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SRI LANKA: Siridhamma College teacher severely beat a student

June 25, 2013

ASIAN HUMAN RIGHTS COMMISSION-URGENT APPEAL PROGRAMME

Urgent Appeal Case: AHRC-UAC-090-2013



25 June 2013
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SRI LANKA: Siridhamma College teacher severely beat a student

ISSUES: Torture; child rights; denial of justice; impunity; rule of law
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Dear friends,

The Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) has received information that Bewantha Udeep Abeysiriwardena Wijesinghe, a 15 year old student of Siridhamma College of Galle, was brutally beaten by his teacher of the school Mr. S.V. Gamini. Bewantha was briefly hospitalised and his father, Mr. D.D. Abysiriwardene, made a complaint with the Akmeemana Police Station. The Assistant Superintendent of Police, who conducted investigation into the alleged incident, sided with the perpetrator and made a distorted report. Thus, Bewantha was denied of justice.

This case is yet another example of how the Sri Lankan police facilitate the ongoing practice of covering up illegal and brutal actions in the country.

CASE NARRATIVE:
According to the information received by the Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) Bewantha Udeep Abeysiriwardena Wijesinghe of No: 77/128, Mahawattha, Mapitiya, Galle is a 15-year-old student. He was studying at the Siridhamma College Galle in grade 10. Bewantha's mother is a vice principal of the school. On 8 May 2013, Bewantha had a quarrel with a fellow student, Amila, who is studying in the same class and the two boys exchanged blows. During the argument Mr. S.V. Gamini, who is an English teacher entered the class room grabbed hold of Bewantha and without any inquiry severely beat him. As he was striking Bewantha he demanded, "Are you trying to show the power of your mother?" Mr. Nadeera, another teacher arrived from the class he was teaching and stopped Gamini from further assaulting Bewantha.

According to Bewantha's father, Mr. D.D. Abysiriwardene, on the same day he received a phone call from his wife who told him about the incident and that Bewantha was brutally beaten by the teacher, Gamini. She asked him to come to the school immediately and when he arrived he saw that his son's lips were bleeding and there was the beginning of bruising around his eyes. He also noticed that Bewantha's uniform was torn and two buttons were missing from his shirt due to Gamini's assault. When he learned that Bewantha was suffering from a headache he brought him to the Karapitiya Teaching Hospital for treatment at 2.30 pm. Bewantha was admitted to the accident ward but discharged the following day after being given medical treatment. He was also examined by the Judicial Medical Officer (JMO) and made a statement to the Police Post of the Hospital. On the same day Bewantha's father went to the Akmeemana Police Station and lodged a complaint under reference number CIB/11/16/90 against Mr. Gamini.

On 10 May 2013, the Akmeemana Police Station informed him to come for an inquiry on 11 May at 9.00 am but on the same day and at the same time he already had another inquiry at the Mediation Board at Nagoda. He explained the situation and asked for an alternative date for the inquiry but the police officer did not listen to his request and forced him to come for the scheduled inquiry. As he had no option he went and met the Assistant Superintendent of Police (ASP) Keerthirathne, of the area and asked him for an impartial inquiry into the case. At the meeting he also made a statement.

On 14 May 2013, an inquiry was held by the ASP. At that time Mr. Gamini tried to argue that it was Bewantha's fault and turn the situation around. Bewantha's father felt that the ASP was under pressure not to deliver justice. He states that at the meeting the inquiring officer made little effort to ascertain the truth but instead defended the accused teacher. Mr. Abysiriwardene felt that neither he nor his child was given justice or an impartial hearing by the ASP. Mr. Abysiriwardene asked the ASP to conduct a further impartial and independent inquiry but the officer refused to hear the case again.

Bewantha's father has since made complaints to the Human Rights Commission of Sri Lanka (HRCSL), the Inspector General of Police (IGP), the Deputy Inspector General of Police (DIG) Southern Province and the National Child Protection Authority (NCPA) requesting them for an impartial and independent inquiry but, typically, none of these authorities have taken any action to deliver justice. Bewantha and his parents seek justice.

SUGGESTED ACTION:
Please send a letter to the authorities expressing your concern about this case and requesting an immediate investigation into the allegations of torturing a child by a government school teacher and denying justice and an independent inquiry by the police. Please request the authorities for the prosecution of those proven to be responsible under the criminal law of the country for misusing the powers of a state. The officer involved must also be subjected to internal investigations for the breach of the departmental order as issued by the police department. Further, please also request the NPC and the IGP to have a special investigation into the malpractices of the police officer for abusing his powers.

