Police lawlessness alarming in Sri Lanka - Rights group

[TamilNet, Saturday, 27 October 2007, 12:23 GMT]
Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC), issuing a statement on the arrest of a Tamil staff reporter of The Sunday Leader, Arthur Wamanan, by the Sri Lankan Police Criminal Investigation Department (CID), has said the higher officers in the Sri Lankan Police, ranging from the Inspector General of Police to the Assistant Superintendents, have shown a level of irresponsibility that no institution could tolerate. The magistrate of Mount Lavinia, granting bail to the detained journalist has reprimanded the CID for arresting the journalist based on a telephone call made by a minister.

The statement issued by the Asian Human Rights Commission follows:

SRI LANKA: Lawlessness within the policing system is alarming

In the Mount Lavinia Chief Magistrate's Court a journalist from the Sunday Leader, who was arrested on the strength of a telephone call made by a minister, was granted bail by the Chief Magistrate. The magistrate is reported to have reprimanded the officers of the Criminal Investigation Division (CID) for making the arrest in this manner, stating that it will create a dangerous precedent and warned the CID to not blow up small matters into something big. The magistrate also stated “the media are there to report on what is happening in society. Just because some people are embarrassed by a news report the media must not be subjected to restrictions”.

In a separate case the chief magistrate of Kurunegala is reported in the press as having reprimanded the Officer-in-Charge of the Kurunegala Police Judicial Zone for sending inexperienced police constables and sergeants to prosecute the accused in criminal cases. The report went on to state that:

Most of these police constables lack the know-how on persecution. They just nod when asked questions by the court or the lawyers. The Magistrate said that the court has to discharge the accused in criminal cases if the police do not conduct the prosecution properly.

The OIC does not come before court to handle the prosecution. The Magistrate discharged the accused in a criminal case as the Kurunegala police did not prosecute him although the cases were called.

These two cases are not exceptional. In magistrates’ courts there are similar occurrences every day. As pointed out by the Asian Human Rights Commission repeatedly, the malaise that affects the police in Sri Lanka is so deep that in most instances the police no longer demonstrate the capacity to investigate or prosecute cases.

The failure however, is not just about the lower ranking officers from the Officer-in-Charge to the constables but, in fact, is with the higher officers from the Inspector General of Police to the Assistant Superintendents of Police. There are levels of irresponsibility that no institution can, or should tolerate. However, despite all this, the government as the political authority of the country does not take any action in order to reform this institution. In fact, such inefficient policing is a product of the political system which holds itself accountable to no one and makes no attempt to respect the norms and standards which are so essential to maintain the institutions of the state, even at a basic level of credibility.

Recently the AHRC studied 48 cases of torture which had taken place in police stations in the south and these serve as a sample to demonstrate the extremely low depths to which this institution has sunk. Listing of the reasons for the torture in these cases showed that there wasn’t a single case in which the justification of torture was for the obtaining of information during an investigation. This is of course is itself illegal. However, the reason for torturing these persons were, obtaining of bribes, favoring of a friend or an opposing party, to help one party in a land dispute, preventing a person from making a complaint due to the pressure of the opposing party who wished to prevent a criminal inquiry, for failure to comply with traffic rules or simply due to asking questions from a police officer.

Over the period of a decade the AHRC has constantly made representation to the Sri Lankan authorities, the government, the Inspector General of Police, the Attorney General's Department, the Human Rights Commission of Sri Lanka and the National Police Commission about the completely dysfunctional nature of the policing system in the country. However, the problem is on-going and becomes worse all the time.

It is only a citizen’s movement that might jolt the complete lack of concern on the part of the government as well as the higher police authorities and pressurize them into taking such action. The delay in the emergence of such a citizen’s movement will produce even worse results for the people themselves.


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