SRI LANKA: Torture victim subjected to a TB patient spitting in his mouth wins fundamental rights application at the Supreme Court

The Supreme Court of Sri Lanka held on February 17, 2006 that officers of the Welipenna police station severely tortured Koralaliyanage Palitha Tissa Kumara by forcing a tuberculosis patient to spit into his mouth and by beating him critically with cricket stumps, causing over 32 injuries.  This judgment by the Supreme Court is a condemnation of one of the most heinous acts of torture committed by a Sri Lankan police officer, and exposes shameful aspects of policing within the country. The Inspector General of Police (IGP) together with other senior police officials should examine how the policing system has degenerated to this extent.  

Tissa Kumara, a talented artisan, was beaten and arrested without reason at his house on February 3, 2004 by Sub Inspector (SI) Premalal Silva and some other officers of the Welipenna police station. At the station, SI Silva attempted to force a confession from Tissa Kumara of possessing a bomb and being involved in theft. When he refused to confess, Tissa Kumara was beaten with a cricket stump over 40 times. Thereafter, a tuberculosis patient also being held at the police station was forced to spit into Tissa Kumara’s mouth while SI Silva said, ‘you too will die of TB’. Tissa Kumara was kept at the police station for five days after this, without being given any medical treatment. Thereafter, SI Silva brought a grenade and forced Tissa Kumara to put his thumb-print on it. He was then produced in court on the charges of bomb possession.  

At this time Tissa Kumara’s wife sought the assistance of the Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC), who sent an attorney-at-law to meet Tissa Kumara in prison. After the details of the case were recorded, a fundamental rights application was filed at the Supreme Court. The medical evidence provided by the Judicial Medial Officer in Colombo provided extensive details of the injuries suffered by Tissa Kumara.  

From the time his fundamental rights application was filed, there were numerous attempts to harass and intimidate Tissa Kumara into accepting a settlement and withdrawing his application.  These attempts forced Tissa Kumara to abandon his home and employment and live in hiding for almost two years while pursuing his case legally. The success of this case at the Supreme Court therefore comes as a great compliment to the courage of a torture victim who steadfastly sought justice. It is also a compliment to the human rights activists who supported him in his struggle in many ways, including providing free legal assistance and protection.  

However, the AHRC is concerned by the paltry sum of compensation awarded to the victim–5000 rupees to be paid by SI Silva personally and 20,000 rupees to be paid by the state–for such gross torture and inhuman treatment. In recent years, the compensation awarded by the Supreme Court in torture cases does not reflect the gravity of the crime of torture. International law clearly postulates that torture is among the most heinous of crimes and that torture victims are entitled to adequate compensation. The award by the Supreme Court in Tissa Kumara’s case does not reflect such international standards.  

The AHRC urges the IGP to review the approach of his department regarding the implementation of the law on torture prevention and punishment, thereby respecting the fundamental rights guaranteed to all Sri Lankan citizens by their constitution. The ultimate responsibility for such cruel and inhuman acts committed by police officers lies with the policing system itself, which must therefore be changed. Drastic reform of the entire policing system is the only way by which the IGP and the police hierarchy can positively respond to the Supreme Court judgment in this case. 

Document Type : Statement
Document ID : AS-026-2006
Countries : Sri Lanka,
Issues : Torture,