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Sri Lanka HRC provides evidence of police complicity in recent anti-Muslim attacks

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Image: In Bandara Koswatte, the mob attacked the main mosque despite Police and Army presence, says HRCSL.

In a letter to Acting Inspector General of Police, the Human Rights Commission of Sri Lanka  has provided evidence of police complicity in the recent anti-Muslim attacks in Sri Lanka and recommended urgent action to be taken .

Same quotes form the letter sent to Actg. IGP by HRCSL.:

“Upon examining the records of the Bingiriya police station, our Commission observed that, while the suspects had been taken in for engaging in communal riots (bailable only in exceptional circumstances by the High Court) they had been released on police bail for mischief, as stated above. Further, we noted that there was no record of transfer of suspects from Bingiriya to Hettipola and back. This very problematic situation is compounded by allegations of political interference.”

“in Bandara Koswatte, the mob attacked the main mosque despite Police and Army presence. In Kottampitiya, the villagers were asked by the police to
move off the main road because of possible attacks, but failed to prevent the mob from attacking the village. On the following day (14m May), we observed a lone police officer coming to Kottampitiya village to record statements.”

“Also, in Kuliyapitiya on 13 May, the police decided to accede to the demands of the mob and released 4 people who had been taken to the station for questioning regarding attacks on four shops in Karanthipola. As soon as they were released, the’y mob attacked all Muslim owned shops in Kuliyapitiya town during the curfew and went on to attack shops all the way to Rambawewa. ”

Recent Communal Violence in the North-Western Province. Chilaw District and Minuwangoda Town.

Mr. Chandana Wickrem aratne
Actg. Inspector General of Police
Police Headquarters
Colombo 01
Dear Sir,

Consequent to communal violence that broke out on 12 and 13 May, 2019 in the above areas, I, as Chairperson of Human Rights Commission of Sri Lanka, and other Commissioners visited the affected areas with a view to ascertaining the human rights situation. During our visits we met with affected villagers, community leaders, police and military personnel.
We wish to bring the following observations to your attention with a view to requesting your  intervention to address problematic issues:

(i) There appeared to be no preventive measures taken although retaliatory violence against the Muslim communities was a distinct possibility after the terror attacks of 27 April. Towns with a Muslim presence and areas where Muslim villages are concentrated can be easily identified. Further, intelligence should have made it possible to identify areas prone to such attacks and in which preparations were afoot to carry out such attacks. There were no roadblocks at entry points to such areas, or a concentrated presence of the police/STF or any of the Tri Forces in the affected areas prior to the attacks. Particularly striking was the absence of preventive measures in Minuwangoda Town in close proximity to the Police Station and military posts. Many villagers reported they had phoned 119, 118 the DIG’s office and the Hettipola, Koswatte, Kuliyapitiya and Nikaweratiya police stations a few hours prior to the incident seeking protection, despite which no preventive measures were taken.

(ii) Attacks on certain villages had gone on for several hours, e.g., villages destroyed in Hettipola, and they had not had the benefit of police/STF or Tri Forces intervention to stop the attacks. The mobs appear to have had a free hand to engage in the destruction of the Mosques in Hettipola, Wattakali, Thummodara, Maikulam, Bandara Koswatte, Kotampitiya, Minuwangoda, Nikaweratiya and and also homes, vehicles and other property of villagers in the aforementioned villages as well as in Kottaramulla.

(iii) On the other hand, in Bandara Koswatte, the mob attacked the main mosque despite Police and Army presence. In Kottampitiya, the villagers were asked by the police to
move off the main road because of possible attacks, but failed to prevent the mob from attacking the village. On the following day (14m May), we observed a lone police officer coming to Kottampitiya village to record statements.

You will recognizethat that is a very unacceptable situation, to say the least, whereby vulnerable civilians had to fend for themselves.  We also observed that the violence in the areas we visited could not be handled only by the local police station. However, reinforcement by calling for extra police/STF or Tri Forces presence in the affected areas had taken place very late, paving the way for mobs to go on a rampage causing severe damage to property and livelihoods while the villagers had fled in fear to save their lives. Further, we have received many complaints to the effect that the police officers stood by as mobs congregated in certain areas even during curfew hours, such as on Kottaramulla main road,
Kuliyapitiya and Minuwangoda.

As we know, causing incitement to racial and religious violence is prohibited by the ICCPR Act No.56 af 2OO7 (Section 3) and bail to suspects can be granted only by the High Court, that also in exceptional circumstances (Section 3 (4) Howevet, we have learnt from eye witress accounts that when suspected persons were arrested, crowds gathered outside the police station demanding release of such persons. The police has the authority to disperse such crowds when they are obstructing its officers from performing their legal duties. On the contrary, what we observed at the Bingiriya Police Station was that the suspects had been moved to the Hettipola Police Station owing to a crowd demanding their release, and then retransferred back to the Bingiriya Police Station at which the suspects were released on police bail for mischief.

Upon examining the records of the Bingiriya police station, our Commission observed that, while the suspects had been taken in for engaging in communal riots (bailable only in exceptional circumstances by the High Court) they had been released on police bail for mischief, as stated above. Further, we noted that there was no record of transfer of suspects from Bingiriya to Hettipola and back. This very problematic situation is compounded by allegations of political interference.

Also, in Kuliyapitiya on 13 May, the police decided to accede to the demands of the mob and released 4 people who had been taken to the station for questioning regarding attacks on four shops in Karanthipola. As soon as they were released, the  mob attacked all Muslim owned shops in Kuliyapitiya town during the curfew and went on to attack shops all the way to Rambawewa. Also, the Koswatte Police had released four persons on 15 May who had been arrested in relation to the attack in Kottaramulla. The OIC Reported that he had done so due to orders from the Actg.IGP.

Given the above unsatisfactory situations we observed, which clearly prevented equal protection of the law to affected citizens and also to the public at large (by subverting the law taking its proper course), we recommend that you take immediate corrective action.

Our Commission is fully aware of the huge responsibility the Police Department shoulders at the moment in having to conduct investigations into the tenor attack on 2l April’ Now with communal violence breaking out in above areas, your responsibilities are so much greater.

Hence, our Commission, by way of recommendations, highlights the need to:

  • Take heed of early warning signs, including complaints and appeals by residents, and take preventive action when there is even the slightest hint of communal unrest. This includes providing reinforcement to those areas early,cnot after the event,
  • Urgently provide crowd control training and necessary equipment such as tear gas canisters, rubber bullets and water cannons in a manner that is easily
    accessible to provincial police stations;
  • Instruct OICs of the need to strictly enforce Section 3 of the ICCPR Act, No.56 of 2007, in relation to those who are inciting communal violence;
  • and Ensure that no undue political or other extemal interventions are tolerated, and that strict legal action be taken against those who obstruct police officers from performing
    their duties.

Human Rights Commission of Sri Lanka
Dr. N. D. Udagama
Chairperson
Human Rights Commission of Sri Lanka

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