SRI LANKA: Another innocent man is killed by police torture? who will be the next victim?

The case of Don Wijerathna Munasinghe, who was arrested on 10 April 2005 and subsequently died of injuries allegedly received at the Maharagama Police Station, received wide publicity in the media.?The alleged reason for his arrest was that he did not stop his three-wheeler vehicle when instructed to do so by the police.?The following morning he was bailed out, with no serious charges laid against him. However, shortly after his release Mr Munasinghe died of his injuries.

The police authorities have said that they are investigating this matter.?However, so far, no one has been arrested or produced before a court for the crimes of torture and murder.?There is no excuse for this delay.?Since the alleged crime took place inside a police station, it can be presumed that the officer in charge and all other officers attached to the police station are aware of what took place.?It is a primary duty of all citizens to report any information about a crime.?Not to do so itself constitutes a crime.?The police officers who are attached to Maharagagma Police Station, but who did not take part in the alleged torture, are under legal obligation to reveal what they saw, heard or learnt about this crime.?As law enforcement officers they are failing in their primary duty to report crimes by not divulging such information.?If they continue to do so they should all be charged for the offense of failure to provide information about a crime.

The torture of any person is accompanied by the shouts and screams of that victim.?Thus, it is impossible to believe that other officers who may not have directly participated in the torture would not have heard the crying and yelling of this innocent man.?Torture would also leave marks and cuts to the body, as well as evidence of blood and other substances. The Deputy Solicitor General has only recently spoken about the importance of DNA evidence to prove crimes.?There must be substantial evidence left at the Maharagagma Police Station that could provide material for such DNA and other examinations.?Will anyone pursue this matter before the evidence is destroyed??The Assistant Superintendent of the area and other senior officers who claim to be conducting an inquiry should have collected such evidence before now.

The crime scene in this case is a police station.?The examination of the crime scene is an essential part of any investigation of a crime.?Has this crime scene inside the Maharagagma Police Station been thoroughly examined??What evidence has been collected and produced before any court??It is the duty of an investigator to a crime to report the matter as soon as possible to the nearest magistrate’s court which has the duty to investigate this matter.?Has such a report been produced?

A crime scene involving a case as serious as torture and murder requires that access to it be strictly forbidden until a thorough investigation is made and all evidence recorded.?Was the Maharagagma Police Station, and in particular the areas where the torture leading to murder took place, closed to everyone, including the alleged perpetrators and other police officers, before the investigators conducted their inquiries??If not, have the police officers not also then violated the basic rules relating to crime investigation by allowing access to the crime scene and thus allowing the possibility of the tampering of evidence?

And what about the books that the police are supposed to maintain from the moment of arrest up to the moment of release of a person??At the moment of arrest the officers should have stated in their books the reason for arrest. Thereafter, they should have explained to the person the reason for his arrest.?Also, the officers should have written in their books that they in fact, informed the person of the reason for his arrest.?Then the officers should have recorded the manner in which he was taken to the station.?At the police station they should have explained to him that they wanted to record a statement from him about the charges and, that if he wished, he was free to remain silent.?All the reactions of the arrested person to all such information should have been recorded in the police books.?Thereafter, all other events until the time of his release of bail should have been recorded.?If he was kept in a police cell then there should have been an officer who could look into the cell at short intervals to ensure the safety of the prisoner.?These observations should also have been recorded.?If the prisoner was in any way unwell for whatever reason he should have been immediately sent for medical treatment.?Such provisions are basic and elementary principles that police officers are supposed to observe and higher-ranking officers are supposed to impose.

It is the responsibility of the Inspector General of Police, the Attorney General, the National Police Commission and the Human Rights Commission of Sri Lanka to ensure that these provisions were met and to treat this crime with the seriousness it deserves. The attitudes of these authorities should be measured by what they do rather then public statements they make.?The Foreign Minister, Mr. Kadiragama, in his speech of March 15 to the Commission on Human Rights in Geneva, stated that Sri Lanka condemns torture without reservation.?Are these words merely said out of niceties for the international audience or are they said with conviction and the hope that they are implemented in actual practice??The case of Mr Munasinghe would suggest that it might in fact be the former. There are many cases reported on an almost daily basis regarding torture and killings at police stations in Sri Lanka.?The authorities response to this situation is often highly ineffective with only mild condemnation, if any at all, and little action taken to bring justice to those involved.

The Asian Human Rights Commission has repeatedly highlighted the appalling state of policing in Sri Lanka.?We have submitted reports to the government and the Sub-Commission to the UN Human Rights Commission about the exceptional collapse of the rule of law in the country, pointing to the lawlessness that is widespread in the policing institution.?Yet despite our efforts and those of other local and international organisations in condemning the policing system, the government has failed to act.?Why does the government continue to tolerate the lawlessness of the law enforcement agencies??This is an issue that must considerably concern the country’s legislators, opinion makers, human rights advocates and others. 

Who will be the next person to become a victim of torture and perhaps murder by the police??Unless the Inspector General of Police, the Attorney General and others do not act immediately, the likelihood of such a tragedy will inevitably occur soon.?Does the Government of Sri Lanka care enough to stop the next act of torture and death taking place at a police station in Sri Lanka??We urge the government to demonstrate such care and prevent the next act of torture and death.

The test of the government’s care is the speediness in which all the perpetrators of Mr Munasinghe torture and murder are brought before a magistrate.

Document Type : Statement
Document ID : AS-43-2005
Countries : Sri Lanka,
Issues : Administration of justice, Police violence,