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Friday, June 14, 2024

Sri Lanka police torture, lawlessness entrenched: rights body

 Use of torture by police in Sri Lanka is “endemic” and lawlessness has gradually superseded rule of law in the island partly due a flawed constitution, a rights body which has publicized hundreds of such cases for over a decade, has said.
“The most notable finding of this report is that almost all of the victims whose cases were summarized were randomly selected by the police to be arrested and detained for a fabricated charge,” Hong Kong based Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) has said. “Perhaps the most shocking aspect of the criminal justice system in Sri Lanka is the overwhelmingly large number of charges which are fabricated by the police on a daily basis.
“Torture is used to obtain a confession for these fabricated charges.”
Ruler Interference
The AHRC says the use of force against suspects comes from the time of colonial rule but now it has spread higher up the ranks and politicians are directly interfering in police action systematically.
The AHRC says a constitution enacted in 1978 which paralyzed most public institutions and helped usher in arbitrary rule, has had an “extremely negative effect on the policing system.”
“This constitution led to the politicization of the police by politicians – particularly the President and the Minister of Defense, as well as powerful members of the ruling party — who began to control the actions of the police,” AHRC said. “Since professional etiquette had to be flouted in order to meet the needs of these politicians, investigations were not carried out according to the rule of law.
“Politicians would demand for certain citizens to be arrested or released for reasons of social gain or political expedience.
“Police officers have repeatedly said that to deny requests from high-ranking state officials would result in demotions, transfers or even the loss of their jobs.”
The AHRC says police use torture when they cannot resolve complaints through competent criminal justice enquiries.
“The inaction of the police leads to a rise in public pressure which the police counter by randomly selecting people, usually from those of less privileged socio-economic statuses, as perpetrators of these crimes,” the report said.
“These unsuspecting people rightly deny their involvement in the crime in question, and torture is used to force them to sign confessions written by police officers.”
AHRC says the case of Gerald Perera, a harbhour worker with three children, from a town north of Colombo illustrates the problem faced by citizens. Police had apparently arrested him because of information that a man named Gerald had information about a triple murder.
“He was arrested and taken to the police station without any information as to why he was being arrested,” AHRC said.
“He was then hung from ceiling beams and beaten with iron rods as police officers demanded information about the murders.
“These facts were established in the Supreme Court. The court found that there was no reason for arrest and, even if there had been reason, Mr. Perera should have been released upon the police learning of his whereabouts on the night of the murder.”
Perera suffered renal failure and was unconscious in the hospital for over two weeks. Three years later there was a criminal investigation and Supreme Court found police officers who handled the case to be guilty of torture, AHRC said.
But Perera had been killed before he could testify.
Deep Collapse
AHRC says it has issued a report made up of 323 cases of police torture. From 1998, it has highlighted over 1,500 cases where citizens were victimized by authorities.
“The fissures within the institution of the police are symptomatic of a deeper collapse of the rule of law in Sri Lanka,” AHRC said.
“The 1978 Constitution paralyzed public institutions.”
Though a 17th amendment sought to re-establish public institutions in some way an 18th amendment had nullified it.
Liberty and freedom comes with rule of law, where laws that discriminate between different groups of citizens are not enacted and existing laws are applied evenly on everyone.
Some analysts have claimed that the status of the ordinary Sri Lankan had been reduced to ‘zero’, with selective implementation of law (laws being applied to people who earn the displeasure of people in authority only) becoming routine.
“As a result, there is no working rule of law system in Sri Lanka. In the absence of such a system, the state must rely on extralegal methods to control crime and other forms of civil unrest,” AHRC observes.
“Numerous problems then arise because it is not possible to control extralegal methods through legal means.
“Those who adopt ad hoc mechanisms to deal with civil unrest cannot be expected to act according to the rule of law.
“It is this difficulty that makes it almost impossible for Sri Lankan society to effectively counter police torture, extrajudicial killings, disappearances and corruption.
“When all effective mechanisms are extralegal, and there is no legal mechanism that functions effectively, the rules by which society operates lack structure and order.”


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