“It is the people’s security that is being threatened by actions such as the one that took place in Embilipitiya. People’s security is also being threatened at almost every police station, every day, when the police brutally assault people under the guise of conducting criminal investigations”, says the Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC).
Issuing a statement the AHRC said; “The Government has announced another attempt at constitution making in Sri Lanka which, this time is to begin, with the hope to complete the process, by the end of this year. A resolution to this effect has already been introduced in the Parliament and a Drafting Committee has been named. A valid question that begets asking is; what, does a constitution making in Sri Lanka imply? Some reflections of the alleged brutal murder in Embilipitiya, may provide some answers to this very important question about the purpose and direction of constitution making in Sri Lanka.”
We publish below the statement in full;
The Constitution making and brutal police murder at Embilipitiya
The Government has announced another attempt at constitution making in Sri Lanka which, this time is to begin, with the hope to complete the process, by the end of this year. A resolution to this effect has already been introduced in the Parliament and a Drafting Committee has been named. A valid question that begets asking is; what, does a constitution making in Sri Lanka imply?
Some reflections of the alleged brutal murder in Embilipitiya, may provide some answers to this very important question about the purpose and direction of constitution making in Sri Lanka.
The broad details of the incident as described in many reports, including many photographs and videos is quite simple. A party, was being held, at a residence in the Embilipitiya town and many people were attending this private celebration. During this party, two un-invited guests – who were two policemen – arrived at the house to the surprise of all guests and the residents. They were there not for any particular police duty, but to ask for Arrack (a local liquor), for their own consumption. As this request was not heeded to by the owners and residents there began a quarrel which quickly turned aggressive. The two policemen had beaten up several people at the house, in particular a young man, Sumith Prasanna Jayawardana who was the owner of the house. The policemen had then called their colleagues at the local police station as reinforcements, and soon thereafter a large group of policemen had also arrived and they had severely beaten the people attending the party, including women. The people who were at the event, have later spoken to the media including London based Sinhala BBC service, and had given accounts of the cruel manner in which they were treated by the officers attached to the Embilipitiya police. As a result of the police beating, Sumith Prasanna Jayawardana, a young man, was killed. This naturally provoked reaction from the people of Embilipitiya, who in large numbers began to gather and also put up black flags in protest of the police action. They also signed a petition, addressed to the Government to complain about this action. Meanwhile, police sought the intervention of the Magistrate in the area, and later served the pregnant widow, of the deceased young man with a notice ordering her to ensure that there will be no protest against the police and in particular forbidding anyone to carry a coffin, while demonstrating. As the tensions were building large numbers of police were called to the streets including, as reports stated, around 500 STF personnel (Special Task Force), in order to prevent a mass protest by the people.
This incident is the thus far the first killing to take place, due to police brutality in 2016. Going by the experiences of the previous years, this will certainly not be the last.
A Constitution is the first law or the paramount law of a country, that lays down the rules that the government, all its institutions and the people should abide by, if they are to achieve the great goals that the nation has set out to achieve, such as development, prosperity, peace and harmony and orderly behaviour in every aspect of the nation’s life. The simple question that would arise is ask then, as to whether it would be possible for the new constitution, to provide for a legal arrangement within which, the police in Sri Lanka will cease to act brutally. Or will it be the case that even after promulgation of the new constitution, the police will be allowed to act as brutally as they do now. If later be the case, then the people, particularly the people of lower income groups in the country will inevitably question, what good will such a constitution bring about to the people and the nation. Will this constitution making be another failed attempt as the two previous constitution makings were?
In no country is the maintenance of law and order possible, if the law enforcement agency of the country, the police itself, does not abide by the law. The Embilipitiya incident and many other similar incidents, only indicate that the Sri Lankan police do not consider it their duty, to abide by the law. A commonly held belief seems to be, that the police can break any law and get away with it.
The Embilipitiya incident confirms this perception. Despite of a brutal murder taking place, about which there is a large body of evidence, eye witnesses, photographs, videos and the like, the murders have not yet been arrested. They have only been transferred.
Looking at the scale of indiscipline in the Sri Lanka police, it can be asserted without hesitation, that the police hierarchy and even they Government fears to take action against the police. The fear is that the police will retaliate and withdraw cooperation, which in turn will create even more problems for the Government to tackle.
What use would any constitution be, if this situation is allowed to be continued? Thus a test for the effectiveness of any new constitution, that promises to restore the rule of law and good governance, is that it will develop constitutional strategies, to create a law abiding police force. Given the conditions in Sri Lanka, this will not prove to be an easy task. To bring about such effective reforms would require considerable discussion with the people about what has become of their police force, quite openly and frankly. If that cannot happen, Sri Lanka will continue to be a place of disorder, which is caused mainly by its main law enforcement agency.
