South Asians for Human Rights (SAHR), a regional network of human rights defenders, condemn the several alarming incidents of police brutality witnessed in Sri Lanka recently.
SAHR learns of two recent incidents of police brutality directed at women. On 12 November 2022, Chamindra Pinto, Headquarter Inspector of the Panadura South Police Station and Chief Inspector of Police manhandled two junior female police officers during a protest march. During this incident, it is reported that, the officer in question behaved in a disrespectful manner towards the female officers when he grabbed them by the neck and pushed them forward while abusing them verbally. In a second incident, two women who were engaged in a peaceful protest march were disrupted by the police who arrested them later. These women and two others supporters had been physically and verbally harassed by the police prior to being arrested.
Unnecessary and excessive force has been used by the police to suppress the public protests in the recent past, which has garnered much attention from the world. The police often used tear gas, water cannons and physical force to disperse unarmed protesters; peaceful protest marches that took place in the Colombo city have been blocked by the police claiming that they were obstructing the roads, disrupting the public and disturbing potential economic activities. These actions by the police have violated the Sri Lankan people’s freedom of expression and association and the right to peaceful protest.
SAHR learns that the Special Investigations Unit of the Police have been requested to look into these incidents. However, police brutality is rampant in Sri Lanka and remains unaddressed due to impunity. Police officers are rarely prosecuted for misconduct and if prosecuted is given minor disciplinary warnings, which in turn has resulted in a lack of accountability. SAHR therefore calls on the Inspector General of Police and other relevant authorities to ensure that these investigations are impartial and is conducted diligently with appropriate punitive actions meted out to the offenders disregarding their ranks and status.
Police officers should only use lethal force as a last resort, under International law, when such force is essential to protect themselves or others from the imminent threat of death or serious injury. Protecting the fundamental rights of the people enshrined in the constitution of Sri Lanka, including the right to life is the utmost responsibility of a police force.
On behalf of the members of South Asians for Human Rights
Dr. Roshmi Goswami