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Assault of the disabled: Police and HR or lack of it

28 September 2015 07:21 pm - 0     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}

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The government denials foster a culture of impunity, which beget more and more abuses

 
any issues that contributed to our gory human rights record stemmed from barefaced denials by the successive governments and subordinate authorities of alleged incidents of abuses and rights violations blamed on the security and law enforcement apparatus of the State.
Some abuses were deliberate and fostered by a culture of impunity; some committed under the pressure of hazardous conditions, in which the Service Personnel and Police work, and some could well have been mistakes stemming from fog and friction of war.

However, no matter the circumstances, those violations were ought to be investigated and their perpetrators held accountable and punished through the due course of law. That did not happen.

That is why we finally ended up at the receiving end of a series of adverse resolutions at the UNHRC, and now has finally conceded to integrate foreign judges and expertise in a local mechanism (Since the world does not believe our institutions are equipped with integrity and independence to conduct a credible investigation.)




But, we hardly learn lessons. Take for instance, a couple of recent incidents of Police excesses or mishandlings.

Two traffic cops at Kahatagasdigiliya assaulted a disabled motorcyclist, who allegedly did not stop when they hailed him. The assault was videoed by a bystander and posted on the YouTube and went viral on the social media. The reaction of the Police was one of exonerating its personnel. The Police in a statement said that the cops used ‘minimum force’ and that the Police ‘respected the disabled.’ But, going by the video, it does not appear to be so. If assaulting and dragging an one- legged man, over a simple traffic offence is ‘minimum force’, there is a serious problem with how the Police interpret the term.

A problem with the Sri Lankan Police is that it has a penchant for summary justice. That conduct hit its disturbing zenith, when the extra judicial killings of underworld members were endorsed by the former government as an unofficial policy.


 

"First, international community was not impressed, then, they complained in private that the regime leaders were barefaced liars and later said that in public in the forums such as UNHRC, though couched in a rather diplomatic language. "




Generally, it is the most vulnerable segment of the society that is at the receiving end of Police excesses. And those incidents rarely make headlines.
In the second incident, the Police arrested a 17-year- old student over the rape and murder of  a five - year- old child in Kotadeniyawa.

The suspect was subsequently remanded, and without due respect for his privacy and basic child rights, the Police also published his identity. Later, another suspect, a 32- year-old man confessed to the crime. The Police now claim that the under-aged suspect had pornographic material in his computer. That does not sound a convincing explanation to justify his arrest. (As the Commissioner of Human Rights Dr Prathiba Mahanamahewa says if that is grounds for arrest, millions of Sri Lankans would have to be locked up!)

The bottom line is that the Police messed up, obviously under the pressure to show results and are now trying to cover up.

One can empathise with the high pressure environment that the Police had to work. As the nation was outraged at the grotesque murder and the villagers demanded swift action, the Police were obviously under pressure to come up with something. And they rounded up the wrong kid and made his identity public to inquisitive media folks.

Mistakes can happen, especially when working under tiring circumstances. However, when they do happen, the best way to mitigate the immediate negative impact is to acknowledge them and try to avoid recurrence.

If one failed in the first, there is hardly any incentive to proceed to the second.

Like any other society, Sri Lanka is an imperfect place; our imperfections are worsened by the adverse spin-off effects of war and other factors, which had resulted in deterioration of our societal and familial institutions.

 

"The bottom line is that the Police messed up, obviously under the pressure to show results and are now trying to cover up"



And that 24/7 media coverage adds an immediacy to those horrors taking place around us. In this imperfect society, there are psychopaths, who butcher 10- year- olds and rape five –year- old kids. Since preaching morality from temples would not have a conclusive effect, without Police and effective law enforcement agencies, we would be at the mercy of the criminals, no matter how few they are. However, in pursuing those nefarious elements, the Police, have to stand by the moral principles of the wider society. Unfortunately, though when the cops beat up a drunken disabled man, they become a mirror image of petty criminals they ought to arrest.

There is another element. Sri Lankan security and law enforcement organs have failed to reform over the decades. Inside, they are regressive and feudal institutions, where every low-rung individual is a slave to their superior.

That culture and work ethics, if you call it so, are not conducive for those institutions to evolve into genuinely respected modern institutions. Perhaps top brass do not have noticed that, or find no reason to rectify those ills. There is hardly a free discussion, because juniors loath their superiors. (Perhaps, the top brass could well have noticed the stark contrast of their image at home and internationally, when they were denied visas to Europe or the USA in the not –so- distant past.)

Resolving those entrenched problems begins with acknowledging their existence and owning up to infractions. In a counterfactual analysis, think how the things could have evolved in the long run, if the then government acted firmly when five students were killed in Trincomalee (Allegedly by the STF) or 17 aid workers were massacred in Muttur.

Instead, the government went on a denial, which became its trade mark strategy in the face of a growing outcry against a series of grotesque rights abuses that took place lately.

The government denials fostered a culture of impunity, which beget more and more abuses.

First, the international community was not impressed, then, they complained in private that the regime leaders were barefaced liars and later said that in public in the forums such as UNHRC, though couched in a rather diplomatic language.  When the Police try to deny recent excesses, they are, in fact, harming the institution, they are trying to protect. That is exactly what the previous administration did to the security forces and the Police.

The media coverage of some of the recent incidents was also controversial. (As the Human Rights Commissioner says the under-aged suspect was projected not as a suspect, but as the verified killer.) Media published the child’s identity which would have  a lasting negative influence on the kid, which nonetheless can be mitigated by the media themselves by rectifying the mistakes in the previous coverage.  

As the cops have to catch culprits, without crossing limits of personal freedoms, media has to draw a line between in the pursuit of that ‘sexy news’ and their ethical considerations.
 

They both have to act with moderation. Follow Ranga Jayasuriya @RangaJaysuriya on Twitter

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