he National Government says it is giving top priority to human rights issues in the wake of the 2015 Geneva resolution and also on the basis of its conviction that all people—the rich and the poor, the powerful and the powerless—are equal and their human rights need to be respected.
To reach this noble vision and goals, the rule of law needs to be restored and stabilised with the judicial service and the Police also being given the freedom to act independently. But with this freedom, the Police specially need to be made aware that their right to freedom is linked to responsibility. Independence of the Police means freedom from party political interference so that the people could confidently go to a people-friendly Police station where they would be treated with courtesy and a just solution is found to their problems.
While the newly appointed National Police Commission also plays an important role and working out a code of ethics for Police, the Police themselves need to be educated that they are not only the long arm of the law but also the protectors of the people. They also need to be made aware of the need to use more brain than brawn though in recent decades the trend has been more towards brute force by bully boys. The Police uniform symbolizes the protection and power of law enforcement. Thus when a Police officer assaults or tortures a person or a suspect the crime is graver than when an ordinary citizen commits the same offence.
The global rights movement, Human Rights Watch (HRW) in a new report last Friday has charged that Sri Lanka’s Police forces regularly tortured and ill-treated criminal suspects in custody. HRW has called on the Sri Lankan Government to set up an independent oversight authority and adopt concrete steps to end Police abuse that has had corrosive effects across Sri Lankan society.
The report, handed over to Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe and Justice Minister Wijeyadasa Rajapakshe, claims the Sri Lankan Police appear to treat the use of torture as a tolerable way of obtaining confessions.
The 59-page report titled “We Live in Constant Fear: Lack of Accountability for Police Abuse in Sri Lanka,” documents various torture methods used by the Sri Lankan Police against criminal suspects. These include severe beatings, electric shock, suspension from ropes in painful positions, and rubbing chili paste in the genitals and eyes.
According to HRW, victims of torture and their families may spend years seeking justice and redress with little hope of success. Previous reports by the right group have focused on wartime abuses, including torture of minority Tamil civilians. The latest report documents how torture and Police abuse are entrenched and devastating to the majority Sinhalese population also.
The HRW has called on the Sri Lankan Government to issue clear, public directives that Police torture and other forms of abuse will not be tolerated; establish an Independent Police Oversight Authority charged with investigating allegations of police abuse, the results of which would then be forwarded to the Attorney General’s Department for prosecution as appropriate. This authority should be housed entirely outside the Police Department, report to the Ministry of Justice, have all relevant authority to conduct investigations, including on its own authority, and be empowered to subpoena Police, other witnesses and Police files.
It also calls for the setting up of an independent office in the Attorney General’s Department tasked specifically with investigating and prosecuting cases of Police abuse, including following up on referrals from the Independent Police Oversight Authority.
According to HRW, there should be laws to ensure Magistrates fully comply with their obligations to ascertain whether a detainee produced in court has suffered torture or other ill-treatment, and to order legislatively mandated confidential medical examinations.
If the Police Stations during the past few years had virtually become branch offices of the ruling party, the new Government must act fast to restore the dignity of the Police service as a vital part of good governance, democracy and accountability.