Government To Fight Torture Allegations
- Report to Committee Against Torture insists action taken on claims
By Easwaran Rutnam
The CAT will meet at the UN in Geneva for its 57th session from 18th of April to 13th of May during which Sri Lanka’s report will be considered.
In the report which has now been handed over to the CAT and seen by The Sunday Leader, the government has rejected the allegations that torture remains widespread and unpunished and notes that whenever credible evidence is available, steps have been taken to prosecute law enforcement personnel and members of the military, who are responsible for torture and arbitrary killings.
“Taking serious note of allegations of torture, as well as deaths while in police custody, the government enforces strict rules against police officers held responsible for any act of torture. The Inspector General of Police (IGP) issued a warning to all officers-in-charge of police stations that they would be held responsible in accordance with the law, if any suspect dies while in their custody. The IGP has reiterated his orders that under no circumstances should any suspect be subjected to torture or to other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment while in police custody. The IGP has given directions to all Deputy Inspectors General of Police that under no circumstances should any act of torture be permitted to take place within their respective ranges. Whenever a complaint or information is received alleging the perpetration of torture, the Deputy-Inspectors-Generals of Police are directed to take prompt and impartial action against the alleged perpetrators,” the report says.
The new government which took office in January last year and then again in August following the Parliamentary elections, has been accused of turning a blind eye to torture and abuse said to have taken place last year.
The Executive Director of the International Truth and Justice Project (ITJP) Yasmin Sooka said in a new report released recently that the incidents last year demonstrates there can be no accountability without urgent security sector reform that leads to the dismantling of the state’s machinery of repression.
Sooka was a former member of the panel appointed by UN Secretary General Ban ki-moon to investigate human rights abuses soon after the conflict in Sri Lanka.
In its report the government has countered allegations of the conditions prisoners fate while in detention, saying that the Sri Lankan Prisons Authorities take unremitting efforts to comply with the International Standards in administration, management, and in the treatment of prisoners.
It also notes that by December last year the Ministry of Justice was in the process of finalising the “New Prison Administration Bill” to make provisions for the detention of prisoners, to provide for the custody, care and rehabilitation of the prisoners and to provide for the promotion of universally accepted principles and practices in the treatment and management of prisoners.
The proposed legislation has suggested three independent visiting committees. Board of Prison Visitors, Local Prison Visiting Committee and the Special Visiting Committee. Duties of these committees are to make recommendations to Commissioner General of Prisons to promote overall welfare of the prisoners, assist prisoners to live with self-respect and dignity and investigate and report any matter as requested by the Minister and CGP
Sri Lanka is willing to take advisory assistance and technical assistance in the field of criminal justice and law reforms.
As manual searching can raise problems concerning the human dignity of inmates, a policy decision was taken to introduce high tech equipment to search prisoners and their belongings. The Department of Prisons has decided to purchase Body Scanners and Parcel Scanners. These machines are already fixed in three major prisons in Sri Lanka.
The government also notes that under the present system, any person including alleged torture victims, before being released from police custody or before being produced before magistrate/courts should be produced before the Judicial Medical Officer (JMO) for medico legal examination.
Now this examination is performed by Board certified Specialists in Forensic Medicine identified as Consultant Judicial Medical Officers, Medical Officers/Medico Legal (MO/ML) who were given short term training in medico legal management and working under the consultant JMOs supervision, Board certified specialists in Forensic Medicine working as senior lecturers in Forensic Medicine Departments of medical faculties in teaching hospitals and Post graduate trainees in Forensic Medicine working under the consultant JMOs supervision.
The government has also told the CAT that the Assistance to and Protection of Victims of Crime and Witnesses Act No. 4 of 2015 was passed by the Parliament and certified on 7th March 2015. This can be identified as an essential piece of legislation which declares the rights and entitlements of victims of crime and witnesses and contains measures for the protection and promotion of such rights and entitlements and especially to give effect to appropriate international norms, standards and best practices relating to the protection of victims of crime and witnesses.
The Ministry of Justice is in the process of setting up a National Authority for the protection of victims of crime and witnesses, which is a further step to enhance an efficient criminal justice process in Sri Lanka. The Act has identified and recognised widely the rights and entitlements of victims of crime and witnesses.
The main objectives of the Act are to uphold and to enforce the rights and entitlements of victims of crime and witnesses and to provide for a mechanism to promote, protect, enforce and to exercise such rights and entitlements, provide assistance and protection to victims of crime and witnesses, enable victims of crime to obtain compensation from persons convicted of having committed offences against them, set out duties and responsibilities of the State, judicial officers and public officers towards the promotion and protection of the rights and entitlements of victims of crime and witnesses and provide for the adoption and implementation of best practices relating to the protection of victims of crime and witnesses.
In the report the government has also listed the action taken to address concerns on Internally Displaced Persons, the death of humanitarian agency workers in Muttur, five students in Trincomalee and human trafficking.