We Live in Constant Fear

police stateSri Lanka’s police forces regularly torture and ill-treat criminal suspects in custody, Human Rights Watch said in a new report released today 23 October 2015. The authorities should create an independent oversight authority and adopt concrete steps to end police abuse that has had such corrosive effects across Sri Lankan society.

The 59-page report, “‘We Live in Constant Fear’: Lack of Accountability for Police Abuse in Sri Lanka,” documents various torture methods used by the Sri Lankan police against criminal suspects, including severe beatings, electric shock, suspension from ropes in painful positions, and rubbing chilli paste in the genitals and eyes. Victims of torture and their families may spend years seeking justice and redress with little hope of success.

Human Rights Watch had conducted research in greater Colombo and other parts of Sri Lanka in 2014 and 2015.

The history of police procedural violations against criminal suspects has contributed to the use of torture despite promises of reform by successive Sri Lankan governments. Suspects frequently are not informed about the reasons for their arrest. Police sometimes fabricate charges to justify the initial arrest and subsequent abusive interrogation methods. Suspects often are not produced before a magistrate within 24 hours as required by Sri Lankan law. Family members usually are not informed of an arrest or allowed access to their detained relatives. Suspects may have little or no access to lawyers, and protection mechanisms such as examination by medical officers are haphazard or improperly implemented.

To curtail the practices documented, the Sri Lankan government, at a minimum, should implement the following reforms the report said:

  • Issue clear, public directives that police torture and other forms of abuse will not be tolerated;
  • Establish an independent police oversight authority charged with investigating allegations of police abuse, the results of which would then be forwarded to the attorney general’s department for prosecution as appropriate. This authority should be housed entirely outside the police department, report to the Ministry of Justice, have all relevant authority to conduct investigations, including on its own authority, and be empowered to subpoena police, other witnesses, and police files;
  • Establish an independent office in the attorney general’s department tasked specifically with investigating and prosecuting cases of police abuse, including following up on referrals from the independent police oversight authority;
  • Amend police rules and manuals to be consistent with the United Nations Principles on the Effective Prevention and Investigation of Extra-Legal, Arbitrary and Summary Executions; the UN Code of Conduct for Law Enforcement Officials; and the UN Basic Principles on the Use of Force and Firearms by Law Enforcement Officials;
  • Ensure magistrates fully comply with their obligations to ascertain whether a detainee produced in court has suffered torture or other ill-treatment, and to order legislatively mandated confidential medical examinations; and
  • Fully implement the Convention Against Torture in line with international obligations, and ratify the Optional Protocol to the Convention Against Torture. (HRW)

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