COLOMBO: The Human Rights Commission of Sri Lanka (HRCSL), which became an independent commission last year following the 19 th. Amendment of the constitution, says that torture continues to be “routine” in the police stations of Sri Lanka but has seen a drop in the number of reported cases after the regime change in January 2015.
In its latest report, the HRCSL says that in 2010, immediately after Eelam War IV, a total of 566 cases of torture were reported. This rose to 600 in 2013. But it came down to 489 in 2014. It fell further in 2015, but only marginally to 420. A shaper fall was seen in the first eight months of 2016, with 208 cases being reported.
However, a source in the commission told Express that given the inadequacies in reporting and the still to addressed deficiencies in the investigative mechanisms available to the commission, the actual numbers may be higher. This is evident in the commission’s observation that “torture is routine” during questioning by the police in the initial stages of an investigation irrespective of the nature of the crime. Corrupt police officers resort to torture to intimidate hapless citizens into meeting their rapacious demands.
Looking at the places in which torture is resorted to, Police Headquarters accounts for the bulk of it. In 2010, the Head Quarters (HQ) accounted for 369 of the 566 reported cases. In 2013, HQ accounted for 380 of 600 cases. In 2014, it was 329 out of 489 cases. In 2015, it was 315 of 420 cases, and in the first eight months of 2016, it was 160 out of 208 cases.
Interestingly ,most complaints came from Anuradhapura district, a Sinhalese-majority area, and not from the Tamil majority or Tamil-speaking districts of North and East Sri Lanka.
In 2010, 58 cases were reported from Anuradhapura district in contrast to 02 from Jaffna, 05 from Trincomalee and 06 from Vavuniya. In 2013, the figures were 49 from Anuradhapura, nil from Jaffna, 10 from Trincomalee, and 05 from Vavuniya. In 2015, 40 cases were reported from Anuradhapura, nil from Jaffna, 02 from Trincomalee, and 10 from Vavuniya. In the first eight months of 2016, 14 cases were reported from Anuradhapura, 02 from Jaffna, 03 from Trincomalee and 04 from Vavuniya.
Again, commission sources said that there could be under reporting from the Tamil majority areas.
Many cases of torture cannot be proved because of a shortage of Judicial Medical Officers (JMCs). Out of the 65 sanctioned posts of JMO, only 35 have been filled.
The forms of torture vary from beating up with hands to squeezing the genitals and suspending a person upside down and rotating him. The suspect could be handcuffed with one hand behind his back and the other drawn over his shoulder. Prison conditions are also appalling, with prisoners cooped up in dark, 5 ft by 7 ft cells .They are not allowed to come out at night even to answer nature’s call.
Torture goes unrecorded because a police rule allowing legal aid at the time of arrest and first questioning is not observed. Police fib the day and time of arrest to get round the rule that a suspect has to be produced in court in 24 hours.
This year, the government tried to change the law to allow legal aid only when the accused is produced in court. But stiff opposition from Tamil MPs made the government take it back for reconsideration.
According to the HRCSL, as of May 2016, there were 111 persons detained under the Prevention of Terrorism Act (PTA). Of these, 29 had not yet been indicted. And among these, there was a person who had been in prison since 2002. Forty one of the PTA detainees had gone on appeal. One of them had been in jail for 14 years waiting for his appeal to be heard.
Among other recommendations, the HRCSL has sought a re-definition of torture to include “causing severe suffering.”