SRI LANKA: Sri Lankan NPC probe into top police a critical test of its credibility

According to the latest news, the National Police Commission (NPC) of Sri Lanka has received documentation based upon sources in the ministry of defence on 22 police officers allegedly having close links to underworld leaders and drug dealers. The officers include one senior deputy inspector general, two deputy inspector generals, two assistant superintendents of police, and five officers in charge of police stations, all in the Western Province. They are alleged to have sought the assistance of underworld leaders to obtain financial benefits, transport facilities, assistance in getting their children to school and more. The evidence is said to be substantial. The NPC will now make its inquiries. 

The Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) welcomes this initiative to inform the NPC on alleged links between senior police officers and criminal elements in Sri Lanka. The AHRC has consistently maintained that the main reason for the increase in crime in Sri Lanka is the nexus between some police and hardcore criminals. This assertion has now been validated. 

A number of important questions arise for the NPC in handling this case. Among them, how seriously will inquiries be conducted and what will be the consequences? The NPC is mandated to discipline the police, and it is the proper authority to inquire into these allegations. In fact, among its tasks, the disciplinary role is the most important, particularly in light of the serious problems that afflict policing in Sri Lanka. This time the issue that has come before the NPC relates to senior police officers, being officers in charge of police stations and above. As this is a far more serious matter than those relating to lower-ranked officers, the NPC now has an opportunity to exercise its mandate strenuously, perhaps with very positive consequences for the police force as a whole. 

In seeking to undertake this important role, the NPC must ask whether or not the information it has been given justifies interdicting the accused officers pending its investigation. An elementary principle in conducting a fair inquiry is that persons who could interfere with the evidence or exercise powerful influence through their positions should be suspended for its duration. Given the high ranks of the police involved in this case, it would be naive to expect that a serious and thorough investigation can be undertaken while they are in their posts.

Another crucial question is what type of protection will be provided to the witnesses who have deposed against these officers, and may be called upon to do the same in the future? They will come under attack not only from the alleged culprits, but also from their allies and from the underworld. Too many Sri Lankans who have dared to reveal the truth about grave crimes have lost their lives. Most recently, the brutal murder of Gerald Perera serves as a reminder of the grim obstacles that must be faced when making inquiries into culprit officers and the underworld. 

These allegations are only the beginning. There are bound to be far graver revelations on the extent of the criminal-police nexus in Sri Lanka. This nexus exists in all parts of the country, and in remote areas it is at its most formidable, denying local people virtually any possibility of asserting their basic rights. It is also politically linked. However, when the 17th Amendment to the Constitution instructed that a police commission should be established, it did so with a view to addressing the deep problems facing the policing system. The National Police Commission now has an opportunity to take on the role for which it was envisaged, and tackle one of the greatest problems affecting the rule of law, democratic process and human rights in Sri Lanka. The AHRC sincerely hopes that it won’t miss its chance. 

Document Type : Statement
Document ID : AS-67-2004
Countries : Sri Lanka,
Issues : Judicial system, Rule of law,