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SRI LANKA: Yet another man is killed by the police

June 27, 2012

ASIAN HUMAN RIGHTS COMMISSION-URGENT APPEAL PROGRAMME

Urgent Appeal Case: AHRC-UAC-109-2012

27 June 2012
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SRI LANKA: Yet another man is killed by the police

ISSUES: Extrajudicial killing; impunity; rule of law
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Dear friends,

The Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) has received information that on 20 May 2012, M.D. Kalum Priyanath, a disabled labourer, went to a local temple to help a monk run an errand. At 12pm, as he was returning home, Mr. Priyanath was arrested by the police and taken to Welikanda Police Station. According to police officers, Mr. Priyanath was in possession of marijuana, and was found dead in his jail cell at 1pm as the result of a head injury caused by a fall. Mr. Priyanath’s relatives believe that Mr. Priyanath was severely tortured and killed by the police. Indeed, the report of a Judicial Medical Officer state that Mr. Priyanath’s body sustained bruises, swelling and severe bleeding to the back of his head. Despite the fact that the family has filed complaints with the Human Rights Commission of Sri Lanka (HRCSL), the Inspector General of Police (IGP), Senior Superintendent of Police (SSP), Assistanct Superintendent of Police (ASP) of the Polonnaruwa and to the National Police Commission (NPC,) each of these organizations have failed to initiate credible, impartial investigations into Mr. Priyanath’s death. This case is yet another illustration of the exceptional collapse of the rule of law in Sri Lanka.

CASE NARRATIVE:

According to information that the Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) has received, Mr. M.D. Kalum Priyanath or Thushara (31) of No: 76, Meethrigama, Aselapura, Welikanda in Polonnaruwa District was illegally arrested, detained and extrajudicially killed by police officers attached to the Walikanda Police Station on 20 May 2012. His relatives have stated that Officer Nimal and Officer Borawewa who are attached to Welikanda Police Station have played a part in this grievous crime. Mr. Priyanath was married with two children. He was physically disabled, but held a job as a labourer.

AHRC-UAC-109-2012-01.jpgOn 20 May 2012, Mr. Priyanath went to Kadawatha Magaduwa Temple with a monk from Maithreegama Sudarshama Temple to help the monk with an errand. At around 12pm, after completing the errand, Mr. Priyanath began to walk home. During his journey, he was arrested, allegedly for possession of marijuana, and detained in jail. The police did not take a statement from Mr. Priyanath before he was detained in jail. According to the police, Mr. Priyanath was found dead in his cell at 1pm. When the monk went to the police station for another errand, he saw Mr. Priyanath’s dead body.

According to the police, Mr. Priyanath fell and injured his head, causing death. Police Officer Borawawa made a false statement on behalf of Mr. Priyanath’s sister. This false statement reports that Mr. Priyanath fell in his cell, and died shortly after being admitted to hospital. According to police investigators, when Mr. Priyanath’s body was examined, his clothes had been removed and were drying on a clothes line in the sunlight. Mr. Priyanath’s family believe that police officers attempted to clean Mr. Priyanath’s clothes of blood stains from injuries they inflicted on him.

However, according to information that we have received, at least one of the officers connected to this police station has misused his position to abuse Mr. Priyanath in the past. We are told that Officer Nimal holds a grudge against Mr. Priyanath. When Officer Nimal saw Mr. Priyanath on the street, he would search Mr. Priyanath for drug possession. On one occasion, Officer Nimal ordered Mr. Priyanath to remove his clothes in a public area. After this incident, Officer Nimal and Mr. Priyanath had an argument.

When Mr. Priyanath’s family went to the hospital to see Mr. Priyanath’s body, the police prevented them from seeing their son. According to the family, the purchase of a coffin and the numerous visits made by the police to Mr. Priyanath’s family to give condolences were an attempt to create the impression that the police officers were not responsible for Mr. Priyanath’s death. Additionally, the police claim that they found a box of matches and Rs. 50 in Mr. Priyanath’s shirt pocket. They passed these items to Mr. Priyanath’s father.

