The Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) is bringing to your notice the Supreme Court’s Direction to educate Law- Enforcement System personnel, on the law elimination of and the use of torture.
In delivering the Judgement on a Fundamental Rights Violation case, under Article 126 of the Constitution, the Court found the respondent Police Officers had violated the rights of the petitioner, guaranteed under Article 11 (the right against torture). They also had violated his rights against illegal arrest and detention.
In their Judgement, the three-bench Court issued this directive to the State of Sri Lanka.
‘The consistent pattern of police violence, custodial torture and death, as evidenced by the considerable number of Fundamental Rights petitions filed before this Court, indicates that the State should consider addressing and mitigating the problem’.
Article 10 of the Constitution requires the State to ensure that education and information regarding the prohibition against torture are fully included in the training period of all staff members. This includes law-enforcement personnel, civil or military medical personnel, and public officials. It encompasses other persons who may be involved in the custody, interrogation or treatment of any individual subjected to any form of arrest, detention or imprisonment.
It delivered a Judgment in the case of Kandawalage Don Samantha Perera Vs Officer-In-Charge, Police Station, Hettipola and two (2) Others (SC FR APPLICATION 296/2014).
The Supreme Court of Sri Lanka, over many years, has given specific instructions to the Sri Lankan Authorities, including the Inspector General of the Police. They are to take adequate action to eliminate the use of torture by the Police. In a case, which has become very famous now, i.e. Gerald Perera’s case, the Supreme Court even instructed the Inspector General of Police. He was to set up facilities for monitoring Police stations to avoid the use of torture on detainees.
However, in more than 100 cases, the Supreme Court found Police Officers violated the fundamental rights of the petitioners to be protected from torture. This right is guaranteed under Article 11 of the Sri Lankan Constitution.
Despite the new directive, torture remains a major problem, particularly when the detainees are persons from the lower income groups. Numerous cases filed against prominent Politicians and other socially significant persons, clearly demonstrate, that no torture is used in the investigation of such persons for allegedly very serious crimes. Thus, while torture remains widespread, it is used mostly on persons from poorer backgrounds and often on the youth.
There are some United Nations Agencies dealing with prevention of torture. To mention a few: the Committee against Torture (CAT), the UN Rapporteur against Torture and Ill-treatment, and the UN Human Rights Council have regularly made recommendations on the prevention and use of torture. The UN Human Rights Committee, in several cases, has expressed their views in favor of those Sri Lankan citizens who had petitioned the Committee after being tortured and ill-treated themselves.
The problem is: there is no Authority that is willing to decisively enforce the Law against torture. This, in spite of the fact that under Act 22 of the 1994 Constitution, torture has been recognized as a crime, punishable with a mandatory sentence of 7 years in prison or fine of RS. 10,000.
Under these circumstances, the Supreme Court has suggested that the government should educate the Police, the Military and Others on the Law relating to torture in Sri Lanka. International Law is included in the above. Practically, this would mean, introducing a COMPREHENSIVE HANDBOOK, with relevant material, to be included in all Police and Military training exercises and educational courses. Such a handbook could be produced within a short period of time, as all the material needed is freely available. The National Human Rights Commission is one of the institutions that can play an active role in developing such a handbook.
However, it is public knowledge that there is a privately held view among Police Authorities on one fact: TORTURE is an indispensable tool in dealing with the poor! It is highly unlikely that the Supreme Court’s directive will be honored, unless there is considerable and consistent pressure exerted to get this done.
We, therefore, urge Sri Lankan civil society organizations, academics, intellectuals, media and all opinion-makers to utilize their capacities for the good of all. This will contribute in good measure to positive publicity, in the largest extent possible for this Supreme Court’s directive. In addition, it can provide the Sri Lanka Authorities with whatever assistance is needed to ensure that this is urgently put into action.
Asian Human rights commission,