ASIA: Women’s view on prevention of torture — Interview 46
SRI LANKA: Ms. HM Kanthi Kumari, (22) (Not her real name) is a Sinhalese, university student
What do you think about policing system of Sri Lanka?
When we compare the policing system of Sri Lanka with other organs of the state we cannot be satisfied at all with the existing situation. Generally people are afraid to go to police stations. People always suspect what kind of experience they have to face at the police stations. There is no need to consider the many structural defects as there are many people who are even afraid to go near the police stations. When we consider the situation of rural innocents they face more difficulties with the police.
If I had to explain the situation in short I would say that police presently work under the influence of political and financial power. It is the poorest of the poor and the marginalized people in the villages that face all these sufferings due to this total collapse of the policing system. I can explain this existing situation with a story which was revealed by one of my friends.
It was based on a discussion with his class teacher. It is amazing and I cannot understand how these things happen in our country.
One day her lecturer met with a traffic accident while driving. The important thing to note is that this particular lecturer did not have a legally issued driving license for the past few years which he lost and never bothered to replace. He has never faced any difficulty in driving without a license as he was a well known figure in the area. He holds two doctorates and is a lecturer by profession. He was personally known to many senior as well as junior policemen and it gave him a certain protection to bypass these essential legal avenues. So he was not detected as an offender who committed a traffic offence at all.
However when he met with an accident on this particular day he had to make a complaint so that he could claim the compensations for the damages caused. Otherwise he has to face legal barrier in lodging a claim application. Then he went to get an advice from a policeman to proceed with his claim.
Then the advice of the policeman was make a backdated police complaint stating that he lost his many valuable documents including his driving license few months ago. Understanding the difficulty of making such backdated official public document, the lecturer questioned the policeman how to make such a document as the police complaint books maintaining with official dates and those are supervising by may higher ranking officers. Then the policeman replied that it is a very easy thing in station. Then the lecturer approached the Officer-in-Charge (OIC) of the police station and seek his help. Within few minutes he search for the suitable date on the complaint in record book and found a suitable place. Then he recorded a complaint of the lecturer on separate paper and pasted it on a complaint which was already made by a person few months ago. Later the police issued a certified copy also base on that fraud document.
When the lecturer went to the insurance company along with his claim application and its pertaining documents the officers at the company made a further request. According the available documents as they could not find any past document that could prove that he had a valid driving license for any time they asked him to prove it. It was another blow to him. Then he went to meat a senior police officer known to him and informed the situation. This senior police officer has assured him that he will look after the matter and within few days he came with a backdated driving license issued on his name.
Then successful lecturer was able to submit the fraudulent license and proceeded with the insurance claim. The company granted him a sum of Rs. 450 000/= as compensation. The joyful lecturer when he came to conduct his lecture proudly revealed his success to the student. He further explained how the things happen in the country with the influence of these officers.
I think I do not want to provide more explanation the existing situation of the Policing system of Sri Lanka. I feel I am living in very perverted society.
What do you think about police torture?
Consider the previous example of on policing, think! what would happen if the true complainant of that complaint wanted to get a certified copy from the police, what would happen to him. Either the police would refused to issue a certified copy on the basis that there is no complaint on record for that day, with that name or he would be asked to make a new complaint again. The most probable thing would to be that the person would kept at the police station for a few days until he became frustrated with his attempt. Finally he would leave the station without succeeding. However if that person truly wanted to proceed for a legal case following that complaint what would be his fate?
Most probably the complainant would be a very poor person. That would be the reason to use this for such a fraudulent document preparation. This practice of preparing fraudulent documentation is rampant in Sri Lanka’s Police Stations. This is not a secret any more. It is a truth known to the public.
In another case, the mother of one of my friends lost her National Identity Card (NID). But she did not want to go to the police station to make a complaint as she had an identity card issued by her government department. She worked in a one of the highly recognised departments in the country. However after a long time she wanted to have a certified copy of a complaint for losing her NID card. Then she went to the police station.
When she approached the officers on duty with her requirement, they informed her that when someone makes a complaint on losing an ID he or she has to make the complaint with immediate effect. Then she revealed her connection to that department. Upon hear that the officers at the station followed the same illegal procedure and made a backdated complaint for her and issued a certified copy as well.
Police do all these malpractices and fraudulent things for the influential people and parties of the society. But when it comes to the people belonging to the poorer layers the police are reluctant to help and fulfill their stipulated duties for them.
I would like to elaborate one more thing. When the present Inspector General of Police (IGP) was appointed by the president, he immediately gave a press interview to the Sunday Silumina News Paper. It was published on 8 November 2009. In that interview he mentioned that he would take immediate action to stop the collections of grants either financial or material from the people of their respective divisions by the OICs as it obstruct to maintain the discipline of the officers of the department.