Mr. Priyanath’s family has categorically stated that they do not believe the police’s representation of the events that led to Mr. Priyanath’s death. They say that Mr. Priyanath was in good health, and that he is extremely unlikely to have fallen so hard that he died. Mr. Priyanath’s body was examined by a Judicial Medical Officer. According to the JMO’s report, Mr. Priyanath’s body sustained several bruises, swelling and severe bleeding on the back of his head.

Mr. Priyanath’s family have filed complaints with the Human Rights Commission of Sri Lanka (HRCSL), the Inspector General of Police (IGP), Senior Superintendent of Police (SSP), Assistanct Superintendent of Police (ASP) of the Polonnaruwa and to the National Police Commission (NPC.) None of these organizations have initiated a credible, impartial investigation into Mr. Priyanath’s death. Mr. Priyanath’s family are seeking justice on behalf of their son, and demand that their rights enshrined in the Constitution of Sri Lanka be upheld.

ADDITIONAL COMMENTS:

The Asian Human Rights Commission has reported innumerable cases of arbitrary arrest, detention, torture and extra judicial killings cases of citizens at the hands of the police, at different police stations across the country. This practice is illegal under local and international law. The Asian Human Rights Commission has observed that the Sri Lankan police have used torture as an instrument to terrorize innocent people and harass the public for their own personal and professional gain. Moreover, Sri Lanka’s police are implementing a policy handling crime in which they arrest and kill suspected criminals, rather than producing them before a court of law.

The Constitution of Sri Lanka has guaranteed the right to freedom from torture to every citizen of the country. According to Article 11 of the Constitution, “No person shall be subjected to torture or to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.” Furthermore, Article 13(4) "No person shall be punished with death or imprisonment except by order of a competent court, made in accordance with procedure established by law. The arrest, holding in custody, detention or other deprivation of personal liberty of a person, pending investigation or trial, shall not constitute punishment." Article 13 (5) guarantees the right of presumption of innocence until being proven guilty. Each of these provisions have been violated in this case.

Sri Lanka has signed and ratified the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR). Nevertheless, the lack of protection offered to those who are willing to take cases against abusive police officers and the state authorities, means that the law is under-used, and continues to be employed as a tool by the police to harass people. Not only does this take a long-term toll on the victim and his or her family, but on society as a whole. The state’s lack of protection of those who are working to make the provisions enshrined in Sri Lanka’s constitution a reality undermines civilian respect for the law and encourages impunity.

The Asian Human Rights Commission has repeatedly urged the Sri Lankan government to adopt a law and implement witness protection.

SUGGESTED ACTION:
Please send a letter to the authorities listed below expressing your concern about this case and requesting an immediate investigation into the allegations extra judicial killings by the police perpetrators, and the prosecution of those proven to be responsible under the criminal law of the country. The officers involved must also be subjected to internal investigations for the breach of the department orders as issued by the police department.

The AHRC has also written a separate letter to the Special Rapporteur on Extra-judicial, Summary or Arbitrary Executions on this regard.

To support this appeal, please click here:

SAMPLE LETTER:

Dear ________,

SRI LANKA: Yet another man is extrajudicially killed by the police

Name of Victim: M.D. Kalum Priyanath or Thushara (31) of No: 76, Meethrigama, Aselapura, Welikanda in Polonnaruwa District
Alleged perpetrators: Officers attached to the Walikanda Police Station.
Date of incident: 20 May 2012
Place of incident: Walikanda Police Station

According to the information I have received Mr. M.D. Kalum Priyanath or Thushara (31) of No: 76, Meethrigama, Aselapura, Welikanda in Polonnaruwa District was illegally arrested, detained and extrajudicially killed by police officers attached to the Walikanda Police Station on 20 May 2012. His relatives have stated that Officer Nimal and Officer Borawewa who are attached to Welikanda Police Station have played a part in this grievous crime. Mr. Priyanath was married with two children. He was physically disabled, but held a job as a labourer.

On 20 May 2012, Mr. Priyanath went to Kadawatha Magaduwa Temple with a monk from Maithreegama Sudarshama Temple to help the monk with an errand. At around 12pm, after completing the errand, Mr. Priyanath began to walk home. During his journey, he was arrested, allegedly for possession of marijuana, and detained in jail. The police did not take a statement from Mr. Priyanath before he was detained in jail. According to the police, Mr. Priyanath was found dead in his cell at 1pm. When the monk went to the police station for another errand, he saw Mr. Priyanath’s dead body.

