While deploring the abduction and the killing of the two young Rathgama businessmen – 36-year old Manjula Asela Kumara and 31-year-old Rasin Chinthaka -- allegedly in police custody, today’s editorial also vehemently condemns the custodial deaths or killings of all suspects -- whether they are arrested on charges of drug smuggling or peddling or on charges of criminal activities such as rape, robbery, murder or child abuse.
It was in the aftermath of the brutal attack on the Angunokolapelessa prison inmates that we highlighted the fact that law enforcement agency personnel, who arrest suspects for whatever the reason or reasons maybe, must in no uncertain terms guarantee the safety and security of the suspects at all times while under custody.
The suspects must be treated in a humane and civilized manner until their cases are properly investigated so that they could be produced in Courts with the supporting evidence and punishment meted out if found guilty of the proffered charges or if not, acquitted and released from the cases filed against them. There is no call whatsoever for suspects in custody to end up in the mortuary.
It would be most opportune at this juncture to once again underscore and underline the Mandela rules -- The United Nations Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners adopted by the United Nations General Assembly on December 17, 2015 after a five-year revision process. They are known as the Mandela Rules in honour of the former South African President Nelson Mandela. The Mandela Rules comprise 122 sections divided among nine parts. Not all are rules, but rather, are key principles such as institutional equality and the philosophy of confinement.
The Rules were first adopted on August 30, 1955 by the United Nations Congress on the Prevention of Crime and the Treatment of Offenders, held at Geneva, and approved by the Economic and Social Council in resolutions of July 31, 1957 and May 13, 1977.
Since their adoption by the Economic and Social Council in 1957, the Standard Minimum Rules (SMRs) for the Treatment of Prisoners have constituted the universally acknowledged minimum standards for the treatment of prisoners, and probably represent the most well-known among the United Nations standards in crime prevention and criminal justice. Despite their legally non-binding nature, the rules have been of tremendous importance worldwide as a source of inspiration for relevant national legislation as well as of practical guidance for prison management.
Although not legally binding, the Minimum Standards provide guidelines for international and domestic law for citizens held in prisons and other forms of custody. The basic principle described in the standards is that “There shall be no discrimination on grounds of race, colour, sex, language, religion, political or other opinion, national or social origin, property, birth or other status”.
It goes without saying that the law and order authorities must make our law enforcement agency personnel aware and keep them regularly updated and informed of the contents of the aforementioned Mandela rules and the need to uphold them despite the provocations and the frustrations that might arise in the line of duty during the tedious process of interrogation and investigation.
There have been several reports of custodial killings that had taken place in Sri Lanka in recent times but the list is too long to be reproduced here.
Meanwhile, in the wake of the death of a teenage suspect on January 11, 2018, at the Pettah Police Station, the Human Rights Commission of Sri Lanka (HRCSL) proposed that an independent body be set up to investigate cases of deaths including killings while in custody.
HRCSL Chief Dr. Deepika Udagama said such an independent body should comprise an ombudsman or some such person and most importantly, should not come under the Police Department or at the very least not involve Police officers on active duty, owing to the perception that the Police are investigating itself in such cases.
“Public perception of objectivity in such matters is of paramount importance,” she said and added that if a person is in State custody, it is the custodian who is responsible for the welfare, security and protection of the individual and that the Media and civil society too have a role to play in this regard.
Let us hope for a human, humane and a people-oriented Police Service, which operates within the confines of the law of the country.