Recommendations to address the use of torture by the police in Sri Lanka – Asian Legal Resource Centre

The Asian Legal Resource Centre (ALRC) makes the following recommendations to address the endemic and systemic use of torture by the police in Sri Lanka.

To the Government of Sri Lanka:

1. Ensure strict compliance with the Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment Act, No 22 of 1994, by prosecuting all cases of torture perpetrated by state officers. To this end, provide the Prosecution of Torture Perpetrators Unit, functioning under the Attorney General’s department, with the necessary personnel or material resources to investigate and prosecute according to its mandate.

2. Establish a special unit for immediate and adequate compensation of torture victims, in line with international standards and state obligations under international human rights agreements.

3. Direct the Inspector General of Police to propose special practical measures by which to impose and maintain discipline in the police force, and let the public know of such measures.

4. Declare a three-year transitional period for the effective restoration of discipline in the police force, and for that purpose appoint a judicial committee to supervise discipline among the police with powers to take corrective action. The committee’s mandate would last for at least the three years of the transitional period. It could report directly to the Constitutional Council appointed under the 17th Amendment to the Constitution.

To the Attorney General of Sri Lanka:

1. Prioritise, as a matter of policy, effective law enforcement, rather than the farce that exists now. To this end, implement a policy on prosecutions that is capable of restoring police discipline, and pay special attention to consistently pursuing and reviewing this policy for at least three years.

2. Enforce the Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment Act, No 22 of 1994 with rigour and enthusiasm. To this end, seek and find resources to improve the Prosecution of Torture Perpetrators Unit, so that it can win public confidence and trust.

3. Demonstrate that there is no ambiguity in the state policy to eliminate torture.

4. Assist development of policy towards adequate compensation for victims of torture in keeping with international standards and state obligations under international human rights agreements.

To the National Human Rights Commission of Sri Lanka:

1. Decisively abandon the practice of seeking settlements for torture cases and instead undertake serious preliminary investigations in order to pursue an aggressive policy to ensure prosecution.*

2. Improve knowledge of international law on human rights, particularly relating to the prevention of torture.

3. Expand human rights education, particularly by constant and regular use of mass media, including radio and television.

4. Provide all police officers with a copy of the Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment Act, No 22 of 1994, and teach police about it. Assist police officers of higher ranks to train lower ranks on prevention of torture.

5. Help to develop a policy for adequate compensation of victims, and an effective legal aid system.

6. Build closer links with civilian groups to encourage professionals such as lawyers and doctors to take a more active role in promoting human rights, particularly the elimination of torture.

7. Improve staff skills and seek more resources for that purpose.

To Sri Lankan lawyers:

1. Resist police pressure in courts, particularly in magistrates’ courts, which is used so readily to discourage lawyers from appearing for torture victims.

2. Help to develop a more effective legal aid system, which will assist the victims of torture to be represented by more senior lawyers. To this end, study examples of legal aid systems in other countries.

3. Resolve to fight and eliminate torture through more pro bono work, via organisations and as individuals, out of an awareness that the very dignity of the legal profession is at stake, given that the systemic practice of torture undermines the foundations of both its principles and practice.

To Sri Lankan medical doctors:

1. Demonstrate high standards of professionalism in conducting investigations and helping victims, and waive charges where possible to alleviate the unnecessary suffering of torture victims.

2. Study and remedy cases where doctors are known to have acted unethically, such as by giving inaccurate or incorrect reports in cases of torture without proper examinations.

To United Nations agencies:

1. The United Nations Rapporteur on Torture and Committee on Torture must regard Sri Lanka as a place of special concern, given the prevalence of torture and the need to eliminate it. To this end, they must oversee effective implementation of the Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment Act, No 22 of 1994, and assist the state to improve the prosecutor’s function presently exercised through the Attorney General’s department.

2. Insist, as a matter of policy, on measures to eliminate torture and to reform the law enforcement agencies in Sri Lanka.

3. Provide material assistance to improve civil policing, such as by way of improved forensic skills, improved internal supervision of discipline in the police, and opportunities for exposure to more advanced policing systems.

4. Offer financial and other assistance to establish a comprehensive solidarity network to assist victims, particularly in legal aid, paralegal work and immediate assistance to families.

To international donor agencies:

1. Constantly raise the need to eliminate torture and reform the police with the Government of Sri Lanka, and to these ends assist it technically and financially, with proper supervision

2. Make the international community aware of the endemic and systemic torture practiced in Sri Lanka.

3. Offer financial and other assistance to establish a comprehensive solidarity network to assist victims, particularly in legal aid, paralegal work and immediate assistance to families.

4. Assist the National Human Rights Commission in particular, to ensure that it significantly alters and improves the way it deals with complaints regarding torture.

To the people of Sri Lanka and their organisations:

1. Prioritise the elimination of torture in all demands to the government, in all areas of life, whether with regards to social or rural development, peace, law and order, freedom of speech and association, or any other aspect of life and human rights. To this end, make the same demands to the government as outlined by ALRC above.

2. Initiate nationwide instruction on the Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment Act, No 22 of 1994, so that every household and every person will know the law regarding torture and will be equipped to take action whenever and wherever it occurs.

3. Establish a nationwide network to protect every person from police violence, and to assist peaceful policing. This solidarity network must have the following functions:

a. Immediate intervention when any case of torture is known;
b. Assistance of the victims, including medical care, security and immediate financial needs;
c. Reporting of torture as soon as possible;
d. Protection of victims and their families against police retaliation after complaints are made;
e. Provision of effective legal aid, including adequate payments for lawyers, and the creation of paralegal groups capable of doing preliminary work to collect and present evidence;
f. Opening up of society on the issue of torture, and constant public opinion-making on issues relating to torture; and
g. Constant critiquing of all public institutions related to this issue.

End Note

* On this recommendation, see further, ‘The National Human Rights Commission of Sri Lanka and its role in ensuring the enforcement of the Convention Against Torture under Act 22 of 1994’, article 2, vol. 1, no. 3, pp. 23-6.

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