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Sri Lanka Police Tortures Highlighted

Submitted a Written Statement to the U.N. Committee Against Torture

The Rehabilitation and Research Centre for Torture Victims (RCT) has submitted a written statement to the U.N. Committee against Torture regarding the prevalence of police torture in Sri Lanka and the lack of effective remedies.

The statement is submitted in advance of the Committee's hearings regarding Sri Lanka's compliance with the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman and Degrading Treatment or Punishment, scheduled for November 10 and 11. At this time, the Committee will study Sri Lanka's second periodic report submitted in accordance with article 19 of the Convention.

In its statement, RCT raises concerns regarding the large number of police torture cases, many of which involve torture "committed for the purpose of extracting confessions and as a result of the lack of proper investigation skills".

According to RCT, unless the Sri Lankan police are properly trained and equipped to carry out their duties there is little hope of eradicating torture within the country. The Danish group has cooperated with the Hong Kong-based Asian Human Rights Commission since 2003 to prevent police torture in Sri Lanka.

"RCT encourages the Committee to raise this issue with the State Party and recommend better training for police officers, a higher level of discipline within the ranks of the police and a higher level of accountability," the statement said.

Another area of concern raised by RCT relates to the lack of witness protection for torture victims who stand up for their rights and file cases against the perpetrators. Many of these victims have experienced serious threats and in November 2004, torture victim Gerald Perera was murdered.

"The victims need to be protected from the police and not by the police," said the group.

Similarly, the group is alarmed at the absence of state efforts towards enacting legislation on the right of victims to rehabilitation, which is provided for under article 14 of the Convention. "RCT urges the Committee to underline the importance of and the state obligation to ensure the access to rehabilitation for all torture victims," it said in its statement.

The statement also indicates the flaws within Sri Lanka's judicial system, which inevitably causes further suffering for torture victims. Of particular importance is that "a suspect has no right to legal representation prior to appearance at the Magistrate Court and that the representation provided in the courts often are lawyers that work closely together with the police".

The group further mentions that threats and intimidation have been faced by the few independent lawyers who represented torture victims, and stresses the importance of protecting these lawyers.

"RCT urges the Committee to take up these issues and recommend that suspects only be produced before the Magistrate Court during working hours and that the suspect be provided adequate and impartial legal representation," it said.

"Further, the suspect should be produced before a medical officer within 24 hours of his/her arrest to ensure that their condition is suitable for remand."

RCT also urges the Committee to compel Sri Lanka to abolish the 30-day time limit imposed in its Constitution for the filing of Fundamental Rights Applications. "Many victims have experienced severe mental and physical trauma and the injuries they have sustained make it difficult for them to make complaints within such a short time," said the group.

The statement raises concerns regarding the mandate of the National Police Commission, which will expire on November 27, 2005. Despite budgetary and other constraints, the NPC has slowly taken up cases of police torture and violence. Most recently, it recommended the interdiction of more than 100 police officers due to allegations of torture.

"It is therefore extremely unfortunate and alarming that no efforts have been made to ensure the continuation of the mandate of the NPC¡K RCT urges the Committee to raise this matter with the State Party as a matter of the utmost urgency," it stated.

The group also recommended that the Committee further encourage the Human Rights Commission of Sri Lanka to continue its efforts to improve its staff and develop its complaint procedure to deal more effectively with torture complaints.

Finally, the RCT stresses the importance of the Optional Protocol to the Convention against Torture (OPCAT). "The Committee should urge the State Party to without delay sign and ratify the OPCAT and to start the process of establishing a national preventive mechanism," said RCT.

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