Center for Peace and Democracy (CPD)

Tuesday, October 25, 2005

Sri Lanka: UN Committee against Torture urged to take special measures to curb systematic and widespread police torture

PRESS RELEASE
ALRC-PL-48-2005

(Hong Kong, October 24, 2005) The Asian Legal Resource Centre (ALRC) urged the U.N. Committee against Torture to take special measures, such as to appoint a rapporteur, to curb the catastrophic level of torture committed by the police in Sri Lanka in a report submitted on 9 October 2005 to the committee entitled “Systematic and widespread torture by state institutions in Sri Lanka and absence of effective remedies for victims and their family members.”

The 180-page report was lodged in advance of the committee's hearings on Sri Lanka scheduled between 7-25 November. The committee will consider Sri Lanka's compliance with the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment, the main international treaty outlawing torture, in examining Sri Lanka’s second periodic report in accordance with article 19 of the Convention.

"There is an absence of effective legislative, administrative, judicial or other measures to prevent torture in Sri Lanka," the Hong Kong-based rights group said in its submission.

"Key institutions which are to uphold the rule of law, namely, the police, prosecution and the judiciary, have effectively collapsed in Sri Lanka, and there needs to be an urgent and serious attempt to rebuild them," the report said.

The report documented about 100 cases of torture committed by the police in recent years, including rape and sexual torture, deaths in police custody due to torture and the torture of children.
"The breakdown of the state justice machinery has been caused by the malfunctioning policing system where command responsibility is treated as a trivial matter, and the underlying problem is the inability of the policing system to uphold the rule of law," it said. The report also highlighted the unprofessional behaviour of the police.

"Police in Sri Lanka often operate, not like professional law enforcement agents, but thugs or gangsters, and this gang behaviour is often displayed through abuse, use of violence and torture," the ALRC pointed out. The report also highlighted the lack of protection for both witnesses and victims, especially when the victims of torture pursue cases against the police. A number of torture victims were harassed, intimidated, again tortured and even assassinated, as in the case of Gerald Mervyn Perera, by the police for pursuing cases against them.

“The absence of a witness protection scheme seriously affects the criminal justice system; and because victims are frequently and seriously threatened, many fear to come forward to pursue their complaints against torture,” the report said. In terms of health professionals, the report highlighted the “occasions where health professionals, such as judicial medical officers and district medical officers, connive with the police to cover up evidence.”

The report also referred to the slow process of seeking justice by the victims of torture, including the slow process of investigations, the filing of charges and prolonged delays by the courts. The report also dealt with the issue of inadequate redress and the absence of fair and adequate compensation to torture victims. "There is a complete absence of state-sponsored programmes or mechanisms to rehabilitate torture victims physically and psychologically," the ALRC pointed out.
The report put forward a comprehensive list of recommendations to the U.N. committee in dealing with the government of Sri Lanka to curb torture.

The key recommendations included enacting a witness protection law to ensure the physical security of Sri Lanka’s citizens, assigning a permanent special body to investigate torture, enforcing the public complaints procedure of the National Police Commission (NPC) in the shortest possible time and establishing the command responsibility of senior police officials on torture committed by their subordinate officers.
"Without major police reform, it will not be possible to overcome the present institutional difficulties that make torture a routine practice at police stations," the ALRC reiterated in its recommendations to the committee. In its recommendations, the ALRC also urged the Human Rights Commission (HRC) of Sri Lanka to take a more proactive role against torture. The HRC was also urged to work towards establishing command responsibility among senior police officers for torture, to treat torture as an institutional problem in the policing system in Sri Lanka and to set deadlines to complete inquiries.

"The HRC should take a leading role in developing policy mechanisms for adequate compensation for torture victims and should develop a comprehensive rehabilitation programme for torture victims," the ALRC said.
Source: Human Rights Watch

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