Letters to the Minister of Interior – Asian Human Rights Commission

1.Criminals working in police stations; [1]
2. Precedent-setting Supreme Court judgement [2]

3 June 2002
Minister of Interior
Ministry of Interior
Colombo
SRI LANKA
Fax: 941 387 526

Dear Minister Amaratunga:

Reports of criminals in Sri Lankan police stations working as police officers

In Sri Lanka, torture and other cruel, inhuman, degrading treatment or punishment is a serious crime with a mandatory minimum sentence of imprisonment for seven years through the prescriptions of Act No 22 of 1994. Yet there are hundreds of people accused of this crime functioning as police officers of various ranks. The people against whom declarations regarding the commission of torture have been made by the Supreme Court of Sri Lanka itself are very many. Almost every month more people are added to these lists. However, these people continue to function as law enforcement officers, ignoring the law of the land mentioned above, all disciplinary procedures and Sri Lanka’s international obligations as a signatory to several covenants and conventions.

In just the month of May 2002 itself, we have learned of several gruesome stories of torture:

The case of Lalith Rajapakse, for example, who suffered brutal torture at the hands of the police in the Kandana police station is unbelievable and shocking. He remained unconscious for more than 15 days after he had been sent to the hospital from the Kandana police station. His condition has been described as traumatic encephalitis due to assault. He is recovering very slowly and will continue to suffer all his life. The more brutal aspect of this case is that, while this young man was undergoing such suffering, the officers who allegedly caused these injuries fabricated and filed three cases against him in the magistrate’s court in Wattala. All of this violence is allowed to happen in a police station that is supposed to protect the rights of people and provide security. There are similar stories about the conditions in France before the French Revolution. A novel about Sri Lanka by Leonard Woolf, Village in the Jungle, also describes this type of cruelty, and it is unfortunately continuing into the 21st century as well. In this case though, police officers have added something new to past episodes: they have obtained an order to remand the torture victim, who was in an unconscious condition, without even producing the victim in court! When the magistrate discovered this situation almost one month later, he vacated the order as an order that had been illegally obtained. After all of this, the officers still continue to wear uniforms and function as police officers!

Lalith Rajapakse’s case, however, is not an exception, as is shown by the case of Gresha de Silva. In this case, the victim was hung and tortured by several officers in the Habaraduwa police station. The victim has now lost the use of both hands, and the medical opinion is that this loss will be permanent.

Then there is the case of W M Ariyathilaka who was killed in the China Bay police station. The police tried to make it appear though that the victim had committed suicide. However, the medical opinion clearly is that the victim had been strangled. Finger marks were present, and the medical officer recorded external and internal injuries.

In addition, there is a case from Wariapola, the case of Nandini Herat, who was sexually abused and tortured in the Wariapola police station while she was detained at the police station for more than three days. Her father has lodged a complaint.

These are just a few cases, which tragically indicate that a state of terror exists in police stations in spite of the enactment of Act No 22 of 1994.

The illegal acts that several officers attached to the Kandana police station have done in the case of Lalith Rajapakse illustrate the wrongs involved in these other cases. These wrongs are listed below.

1) Police entered a house without a warrant.

2) The police arrested an innocent man.

3) The police used brutal torture, a serious crime under Act No 22 of 1994.

4) The unconscious body of the victim was left in a police cell without any attempt to take him to a hospital for about 12 hours. It was only after a local member of Parliament intervened at about 11 a.m. on April 20 that the unconscious body was taken to a hospital. Thus, from the night of April 19 to about noon on April 20, the unconscious body of the victim remained in the police cell of the Kandana police station unattended.

5) In the hours following the use of torture on the victim, the police officers fabricated a story to explain the arrest and how the victim was injured by the use of minimum force. They fabricated three reports. Two were preliminary reports already existing in the court, i.e., complaints of two robberies in which no one has been identified as the perpetrators. The police introduced the victim as the perpetrator without any evidence at all to implicate him. (In fact, when contacted by the family of the victim, the complainant of these two cases has categorically stated that they do not in way suspect the victim as the one responsible for their losses.) A third report was a direct fabrication in the statements of the police officers that the victim resisted arrest by four police officers and that they thus used minimum force. They introduced a knife taken from their police station collection as the knife that the victim tried to use on the four policemen.

