SRI LANKA: Arbitrary deprivation of life

The United Nations Human Rights Committee’s latest view issued in July 2008 on a communication filed by a Sri Lankan against the state of Sri Lanka holds the state to have violated article 6 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) which guarantees the right against arbitrary deprivation of life and article 7 which guarantees freedom against torture. The view further holds the state liable for the failure to provide an adequate remedy against these violations thus, also violating article 2 (3) of the ICCPR.

This case is about the failure to provide proper criminal investigations and prosecutions in the case of Sathasivam Sanjeevan, who was arbitrarily arrested and tortured in custody in 1998. Besides the extensive injuries he received due to the torture he also suffered four fatal gunshot injuries. The police claimed that the injuries were received during an ambush by separatist fighters. However, a subsequent inquest failed to confirm the account by the police and it took a further two and a half years and interventions by the UN Special Rapporteur on the question of torture before Sri Lanka’s Attorney General confirmed that the version given by the police was false. Sanjeevan’s parents, assisted by lawyers from the Home for Human Rights, Sri Lanka, have been pursuing the case for ten years.

The case is just one of so many where the police file reports about people dying of injuries that are either caused by way of self defense by police officers when the suspects allegedly tried to attack them, or they are attributed to attacks by others such as separatist fighters or criminal gangs. As many of these cases are not pursued as vigorously as Sanjeevan’s, the police version of events is easily accepted as the truth. Often in magistrate’s courts, at inquests which record only the police version of the event no further inquiries are ordered into such incidents. Reports of such deaths appear almost on a weekly basis in the Sri Lankan newspapers from many parts of the country.

The habit of not pursuing inquiries into arbitrary deprivation of life in police or military custody has become quite common, particularly during the last few decades. One of the most glaring examples that demonstrates the extent of this problem are the records of the commissions inquiring into forced disappearances in many parts of the country during the late 1980s. The transcripts of these commissions give amble evidence of the way in which people have been killed while in custody and how thereafter there is a complete failure on the part of the state to investigate and prosecute offenders. Anyone who has doubts about how widespread and common this practice really is needs to study these transcripts which are the official records of these commissions. We reproduce below one statement from among thousands of others which demonstrates the nature of the problem.

A Buddhist monk, Daluwe Siri Saranankara, made a statement before T. Sundralingam, the president of the Commission which was appointed by the President of Sri Lanka to investigate into the forced disappearances in the North Western Province. This particular statement (NWP/PU/312), was made on the 11th March, 1996 and was recorded by a police officer. The Rev. Siri Saranankara stated that he was ordained as a monk in 1985 under a senior Monk, Daluwa Vipulasara. A summary of Rev. Siri Saranankara’s statement is given below:

At the time when in 1988, when there was terror around the country, young people were killed and their bodies burned. During that time he lived at Mallamukulame at Sri Abinavarama. He thought that he should intervene to stop such killings and went to the military coordinating office situated at Puttulam at the Chief Minister’s office. There was a major and a colonel present. (The monk gives the names of these persons, however, for the purpose of this report we will not disclose them). These officers agreed that if the young people surrendered with weapons they would be protected and sent for rehabilitation. He met the organiser of the Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP) and explained his programme and the organiser also helped him. He put loud speakers on vehicles provided by the military and toured the Anamaduwa area, calling on the young people to come to his temple with their arms and surrender. Accordingly many young people went to the temple and surrendered on several occasions. These young people who surrendered were sent to rehabilitation through the senior military officers.

In this manner on 7.9.89, 20 suspects surrendered, on 17.9.89, 13 suspects surrendered and on 2.10.89, 23 suspects were surrendered by the monk to the military. During that time the JVP leader of Puttalam, Santha, met the monk and surrendered. When he surrendered the authorities told him that he had not done anything wrong. But later the monk found him in the camp at Anamaduwa with barb wire tied about his ears, hands and feet. Later he learned that he had been taken away by a captain. In another case a young man who had surrendered from Kattukachhi was taken to Anamaduwa Camp. He was removed by a captain and burned together with another young man, a bank employee in a neighbouring house near a place where a bomb attack had been carried out against military vehicles. As this captain used the monk’s vehicle for this purpose people suspected the monk of being involved. The monk gives a long list of the names of officers who were in the camps in the area.

