SRI LANKA: One month after the shooting of Gerald Perera: No justice yet

Gerald Perera was shot one month ago in broad daylight, while traveling to work in a bus.  This was an event that received maximum publicity in all media. The nation was shocked that the victim of one of the most well known torture cases decided by the Supreme Court of Sri Lanka, was shot just eight days before he was to give evidence in the High Court of Negombo against several police officers accused of torturing him. The motive of the killing was never challenged at any time; even the police spokesperson admitted that it was the police who were responsible for the attack on Mr. Perera. Consequently the inquiry into the murder was handed over to the Criminal Investigation Department. The Inspector General of Police publicly promised speedy inquiries bringing the culprits to justice, as did the Solicitor General.

The leading newspapers in the country called for a top-level inquiry. There were interventions from many international organisations, in response to which they received written acknowledgements from the police department, stating that inquiries were being carried out and that the perpetrators would be brought to justice.

A month has passed by however, with neither Mr. Perera’s family nor the Sri Lankan public having heard much about the developments in the case. While many people are being questioned, no one has yet been arrested. There are natural doubts among the public–having all too often seen justice being compromised–as to whether the police perpetrators of this murder will be prosecuted and punished. In the case of Judge Ambepitiya, who was murdered just two days before the shooting of Mr. Perera, the suspects were apprehended within a matter of days, despite the fact that the alleged culprits were drug lords with close connections to senior police officers. While this was heartening for those seeking justice, it is just as disheartening to note the paltry steps taken in Gerald Perera’s case. Similarly, while the President awarded substantial compensation to the family of Judge Ambepitiya, no such compensation has been given to Mr. Perera’s family.

Many international organisations and even governments are expressing concerns about the murder of this torture victim. Letters have been written to many Sri Lankan consulates requesting justice. In some countries thousands of people are signing petitions to express their indignation and to call for the perpetrators to be brought to justice. They are also expressing sympathy and solidarity to Mr. Perera’s family, his wife and three children.

In contrast, none of the leading political parties in the country have openly condemned the murder of a torture victim who was assassinated for the sole purpose of preventing him from giving evidence against the police, or called for justice. This differs dramatically from the case of Judge Ambepitiya, when everyone wanted to be seen as being outraged by his murder. The political leaders of parties in the area where Mr. Perera lived and was shot are also silent; this is said to be a result of the deep connections the local politicians have with the police, which oblige them to hush up any illegal acts committed by police officers. It is also suspected that powerful elements amongst such politicians are trying to hush up the inquiries in this particular case.

The Wattala – Kandana areas, which neighbour each other, are known to be places where torture in police stations is very common. While the torture of Mr. Perera took place at the Wattala police station, another well known torture case occurred at the Kandana police station: the torture of Lalith Rajapakse. There is information to suggest that some of the coordination of Mr. Perera’s murder took place at the Kandana police station; it seems quite likely that the police officers accused of torture at both police stations collaborated in the assassination of Gerald Perera after failing to persuade him to accept a sum of about Rs.5 million (US$50,000). Mr. Perera mentioned this to a Catholic parish priest a week before his assassination. Similar attempts are being made to offer money to Lalith Rajapakse. There is fear that a murder attempt may also be made on him and he has already made complaints to the Sri Lankan and UN authorities about this matter.

It is not possible for society to function in a stable manner if a case like Mr. Perera’s murder goes unresolved. The delay in bringing the perpetrators to justice has already encouraged unscrupulous elements in the police–who engage in torture and other illegal practices–to use Gerald Perera’s murder to intimidate others. They are trying to demonstrate that the search for justice is a futile activity in Sri Lanka.

Unless this psychological discouragement of seeking justice is not overturned by effective investigations and prosecutions, any debate against the escalation of violence will remain mere rhetoric without any radical effect on justice and the rule of law. We therefore urge the Inspector General of Police, the Attorney General and all Sri Lankan authorities to bring the perpetrators of Mr. Perera’s murder to justice.

We also call upon everyone to show solidarity with Mr. Perera’s family, express their concerns and make religious observances on their behalf during this time of Christmas.

Document Type : Statement
Document ID : AS-66-2004
Countries : Sri Lanka,
Issues : Right to remedy,