6) Several hours after the victim was hospitalised the police officers took their fabricated reports to an acting magistrate and told him that a very dangerous criminal had been arrested and in this way obtained an order to pass the victim to remand custody without taking the magistrate to see the victim. Had the acting magistrate been informed that the victim was in an unconscious condition, he would have wanted to see the victim and would have recorded the patient’s condition. Thus, a number of serious wrongs were committed:

a) Applied for and obtained an illegal order for detention on April 20 without producing the suspect before the magistrate (on May 16, 2002, when the magistrate was made aware of this fact by lawyers representing the suspect, he nullified and vacated the order made on April 20);

b) Placed completely false information before the court;

c) Filed three fabricated cases in court;

d) Caused the illegal detention of the suspect from April 20 to May 17, 2002.

7) From April 20 to May 17, several additional reports seeking further detention were filed.

8) On May 17, 2002, the police continued making fabricated stories by producing a knife as the one that the suspect tried to use and which justified the use of minimum force.

9) On the same day, a submission made by the officer in charge (OIC) of the police station to the magistrate continued providing completely false information to the court, offering the fabricated stories as the truth. The information included a false story about the medical information pertaining to the suspect, which the OIC claimed was based on discussions with the doctors. The OIC’s facts were the very opposite of what was in the medical reports submitted to the court, however. The record of the OIC’s statement exists in the case records in the magistrate’s court.

10) At no stage did the police officers concerned, including the OIC, show any remorse for the heinous crime of torture, the false information provided to the court and the fabrication of cases.

11) These officers are still continuing to work at the same police station, and no action has been taken against them. The actions that should have been taken are:

a) Arrest of the officers for offences under Act No 22 of 1994 and the filing of charges in a high court;

b) A criminal investigation into attempted murder of the victim;

c) Criminal action for providing false information and misleading the court to actions that the court itself later vacated as they had been obtained illegally;

d) An investigation into the fabrication of cases;

e) DISCIPLINARY ACTION ON ALL THESE MATTERS AND THE SUSPENSION OF THE OFFICERS FROM EMPLOYMENT PENDING THE FINALISATION OF INQUIRIES.

The strongest evidence exists for taking such actions. This evidence includes the following:

1) In case reports B/3120/02, B/3060/02 and B3121/02, the police officers admitted making the arrest;

2) The police admitted the use of force, which police claim to be minimum force;

3) The police reported to the court that it is from their custody that the victim was sent to the hospital;

4) The medical report has already been filed in court and included in the case record indicating the serious condition of the victim;

5) The magistrate has ordered the original order made on April 20 to be vacated as it has been obtained illegally.

This is in addition to the evidence of the witnesses.

We urge you to make provisions for speedy criminal and disciplinary inquiries into these cases and to clean the police force of criminals. The country is clearly facing a breakdown of law and order. Even in cases where children are kidnapped, people do not trust the police now to be of any help to them. At the end of May, the parents of a kidnapped child paid Rs. 2.5 million [US,294] to kidnappers to save their child instead of relying on the police. This is no surprise when criminals are allowed to function as police officers.

It is time to face this fact: if there is to be any change of this situation, criminal actions under Act No 22 of 1994 and immediate disciplinary actions are a dire need.

Thank you for urgently considering this important matter.

Yours sincerely,
PARK Jae-man
Programme Coordinator–Urgent Appeals Programme
Asian Human Rights Commission
______________

9 September 2002

Hon. Mr. John Amaratunga
Minister of Interior
Ministry of Interior
Colombo
SRI LANKA
Fax: 941 387 526

Dear Sir,

Re: Judgement of the Supreme Court in the case of Yogalingam Vijitha

Pursuant to a letter of 3 June 2002, in which it was brought to your notice that persons who should be tried for serious crimes are continuing to serve as law enforcement officers, the Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC)-a regional non-government organization working for the promotion and protection of human rights-would like to draw your attention to the judgement of the Supreme Court in the case of Yogalingam Vijitha (Application F.R. No. 186/2001). AHRC considers the decision of the Supreme Court in this case to be of the utmost importance, as it sets a precedent in steps towards effective implementation of the Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment Act, No. 22 of 1994.

