South Asians for Human Rights (SAHR), a regional network of human rights defenders, condemns the recent deaths of five individuals while in police custody or killed due to police negligence and demands an impartial inquiry into these cases. These deaths have sparked debates on the accountability of law enforcement authorities in Sri Lanka.
We strongly believe that it is the duty of the police to ensure the safety and security of suspects in its custody irrespective of the allegations against them. Using physical or any other forms of torture to punish suspects before they are found guilty by the courts is unacceptable.
Following are the recent incidents in which five individuals were killed,
- Susil Indrajith (49), the father of two from Weligama on 07 May 2021 was run over by a bus on the road after being assaulted by a person on the orders of two police men. He had come to Weligama town when the travel restrictions for COVID -19 containment were in place to get some food for his family members who had been quarantined.
- Killing of alleged underworld figure Mabulage Dineth Melan Mabula alais Uru Juwa on 11 May 2021 who police claimed has died following a shootout.
- Killing of alleged gang leader Dharmakeerthi Tharaka Perera Wijesekara alias Kosgoda Tharaka, on 13 May 2021 following a police shootout.
- Chandran Vidhushan (21) from Batticaloa was found dead in police custody on 03 June 2021. He was arrested for possession of drugs and according to his family he was beaten to death by the police. Investigations however claimed that he died from an overdose.
- Mohamed Ali (42) from Panadura was arrested for violating quarantine rules on 06 June 2021 and the police revealed that he died from injuries sustained when he attempted to jump out of the moving police vehicle.
The recent incidents emphasise the need for effective law enforcement by the Sri Lanka Police. It raises questions over police brutality and impunity for those responsible. There is a great need for reform for officers to be held accountable to prevent torture and deaths in custody and other serious negligence. We further request the Government of Sri Lanka to allocate more funding to train and facilitate the police force to conduct law enforcement activities in a people friendly and humane manner with the use of new technology and other facilities.
The National Police Commission, an independent oversight body mandated to investigate public complaints made against a police officer or the police service, was abolished by the 20th amendment. As a result, some of functions of the commission has been absorbed into the Department of Police where, consequently, it assigns special teams to conduct investigations into incidents of custodial deaths. This raises serious concerns about the independence of the process, as well as possible compromise in due process of accountability.
Following these incidents, Sri Lankan organisations including the Executive Committee of the Bar Association of Sri Lanka (BASL) and the Committee to Protect the Rights of Prisoners insisted to ensure security of suspects in police custody as enshrined in the constitution, and which has been reiterated in many pronouncements by Sri Lanka’s Supreme Court. However, no concrete actions have been taken so far by the relevant officials or authorities.
SAHR is also concerned of the families of victims who could face intimidation and threats if they pursue justice. We reiterate that the government of Sri Lanka should redress the victim’s families particularly those economically and socially marginalized and vulnerable. Further, SAHR urges the relevant authorities of the government, including the police, to follow proper protocol and not bypass procedures when prosecuting the relevant officials and instead hold those responsible accountable and build a more rights-respecting police force in the country.
On behalf of the members of South Asians for Human Rights,
Dr. Radhika Coomaraswamy
Dr. Roshmi Goswami