COLOMBO: In a landmark decision, Sri Lankan police have been ordered to pay compensation for assaulting a group of students at a demonstration here, the first time they have been censured for violating international humanitarian law.
The Human Rights Commission of Sri Lanka (HRCSL) has ordered the police to pay USD 1,035 to nine students who had complained of police assault during the demonstration.
"Students had been subjected to cruel and degrading treatment in violation of their rights guaranteed by the constitution as well as international human rights covenants," the HRCSL said a 32-page report.
The report contends that the police used excessive force to disperse Higher National Diploma Accountancy students on October 29 following which nine of them were hospitalised.
The group of students were ordered to be paid a total of 145,000 rupees (USD 1,035) from the police department.
The HRCSL report was based on expert medical evidence that students were beaten using batons and other sharp objects even as they were trying to flee.
The police had launched water canon and teargas in addition to a brutal baton charge that was captured on television.
The report noted that the arrest of 39 students also may have been illegal as there was no evidence to suggest that due process had been followed. However, the commission made no pronouncement on the arrest.
The police chief was ordered by the HRCSL to ensure new training procedures and guidelines in crowd control and a report to be filed to the commission by March 1.
The commission noted that there was a lack of professionalism in the police and ordered the IGP to conduct an internal investigation to identify officers who gave orders to assault students as well as those who carried out those orders and take strict disciplinary action against them.
It was the first ruling against the police by HRCSL specifically referring to international humanitarian law, official sources said.
The decision is the first high-profile case by the commission since it was constituted as a fully independent body following the election of President Maithripala Sirisena earlier this year.