A major dispute has erupted between the two most senior police officers in Sri Lanka. The row began with a statement made by the senior deputy inspector general (DIG) of police, H. M. B. G. Kotakadeniya, to the effect that discipline in the Sri Lankan police force has collapsed. This caused the country’s highest police officer, the inspector general of police (IGP), to retort that the DIG had no right to make such a statement without his approval. The public argument became even more acute when the minister of interior joined the quarrel by stating that, among other things, the present IGP is very sick and is unable to work more than two hours a day. Then, through interviews in the media, many people publicly came forward to describe various painful incidents they had suffered at the hands of the Sri Lankan police. Among the people who participated in a live radio programme were Sri Lankans living abroad who compared the behaviour of the police in countries where they are working to the Sri Lankan police with the former receiving a much more favourable report.
During the weeks immediately proceeding DIG Kotakadeniya’s statement, there were many incidents of gruesome torture by the Sri Lankan police that were widely published by the media. These incidents were also reported outside of Sri Lanka. Most of the reports originated from the Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) and were reported through the OMCT network as well. In addition, some cases were reported through the One World Online and Yahoo networks. As a result of receiving many reports, the Sinhala service of the BBC, Sandesaya, devoted two sessions of their Wednesday programme – Utu Autu or Rights and Wrongs on June 19 and 26 to interviews with victims, police officers and others about this issue.
Some of the cases shocked the public: the case of Jerard Perera, who was declared innocent after being severely tortured by some officers assigned to the Wattala police station – injuries which required him to be put on a life-support system for more than a month; the case of Lalith Rajapakse, who was unconscious for more than 15 days after being tortured by the Kandana police; the case of Nandani Herat, who was sexually assaulted in a grotesque manner by officers of the Wariapola police station; the case of Greesha de Silva, who lost the use of both of his hands because of the torture inflicted on him by the Habaraduwa police; and the case of Nimal Silva Goonaratne, who lost one eye after being tortured in an illegal detention centre in Panadura at the office of the assistant superintendent of police (ASP), Ranmal Koddituwakku, who is the IGP¡¯s son. These cases are just a small sample of the hundreds of other cases from around the country.
There have been many protests against the police, including street protests by the public. There have also been several photo exhibitions attended by a large number of people organised by a local organisation, Janasansadaya, that have exposed the violent practices of the police. In addition, on this year¡¯s International Day against Torture, June 26, there were several events held to commemorate it, including an advertisement in a major newspaper that called for strict implementation of the law against torture (Act No. 22 of 1994), which prescribes a mandatory sentence of seven years in prison for any act of torture.
On June 26, the Anglican bishop of Colombo, Bishop Chigera, issued a statement pointing to the need to eliminate torture. He stated that \”it is very necessary that civil society takes some firm steps to ensure that torture and other degrading forms of violence are eradicated from our society.\” To achieve this aim, he said that the following steps must be considered:
1. Public awareness about the evil of torture and the need to eliminate torture must be created, which perhaps could be incorporated into the school social studies syllabus.
2. The attorney general must be urged to indict and secure the conviction of law enforcement officers who are known to have practised torture or degrading treatment of people in custody.
3. Support facilities for the psychological, physical and material rehabilitation of the victims of torture must be established.
4. Community organisations that can mobilise opinion and be facilitators for the campaign against torture must be created.
Thus, DIG Kotakadeniya¡¯s statement has come at a time when the public has openly demanded that the State control its police force and discipline it.
There has been some attempt to undermine the DIG’s statement and even to seek disciplinary action against him for making such a public statement. Under these circumstances, the Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC), which has been calling for police reforms for several years, has issued a statement supporting the DIG’s right to publicly express his views and calling on the government of Sri Lanka and its people to take seriously his comments and to act upon them. The full statement is provided below.
SRI LANKA: The Battle against the Collapse of Police Discipline
In Defence of Kotakadeniya, Senior Deputy Inspector General of Police
Statement by the Asian Human Rights Commission
The Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC), as a human rights organisation, has observed the actions and behaviour of the Sri Lankan police for a long time and has called for fundamental reforms of this institution. We feel obliged to defend the right of Senior Deputy Inspector General of Police (DIG) H. M. B. G. Kotakadeniya to publicly expose the sad state of the Sri Lankan police force that, unfortunately, has existed for many years. It is the duty of any person holding a responsible position in any state or other institution to take a public stance and to alert the public when their institutions degenerate. This duty arises from the wider obligation that all people owe to society to alert the community of the dangers to which the society is exposed. For a senior officer of an institution, this duty to society and to the nation is even much greater than that of an ordinary citizen, a duty to society and the nation which overrides all other loyalties.
