SRI LANKA: Second anniversary of a heinous crime - the assassination of torture victim Gerard Perera to prevent him from testifying in court
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
November 24, 2006
A Statement by the Asian Human Rights Commission
On the 24th November, 2004 (exactly two years ago) Gerard Perera succumbed to injuries caused by way of a shooting which had taken place three days earlier while he was traveling to work on a bus.
The investigations revealed that this murder was plotted by a number of policemen who were facing charges of causing torture on Gerard Perera after having arrested him without the slightest evidence leading to any suspicion against him. Medical evidence revealed that serious injuries had been caused on him by assaults with blunt instruments while he had been hung from an overhead beam. The injuries caused renal failure and he was unconscious for over two weeks before he began to recover. The police officers concerned were charged before the Negombo High Court under the CAT Act (Act No. 22 of 1994) for torturing Gerard.
He was due to give evidence before court on this case when he was shot. Several of the police officers later admitted to being party to a plot to kill Gerard before the Magistrate who was conducting inquiries into the murder. The trial in the murder case is pending before the magistrate's court while the trial relating to the initial charge of torture is also pending before the same court.
The news of the assassination provoked serious reactions from within the country including the media, where some newspapers, in their editorials demanded an immediate inquiry. A heavy international campaign for an investigation into the murder brought support from the European Union, several governments, UN agencies and international human rights organisations. After over a month the inquiries were finally completed and the case was filed at the High Court.
This case of the killing of a torture victim who was seeking justice belongs to the category of crimes of the most heinous nature. Therefore more response is needed from the government as well as the Sri Lankan police department in order to bring such practices to an end, both by means of ensuring strict disciplinary process and by taking preventive actions. Given the many stories told by other victims of torture who are pursuing their complaints against perpetrators, Gerard's case does not appear to be exceptional. Every victim of a gross abuse of human rights, such as rape victims, survivors of extrajudicial killings or disappearances and torture, go through extreme harassment. And if they show the exceptional courage, as shown by Gerard, they are likely to face the same consequence. Naturally, many give up pursuit of their complaints sooner or later. Thus, many persons who have caused serious acts constituting gross abuses of human rights continue to work within law enforcement agencies or the military.
The following measures are urgently needed if lessons are to be learned from Gerard Perera's murder in order to avoid the country's premier law enforcement agencies being engaged in heinous crimes. These are:
- Strict enforcement of command responsibility where senior police officers should enforce discipline. If all police officers were to strictly keep their notebooks and other registers in recording all their movements, much of the abuse of power could be prevented. The enforcement of this regulation depends on the higher ranking officers. Further, the disciplinary process must be more clearly defined and carried out thoroughly and speedily with internal investigations into documents, statements from the Officer-in-Charge of stations and the like, without putting the entire burden of proof against the police on the victim.
- The Inspector General of Police and Deputy Inspector General of Police should ensure frequent visits by authorised persons to inspect stations and other place of detention. The following recommendation by the Supreme Court in Gerard's case to the Inspector General of Police needs to be strictly enforced.
"Liability of the 8th Respondent (Inspector General of Police)
It was averred in the petition that a complaint had been made on or about 14.6.2002 to the Inspector-General of Police, the 8th Respondent. The 8th Respondent did not file an affidavit either denying the receipt of such complaint or explaining what action he took. 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) 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 be 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 investigation of those which nevertheless take place followed by disciplinary or criminal proceedings, may well justify the inference of acquiescence and condonation (if not also of approval and authorization)."
From the Supreme Court judgement in the case of Gerard Perera. (SCFR 328/2002)
- A proper system of compensation should be instituted by the government for payment of compensation to victims and their families in terms of international norms and standards on these matters. This process should not depend on the courts. Instead a law relating to compensation for abuse of human rights including torture should be enacted as soon as possible with proper consultation with those informed about the standards on this matter.
- Once the investigating authorities establish that such assassinations, as in the case of Gerard Perera, have taken place through a crime by a government agency, as the head of the government the president of the country should offer due apologies to the family and use whatever facilities at his command, including the use of the presidential fund, to compensate or otherwise assist the family.
In death Gerard 's voice is heard quite loudly due to several human rights organisations and his family who have raised the legal and moral issues posed by this case. However, neither the government nor civil society have made sufficient acknowledgment of the wrong done. We urge that the state act responsibly on this case in which the state's own investigation mechanism has established that the wrong was done by state officers who had on an earlier occasion tortured the victim after arresting him for no valid reason.