The President and the Prime Minister and even some ministers have spoken eloquently about the making of the new constitution and how it will make Sri Lanka a prosperous country. If they are serious about what they are talking, they should look into the state of policing in Sri Lanka and place before the people a perspective, as to how a policing that has turned wild, could be tamed and will become an instrument that generates an environment where law enforcement will become a civilised practice. An uncivilised policing and a good constitution are incompatible. One would hope that the President and the Prime Minister will demonstrate their wisdom and capacity to deal with this difficult problem.
It was not so long ago that the National Police Commission and the Human Rights Commission of Sri Lanka (HRCSL) forthright, condemned the police attack on the NDTA Students. The HRCSL, also imposed fines on the culprits. However, that does not seem to have awakened the Inspector General of Police, to take firm action to restore discipline. Instead, the Police Headquarters have moved the Courts, to challenge the action of the Human Rights Commission of Sri Lanka. The internal disciplinary process of the police has broken down to these extents.
The Constitution Drafting Committee, when it starts its work therefore, should seriously ponder on these questions. If they cannot find a way to create a law abiding police force, their efforts towards making a new constitution will not bring any good tidings to Sri Lanka.
Drafting of a constitution, is not a matter of engaging in some paperwork. A nice constitution can be written by anyone, who has an access the text of other good constitutions in other countries. A really good drafting process of a constitutions involves dealing with threats to liberty and equality that the people are faced with and deliberating solutions that should be incorporated into the law so as to overcome these issues. Thus the drafters must address the socio political situation of the country and be ‘clear-headed’ about how to bring an enlightened approach to discipline within the government and amongst the people. If there is indiscipline in the government apparatus, the discipline among the people can be only brought about by repression. Then, what is required is not a constitution, but draconian national security laws. The period of rule under the last two constitutions (1972 and 1978) was a one that was carried out through such draconian national security laws. Naturally, Sri Lanka does not need a third one, to achieve the same purpose.
At the heart of constitution making should be the idea of people security, as against the narrow idea of national security. It is the people’s security that is being threatened by actions such as the one that took place in Embilipitiya. People’s security is also being threatened at almost every police station, every day, when the police brutally assault people under the guise of conducting criminal investigations.
What has failed in Sri Lanka, is the ‘law enforcement’ within the democratic and rule of law framework. This failure cannot be cured by adding another paper law, even if one calls it a constitution. There has to be an intellectual attempt to grasp the violence that is perpetrated on the people through the very apparatus of the Government. Having understood the causes of such violence, it is up to the Constituent Assembly to debate the ways by which such violence could be brought to an end. The task of the Drafting Committee should be to help bring about such a debate, so that through a genuine discussion on actual problems, solutions can be found which could be incorporated into the new constitution.
Nagananda / January 14, 2016
Despicable conduct of the Police spokesmen should be dealt with appropriately
Police Spokesman ASP Ruwan Gunasekara at ‘Adaderana’ media conference (13 Jan 2016) rejected allegation that the youth who died as a result of injuries sustained during a clash between villagers and police in Embilipitiya, was victim of police brutality.
“When police officers were attempting to arrest the individuals behaving in a disruptive manner, one person jumped from the third floor of the building through glass,” he told reporters in Colombo.
This is clearly an irresponsible statement by a public officer holding a high public office. The people of Sri Lanka are fully aware of violation of right to life and degrading treatment suffered by citizens in the police custody, which is a very common occurrence in this country, where a large number of deaths reported at police cells in regular basis.
In this backdrop the conduct and demeanour the person now holding the office of the police spokesmen clearly suggests that he is either clueless about the behaviour of the police or attempt to cover up a killing.
The police spokesman is bound to know that every person holding any public office is under duty to respect secure and advance the fundamental rights recognised by law [Article 4(d) of the Constitution].
The Yahapalana government that exercises people’s executive power on trust, should remove this person with immediate effect and appoint a person with responsibility to hold this office.
Adrian / January 14, 2016
If the intention of the government is to strengthen the power of the politicians, then going for the new constitution is useless. On the contrary if the powers of the politicians are to be transferred to statutory bodies sans political interference, then it is a good exercise.
Another issue is that it is meaningless to talk of rights issues only. All the rights issues should go along with ‘responsibility’ issues. The new constitution should include Responsibility to society acts which should hold every citizen responsible for what they do/did that caused undue losses to the economy and people. Such offenders should be punished with either fines, imprisonment, loss of civic rights to state taking over the assets properties etc.
With regard to police brutalities, offenders should be sacked without pension, imprisoned and made to pay up all the damages caused to the individuals and state.
At present the parliament operates like a Kopi Kade. No productivity is seen. Too much talking. Of course last government was catastrophic.
