SRI LANKA: The AHRC writes to judges in Negombo on the killing of complainants and death threats to lawyers

We reproduce below the text and title of a letter sent today by the AHRC to the High Court, the district court judge and the magistrates of Negombo

September 26, 2008

Dear Sir/Madam

Re: Letter to Judges of the Negombo area regarding killings and death threats to complainants and witnesses in torture cases and threats to their lawyers and the human rights organisations that support them

The Asian Human Rights Commission is taking this unusual step of writing to members of the judiciary only because of the extraordinary circumstances of threats that are being faced by persons who come to your courts in search of justice. While the normal recourse for protection for such persons would be to request the police to grant protection to complainants and witnesses this has become impossible due to the fact that it is police officers themselves that are making the threats.

Last week a man in Dalupatha, Negombo, Sugath Nishanta Fernando, who was a complainant in a bribery case before the Colombo High Court (B/1658/2006) and a fundamental rights application (SCFR.446/07) against torture on himself and his family by 12 police officers including some of high rank, was assassinated at Dalupatha Junction, Negombo. He had made complaints to all the authorities in Sri Lanka asking for protection from the death threats made to him by a group of four persons, two of whom he named, who demanded that he withdraw the fundamental rights application at the risk of the assassination of himself and his family. The list of the authorities he complained to are: The President of Sri Lanka; The Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of Sri Lanka; The Ministry of Disaster Management and Human Rights and the secretary to this same ministry; The Inspector General of Police; The Deputy IGP at Peliyagoda; The National Police Commission; The Human Rights Commission of Sri Lanka and the Magistrate’s Court of Negombo. The threat of assassination was carried out on Saturday, 20th September.

Death threats to lawyers

At the inquest of this case Ms. Chamari Mahanama, a lawyer who represented the aggrieved party also received threatening calls stating that if she visited any courts in the coming week she would ‘learn her lesson’. Another anonymous caller also telephoned a voluntary civil rights organisation, Right to Life and threatened to ‘do the same as they did to Sugath’, meaning Sugath Nishanta Fernando. They also asked about another lawyer who had in the past been one of the lawyers who had appeared for the deceased on several occasions, by using a nick name for this lawyer; we believe the reference was to Amitha Ariyaratne, Attorney-at-Law who has also appeared for several of our cases. The message was quite clearly to stop supporting the deceased family from pursuing justice. This anonymous caller also said that they do not give warnings twice.

You are also aware that earlier a torture victim, Gerard Perera who pursued a complaint against torture was assassinated when he did not comply with the demands to withdraw his case.

Under such circumstances the people have no way to find protection to pursue their demands for justice from the courts of law. As these instances clearly demonstrate very real threats to the complainant and victims of cases which are against the police in particular, it would be a normal obligation for your courts to take all actions possible to ensure protection for these persons. It is not possible to administer justice in any sensible way if the victims and their witnesses cannot come to court with the confidence that the courts and the state will do all in their power to protect them so that they are able to pursue their claims in a peaceful manner.

We have taken this extraordinary step of writing to you only because we feel that there is no other option than to bring this to your notice.

Thank you

Yours faithfully,

MOON Jeong Ho
Programme Officer
Asian Human Rights Commission

Document Type : Statement
Document ID : AHRC-STM-251-2008
Countries : Sri Lanka,