SRI LANKA: Highest compensation to date awarded Sri Lanka torture victim

HONG KONG, Friday, April 4, 2003: The Supreme Court of Sri Lanka today awarded a torture victim a record amount in compensation.

In the case of Gerald Perera, who was tortured by a group of police of the Wattala station on June 3, 2002, the Court awarded 800,000 Rupees cash, and full medical costs. Mr Perera’s medical costs exceed the amount awarded in cash. The applicant in this case was W R Sanjeewa, Attorney-at-Law, on behalf of the victim. Mr D S Wijesinghe, President’s Council, appeared for the Petitioner.

In his decision, Justice Mark Fernando (Justices Edussuriya and Wigneswaran in agreement) found that the police officers had breached the Constitution of Sri Lanka by committing illegal arrest and detention (article 13[1] & [2]), and torture (article 11).

On the matter of torture in particular, the Court’s judgement is very strong. Not only does it indicate that the police tortured Mr Perera, but further, that failure to provide him with prompt medical attention subsequently amounted to cruel and inhuman treatment:

“while in Police custody the Petitioner had been subjected to severe torture endangering life. There is no doubt whatsoever that he had been tortured and how exactly he had been tortured does not matter in the least. The failure to release the Petitioner promptly, or at least to secure prompt medical attention for him, was cruel and inhuman.”

While the Officer in Charge of the Wattala Police Station did not himself take part in the torture, the Court found him guilty as it occurred with his knowledge and acquiescence.

In deliberating on the extent to which the Inspector General of Police is liable in cases of torture by his subordinates, the Court made strong unprecedented observations:

“The number of credible complaints of torture and cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment whilst in Police custody shows no decline. The duty imposed by Article 4(d) [of the Constitution] to respect, secure and advance fundamental rights, including freedom from torture, extends to all organs of government, and the Head of the Police can claim no exemption. At least, he may make arrangements for surprise visits by specially appointed Police officers, and/or officers and representatives of the Human Rights Commission, and/or local community leaders who would by authorized to interview and to report on the treatment and conditions of detention of persons in custody. A prolonged failure to give effective directions designed to prevent violations of Article 11, and to ensure the proper investigations may well justify the inference of acquiescence and condonation (if not also of approval and authorization).”

On the question of the extent and cost of medical treatment received by the victim at a private hospital, Justice Fernando remarked that

“Citizens have the right to choose between State and private medical care, and in the circumstances the Petitioner’s wife’s choice of the latter was not unreasonable – and was probably motivated by nothing other than the desire to save his life. Article 12 of the International Covenant on Economic Social and Cultural rights recognizes the right of everyone ‘to the enjoyment of the highest attainable standard of physical and mental health’.”

The Asian Human Rights Commission hails this judgement as a landmark in the struggle against torture. It calls upon the National Police Commission to dismiss the officers found responsible for this act of torture. It also calls upon the Attorney General to prosecute the culprit officers under Act No. 22 of 1994.

Asian Human Rights Commission – AHRC, Hong Kong


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Document Type : Statement
Document ID : AS-07-2003
Countries : Sri Lanka,
Issues : Torture,