Please note that the AHRC has also written separate letters to the Special Rapporteur on torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment and the Chairperson of the Committee on the Rights of the Child on this regard.

To support this appeal, please click here: 

SAMPLE LETTER:

Dear …………..,

SRI LANKA: Siridhamma College teacher's corporal punishment of a student deserves investigation and justice

Name of the victim: Bewantha Udeep Abeysiriwardena Wijesinghe of No: 77/128, Mahawattha, Mapitiya, Galle
Alleged perpetrator: S.V. Gamini, English teacher of Siridamma College Galle
Date of incident: 8 May 2013
Place of incident: In front of the grade 10 (E) class room of Siridamma College at Galle

I am writing to express his serious concern over the case of Bewantha Udeep Abeysiriwardena Wijesinghe, a 15-year-old student, who was corporally punished by his teachers of the Siridhamma College Galle in grade 10.

Bewantha's mother is a vice principal of the school. On 8 May 2013 Bewantha had a quarrel with a fellow student, Amila, who is studying in the same class and the two boys exchanged blows. During the argument Mr. S.V. Gamini, who is an English teacher entered the class room grabbed hold of Bewantha and without any inquiry severely beat him. As he was striking Bewantha he demanded, "Are you trying to show the power of your mother?" Mr. Nadeera, another teacher arrived from the class he was teaching and stopped Gamini from further assaulting Bewantha.

According to Bewantha's father, Mr. D.D. Abysiriwardene, on the same day he received a phone call from his wife who told him about the incident and that Bewantha was brutally beaten by the teacher, Gamini. She asked him to come to the school immediately and when he arrived he saw that his son's lips were bleeding and there was the beginning of bruising around his eyes. He also noticed that Bewantha's uniform was torn and two buttons were missing from his shirt due to Gamini's assault. When he learned that Bewantha was suffering from a headache he brought him to the Karapitiya Teaching Hospital for treatment at 2.30 pm. Bewantha was admitted to the accident ward but discharged the following day after being given medical treatment. He was also examined by the Judicial Medical Officer (JMO) and made a statement to the Police Post of the Hospital. On the same day Bewantha's father went to the Akmeemana Police Station and lodged a complaint under reference number CIB/11/16/90 against Mr. Gamini.

On 10 May, the Akmeemana Police Station informed him to come for an inquiry on 11 May at 9.00 am but on the same day and at the same time he already had another inquiry at the Mediation Board at Nagoda. He explained the situation and asked for an alternative date for the inquiry but the police officer did not listen to his request and forced him to come for the scheduled inquiry. As he had no option he went and met the Assistant Superintendent of Police (ASP) Keerthirathne, of the area and asked him for an impartial inquiry into the case. At the meeting he also made a statement.

On 14 May, an inquiry was held by the ASP. At that time Mr. Gamini tried to argue that it was Bewantha's fault and turn the situation around. Bewantha's father felt that the ASP was under pressure not to deliver justice. He states that at the meeting the inquiring officer made little effort to ascertain the truth but instead defended the accused teacher. Mr. Abysiriwardene felt that neither he nor his child was given justice or an impartial hearing by the ASP. Mr. Abysiriwardene asked the ASP to conduct a further impartial and independent inquiry but the officer refused to hear the case again.

Bewantha's father has since made complaints to the Human Rights Commission of Sri Lanka (HRCSL), the Inspector General of Police (IGP), the Deputy Inspector General of Police (DIG) Southern Province and the National Child Protection Authority (NCPA) requesting them for an impartial and independent inquiry but, typically, none of these authorities have taken any action to deliver justice.

I request your immediate intervention in this matter to ensure that justice is provided to the young victim and his family and that the teacher who committed the assault faces just punishment and that the police officer who was willing to turn a blind eye to the investigation is investigated and disciplined accordingly

Yours sincerely,

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PLEASE SEND YOUR LETTERS TO:

1. Mr. N K Illangakoon
Inspector General of Police
New Secretariat
Colombo 1
SRI LANKA
Fax: +94 11 2 440440 / 327877
E-mail: igp@police.lk

2. Mr. Sarath Palitha Fernando
Attorney General
Attorney General's Department
Colombo 12
SRI LANKA
Fax: +94 11 2 436421
E-mail: ag@attorneygeneral.gov.lk

3. Secretary
National Police Commission
3rd Floor, Rotunda Towers
109 Galle Road
Colombo 03
SRI LANKA
Tel: +94 11 2 395310
Fax: +94 11 2 395867
E-mail: npcgen@sltnet.lk or polcom@sltnet.lk

4. Secretary
SrheLanka Human Rights Commission
No: 165 Kynsey Road,
Borella, Colombo 8.
SRI LANKA
Fax: +94 11 2694924
Email: sechrc@slnet.lk


Thank you.

