SRI LANKA: Protection for Persons who make Complaints of Torture against Security Officers

Following letter was handed over to the Attorney General, Inspector General of Police, National Human Rights Commission and National police Commission by a Special Representative, Mr. Ali Saleem sent by Asian Human Rights Commission based in Hong Kong.

Re: Protection for Persons who make Complaints of Torture against Security Officers.

The Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) is seriously concerned about the increase in complaints by several persons who had earlier made complaints of torture by police officers.  We may cite just a few cases.

The case of Saman Priyankara who made a complaint of having been injured by the pouring of boiling hot water on him by an officer of the Matale Police Station, and who on the 7th July made a further complaint of being re-arrested and brutally tortured which caused several injuries including the loss of hearing in one ear.  In the same incident his brother was also assaulted and his wife is alleging nightly telephone calls threatening death.

Tissa Kumara who was allegedly tortured and spat upon by a TB patient who was forced to do so by an officer of the Wellipena Police also made complaints of death threats after his release on bail and is now having to live outside his village.

Chamila Bandara who made allegations of torture against the Unkumbura Police has been living away from his home for more than one year and is unable to return home.  His family too, has been forced to flee their village.

The instance of Michael Anthony (Tony) Fernando is also well known and he too lives in constant fear of being attacked after the first attack he suffered by way of an attempted kidnapping.  The culprits of which have not been found.

In fact, every complainant whose complaint is being investigated either through the disciplinary process of the police or by an SIU conducting inquiries under the CAT Act (Act No. 22 of 1994) are exposed to serious dangers and threats.  It is well known that in many instances such complainants succumb to such threats and enter into compromises due to fear.

In the concluding observations of the Human Rights Committee (HRC) in November 2003 after the examination of Sri Lanka’s Periodic Report the HRC observed the absence of witness protection.  Human rights will have very little meaning until people who suffer from violations can make complaints without fear and are offered protection by the state after making such complaints.

Judging from recent cases it can be observed that the officers who face such complaints virtually instigate many others and openly defy the higher authorities, particularly if the persons holding such high authority take a strict view on discipline.  Given the fact that many such inquiries into torture allegations are now proceeding it is quite likely that such defiance of authority will also continue.  One way of demonstrating such defiance is to attack the victims who are making such complaints.  The case of Saman Priyankara and his family is a prime example.

Under these circumstances we earnestly request you to take some special measures to protect the persons who make such complaints and to let the public know about such measures.  The immediate suspension of officers undergoing disciplinary inquiries or at least the transfer of such persons away from the relevant police stations is one such measure.  However, the creation of possibilities for making complaints of attempts to harm complainants and to have the means by which to deal with such further complaints in a speedy manner is essential if serious incidents are to be avoided.

It is the duty of the state to protect those who make complaints against state officers.  Such duty includes the granting of compensation for injuries caused as a consequence of making such complaints.

The AHRC kindly requests that a special protection mechanism be made available to deal with the protection of persons who make allegations or torture against state officers.

Thank you.

Yours sincerely,

Basil Fernando
Executive Director.
13 July 2004

Document Type : Open Letter
Document ID : AHRC-LT-02-2004
Countries : Sri Lanka,