The monk was given a van for his work with protection by armed soldiers. On one occasion due to a weapons misfire by one of those soldiers he was injured. At Anamaduwa camp he saw a 60-year-old man being hung in a gunny bag who was beaten to death while he was hanging in the bag. On another day a young man was beaten to death. He later took the young man’s body to the hospital. The monk spent most of his time at the camp at Puttalam.

Four young people from Abanpola were surrendered by their parents to the monk at his temple. A police officer in charge of a station took the four persons in to take their statements. Later, after the monk provided a letter on their behalf they were released. However, a few days after that they were abducted.

A JVP leader known as Wellawawa Mahathun, was killed by a captain and his body was brought to the camp. The monk showed the body, that was lying behind the toilet, to the victim’s father who came in search of him. The body had been decapitated after death and the head had been stuck on a spike and displayed before the public at Uriyawa Road. The body was later burned. On the day he was killed two of the man’s relatives were brought by the monk and handed over to a captain in the camp. A police inspector took the two young people in saying that it was for the purpose of taking statements. After that what happened to those two young people is not known.

In Uriyawa area there was a group of thieves known by the name of the Banda Nilame gang who the police and military were incapable of arresting. They went to the monk to surrender. That day the seven of them were taken from the camp, shot and displayed in the Anamaduwa area. Only one person called Pottha, from that group survived. He surrendered through a UNP local politician. After that he also disappeared.

Eighteen young people from Halmilawa were brought by a police inspector to the Anamaduwa Police Station. At the request of the parents the monk visited them at the station. The Officer-in-Charge refused to give them bail and told the monk not to get involved. What happened to the young people after that is not known.

On one occasion JVPers shot at the traffic barrier at Pallaweya. An Officer-in-Charge brought 24 to 26 young people from the families of the SLFP from Kiyula and killed them.

At this time the monk understood that the persons he had surrendered were released during the day and told that there were not guilty of anything but, on the basis of information taken from them they were later arrested at night and made to disappear.

A secretary of a member of parliament from the SLFP named Dharmasena, was kept in a room of a UNP organiser. This organiser told the monk to question Dharmasena and the monk noticed that the man appeared to have been beaten. From the questioning the monk understood that the man was innocent. He told this to the UNP organiser who said he “knew nothing of this. He should be handed over to a particular army officer”. This officer was then named. The monk took the man to the temple and treated him and after that sent him home, telling him to protect himself.

One Rathnayake who was the son-in-law of a trader was also burned by an Officer-in-Charge.

Throughout the statement this monk named large numbers of police and military officers. However, as mentioned earlier, for the purpose of this report we will not disclose them.

The above is a randomly chosen example from thousands of statements that were made to the commissions of inquiry into the forced disappearances during the late 80s.

It is merely reported here to illustrate how casually persons can be arbitrarily deprived of life in Sri Lanka despite constitutional guarantees and the ratification of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights by the Sri Lankan government. In the case of Sanjeevan the recommendations made by the UN Human Rights Committee are unlikely to be treated any differently from the other recommendations made relating to several other communications made by Sri Lankan citizens to the Human Rights Committee. The Sri Lankan government, relying on the Supreme Court judgement in the Singarasa case, refused to implement such recommendations.

The problem is not just one of the failures to implement recommendations in particular cases. The problem really is that even the limited number of interventions made by the UNHRC in order to deal with the widespread problems in the country by way of arbitrary deprivation of life is not utilised by the Sri Lankan state in order to eliminate this problem. This is a primary failure regarding one of the most basic duties of the state, which is to prevent arbitrary deprivation of life.

Document Type : Statement
Document ID : AHRC-STM-223-2008
Countries : Sri Lanka,