In a poignant gathering held by the Right to Life Human Rights Center (R2L) in Sri Lanka, activists, lawyers, Judicial Medical Officers (JMOs), and torture victims came together to honor the International Day in Support of Victims of Torture. The event, held on June 26, 2023, focused on the theme “Torture: a Crime Against Humanity,” emphasizing the urgent need to suppress torture and protect human rights.
Prominent speakers from various fields addressed the gathering, delivering thought-provoking remarks that shed light on the issue of torture and its profound impact on society. Mrs. Amitha Priyanthi shared her heart-wrenching story of her brother’s assassination by the police in 2000, highlighting the ongoing legal battles against the responsible officers. She called for a transformation in societal attitudes to eradicate torture and ensure justice for the victims.
Among the attendees were individuals who had personally experienced torture or had family members subjected to it. The mother of Buddhika Lakshan, who had suffered severe injuries due to a shooting that impeded his ability to walk and engage in training, bravely shared her family’s harrowing experience. Her impassioned plea for medical assistance and the avoidance of justice delays resonated deeply with the audience.
A. Ramanadan recounted the terrifying ordeal his child had endured after being unlawfully detained by the Thebuwana police. Without being produced before the court, his child was held captive in the police barrack for an extended period. A. Ramanadan sought assistance from the Human Rights Commission of Sri Lanka (HRCSL) after being threatened and coerced by the police to withdraw his complaint. With the intervention of the HRCSL, his son was eventually produced before the court, albeit under false charges related to explosive ordinance. After spending six months in remand, bail was finally granted to his son, with the invaluable support of the R2L.
During the event, Professor Rohan Samarajiva highlighted shocking statistics shared by former Minister of Justice Ali Zabry, underscoring the significant delays in criminal cases and the pressing need for expedited legal proceedings in Sri Lanka. Senior Lawyer Lakshan Dias, Chairman of the R2L, eloquently explained how torture amounts to a crime against humanity, stressing the effective implementation of anti-torture laws in the country. Dias emphasized the importance of shifting societal values away from violence and towards democratic principles.
Clifford Perera, a Professor of forensic Medicine at the University of Ruhuna, shed light on the crucial role of forensic reports in torture cases and the challenges faced by Judicial Medical Officers in this regard. Perera emphasized that forensic evidence plays a vital role in establishing the truth and ensuring justice for the victims.
Mr. Philip Dissanayake, Executive Director of the Right to Life Human Rights Centre and Convener of the Sri Lankan Coalition Against Torture, provided an overview of the legal framework pertaining to torture in Sri Lanka. He highlighted the significance of the 1994 No. 22 Act, which outlines punishment for torture, and encouraged individuals to exercise their fundamental rights and seek justice without fearing harassment by the Criminal Investigation Department (CID).
The event also marked the launch of three study reports by the R2L, further contributing to the collective efforts of fostering a society that upholds human rights, rejects torture, and embraces democratic principles.