AHRC, in its previous statements over the course of several years, has made a much more fundamental criticism of the state of the Sri Lankan police force than even that made by Senior DIG Kotakadeniya. We have explained that the command structure of the institution of the police has undergone a serious transformation for the worse, that there has been a subversion of the lower ranks by the higher officers and that disciplinary control within the police has collapsed to a point that is hard to imagine. Moreover, we have noted the arbitrary behaviour of the police, such as a refusal to take complaints, a failure to investigate all complaints, a failure to maintain proper records and a failure to observe legal procedures laid down in law and in the departmental orders of the police. These serious shortcomings have become so common that torture has become engendered as an endemic practice. Sadly, the injuries caused by torture in many cases are truly shocking. What is equally shocking is that there are people who should be treated as common criminals continuing to serve as law enforcement officers. As a result, AHRC has pointed out that the public¡¯s confidence in the police has been seriously eroded.
Indeed, the Supreme Court of Sri Lanka has pointed out in many judgements the existence of similar problems in the police force. In many instances, it has declared that police officers have violated the fundamental rights of the country¡¯s citizens. On several occasions, the Supreme Court has expressed frustration that disciplinary action has not been taken against officers despite the orders of the court against many officers. It has also condemned the recurring practice of police officers altering records to cover up their violations of departmental regulations. In one fundamental rights case, the three judges asked, \”Who will guard the people if the guardians of the law are its principal violators?\” Similarly, the mass media in Sri Lanka, through reports, articles and editorials, has pointed to the serious problems existing in the police force in the country.
Thus, the factual basis of the statement made by DIG Kotakadeniya is solid. In fact, neither the inspector general of police (IGP) nor the minister of interior have challenged the factual basis of his criticism. The minister of interior added, moreover, during a recent radio discussion about the state of the Sri Lankan police that it is to cure these ills of the country¡¯s police force that the Police Commission will be appointed. The large number of people who phoned the radio programme to report personal experiences of abuse they have suffered at the hands of the police throughout the country reinforced these views.
DIG Kotakadeniya’s statement was trivialised though by his peers who questioned his motives for doing so. However, whatever his motives may be, the deplorable state of the Sri Lankan police force cannot be disputed. It is this sad state of affairs that must concern people in authority as well as the general public. This is a national danger. It calls for immediate attention by the State and the people.
However, AHRC is seriously concerned over the manner in which the minister of interior and the IGP are underestimating the break down of discipline and the serious crisis within the institution of the police. We are particularly alarmed by the manner in which the issue of torture is being minimised by both the minister and the IGP despite strong evidence, including medical evidence in many cases. Judged by medical reports, people who should be charged for attempted murder and the offence of torture under Act No. 22 of 1994, which imposes a mandatory seven-year prison sentence, continue to serve in the police force or are given only a minor punishment, such as a transfer or temporary suspension from the police force for a brief period of time.
Among many cases of torture, we point to only the following: Jerard Perera is struggling for his life after brutally being assaulted by some officers of the Wattala police station; Lalith Rajapakse suffered serious injuries, including partial brain damage, because of the violence he endured at the hands of police officers in Kandana; Greesha de Silva has lost the use of both of his hands after being hung and tortured by some officers of the Habaraduwa police station; Nimal Silva Goonaratne was illegally detained at the Panadura police station for 121 days and has lost the use of one eye because of torture inflicted on him by the assistant superintendent of police (ASP), Ranmal Koddituwakku, who is the IGP¡¯s son; and Nandani Herat is a woman who was tortured and sexually assaulted in custody in Wariapola. In some of these cases, the police, after torturing the victim, have admitted that they had arrested the wrong person. All of these cases, however, have received considerable publicity. These are just a few cases though out of so many tragic examples that have been reported from all over the country.
AHRC believes that the increase of crime in Sri Lanka is directly related to the crisis in the police force. Because of serious organisational problems, the police have become incapable of responding to crime in a rational and professional manner. A sophisticated approach to the elimination of crime requires a very high degree of organisational discipline and information management. Information-gathering moreover requires a high degree of confidence and cooperation with the public. Thus, the withdrawal of support by the people due to a loss of confidence in the police is the greatest obstacle to crime detection presently in Sri Lanka.
We urge people to see DIG Kotakadeniya’s statement as an alarm bell that signals a grave national problem within the institution of the police and to regard it as a warning to take serious action to correct it. We also call upon everyone in Sri Lanka and all human rights organisations inside and outside of the country to make their intervention at this moment, to press for reforms in the Sri Lankan police force so that it will function to protect democracy and the people of the country and not to abuse them.