SRI LANKA: Gerald Perera, courageous worker who fought for his rights, slain in attempt to derail justice
The Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) announces with great shock and sadness that Gerald Mervin Perera, who was due to give evidence in court against seven police officers accused of torture, passed away at around 1pm local time today, 24 November 2004, at the Colombo General Hospital, Sri Lanka. He had been in a critical condition since he was shot on November 21. He leaves behind a wife and three children, the youngest of whom is eight-months' old.
This is the first time that a torture victim pursuing a complaint before the courts in Sri Lanka has been shot dead at the instigation of the perpetrators of torture. The injuries caused to Gerald Perera after torture by officers of the Wattala Police in June 2002 were so serious that he was in a coma for over two weeks. But Gerald was a courageous citizen who stood up for his rights despite his suffering. He took a fundamental rights case to the Supreme Court of Sri Lanka, which held in his favour on 4 April 2003 and awarded a record compensation payment. The criminal case in the Negombo High Court, where he was to appear on December 2, was the next step.
The responsibility for filing criminal charges over torture in Sri Lanka lies with the Department of the Attorney General. The department will only take this step when it is satisfied that there is sufficient evidence to obtain a conviction. However, although the state files the cases, it does not have any agency to take responsibility for the security of witnesses. Today the whole government apparatus stands as an accused party to this murder by reason of this failing. The AHRC points to the numerous appeals made to the Inspector General of Police and the Attorney General in particular to provide security for complainants in trials initiated by the state which have come to nought.
The AHRC utterly condemns both the brutal torture and the subsequent murder of this innocent man. The killing of a torture victim speaks to how the rule of law in Sri Lanka has totally collapsed, and how discipline in the police force has degenerated to the extent that some officers have become nothing better than the planners and instigators of homicide. Over the last ten years, the AHRC has repeatedly voiced concerns over the exceptional collapse of the rule of law in Sri Lanka. It is now a place where ordinary citizens lack even the most rudimentary security. The AHRC has again and again warned government agencies of the dangerous situation prevailing in the country. Sadly, the government has turned a blind eye to these and other expressions of concern, and allowed the situation to deteriorate until murder is easy. The death of Gerald Perera is symbolic of the fate of every citizen in the country; anyone who dares to assert his or her rights faces the very real threat of violent and abrupt death.
The judicial process is also mired in a deep crisis. A high court judge was killed two days before Gerald Perera was shot; several investigators belonging to customs authorities, the auditor generals department and other agencies have also been seriously attacked. Judges, complainants and investigators are all under severe threat from criminal elements with strong links to police officers.
It is often said that the cause of the increase in crime in Sri Lanka is the underworld. On the occasion of this barbaric killing, the AHRC categorically states that the primary reason relates to these links between police officers and criminal elements, which the authorities have not made any serious effort at breaking.
We have been reliably informed that Gerald Perera's wife and other family members are now scared for their lives. They live in mortal fear because they see that law-enforcement officers have set murderers onto them. Even the noise of a vehicle outside is said to cause the whole family to run and hide under a bed.
We call upon the Government of Sri Lanka to provide protection to Gerald Perera's family and to enable his funeral rites to be performed in an atmosphere of peace. Although we are aware that the local community has also been chilled by dread, we urge all friends and neighbours to rally around so that the family can perform their funerary obligations.
We call upon the government of Sri Lanka to take all steps necessary to investigate thoroughly this murder, which has been done under the cover of state protection. In particular, the authorities must answer as to how officers facing criminal charges of torture since 2003 could still have been at their posts. These men have used the opportunity given by their official positions to plan and implement this killing.
We call upon all people of goodwill in the country to rise up and defend their basic freedoms even now, when the space to fight is very limited. Sri Lanka may be heading towards a major catastrophe characterised by lawlessness and a lack of basic security that only extremely urgent action can avert.
We salute an innocent person who dared to assert his rights. We express our deepest sympathies to his family members; we call upon everyone to rally around and support them now.