The Sunday Leader

Police Battle HR Allegations

by Ashanthi Warunasuriya

The topic of human rights has once again become a much discussed topic in the country. As the assurance of human rights was among the key promises of the good governance government during the election many electronic and print media organisations  as well as social media networks have started to give alot of publicity about the inefficiency of the good governance administration in establishing human rights in the country.

One of the most recent incidents on the violation  of human rights was the death of two university students of the Jaffna University during a police shootout. The two students, Nadarasa Gajan and Sundiraja Sulakshan were killed by the Police when their motor cycle had not stopped at a police check point.

Expressing his views on the matter, Brad Adams, Asia Director of Human Rights Watch (HRW) said the government must pay more attention towards the continuous human rights violations committed by its security forces.

He further pointed out that the violation of human rights has been made possible by the continued presence of the Prevention of Terrorism Act. As the Police has been vested with broad powers to counter terrorist activities, the Asian Director said that this could pose a serious threat to human rights.

Since the shootout in Jaffna five police officers who are alleged to have been involved in the incident have been suspended from service and they have also been placed under remand custody. Meanwhile Sri Lanka is also scheduled to take part in the international Anti-torture committee session on November 15. According to reports matters regarding reforms that should be made to security forces will be taken into discussion at this session. In 2015 Sri Lanka agreed at the UN human rights council to reform its security forces. As the Human Rights Watch points out the police has been involved in a number of alleged human rights violations in the past. It further accuses the government for not even making any statement about the responsibility of these police officers for these human rights violations.

According to HRW statistics in June 2014 a youth named Indika Jayasinghe  was killed by police gunfire while travelling on the Colombo – Kandy main road. While the police claimed that the youth was shot as he had not heeded the order to stop his motorbike acording to HRW the police officers who fired at the youth are still engaged in active duty.

Furthermore, the HRW report has pointed out that another 16 old boy named Sandun Malinga had been killed in 2014 due to police torture. According to Malinga’s father the flesh of the back of his son’s corpse had been torn away. So far the investigations regarding this case are being dragged on at a  snail pace and there is a possibility of it even being abandoned. In 2015 another incident of police torture was reported where a youth had been arrested in Delgoda by the police without any proper reason when he was repairing his bike. As the youth had later testified he had been subjected to inhumane torture. This incident made him suffer  severe trauma resulting in him being unable even to face his school examinations.

The much talked about Kotadeniyawa incident is also a good example for the irresponsible conduct of the law enforcement in the country In this murder case the youth was arrested by the police by widespread publicity and was later released. Later another suspect named “Kondaya” was arrested by the police but he had to be released again after being proved innocent in the DNA test. After being released, speaking at a press briefing “Kondaya” said that he was assaulted by the police while he was in custody forcing him to admit  that he is guilty.

Recently the Human Rights Commission had stated that it is strongly committed towards preventing unofficial police violence. Meanwhile the violence displayed by the police in countering protests has also been heavily criticised by human rights organisations. In a recent event the police had even assaulted a by stander at the Colombo Fort railway station by mistaking him to be a protestor. Later the police had to apologise  to that person.

“During the previous regime the Prevention of Terrorism Act (PTA) was used to remove political rivals. Since the issue of countering narcotics and terrorism has public support the authorities are capable of acting at their discretion. But we believe no one could be punished without allowing him or her to give  their side of the story. So we cannot agree with the expansion of police powers by using terrorism and narcotics as scapegoats. Although the PTA is now being amended according to reports it is going to be even stronger in the future. We are strongly against giving law enforcement agencies discretionary powers to inflict torture on those who are taken into custody,” human rights activist Brio Fernando said.

While human rights activists have made such claims, university students have also expressed their views on this subject.

As a group that always come in to conflict with the law enforcement agencies, they too have a say in this matter.

“ The Police and military are responsible for the security of this country. It seems like the security forces are now more interested in suppressing the people rather than protecting the country. No matter how many commissions are established they are never going to be independent,” Inter-University Students’ Federation (IUSF)  convener Lahiru Weerasekera told The SundayLeader.

Meanwhile, Police Media Spokesman DIG Priyantha Jayakody said that he could not agree with the allegations raised about human rights being violated with the expansion of police powers,.

The DIG said that the police cannot act contrary to the law. While accepting that there are individual cases where some of the officers have been accused of misbehaving and misusing authority, the Police Media Spokesman said that necessary steps are being taken against such officers.

“The PTA was first implemented in 1971. In every country in the world there are laws to prevent terrorism. There is a huge difference between terrorism and an ordinary crime. Terrorists are trying to achieve their goals by inflicting fear into the public . So special laws have to be brought in to deal with it. These laws are being strictly implemented in the UK as well. But that does not mean that these countries are oppressing people.

According to the third chapter of Sri Lanka’s constitution every human has been granted human rights. According to the constitution the police have no right to inflict any form of torture on those who are being taken into custody and a person cannot even be arrested without a warrant. But unfortunately due to the lack of awareness and fear to the law enforcement agencies, many people are not speaking against police brutality.

 

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