SRI LANKA: One month after the attempted arson on the HRC premises no criminal action taken against any person

The issue of attempted arson to one of the buildings of the Human Rights Commission (HRC) of Sri Lanka came to be discussed at the 35th Session of the UN Committee against Torture (the Committee) during 10 and 11 of November 2005, in Geneva, Switzerland.  The Sri Lankan Government Delegation (the Delegation) stated to the Committee that there was no real attack as such but that a few disgruntled drivers of the HRC have attempted to set fire to some log files.  The delegation said that this was purely an act of vandalism and nothing more.  A member of the Committee raised a question referring to a submission made by an NGO—Asian Legal Resource Centre (ALRC)—which stated that this the first time that this particular view of the incident have been stated in public.  Previously, the HRC had announced the attack and had sought investigations by the police.  Initially the investigation was in the hand of the Cinnamon Garden Police station and later it was handed over to the Criminal Investigation Division (CID) of the police.  While it is known that the inquiries are ongoing by the CID and the Chairperson of the HRC is briefed on it, nothing has been officially announced about its findings.  The police investigators have not made any public statement on the matter and the HRC itself has not made known the findings of the inquiry.  Further, a member of the Committee mentioned that in an earlier interview published by the NGO—REDRESS—, Dr. Radhika Coomaraswamy, the Chairperson of the HRC has stated that the police are against the HRC and that there is an element of fear involved.  On behalf of the delegation of the Government of Sri Lanka, the Solicitor General C. R. De Silva, said that he is personally aware of the CID inquiry findings that this act was allegedly done by some drivers of the HRC who were afraid of some inquiry because they have falsely recorded of mileage regarding travel and that it may be exposed.  

Up to date, no person has been arrested for the attempted arson of this building which is part of the head quarters of the HRC.  The attempt was to set fire to the entire building consisting of five floors. Thus, this alleged act constitutes a very serious crime.  It also amounts to cause an enormous damage to State property.  The incident has taken place on the 12 October 2005 and after one month of inquiry by the CID, no person has been arrested or produced in a court of law.  Under these circumstances the Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) find it difficult to accept the explanation given by the Sri Lankan Delegation at the UN Committee against Torture about this incident. The absence of arrest relating to this incident suggests an attempt to hush up the inquiry and to let the protest die out and to slowly forget the incident itself.  

Earlier, the HRC itself, and international organizations such as Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, REDRESS and the AHRC called for an independent inquiry into this incident which was a tremendous challenge to the continued functioning of the independence of the national human rights institution of Sri Lanka which is supposed to be the watchdog of the human rights situation in the country.  The AHRC express skepticism about the inquiry that seems to have taken place and the delay to take criminal action on the perpetrators.   It has reason to suspect that there is an attempt not to proceed with the inquiry and to hush it up.  

The AHRC calls upon the HRC of Sri Lanka to inform the public about the actual nature of this attack and the nature of inquiries that has taken place so far.  The HRC should inquire from the CID as to why no person has been arrested and produced in court regarding this matter.  We also call upon the Government of Sri Lanka to ensure that the findings of the CID are made known to the public and that appropriate criminal actions be taken against the perpetrators promptly.  We also call upon the Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, REDRESS and other international human rights organizations who initially took up this matter to pursue their initial requests for inquiry to its logical conclusion.  The AHRC warns that if a credible inquiry is not made and proper action is not taken on this issue the HRC itself would suffer loss of credibility and people will be very skeptical about the possibility of seriously challenging impunity in Sri Lanka.

Document Type : Statement
Document ID : AS-115-2005
Countries : Sri Lanka,
Issues : Victims assistance & protection,