ASIA: Women’s views on prevention of torture — Interview 10 

An interview conducted by the Asian Human Rights Commission. The views expressed do not necessarily reflect those of the AHRC.

Sri Lanka — A woman speaks out against bad policing and torture

Nimalka Fernando is a lawyer and presently serving as President of IMADR and Convenor of Mothers and Daughters of Lanka. MDL is a network pioneered in 1989 to develop a campaign against disappearances by women’s groups and feminist activists.

She made following comments on the problem of policing in Sri Lanka.

What do you think if the Sri Lankan Police?

The Task of the Police is to maintain law and order and further to assist the judicial process in the administration of justice. But we have seen a gradual erosion in the functioning of the police as an independent institution. The objective conditions, i.e. The political atmosphere in Sri Lanka, impacted on the police service, gradually making it another institution to be dominated by the politics of the day. The police force has gradually become an arm of the Prevention of Terrorism Act and the Executive in the sense they are implementing the law than assist in the administration of justice to please the executive and the politician of the ruling party in the area. The 17th amendment to the Constitution was introduced and all the political parties in the Parliament in 2000 approved it by consensus precisely because the politicians themselves realized the need to deepen democracy and democratic environment in Sri Lanka and to further de-politicize the police and public services.

When the Police Commission was active, for a short period we experienced a change in the police services. At least public were able to complaint and explanations could be asked from the IGP re transfers. Today the most dangerous thing is that the Executive President is deliberately violating the Constitution in not implementing the 17th amendment. He has turned our democracy upside down. Furthermore Mahinda Rajapakse is trying to grab all powers back into the centre by bringing in constitutional reforms which will remove the 17th amendment. What is going to happen is this regime will reconstitute the Constitutional Council having more power to the ruling party which would nullify the essence of the 17th Amendment. Just see, the Attorney General and the police who should be assisting the courts re administration of justice have become mouth pieces of the Mahinda Rajapakse government. This situation would further make us lose faith in the administration of justice.

What is your view about the use of torture by police?

I do not condone torture. The police must adopt a scientific method to investigate. In many countries we see the police as a trained force with professional capacity to investigate. The power they have over a suspect has been transformed into torture due to the inability of the police to understand their role and task.

The situation has been further exacerbated as a result of the ethnic conflict. The police treat everybody arrested like a terrorist. It is my view that even a terrorist can not be tortured. The police today are even treating a petty thief like a person taken under the PTA and they disappear or face torture or their limbs are broken. The culture behind their present training is to eliminate the enemy. This is the ideology of the State and governance in Sri Lanka. They justify this behavior. The Sinhalese as well as the Tamils and Muslim people from all communities face this agony.

They have moved away from maintaining law and order and have become pawns in the hands of the government. We cannot give excuses to this brutal behavior of the police.

How is the relationship between police and the public?

What is the relationship between the police and the public? The relationship is pseudo. There is no interaction and dialogue with the public. We used to train Police and Armed forces on human rights mechanisms during CBK’s time. I have participated in these programs as a resources person. I am aware human rights desks were established in these institutions. Those who were heads also were trained lawyers or legal experts. It is not sufficient to give them training and say now protect human rights. We could not fulfill this even during CBK times.

There is the Gazette notification which states that the police should prepare a list of those in custody by 6.00pm every day and fax it to the SSP of the region. Subsequently the HRC-SL managed to encourage the Police to send this list to them to assist in their investigations. We managed to unearth this Gazette notification and distribute to all Police stations through the Human Rights Ministry somewhere in 2006 or 2007. But this was not implemented properly. There must be an interaction with the police on human rights issues and protection of human rights. The conversation today is built on a power paradigm. People are afraid to expose the wrong-doings of the police. We need to develop a healthy dialogue. We cannot do this artificially. We cannot merely liberate one institution from this abyss. Our democracy has gone to the dogs. We have to liberate the police from the clutches of the executive to develop a real healthy conversation. Yes there are Civil-Police Committees in certain areas. It is the government supporters and police unit. I am not talking about such units. In certain areas they investigate into the political background of the committee members. They want to know who is a UNPer (United National Party) and who is a SLFPer (Sri Lanka Freedom Party). They chose those who will not challenge the politics of the day.

Making a complaint in the police station: Of course this is a right of every citizen. Most often people complain but inform their Member of Parliament for protection or to expedite the investigation or redress the matter. I have seen people contacting the MP even for land related matters. On one hand, the complainant is unprotected when he/she files a human rights case. Even for very personal matters when a case is filed people ask for the help of politician. To such an extent this whole things has got politicized. For example,when Prageeth Eknaligoda disappeared the family, accompanied by lawyer, went and lodged a complaint. Now the family members have to go behind every politician to get the investigation expedited.

How is domestic violence law implemented in Sri Lanka?

This piece of legislation was introduced after a big battle. The patriarchal culture inside the Parliament resisted against the bringing of this law. Why I supported this law was it was necessary to bring a personal topic into public domain for a discussion. Some would think we can achieve great things by the introduction of DVA. This is a restraining order process. In order to bring the punishment we need to then invoke provisions relevant in the Penal Code. But unfortunately we have not been able to bring this discussion into public domain. We have not been able to place this within the larger human rights discourse. If you study the patterns of domestic violence it is like torture. Organizations campaigning against torture have a challenge to face in this realm. There is the need to promote the Act and also to raise awareness in relation to its usability.

Document Type : Statement
Document ID : AHRC-STM-106-2010
Countries : Sri Lanka,
Issues : Police negligence, Police violence, Torture, Violence against women, Women's rights,