Yogalingam Vijitha, a 27-year-old woman, was illegally detained, and horribly raped and tortured by seven officers of the Negombo Police led by Reserve SI Wijesekara from 21 to 28 June 2000. The policemen arrested her on trumped-up charges of being an LTTE suicide bomber after she refused to become a second wife to a married man. During the terrible ordeal that followed her arrest, she was beaten all over her body with a club; hit on the ears; smothered with a shopping bag containing chilli powder mixed with petrol; wrapped semi naked in a shopping bag containing chilli powder and petrol; pinned down on a table while policemen inserted pins under the nails of all her fingers and toes; assaulted with a club and wires; trampled with boots; and hung up and assaulted with a club. When she refused to sign a forced confession, she had a plantain flower soaked in chilli forced in and out of her vagina for about 15 minutes, at which point she lost consciousness. When she came to, she signed the prepared documents, as she was unable to bear the torture any longer. On June 28 she was then transferred to the Terrorist Investigation Division, where she was further assaulted under the direction of SI Saman Karunaratne. Only on September 21 was she remanded under Section 7(2) of the Prevention of Terrorism Act at the Negombo Remand Prison. By that time she was suffering from extreme physical and psychological stress that left her unable to function as a normal human being.

On 23 August 2002, the Supreme Court ruled that there had been a grievous violation of Yogalingam Vijitha’s fundamental rights under Article 13 (1), (2) and Article 11 of the Constitution. In awarding a sum of Rs. 250,000 in compensation and costs-out of which Rs. 150,000 is to be paid by the police officers of the Negombo Police and the balance by the State-the Court noted that the facts of this case have revealed disturbing features regarding third degree methods adopted by certain police officers on suspects held in police custody. Such methods can only be described as barbaric, savage and inhuman. They are most revolting and offend one’s sense of human decency and dignity particularly at the present time when every endeavor is being made to promote and protect human rights.

Most importantly, the Supreme Court for the first time directed the Attorney General “to consider taking steps under the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment Act, Act No. 22 of 1994, against the respondents and others who are responsible for acts of torture perpetrated on the petitioners”.

Accordingly, I am writing to you to remind you of the obligation that your Ministry and the Department of the Police have to respond to this ground-breaking judgement immediately, and punish the perpetrators in a manner that the public will be satisfied that adequate action has been taken to redress such cruelty in accordance with the decision of the highest court in Sri Lanka. At this moment in history, hesitancy on you and your ministry’s part will only lead to similar violations of fundamental human rights and further deterioration of public confidence in the police and the rule of law. The beneficiaries of neglect to act firmly on your part will be the criminal elements in the country and within the police force itself. I urge you to at once:

1. Punish and dismiss the police officers who have perpetrated this crime;

2. File further criminal charges against the perpetrators, who abused legal process and power by fabricating charges, irrespective of whether or not the Attorney General proceeds against them under Act No. 22 of 1994; and

3. Pay adequate compensation to the victim in acknowledgement of the State’s failure to protect her. The sum ordered by the Supreme Court is only a symbolic recognition of the State’s responsibility. It must now pay adequate compensation in accordance with its responsibility as a party to several international human rights treaties.

It is a disgrace, nationally and internationally, to see that even after Supreme Court decisions are being handed down in Sri Lanka no action is being taken against state officers found guilty of having committed heinous violations of domestic and international laws. Until the police are rid of criminal elements, it will be impossible to control crime and to ensure security for the people of your country. Failure to act will create further disillusionment in your ministry and the rule of law in Sri Lanka.

Yours sincerely,

PARK Jae-man
Programme Coordinator–Urgent Appeals Programme
Asian Human Rights Commission
Cc. Hon. Mr. K.C. Kamalasabesan, Attorney General of Sri Lanka

End Notes

1 On 3 June 2002 the Asian Human Rights Commission sent this letter to the Sri Lankan Minister of Interior, Mr. John Amaratunga

2 This is a revised version of a letter dated 9 September 2002 by the Asian Human Rights Commission sent to the Sri Lankan Minister of Interior, Mr. John Amaratunga regarding the Supreme Court decision on the case of Yogalingam Vijitha.

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