SRI LANKA: The need for a nation-wide public hearing on rape and bad policing 

As the International Day for Women is celebrated today it is only fitting to give some thought the major areas of concern regarding women’s rights in Sri Lanka. One of the most disheartening aspects of the treatment of women in Sri Lanka is the utter neglect about the cases of rape and harassment. The Asian Human Rights Commission has reported many cases in Sri Lanka which have revealed the carelessness with which the police in Sri Lanka deal with investigations into cases of rape.

The recent case of a mentally retarded young woman from Weligodella, Bombuwela who was raped and thereafter the Officer-in-Charge of the station tried to hush-up the case, obviously after receiving some gratification from the alleged suspect is simply scandalous; it also reveals the breakdown of the disciplinary process within the police where the hierarchy from the Inspector General of Police down to the Assistant Superintendents demonstrate no capacity to impose even the basic discipline among the lower ranks. Had the Assistant Superintendent of Police, just above the Officer-in-Charge looked into the failure of the OIC to carry out his duty in one of the most morally reprehensible and disgusting episodes in the territory under the ASP’s control, the story about this rape case would have been different.

Today the Officers-in-Charge of the police stations do not feel any kind of fear of being supervised by the officers higher in rank. No such supervision takes place. In a large number of cases the Asian Human Rights Commission has reported on an almost daily basis, it is quite clearly evident that the obligations of the ASPs’ under the departmental orders to carry out inspections relating to the inquiries at the stations under their control, is no longer respected by either ASPs’ or those above them.

EiAV4N5coverIf the police demonstrate this amount of culpability even in cases of rape which is one of the most reprehensible offences under any jurisdiction ,there is little that women can expect by way of protection from the the Sri Lankan police. Therefore it is hardly surprising that over three dozen women interviewed by the Asian Human Rights Commission as to whether they would seek the assistance of the police in the event that they have some problem categorically stated that seeking such assistance would only lead to more trouble for them. A woman who complains about domestic violence finds that the harassment they face at the police station is even worse than they receive at home. (For more details see “Women Speak Out”, Ethics in Action, Vol4 No 5)

In many jurisdictions today people talk about the increase of women police officers as a safeguard for the rights of women. However, in Sri Lanka in the cases that have come to public notice the policewomen quite eagerly participate in the ugly scenes that are created within the police stations by their male counterparts. In many instances of sexual abuse at the police stations when the prisoners are exposed to humiliating treatment there are instances in which the women police officers quite eagerly participated with their fellow officers.

All this points out that the morale in police stations has degenerated so much that the average citizen finds it difficult to approach them, when they are faced with serious difficulties. Women being the more vulnerable section of society would find this even more difficult and in many instances more humiliating.

Paying lip service to women’s rights is quite easy and many politicians engage in making promises to improve their rights. However, the test of all protection is that which is available to all citizens. When the basic law enforcement agency fails to carry out its basic obligations to its citizens no such protection can be expected.

A nation that fails to take the issue of the rape of women with the utmost seriousness is one that is obviously facing a deep societal crisis. Even the guardians of morals such as the religious leaders remain silent in the face of the degrading treatment meted out to all citizens and particularly the more vulnerable sections of society such as women by the country’s law enforcement agencies. The hypocrisy underlying the society is manifest more intensely in the relation to the failure of the state and society to take strong steps in order to ensure legal protection for the women-folk in the country.

The most pathetic events being reported such as case of rape which took place at Weligoda Bomboowela to the physically and mentally handicapped woman is a stark manifestation of a wider reality that is affecting the entire nation. Under these circumstances it is the duty of the parliamentarians above all to speak out about the horrible conditions that prevail in our police stations. The country’s parliamentarians have been failing in their duty in this regard. The failure of the parliament to protect the citizens in general affects the more vulnerable sections of society and particularly the women.

Before anything else, it is time for the people to demand parliament to take appropriate action to maintain discipline within the police stations so that the police will be able to become the law enforcement agency that it is meant to be. Until such a fundamental reform happens the possibility for protection to women will be confined only to loud words which only manifest the lack of will within the nation to protect its women.

A public hearing relating to police protection to women in general and regarding law enforcement relating to rape is urgently needed to address the problems mentioned above. Legislators must create this opportunity for the public and women in particular to air their grievances. Such a public hearing will provide the much needed opportunity to bring about the end bad policing in Sri Lanka.

Document Type : Statement
Document ID : AHRC-STM-038-2011
Countries : Sri Lanka,
Issues : Women's rights,