Adrian / January 14, 2016
Since President is the commander in Chief, he deserves to be impeached if action is not taken to punish the offenders.
thondamanny / January 16, 2016
Cop trouble in Talawakelle.
Yahapalanaya in the name of hands off are strengthening the COPs in order to get their (a)sses protected.
shankar / January 14, 2016
if the cops who asked for liquor and the ASP who led the attack are not kicked out of the police force we can forget about good governance in the future.
slogans and words are useless.one deed is better than a thousand words.
justice / January 14, 2016
Police brutality has been exposed by UN Rapporteurs long ago.
This situation continues to prevail even now.
Successive regimes have been unable to instil discipline in the police.
In other countries, the motto of Police is “To Protect and Serve’ – not so, in Sri Lanka.
kumaran / January 14, 2016
This attitude of the police is very recently acquired because of the support that many in the police receive from our “politicians”. My3 and RW MUST forcefully instruct ALL MPs and others that if any of them so much as call a cop, or send a message action will be taken against them.
Jagath Fernando / January 15, 2016
Excelkent write up.
The only way is to de politicize the Police.
Unfortunately even when there is clear evidence against the Police what happens is that they are transferred to another station. Very rarely action is taken.
Clear example was the assault on a female university student. The officer should have been interdicted straight away.
The other reason is that the pay scales are so low and hence they be one corrupt. Imagine an inspector getting a basic salary below Rs 50k today. He has 20 years experience and has to maintain status and family and you are paid peanuts.
What do you expect ?
Douglas / January 15, 2016
I watched live that “Debate” aired on the 13th. It was pathetic to find the Secretary to the “Independent Police Commission” trying to defend the inaction of the Commission by quoting the “FR & AR”. He did not find the NEED of the hour and the immediate necessity to “discipline” the irresponsible “Police Spokesman”. Even the good old Professor played it safe. Anyway as one of the panelists pointed out, the Imminent Danger of this whole episode is the “Instantaneous Uprisings” that are likely to take place in events of this nature that would definitely bring about a break down of Law and Order of the country. If that SPREADS, no “FR or AR” will help the “Authorities”. Please be AWARE and BEWARE.
JAY GUNASEKARA / January 16, 2016
So glad to see Nagananda Kodithuwakku comment, such a brave soul.He should be the attorney general and Warawewa chief justice.SL will be another banana republic till law and order is restored.The war and the subsequent breakdown of the institutions during the Rajapakse regime for the state of lawlessness.Iam waiting to to meet and confront Illangakone as to why he allowed Gotabaya to give orders to lackeys like Anura Senanayake to do things instead of going through the chain of command.
John Stewart Sloan / January 16, 2016
A well written and informative statement, apart from the typos: ‘……Despite of a brutal murder taking place, about which there is a large body of evidence, eye witnesses, photographs, videos and the like, the murders have not yet been arrested. They have only been transferred. – should be ‘murderers’……..’
Having said that, I can’t think it would be more meaningful if the AHRC and Basil Fernando weren’t hiding in their ivory tower in Hong Kong but actually living in Sri Lanka.
thondamany / January 16, 2016
Quote:”Having said that, I can’t think it would be more meaningful if the AHRC and Basil Fernando weren’t hiding in their ivory tower in Hong Kong but actually living in Sri Lanka.”
Oh !1 Unlike Mr. Nagananda Kodituwakku, Basil Fernando of AHRC is a preacher for his Pay masters and not a Doer. he knows everything.
If he could buy up Mr. Kodituwakku the same manner he offered crisp $$ to one of the Sri Lanka Judges serving in Fiji returning to SL through HK inviting him to serve the AHRC, he will indulge in that too.
However, that Judge & Mr. Kodituwakku are too honourable to succumb.
BBS Rep / January 18, 2016
Forget the constitution.
The lawmakers will always be the lawbreakers in thrice blessed Sri Lanka.
Brutality and other forms of human rights abuses are inherent in our blood. We do have a vile violent streak and no constitution can redress this.
Srinath.gunaratne / January 21, 2016
This cuture of cover up and helping friend has to stop!
People must understand we write history in the Internet now.
Their despicable behaviour will be read and despised by many. These will impact their children too. Do not these people have no human decency?
Is police another mafia?
Where is the political will to right these wrongs?
You have an eye witness, let the jury decide who is right or wrong.
I know lot of people here helped this government to power to end the wrongs of MR.
Western governments must keep an eye on these people and should not issue visa for these scumbags who think they have a right to play with the law.
In a civilise country, IGP must resign, if not he should be removed.
K.Anaga / January 22, 2016
Cover up all misdeeds are the cause of the problems. Unless the government takes stern measures, police brutality will continue with impunity. Before drafting a New Constitution ensure that appropriate action is taken against law keepers and lawmakers against their law ‘breakings’