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sixth anniversary of the assignation of Gerald Perera

Sri Lanka: The sixth anniversary of the assignation of Gerald Perera

Assassination of a torture victim and the death of criminal justice in Sri Lanka

On the 22nd November 2004 at 11:30 am, Gerald Perera, a torture victim who was to give evidence in the High Court of Negombo against six police officers from the Wattala Police Station who brutally tortured him, was shot while traveling to work. He died two days later due to his injuries.

Subsequent inquiries established that the assassins were the same police officers who were charged under the Convention against Torture Act (Act No. 22 of 1994). Several police officers voluntarily gave statements to the magistrate inquiring into the murder and were later made witnesses in the case of the assassination in an indictment filed by the Attorney General of Sri Lanka. A police sergeant, Suresh Gunasekara and an assassin who carried out the shooting were charged with murder at the same court where the torture case was being heard.

The case relating to the murder is still dragging on at the High Court of Negombo. With regard to the torture case the six police officers were acquitted by the High Court judge of torture charges in a judgement in which it was stated that the arrest of the torture victim by the accused police officers and the fact that he had been tortured while at the police station has been established by the prosecution, there was no evidence to the effect as to the direct involvement of the accused police officers in torturing Gerald Perera. This judgement has been appealed from and the Appeal Court of Sri Lanka gave leave to appeal for the petition and now the appeal case is pending before the Court of Appeal.

This well known case of torture and murder of an innocent man by a group of police officers from the Wattala Police Station attracted severe protests from the local media, local human rights organisations and by international human rights groups. Even the European Union intervened in requesting inquiries and the prosecution of the offenders. All this, notwithstanding, Sri Lanka's criminal justice system proved its incapacity to deal with murder, torture and gross abuse of human rights. This criminal justice system is incapable of serving the interests of justice.

The Sri Lankan state deliberately maintains an inefficient and dysfunctional criminal justice system which allows for unlimited impunity to criminals and violators of human rights. the President of Sri Lanka and his ministers and the Inspector General of Police and the hierarchy of the policing system is aware of the tremendous collapse of the criminal justice system but allows it to remain in that state. The political system requires a failed criminal justice system in order to ensure impunity for themselves. The death of justice in Sri Lanka is not an accident but one that has been caused deliberately by the political leadership of the country who fear that any avenue available to justice for the people will interfere with the type of political scheme that is imposed in the country.

The assassination of Gerald Perera and the failure to provide justice has become a symbolic expression of the total failure of the criminal justice system in Sri Lanka. Subsequent to the assassination of Gerald Perera there has been other victims of torture like Sugath Nishanta Fernando, who was also assassinated at Negombo. His family believes that the assassination was carried out due to complaints he had made against several police officers in Negombo for torturing his family about which a fundamental rights case was pending at the Supreme Court. Not even a credible inquiry was inquiry was conducted into his death. His family was severely persecuted for demanding justice and finally had to leave the country for their own protection.

Victims of human rights abuse in Sri Lanka fear to pursue justice and attempts to pursue justice leads to serious risks and repercussions including the threat of assassination.

The anniversary of the assassination of Gerald Perera has become a say that reminds us of the death of the criminal justice system in Sri Lanka. The executive president of Sri Lanka and the government is responsible for maintaining a state of affairs which has led to the death of the criminal justice system.

The people of Sri Lanka do not any longer have protection before the law. Reflections on Gerald Perera's death must confront any serious citizen with this tremendous problem facing all Sri Lankan's. With a concerted effort by the citizens themselves to force the government to restore the possibility of obtaining justice in Sri Lanka no citizen can hope to live with any kind of protection or his or her rights.

The government's unwillingness to provide security to victims and witnesses who want to seek justice is manifested by the cowardly hiding of the witness protection bill which was introduced before the parliament of Sri Lanka due to pressures brought locally and internationally. Despite of many promises this law has been deliberately withheld and the purpose of this is to deny protection for victims and witnesses. The government's attempt to suppress this bill is itself a clear indication of the wish of the government to deny justice to the people.

