Sri Lanka’s police forces regularly torture and ill-treat criminal suspects in custody, Human Rights Watch said in a report released on Friday.
The authorities should create an independent oversight authority and adopt concrete steps to end police abuse that has had such corrosive effects across Sri Lankan society.
“The Sri Lankan police treat the use of torture as an ordinary way of obtaining confessions,” said Human Rights Watch. “The police regularly get away with using torture to falsely ‘resolve’ cases that really aren’t being resolved.”
The 59-page report, “‘We Live in Constant Fear’: Lack of Accountability for Police Abuse in Sri Lanka,” documents various torture methods used by police against criminal suspects, including severe beatings, electric shock, suspension from ropes in painful positions, and rubbing chilli paste in the genitals and eyes.
Victims of torture and their families may spend years seeking justice and redress with little hope of success.
Human Rights Watch conducted research in greater Colombo and other parts of Sri Lanka in 2014 and 2015.
Previous Human Rights Watch reports have focused on wartime abuses, including torture of minority Tamil civilians. This report documents how torture and police abuse are entrenched and devastating to the majority Sinhalese population as well.
Human Rights Watch’s findings are consistent with those of domestic human rights groups that have long worked on documenting torture in Sri Lanka’s police stations and jails.
The history of police procedural violations against criminal suspects has contributed to the use of torture despite promises of reform by successive Sri Lankan governments, the rights body said.
Suspects frequently are not informed about the reasons for their arrest. Police sometimes fabricate charges to justify the initial arrest and subsequent abusive interrogation methods, it said.
Suspects often are not produced before a magistrate within 24 hours as required by Sri Lankan law.
Family members usually are not informed of an arrest or allowed access to their detained relatives. Suspects may have little or no access to lawyers, and protection mechanisms such as examination by medical officers are haphazard or improperly implemented.
“One of the saddest things about these cases is that, although Sri Lanka has decent laws to protect against such abuse, these laws seem to be treated as mere suggestions and not as required police procedures,” Human Rights Watch said.
“Arbitrary arrest and other police mistreatment end up contributing to the use of torture. The police are meant to protect and uphold rights, not be the torchbearers of dismantling rights.”
Human Rights Watch urged the Sri Lankan government to issue clear, public directives that police torture and other forms of abuse will not be tolerated, establish an independent police oversight authority charged with investigating allegations of police abuse, the results of which would then be forwarded to the attorney general’s department for prosecution as appropriate.