SRI LANKA: Failure to discipline criminal police officers in Sri Lanka exacerbates social instability

That police in Sri Lanka continue to get away with torture and murder despite enormous publicity was dramatically illustrated this past fortnight, with the killing of an innocent man involving an officer who is also a known torturer. The alleged killing of Saman Priyantha Guneratne on May 30 is understood to have involved the same Sub-Inspector Silva of Welipenna Police who caused a man in his custody, Tissa Kumara, to have contracted tuberculosis earlier this year. The first incident has been widely reported, and the justices of the Supreme Court and Court of Appeal were visibly shocked upon hearing of the case by way of a Fundamental Rights application. Both the offices of the Attorney General and the National Police Commission have looked into the case and are satisfied that the allegations are true. Yet Sub-Inspector Silva has continued in his duties and remains attached to the same police station. No action has been taken even to suspend him from the service while investigations continue, even after state agencies have admitted that there is a prima facie case against him. As a consequence, an innocent man has now been shot dead (for full details of the case see AHRC Urgent Appeal UA-66-2004).

How is it that there as yet exists no disciplinary procedure to deal with serious violations of citizens’ rights by Sri Lankan police officers? By any minimum standard Sub-Inspector Silva should have been suspended from service immediately after the basic allegations in the earlier torture case were verified. However, there is no agency in the policing system established to take such action. There are special investigative units under the command of the Inspector General of Police. Yet incredibly, no procedure exists for dealing with serious emergency cases such as those involving this officer. While a special unit may investigate, there is no senior officer specifically authorised to take urgent action. The absence of such an officer and attendant procedure means that serious lapses in discipline are compounded by further crimes.

The absence of an effective command and control system in the Sri Lankan police force is one of the main reasons for the persistence of serious human rights abuses by its officers. Not only is the force incapable of dealing with crime, it is itself infested with it. The Sri Lankan police do not threaten criminals; they encourage them and can be counted among them. They do not give the public a sense of security, but one of anarchy. They do not inspire confidence, but demoralise the people they exist to serve. Under such circumstances, how is it possible to talk about law enforcement at all?

It is incumbent on the National Police Commission and Human Rights Commission of Sri Lanka to answer this question. So far, both institutions have underestimated the collapse within the police force, despite many detailed critiques, and specific condemnations of individual cases. Without acknowledging the extent of a crisis, it is impossible to address it with any seriousness. Both these organisations have within their mandates the power to convene public hearings on issues of popular concern. If one or both would now exercise this power it would be a useful initial step. Meanwhile, a procedure for immediate disciplinary action regarding allegations of serious misconduct by law enforcement officers must be established without delay. Failure to act will lead to ever more cases of torture, murder and other horrendous abuses by serial offenders within the police force. Concerned members of the public must organise and exert all available pressure to this end, for the sake of themselves and their society.

– Asian Human Rights Commission

Document Type : Statement
Document ID : AS-15-2004
Countries : Sri Lanka,
Issues : Police violence,