SRI LANKA: Peoples anger against bad policing and governments excuses 

A few days ago a large group of people protested at Annamaduwa against the officers of the local police stations against the killing of one of the young people from the village. No one has been arrested for this killing and the villagers protested against the impunity that has been assured to the police.

The commotion created by this demonstration was so overwhelming that a local politician had to come to the scene to bring about some reconciliation between the people and the officers of the police station. While the Officer-in-Charge of the local police station had actually fled the scene officers from another police station had to be brought in to assure the people that the killing would be investigated and that action would be taken against the perpetrators. However, when another police officer appeared at the scene with a video camera and attempted to film the protestors, the crowd reacted angrily and tried to storm the police station. It was at this stage that the local politician had to intervene and promise the people that action would be taken against the police. The villagers warned the police officers that if kind of police brutality happened against it would lead to serious consequences.

The incident at Annamaduwa reflects the general mood of the people around the country with regard to the police. Prior to this in Colombo, several serious protests were held following extrajudicial killings and brutal physical torture perpetrated by the police. In some instances the higher ranking officers were forced to arrest some of their officers in order to appease the anger of the public. However, this public anger has now been directed towards the manner in which the police behave and is being prominently expressed throughout the country.

It is in such a climate that the Secretary of the Ministry of Defense, Gotabhaya Rajapakse, stated at a public event held at the Police Training Centre at Katana that the police should now try to win back the hearts and confidence of the people. The Inspector General of Police who also spoke at this meeting also expressed unhappiness at the behaviour of the police in the country and promised action. He admitted that the people are unhappy about the police failure to investigate crimes. However, as IGP he expressed no responsibility for the failures in the policing system.

These words will not convince anyone since it is the government itself that is involved in exploiting the police for their own purposes and much of the violence that the police have engaged in recently has been done for political ends in favour of the local politicians of the ruling party. The political patronage that the government has granted the police remains the major cause of their indiscipline and their engagement in serious crime.

Before the hearts of the people can be won in order to obtain their cooperation with the Sri Lankan police the police themselves will have to convince the people that they sincerely regret their notorious past. The public image of the police as that of a law enforcement organisation engaged in murder and other serious crimes and one that supports the political regime for their petty aims cannot be easily erased. There is a lot of convincing to be done if the credibility of the police service is to be reestablished.

There are no signs that the police have any regrets at all about their past actions or that they are willing to mend their ways now or at any time in the future. The statements made in public by the Secretary of the Ministry of Defense and the Inspector General of Police under such circumstances will be merely seen as a bluff and cannot be taken seriously.

On such a serious matter as this where the issue of public security rests without a serious approach on the part of the government nothing can be done to resolve this problem. Indeed, instead of solutions to these problems what the people are getting is mere gestures and public statements from the two officers who have greatly contributed to the failure of the policing system.

One of the excuses the government is using is attributing the failure of the policing system to thirty years of the war with the LTTE. In this manner the government is trying to find an excuse to explain the failure rather than address that failure. In 2001 the Parliament, in fact, did identify the cause of this failure which was the way that the 1978 Constitution of Sri Lanka operates. The impunity that is extended to everyone through the patronage of the executive president is the root cause of the failure of the policing system.

A policing system must be placed on the rule of law and strict adherence to the principle of equality before the law. When a system is created that allows some persons to be above the law and it is the weak that are subjected to the rigour of the law there cannot be any kind of rational policing. As long as this problem goes unacknowledged there will not be any way in which to improve the policing service.

Each year the situation degenerates further and public anger is growing at an ever increasing rate. The people have endured this evil for far too long. The people need an answer and a solution. What all political parties should address is how a genuine solution may be found as to how the lunatics may be removed from their positions of management in the asylum.

Document Type : Statement
Document ID : AHRC-STM-069-2010
Countries : Sri Lanka,
Issues : Impunity, Police violence,