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Friday, October 15, 2021

The Intl. Day of Support for Victims of Torture: “Let us join hands & strengthen the struggle against all forms of torture..” – CPRP, Sri Lanka

The International Day of Support for Victims of Torture should not be just another commemorative Day

It is with great sadness that we observe increasing reports of torture, cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment and punishment in Sri Lanka and the rest of the world. For a long time, those holding political power have violated humanitarian principles to hold onto power. Using torture to further personal needs is also common amongst non-State parties, particularly in a context of increasing socio-economic inequalities.

Prisons are expected to be places for correction and rehabilitation, but they have turned out to be havens for torture, cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment and punishment for inmates.

In a civilized society, continued torture by the State will lead to the destruction of the foundations of the State. Torture creates a society where people are physically and mentally insecure. Remedial mechanisms for survivors and victims’ families to seek redress have been inadequate and ineffective in recent times. This has further encouraged perpetrators of torture. Legal provisions that encourage and facilitate impunity have also eroded possibilities for justice.

Based on reports reaching us from prison inmates, the frequency and intensity of mental torture is also on the increase. There is no mechanism to deal with such violations.

Prisons are expected to be places for correction and rehabilitation, but they have turned out to be havens for torture, cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment and punishment for inmates. It is to be noted that most prison inmates are suspects who are presumed to be innocent, and many are those who have been routinely refused bail or are unable to post bail. Many of those convicted are those who are unable to pay fines and given prison sentences when alternative correctional measures are available. Most prison inmates are the economically and socially marginalized. Last year, at least 16 prison inmates have been killed by State officials in 4 prisons in 5 incidents, including one in which 11 were massacred. No one has been arrested to date. No one has been convicted for the 2012 Welikada Prison massacre where 27 inmates were killed by State officials and the two accused parties have been reinstated with fresh appointments even as the case against them continues.

For example, Tiron Malcolm has been detained under PTA at the Negombo Remand Prison for about 15 years, and may have already been in detention beyond a sentence he may get even if he is convicted.

At least 12 suicides have been reported from within prisons last year. Despite being cut off from the rest of the society, thousands of prison inmates have been afflicted by Covid-19 and this is likely to be due to factors such as massive overcrowding in prisons, the lack of healthcare, not following health guidelines and the lack of nutritious food. Based on reports reaching us from prison inmates, the frequency and intensity of mental torture is also on the increase. There is no mechanism to deal with such violations.

There are also a large number of prison inmates who have been detained under the Prevention of Terrorism (Temporary Provisions) Act, No. 48 of 1979 (PTA), many of whom are still suspects. For example, Tiron Malcolm has been detained at the Negombo Remand Prison for about 15 years, and may have already been in detention beyond a sentence he may get even if he is convicted. A Muslim youth, whose poetry has been very critical of Islamic extremism and has promoted non-violence even in times of adversity, has been detained under the PTA for more than 400 days without charges and subjected to cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment and punishment, denied due process including visits by family and meaningful access to legal counsel.

It is not clear as to how and why Duminda Silva was singled out for a pardon after serving just about five years, when there are many others sentenced to death, and others serving life sentences and long sentences, who have been imprisoned for decades, and are elderly and sick.

We are concerned as to whether the recent Presidential pardon given to former Parliamentarian Duminda Silva was based on political considerations without fulfilling the Constitutional provisions. It is not clear as to how and why he was singled out for a pardon after serving just about five years, when there are many others sentenced to death, and others serving life sentences and long sentences, who have been imprisoned for decades, and are elderly and sick. We note that the pardon had led to protests by prison inmates who feel that they have been unjustly ignored.

It has also come to our notice that many of the 16 Tamil political prisoners (those convicted for crimes under the PTA) who were recently pardoned are those who were sentenced for a few years and were due to complete their sentences in a few weeks or months, while others who are serving longer sentences appear not to have been considered for pardons. In principle, we welcome the Presidential pardon for deserving prisoners, but stress that these must be done in a transparent manner, following the relevant procedures and making clear the process and criteria used in identifying prisoners to be released. We also urge the use of other measures for prison releases, such as home leave, release on license, the granting of bail to as many as possible, and measures to release those who are detained due to their inability to pay fines and post bail, etc.

Rather than marking yet another commemorative Day, what is needed today is to join hands and strengthen the struggle against all forms of torture, cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment and punishment.

This month and last month, within a period of 30 days, there were 4 persons who had died in Police custody, and two Police officers have also been implicated in the death of another person. Prior appeals were made in relation to the imminent danger to the first two of them before their death, but no actions were taken to prevent their deaths. The only actions that appear to have been taken in relation to these deaths are to suspend some of the junior Police officers involved. There have been numerous other incidents of torture at the hands of the Police and the military in recent times, including in implementing Covid-19 measures.

The professionalism of the Police, the main investigative arm of the State, has been on a steady decline and is a major reason for continuous torture and deaths in custody. There is an unwillingness and inability to deal with the numerous complaints made by the public, especially from those who are socially and economically marginalized. But the use of the Police by politicians in successive Governments continues to date. Present rulers have removed even the minimal Constitutional measures to ensure the independence of the Police.

Rather than marking yet another commemorative Day, what is needed today is to join hands and strengthen the struggle against all forms of torture, cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment and punishment.

Senaka Perera, Attorney-at-Law
Chairman, Committee for Protecting Rights of Prisoners

26th June 2021

 

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