SRI LANKA: Sri Lankan IGP shows double standards in speeding up trial

According to the latest media reports, the Sri Lankan Inspector General of Police (IGP), Chandra Fernando, has said that the police will apply to the Attorney General’s department to have a trial at bar in order to speed up the sensational Royal Park murder trial. The IGP says this will “send a clear message” to all that crime will be punished.

By what criteria does the Inspector General of Police decide which cases are to be speeded up and where clear messages are to be sent? Is the urgency of a trial determined by the particular person who has been killed? If a judge or a foreigner is murdered, is this sufficient ground upon which to decide that the crime is heinous and speedy justice is needed? Surely the factors that deserve consideration include the positions of the alleged perpetrators and the circumstances of the crime, rather than the personalities involved.

There are no more heinous crimes than those crimes allegedly committed by law enforcement officers, whose duty it should be to protect, not undermine, the rights of the people. One glaring example of such a crime is the murder of Gerald Perera, a prominent torture victim who was killed a few days before he was to give evidence in court of his ordeal at the hands of local police. Gerald was apparently murdered to prevent him from giving this evidence. After thorough investigations, the culprits were remanded. However, no attempt has been made by the police or by the Attorney General’s department to expedite this trial.

Almost every week a murder is reported from one Sri Lankan police station or another. Just last week it was reported that a 52-year-old man was tortured to death at the Peliyagoda Police station over the alleged theft of a cordless phone. Meanwhile, it was reported that personnel connected with the Kadawatha Police station abducted a young man and dumped the body, which had over 30 external physical injuries, in a well. A man at Opanayaka Police station was shot to death, resulting in what newspapers have reported as a mini battle between the police and large numbers of villagers who brought the casket of the dead man to the police station in angry protest. Were the daily, weekly, and monthly killings at police stations tallied, they would make a long list by the end of a year.

Has the Inspector General of Police thought of “sending a clear message” to any of his own police officers on such murders and torture? Or are they sent a clear message that they will be protected in every possible way? Are only some gestures made in order that public anger is appeased and a false impression created in the international community? What moral authority does the Inspector General of Police think he is exhibiting by calling for a speedy trial in the murder case of a young foreigner, while his police personnel are left to their own devices? That the trial of a murder victim should be sped up because of social standing or nationality denies the principle of equality before the law and ignores the disproportionate effects of different crimes on the entire system of law enforcement.

Every time a Sri Lankan police officer kills or tortures someone, mountains must be moved, through United Nations and other international agencies, to get even the slightest action. Even where some special units do their jobs well and arrest the perpetrators, senior officers do everything they can to protect the culprits. And most commonly, that support comes through inordinate delays in cases that give time for victims and witnesses to be cajoled and threatened into pulling out of the trial. As a last resort, they end up like Gerald Perera.

When law enforcement officers are the accused, the police have an even greater obligation than usual to protect the victim and witnesses, as the perpetrators have an extraordinary capacity to commit further harm. It is especially in these cases that speedier trials are needed. The Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) therefore urges the Inspector General of Police to ensure a speedy trial in the case of murdered torture victim, Gerald Perera, and in all cases of killings at police stations. Then a clear message will really be sent: to the law enforcement officers who are destabilizing the rule of law in Sri Lanka. This step will benefit the country far more than cheap populist gestures on high-profile cases.

Document Type : Statement
Document ID : AS-86-2005
Countries : Sri Lanka,