SRI LANKA: Horrible Crimes but No Possibility of DNA Tests

A Comment by the Asian Human Rights Commission – AHRC

The killing of the Hamer family in Dehiwela in Sri Lanka has added to the list of horrible crimes that are taking place in the country on almost a daily basis. The murder of the 79-year-old father, 35-year-old son and 29-year-old daughter took place in their home on the night of May 7, 2003. Their severely stabbed bodies were found the next morning. According to reports, the killings are suspected to have been done by contract killers, who are said to have been hired by a party to a land dispute against the Hamer family. Investigations into the case are continuing. Meanwhile, several other similarly shocking cases were also reported in Sri Lanka last week.

This week it was also revealed that the Sri Lankan government has not yet provided criminal investigators with the possibility of even conducting DNA tests. While the Government Analyst Dept. is not equipped to do DNA tests, the procedure for obtaining funds for tests at private facilities has been hampered. Moreover, the police’s investigative methods are crude and careless. The result is that people have lost confidence in the country’s criminal investigators. Instead, there is a lobby demanding executions, judicially sanctioned or otherwise, and making calls to abandon the niceties of a fair trial.

The chief government spokesperson on the issue of crime, John Amaratunga, the minister of interior and Christian affairs, is completely silent on improving the capacity of the police to investigate crimes. There is no discussion at all on budget allocations for the use of DNA tests or about improving forensic facilities. Unfortunately, investment in the improvement of the criminal investigation system is not on the government’s agenda or in the minister’s speeches. Instead, his rhetoric is confined to introducing judicial executions and the removal of safeguards for trials through the Organised Crimes Bill, a proposed law that attempts to modify the country’s criminal procedure code. Such political talk camouflages the government’s lack of policy to invest in improving the country’s criminal investigation system. In short, the government has no real policy towards eliminating serious crimes. Though the minister speaks about the deterioration of social morality, he fails to speak of the deterioration of the quality of criminal investigations, an issue on which he is much more equipped to comment.

Part of the reason no policy on improving criminal investigations is formulated is that the ruling party itself has a bad record on organised crimes. Even last week, a mob was mobilised to attack the government printing press by some ruling party members who created a violent scene, wreaking vehicles and damaging the press to stop a gazette notification issued by the president from the opposition party from being published. According to some reports, Minister Amaratunga himself accompanied the mob to the government press. Like the criminals, politicians also take the law into their own hands.

The continuing lawlessness in the country has left people with no strategy to deal with the horrible crimes which are visiting them every day. Desperate people end up lobbying lawyers not to appear for alleged criminals; and in some instances, alleged criminals are summarily executed. Even some police officers boast that, since justice is wanting in Sri Lanka, the only way to deal with criminals is to get rid of them. In one instance in which a family of about six people was allegedly killed by two army deserters, a police inspector who arrested them summarily executed them and filed a report that they were shot while trying to escape. Sadly, many stories like this one are frequently received from various parts of the country.

The basic solution to the crisis lies in the government having a proper policy for the investigation of crimes, a basic component of which is to provide funds and facilities to improve forensic capabilities, such as DNA testing, and to offer training quickly. Until such facilities and training are available to law enforcement officers, funds are required to use private facilities for investigative purposes. The amounts involved may not be high – sometimes just 5,000 rupees (US$60) for a test – but because of bureaucratic obstacles, it may take years to release the money. In one instance, a non-governmental organisation (NGO) was reported to have even given the money for a DNA test in a criminal investigation.

It is these issues that the government must address if it truly wants to stop the crimes that are shaking the stability of Sri Lankan society.

Basil Fernando
Executive Director

Asian Human Rights Commission – AHRC, Hong Kong


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Document Type : Statement
Document ID : AS-14-2003
Countries : Sri Lanka,