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Torture And Impunity

[The Sunday Leader.lk, Sunday, 6 March 2011 10:31 No Comment]

The Asian Legal Resource Center (ALRC) has expressed grave concern at the widespread and endemic use of torture in Sri Lanka and the lack of credible government action to combat it.

The comments were made in a written claim in a dialogue with the special rapporteur on torture at the 16th sessions of the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva.

It said the government has failed to implement the many recommendations made by the UN human rights system, notably the Special Rapporteur on Torture, the Committee Against Torture and the Universal Periodic Review.

Police Torture

Janasansadaya is an organisation that works towards a ‘torture free Sri Lanka’. Its secretary, Chitral Perera, told The Sunday Leader that “torture is especially serious in the South. People are routinely assaulted in police custody. Mostly they are hung by their fingers and beaten up. Another favorite is beating the bottom of the heels, the head and the body. Rubber hose is used to cushion the blows, ensuring that the damage is internal and minimising marks on the outside”. He also outlined several other methods like water boarding, petrol soaked polythene suffocation and other methods involving liquid chilli powder that are too grim to mention.

Perera says that the victims are often arrested for no reason. “Extortion is a common motive for the police but an even more common one is the filling of quotas” says Perera, adding that the police routinely ‘pick people off the streets’ and make them confess to crimes like drug running, robbery  and so on under the strain of torture. “They often make fake cases against people and then produce them in courts” says Perera.

Sometimes torture victims seek justice against the police. In such cases, according to Perera, they are threatened and bullied into dropping these cases by the police. “They sometimes use people like relatives, religious leaders and politicians to get them to drop the cases”. Janasansadaya has highlighted several cases of torture on its website (janasansadaya.org) and have detailed interviews of victims for public perusal.

System is not victim friendly

According to Perera, victims of torture get a bad deal wherever they turn. “Torture victims are first sent to hospitals and then sent to courts. And especially in the peripheral hospitals, doctors issue reports without properly examining these patients. Even lawyers who are supposed to defend them do not bring up the issue of torture in courts. It is a crime that is occurring with the implicit approval of all involved.”

“Law and order has broken down” he says, adding that “no probable political motive exists here. These things are done at the behest of the police because they have been allowed to run wild. The government has sanctioned it by turning a blind eye.” He thinks it’s a strategy to control the country’s people and keep them in check.

However, the Police Spokesperson Prishantha Jayakody, speaking to The Sunday Leader said “all these reports of torture are unfounded. They are lies told by people who have nothing else to do. If torture was really taking place then these victims can use their constitutional rights to claim justice”.

State of Human Rights

The ALRC Submission said that the issue of torture is a key indicator of the state of human rights in Sri Lanka. It urged the members of the Human Rights Council to ensure that the Government of Sri Lanka takes credible steps to put an end to the system of torture and impunity that it currently operates within. The steps it recommended include adopting a definition of torture that covers all the elements contained in Article 1 of the UN Convention Against Torture and strengthening the Human Rights Commission of Sri Lanka.

It also asked the government to “ensure prompt, impartial and exhaustive investigations into all allegations of torture, ill-treatment and disappearances committed by law enforcement officials” by urgently implementing measures to eradicate impunity and to provide justice to torture victims. It asked the government to “impose appropriate sentences on those convicted, thus eliminating any idea that might be entertained by perpetrators of torture that there is impunity for this crime.”

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