According to the police, Mr. Priyanath fell and injured his head, causing death. Police Officer Borawawa made a false statement on behalf of Mr. Priyanath’s sister. This false statement reports that Mr. Priyanath fell in his cell, and died shortly after being admitted to hospital. According to police investigators, when Mr. Priyanath’s body was examined, his clothes had been removed and were drying on a clothes line in the sunlight. Mr. Priyanath’s family believes that police officers attempted to clean Mr. Priyanath’s clothes of blood stains from injuries they inflicted on him.

However, according to information that we have received, at least one of the officers connected to this police station has misused his position to abuse Mr. Priyanath in the past. We are told that Officer Nimal holds a grudge against Mr. Priyanath. When Officer Nimal saw Mr. Priyanath on the street, he would search Mr. Priyanath for drug possession. On one occasion, Officer Nimal ordered Mr. Priyanath to remove his clothes in a public area. After this incident, Officer Nimal and Mr. Priyanath had an argument.

When Mr. Priyanath’s family went to the hospital to see Mr. Priyanath’s body, the police prevented them from seeing their son. According to the family, the purchase of a coffin and the numerous visits made by the police to Mr. Priyanath’s family to give condolences were an attempt to create the impression that the police officers were not responsible for Mr. Priyanath’s death. Additionally, the police claim that they found a box of matches and Rs. 50 in Mr. Priyanath’s shirt pocket. They passed these items to Mr. Priyanath’s father.

Mr. Priyanath’s family has categorically stated that they do not believe the police’s representation of the events that led to Mr. Priyanath’s death. They say that Mr. Priyanath was in good health, and that he is extremely unlikely to have fallen so hard that he died. Mr. Priyanath’s body was examined by a Judicial Medical Officer. According to the JMO’s report, Mr. Priyanath’s body sustained several bruises, swelling and severe bleeding on the back of his head.

Mr. Priyanath’s family have filed complaints with the Human Rights Commission of Sri Lanka (HRCSL), the Inspector General of Police (IGP), Senior Superintendent of Police (SSP), Assistanct Superintendent of Police (ASP) of the Polonnaruwa and to the National Police Commission (NPC.) None of these organizations have initiated a credible, impartial investigation into Mr. Priyanath’s death. Mr. Priyanath’s family are seeking justice on behalf of their son, and demand that their rights enshrined in the Constitution of Sri Lanka be upheld.

The Sri Lankan police have adopted a systematic practice of extrajudicially killing its citizens in the name of crime prevention. The innocent, even after arrest by the police, especially by the Special Task Force (STF) have been killed while in police custody. In a recent incident the police claimed that one suspect drowned while trying to escape their custody. They offered no explanation when it was pointed out to them that the 'suspect' had been a navy specialist and an expert swimmer.

The prevention of crime is a one of the sacred and paramount duties of the any civilized state. According to the Constitution of the country the law enforcement authorities are bound to protect the right to life of the people and their constitutionally enshrined rights. Sri Lanka, while running the country with a democratic framework is bound to support the judiciary and impose the rule of law and protect the civil liberties of the people. The killing of civilians by police officers has become a peremptory norm in the country.

Any incident in which a person is killed by a policeman should be investigated promptly, efficiently and without delay. However, in this instance the state has not shown any interest in investigating the killing and bringing the responsible police officers before the court. For many years now there has been no command responsibility in the Sri Lankan police and it is the supervisory officers that should be held primarily responsible for the killings perpetrated by the officers under their command.

I request your urgent intervention to ensure that the authorities listed below instigate an immediate investigation into the allegations of the extrajudicial killing of the victim. The officers involved must also be subjected to internal investigations for the breach of the department orders as issued by the police department.

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. Ms. Eva Wanasundra
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
Human Rights Commission
No. 36, Kynsey Road
Colombo 8
SRI LANKA
Tel: +94 11 2 694 925 / 673 806
Fax: +94 11 2 694 924 / 696 470
E-mail: sechrc@sltnet.lk


Thank you.

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

Document Type :
Urgent Appeal Case
Document ID :
AHRC-UAC-109-2012
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.