We reproduce below the statement issued by the Asian Human Rights Commission on the 24th November, 2004 on the occasion of the assassination of Gerald Perera.
SRI LANKA: Gerald Perera, courageous worker who fought for his rights, slain in attempt to derail justice
November 24, 2004
The Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) announces with great shock and sadness that Gerald Mervin Perera, who was due to give evidence in court against seven police officers accused of torture, passed away at around 1pm local time today, 24 November 2004, at the Colombo General Hospital, Sri Lanka. He had been in a critical condition since he was shot on November 21. He leaves behind a wife and three children, the youngest of whom is eight-months' old.

This is the first time that a torture victim pursuing a complaint before the courts in Sri Lanka has been shot dead at the instigation of the perpetrators of torture. The injuries caused to Gerald Perera after torture by officers of the Wattala Police in June 2002 were so serious that he was in a coma for over two weeks. But Gerald was a courageous citizen who stood up for his rights despite his suffering. He took a fundamental rights case to the Supreme Court of Sri Lanka, which held in his favour on 4 April 2003 and awarded a record compensation payment. The criminal case in the Negombo High Court, where he was to appear on December 2, was the next step.

The responsibility for filing criminal charges over torture in Sri Lanka lies with the Department of the Attorney General. The department will only take this step when it is satisfied that there is sufficient evidence to obtain a conviction. However, although the state files the cases, it does not have any agency to take responsibility for the security of witnesses. Today the whole government apparatus stands as an accused party to this murder by reason of this failing. The AHRC points to the numerous appeals made to the Inspector General of Police and the Attorney General in particular to provide security for complainants in trials initiated by the state which have come to naught.

The AHRC utterly condemns both the brutal torture and the subsequent murder of this innocent man. The killing of a torture victim speaks to how the rule of law in Sri Lanka has totally collapsed, and how discipline in the police force has degenerated to the extent that some officers have become nothing better than the planners and instigators of homicide. Over the last ten years, the AHRC has repeatedly voiced concerns over the exceptional collapse of the rule of law in Sri Lanka. It is now a place where ordinary citizens lack even the most rudimentary security. The AHRC has again and again warned government agencies of the dangerous situation prevailing in the country. Sadly, the government has turned a blind eye to these and other expressions of concern, and allowed the situation to deteriorate until murder is easy. The death of Gerald Perera is symbolic of the fate of every citizen in the country; anyone who dares to assert his or her rights faces the very real threat of v iolent and abrupt death.

The judicial process is also mired in a deep crisis. A high court judge was killed two days before Gerald Perera was shot; several investigators belonging to customs authorities, the auditor general’s department and other agencies have also been seriously attacked. Judges, complainants and investigators are all under severe threat from criminal elements with strong links to police officers.

It is often said that the cause of the increase in crime in Sri Lanka is the underworld. On the occasion of this barbaric killing, the AHRC categorically states that the primary reason relates to these links between police officers and criminal elements, which the authorities have not made any serious effort at breaking.

We have been reliably informed that Gerald Perera's wife and other family members are now scared for their lives. They live in mortal fear because they see that law-enforcement officers have set murderers onto them. Even the noise of a vehicle outside is said to cause the whole family to run and hide under a bed.

We call upon the Government of Sri Lanka to provide protection to Gerald Perera's family and to enable his funeral rites to be performed in an atmosphere of peace. Although we are aware that the local community has also been chilled by dread, we urge all friends and neighbours to rally around so that the family can perform their funerary obligations.

We call upon the government of Sri Lanka to take all steps necessary to investigate thoroughly this murder, which has been done under the cover of state protection. In particular, the authorities must answer as to how officers facing criminal charges of torture since 2003 could still have been at their posts. These men have used the opportunity given by their official positions to plan and implement this killing.

We call upon all people of goodwill in the country to rise up and defend their basic freedoms even now, when the space to fight is very limited. Sri Lanka may be heading towards a major catastrophe characterised by lawlessness and a lack of basic security that only extremely urgent action can avert.

We salute an innocent person who dared to assert his rights. We express our deepest sympathies to his family members; we call upon everyone to rally around and support them now.

About AHRC: The Asian Human Rights Commission is a regional non-governmental organisation monitoring and lobbying human rights issues in Asia. The Hong Kong-based group was founded in 1984.

ENDS

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