The revival of a people-friendly, efficient, honest and independent Police Service is widely seen as an important dimension of the national government’s mission to rebuild a just society with interracial and inter-religious unity in diversity.
Towards this goal, an important step was taken yesterday when the Law and Order Minister Sagala Ratnayake and the independent National Police Commission officially launched a revised code of ethics for the Police Service. According to the NPC, the new three-page code was worked out to help the police service improve its rapport and cooperation with the people.
The code comes in the aftermath of a degeneration during the past few decades and especially during the former regime’s last five years when the Police Department or stations were considered by most people as being virtual branches of the ruling party or parties. Ordinary self-respecting people even when they were victims of crimes and injustice were reluctant to go to a police station because they were aware that little or nothing could be done without a bribe or influence while the level of courtesy was a manifestation of the rat race in society.
An NPC official says the goal and vision of the Police Service is not only to maintain law and order but to meet the aspirations of all the people especially the poor who do not have wealth or power.
We also agree and emphasize that police personnel -- from the Inspector General and the DIGs to constables and reservists -- need to be aware that their salaries and allowances are paid from public money and therefore they should be polite and act efficiently in the highest interest of the people.
Unfortunately what we have seen most of the time in the past was police personnel being in the hands or pay of ruling politicians or powerful business interests. Another horrific feature was the level of the sometimes brutal or sadistic torture which in some areas is known to be continuing even under the Yahapalanaya government.
This year on June 30, President Maithripala Sirisena joined a public march organized by the Human Rights Commission of Sri Lanka (HRCSL). This was to mark the launching of its Anti-Torture Campaign to stop torture, especially of suspects in police custody. HRCSL Chairperson Deepika Udagama has said complaints regarding torture, especially in police custody have increased even seven years after the war ended. According to Dr. Udugama, 413 complaints regarding torture in police and other state security institutions have been received last year by the HRCSL and 53 up to June this year. She says police are using torture as a tool to elicit information from suspects but it is not effective in crime prevention. According to statistics, the conviction rate remains as low as 5 per cent and there is no evidence that the crime rate could be reduced through torture. The HRCSL chairperson has suggested that the police need to be educated on alternative methods to obtain information. Juan E. Méndez, the United Nations Special Rapporteur on torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment made an official visit to Sri Lanka in May this year. He also says the practice of torture during investigations and interrogations is still reported in Sri Lanka although the number of torture-related incidents has gone down when compared to the peak of the war. We hope yesterday’s launching of the new code for the police will end torture, bribery and other vices in police stations and mark a new chapter in our history.
All police personnel will be called upon to read aloud the Code of Ethics and ratify it by placing their signatures on it. Thereafter the code will be included in training courses for police personnel. Even when receiving promotions, it will be mandatory for police personnel to read the code aloud and sign it. This will be to remind them of the code time and again so that hopefully they will practise what they proclaim for the common good of all the people of our country.