UNITED NATIONS COMMISSION ON HUMAN RIGHTS 59TH SESSION
Item 11: Civil and Political Rights
SRI LANKA: Torture in Sri Lanka
Statement read by Ali Saleem of the Asian Legal Resource Centre
I speak on behalf of the Asian Legal Resource Centre.
This February, Mr Michael Anthony Fernando submitted a motion to the Supreme Court of Sri Lanka regarding a fundamental rights violation case in which he is the applicant. The motion requested that the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court not sit in judgement on Mr Fernando’s application, and offered ample grounds for this request. The Chief Justice sat on the bench that heard the motion. The bench then summarily sentenced Mr Fernando to one year’s rigorous imprisonment for contempt of court. Mr Fernando was taken to prison, where he was severely tortured.
Mr Fernando is one of an unknown number of persons who in recent years have been tortured by police and security officials in Sri Lanka. The Asian Legal Resource Centre has already raised its concerns about this situation through reports to the Committee against Torture and Special Rapporteur on torture, and statements to sessions of the Commission (E/CN.4/2003/NGO/145, attached).
Last August, the Centre released a special report entitled ‘Torture committed by the police in Sri Lanka’ (article 2, vol. 1, no. 4), detailing 22 case studies involving 38 victims of torture, carried out as a part of routine police work. The report reveals that due to defects in the criminal justice system, people in Sri Lanka often regard torture as unavoidable.
However, there is a growing movement against this practice. In Mr Fernando’s case, due to enormous publicity stimulated by this movement, two prison officers have been charged. In response, prison officers across the country went on strike. Mr Fernando, who remains in custody and is suffering enormous physical and psychological damage, has good reason to believe that his life is in danger.
Mr Fernando’s case is illustrative of how the defective Sri Lankan criminal justice system is contributing to a climate of impunity for police and security officials who commit torture. First, he was sentenced without receiving a fair trial. Secondly, he was denied an appeal against the judgement. Thirdly, he did not receive special protection while in custody, even though he had submitted a case against senior state officials. Fourthly, Sri Lankan law does not provide any avenue to correct a miscarriage of justice: the word of the Supreme Court is final.
To address all these problems, the Government of Sri Lanka is obliged to make available legislative, administrative and judicial remedies for victims of human rights abuse, as outlined in article 2 of the ICCPR (International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights). In the meantime, the Asian Legal Resource Centre urges the Government of Sri Lanka to intervene and save the life of a man who put his faith, mistakenly, in the justice system of his country. For in the words of the Special Rapporteur on independence of judges and lawyers, “The Supreme Court of Sri Lanka has done an act of injustice. A man who came to seek justice was served with injustice.”
Thank you, Chairperson
Posted on 2003-06-16