies.
Not a day goes by without reports of police officers overstepping the bounds of the Constitution and brutalizing, terrorizing, and killing the citizenry. Indeed, the list of incidents in which unaccountable police abuse their power, betray their oaths of office, and leave taxpayers bruised, broken, and/or killed grow longer and more tragic by the day.
As a result, no more do we have a civilian force of peace officers entrusted with serving and protecting the Sri Lankan people. Instead, today’s militarised law-enforcement officials have shifted their allegiance from the citizenry to the State, engaging in pre-emptive acting to ward off any possible challenges to the government’s power. Making matters worse, when these officers – who have long since ceased to be peace officers – violate their oaths by bullying, beating, shooting, and killing innocent people.
Today, among both police officials and rank and file officers, it is widely recognised that police brutality hinders good law enforcement. Nonetheless, even one person, or a small group of persistent people, can make a big difference. Sometimes outmoded and abusive police practices prevail largely because no one has ever questioned them. In such cases, the simple act of spotlighting a problem can have a powerful effect that leads to reform. Just by raising questions, one person or a few people — who need not be experts — can open up some corner of the all-too-secretive and insular world of policing to public scrutiny.
Hence a group of lawyers is ready to file a public interest litigation next week against the police over their continuing violation of basic human rights of the general public.
Lawyer Thushara S. Daskon speaking to The Sunday Leader said that there have been many instances of HR violations by police, although they were tasked with maintaining law and order.
“We will seek an order by the Supreme Court, detailing how the police should act in human rights cases. There are 70 cases that we have cited in this litigation, including the latest Embilipitiya incident,” he said.
Meanwhile expressing his views with regard to the NPC, he said that there was no way that the people will receive justice through it.
“The secretary of the NPC clearly told us that they have no authority to take any action against the police. The NPC has the mandate only to act on police internal matters. So, they have no authority to take action against the police when they commit human rights violations. Therefore, we have no faith in the NPC. Moreover, the NPC has called for reports regarding the police human rights violations from the police itself. This is a ridiculous situation. There is no way that the NPC can be effective under these circumstances.”
When asked what action they propose to take, he said, since they do not believe the NPC can do anything effective, they have no faith in the NPC, they have sought the intervention of the Supreme Court.
“Although we blame the police, even they don’t have proper guidelines on how to deal with certain human rights cases, and therefore a Supreme Court’s order will be the best reference for the future too, in order to prevent such incidents from recurring. This will help the police as well. A case will be filed in the Supreme Court, seeking new criteria on how police should investigate a crime and for implementing the law, in order to prevent public harassment,” he added.
Meanwhile, Attorney-at-law Udul Premaratne told The Sunday Leader that in the case of the Embilipitiya incident, the police media spokesman had stated that once the autopsy report was received, they would consider arresting the perpetrators. This is totally against the law as there are eyewitnesses to what took place that day.”
On the NPC, he said the government now tries to wash their hands of this case by saying that a NPC has been appointed and the police is independent.
“However, the NPC says that they don’t have the power to order to arrest any police officer. The NPC says they too are unclear about the powers vested on them. Then who takes responsibility for these atrocities committed by the police? The ball is being passed from person to person, but in the end no one is taking on the responsibility.
“But the biggest issue I raise is none of them, but of the law is in the hands of the rulers. During the previous regime the law was manipulated by the rulers and this government, although they claim they are not interfering, pretty much does the same, in a more subtle manner. This is the fault of the whole system,” he said.
In the Embilipitiya incident, the NPC has called for a report from the police itself. According to Premaratne, this is a totally hideous state of affairs. “Just imagine in any incident where a case is taken up even in courts, and the police is called to give evidence, will they testify or give evidence against one of their higher-ups? In this incident, the main accused is the ASP and there is no way that the police to give any report or evidence against him. There is no need for any reports as there are eyewitnesses to what happened that day. But the people are afraid to come forward because they are afraid of the repercussions they may have to face.
“The NPC too is nothing more than a ploy to hoodwink the people, and they too will cover up the atrocities committed by the police,” he added.
Meanwhile Inspector General of Police N. K. Illangakoon had been called before the National Police Commission, to discuss issues concerning the Embilipitiya incident, and decide the next step regarding the matter.
In addition, 21 police officers transferred from Embilipitiya following the incident have been summoned to the Sri Lanka Human Rights Commission to obtain statements. The incident relates to the conflict between a group of civilians and police at a party in Embilipitiya on January 4. The conflict led to the death of a 29-year-old Sumith Prasanna Jayewardene, who according to the police, fell from the top floor of the building, where the party was being held in Embilipitiya.
The country has come to a point where instead of meting out justice and maintaining law and order, police officials have resorted to protecting the offending police officers.
When The Sunday Leader contacted the police spokesman ASP Ruwan Gunasekara regarding the NPC, he said, the NPC has the superior power regarding disciplinary measures of the police.
“So when the NPC asks for the report from the IGP, he will submit a full report. It is the right of the public to complain against the police to the NPC and we respect their right. The NPC will also not take any action against the police officers without conducting a proper investigation. The Department of Police too is ready to support the NPC in these investigations,” he said and added that the police will take strict action against the police officers cited in these cases, if they were found guilty.
by Camelia Nathaniel