But anyone who closely and regularly watches the news in electronic and printed media can observe that all these malpractices continue to happen every day in different Police Stations Island wide. That would clearly established the truth that even the IGP of the country is well aware on what happened in the country.
If this is the situation that prevail in the country, who can believe that officers of the police department or department as itself as a law enforcement agency would respect the law of the country that prohibits torture. The law that prohibits and penalizes the use of physical and mental torture was enacted by the parliament around two decades ago. It clearly describes that any officers attached to executive branch of the state would be sentenced to a jail term of not less than seven years upon conviction by a competent court. But anyone with natural eyes can understand that these laws are not getting implemented and are, in fact, vehemently ignored directly by the officers in law enforcement agencies. This operational policing system is far beyond the laws and its own departmental regulations. It is very well understood by the people. What is really in practice is far different to the laws.
What do you think about the relationship between police and the public?
Following the example that I gave, I would say that there is no trust in the police. The poor people in the country are frustrated with the police and live in fear of them. The whole history of policing in Sri Lanka is embedded with a fear psychosis in the people and they run the whole country with that. The fear psychosis is the secret governing principle of the whole country, its institutions and society as whole. In each and every place in the country we can witness it. It is all about harassment, illegalities, unjustness and pain. Can a democratic society govern with these rules? The country is ruled by this fear psychosis generated by the police irrespective of the colour of the governments.
The police need to have a better relationship with the general public in order to have an efficient criminal investigation system. Credible information on crimes always comes from the people and that in turn helps the police. If the police can effectively implement the law in practice and respect the paramount legal concept of people being equal before the law, then the police as an institution can gain the trust of the people.
It is well established truth that anyone who is well disciplined would be highly respected and recognized by anyone in any society. So I would say that the disciplinary development of police personnel would help to achieve the respect to the police department. That is the way to achieve the prime goals of the Sri Lanka Police.
Is there a law preventing domestic violence in your country? What is your opinion on that?
I have not personal experience of that law but I have watched and listened to the news that there is such a law. I have further heard that the women, children even the men can get the benefit of such law. It was told that police can file the cases in that regard.
Certainly I hope that that law can be utilised to fulfill one of the real needs in society. Considering the situations in many families of our friends it raises the necessity of practical implementation of such a law to improve the situation of women and children within their families. The existing violent situations in families always curtail the opportunities of studying for many children in our society. But if the mothers and the children in difficult situations are in fear of approaching the police to get their services that in any way would not help the victim.
In one case I knew, the mother of the family was assaulted by the father. She went to make a complaint to the police but the officers in duty questioned her in a shameful way. She was not given the proper legal protections stipulated in laws. Finally she routinely suffered the same atrocities. Presently the mother cannot attend any hard work due to the difficulties in her back and many parts of upper limb. All these were caused by the atrocities that she suffered for a long time.
The successful implementation of such a law would necessarily help these women. But if there is no trustworthy relationship among communities towards the police and its officers, the victim would not approach them. That is the biggest problem in the society: illiteracy, ignorance of the law and little or no trust in the department. The poor social states of the victims have created a great distance between victims and the beneficiary laws.
If you are having a problem do you go to the police?
“Appo” (ah) I would never go to the police, knowing the difficulties that innocents face at their hands. I would never go there knowing the harassment people face at the police stations every day. As a woman I would definitely not go there even though I might be victimized by a private party. I do not want to be subjected to their harassment. I have heard the conversations, words, and noise that come from the police stations when I am walking past them. I even feel uneasy walking past those places. If I feel like that ‘outside’ the station how might I feel ‘inside’.
I think the biggest problem with the police is the officers at service never believe that they belong to a state organ. They behave like the police stations are their private institutions instead of public institutions. I think many policemen in stations are maintaining strong relationships with three wheel drivers. I think that is dangerous as officers can use them for many illegal activities. Three wheeler drivers are prone to committing traffic offences so they in return like to keep good relationships with officers to get rid of legal provisions.
I request all the law implementing authorities to take appropriate measures to implement the law and eliminate the defects in the operational policing system in the country. The police should be the guardians of the people. Police and the villagers should always maintain good relationship with each other with close proximity. When it comes to the poor and innocent, they do not have any other relief other than the police of their respective areas. They cannot approach any other services or retain lawyers in courts in many cases as they are poor or have no influential power behind them. When discipline and the code of conduct deteriorates in the police it is the poorest of the poor and the innocent who suffered more. So it is the duty of the rulers of the country to change this institution and make it meaningful towards the people of the country.
The views shared in this article do not necessarily reflect those of the AHRC, and the AHRC takes no responsibility for them.