Urgent Appeals Programme
Asian Human Rights Commission (ua@ahrc.asia)

Document Type :
Urgent Appeal Case
Document ID :
AHRC-UAC-090-2013
Countries :
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Extended Introduction: Urgent Appeals, theory and practice

A need for dialogue

Many people across Asia are frustrated by the widespread lack of respect for human rights in their countries.  Some may be unhappy about the limitations on the freedom of expression or restrictions on privacy, while some are affected by police brutality and military killings.  Many others are frustrated with the absence of rights on labour issues, the environment, gender and the like. 

Yet the expression of this frustration tends to stay firmly in the private sphere.  People complain among friends and family and within their social circles, but often on a low profile basis. This kind of public discourse is not usually an effective measure of the situation in a country because it is so hard to monitor. 

Though the media may cover the issues in a broad manner they rarely broadcast the private fears and anxieties of the average person.  And along with censorship – a common blight in Asia – there is also often a conscious attempt in the media to reflect a positive or at least sober mood at home, where expressions of domestic malcontent are discouraged as unfashionably unpatriotic. Talking about issues like torture is rarely encouraged in the public realm.

There may also be unwritten, possibly unconscious social taboos that stop the public reflection of private grievances.  Where authoritarian control is tight, sophisticated strategies are put into play by equally sophisticated media practices to keep complaints out of the public space, sometimes very subtly.  In other places an inner consensus is influenced by the privileged section of a society, which can control social expression of those less fortunate.  Moral and ethical qualms can also be an obstacle.

In this way, causes for complaint go unaddressed, un-discussed and unresolved and oppression in its many forms, self perpetuates.  For any action to arise out of private frustration, people need ways to get these issues into the public sphere.

Changing society

In the past bridging this gap was a formidable task; it relied on channels of public expression that required money and were therefore controlled by investors.  Printing presses were expensive, which blocked the gate to expression to anyone without money.  Except in times of revolution the media in Asia has tended to serve the well-off and sideline or misrepresent the poor.

Still, thanks to the IT revolution it is now possible to communicate with large audiences at little cost.  In this situation there is a real avenue for taking issues from private to public, regardless of the class or caste of the individual.

Practical action

The AHRC Urgent Appeals system was created to give a voice to those affected by human rights violations, and by doing so, to create a network of support and open avenues for action.  If X’s freedom of expression is denied, if Y is tortured by someone in power or if Z finds his or her labour rights abused, the incident can be swiftly and effectively broadcast and dealt with. The resulting solidarity can lead to action, resolution and change. And as more people understand their rights and follow suit, as the human rights consciousness grows, change happens faster. The Internet has become one of the human rights community’s most powerful tools.   

At the core of the Urgent Appeals Program is the recording of human rights violations at a grass roots level with objectivity, sympathy and competence. Our information is firstly gathered on the ground, close to the victim of the violation, and is then broadcast by a team of advocates, who can apply decades of experience in the field and a working knowledge of the international human rights arena. The flow of information – due to domestic restrictions – often goes from the source and out to the international community via our program, which then builds a pressure for action that steadily makes its way back to the source through his or her own government.   However these cases in bulk create a narrative – and this is most important aspect of our program. As noted by Sri Lankan human rights lawyer and director of the Asian Human Rights Commission, Basil Fernando:

"The urgent appeal introduces narrative as the driving force for social change. This idea was well expressed in the film Amistad, regarding the issue of slavery. The old man in the film, former president and lawyer, states that to resolve this historical problem it is very essential to know the narrative of the people. It was on this basis that a court case is conducted later. The AHRC establishes the narrative of human rights violations through the urgent appeals. If the narrative is right, the organisation will be doing all right."

Patterns start to emerge as violations are documented across the continent, allowing us to take a more authoritative, systemic response, and to pinpoint the systems within each country that are breaking down. This way we are able to discover and explain why and how violations take place, and how they can most effectively be addressed. On this path, larger audiences have opened up to us and become involved: international NGOs and think tanks, national human rights commissions and United Nations bodies.  The program and its coordinators have become a well-used tool for the international media and for human rights education programs. All this helps pave the way for radical reforms to improve, protect and to promote human rights in the region.