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CUSTODIAL VIOLATIONS STILL AN ISSUE

Human Rights violations of those in Police detention continues to be a major issue as the Human Rights Commission of Sri Lanka (HRCSL) yesterday pointed out that it still remained the most frequent complaint received by the Commission.

The HRCSL between January and September of 2017, received 5,614 complaints. Of that number, the majority at 1,174 were regarding custodial violations.

The Chairman of the Commission, Dr. Deepika Udagama who reviewed the complaints at a media briefing at the Commission noted that; 249 were complaints on torture (mainly police),

171 on harassment (with complaints of alleged intelligence officers harassing civilians in the North), 323 against threats (mainly from police) and 298 on arbitrary arrests and detention.

“This is a major problem. On the one side, we see progress in the freedom of expression, association and assembly. But on the other side, one of our continuing concerns is in custodial violations. This clearly shows that we need strong Police reforms,” Dr. Udagama said.

She however noted that the government’s ratification of the Optional Protocol to the Convention Against Torture (OPCAT) last month was nevertheless a positive step to overcome problems in detention. The government has also assigned the responsibility of implementing a local mechanism to monitor those in detention to the HRCSL.

The HRCSL which already has the mandate to conduct raids on police stations, etc... will now receive greater authority to look into violations while in custody.

The Commission however complained that many of their investigations were being delayed due to a lack of human resources and bureaucratic red tape which have slowed down implementation of their plans.

“This is a common problem all Independent Commissions are facing and we have informed the Constitutional Council of this,” Dr. Udagama added.

Another area with high complaints was in administrative injustices, with 770 complaints being made by people regarding the arbitrary manner in which administrative justice was meted out.

Petitioners had made 436 complaints against the police and 334 against other government institutions for having not noted down the complaints made. In addition, 1002 government officials have complained against their own offices with regard to issues of administrative injustice.

Interestingly, one of the main administrative complaints, revolve around school admissions, Dr. Udagama said.

“We had close to 500 complaints with regard to children not being admitted to popular national schools. These complaints are mainly from the middle class and not what we consider a human rights violation”, said the Chairman.

She further noted that violations in the right to education would include complaints made regarding the lack of facilities in remote schools or inadequate access to schools but these complaints were very few.

More worryingly, the HRCSL noted an increase in the number of violent disciplinary action taken by teachers against students and the rising trend of expelling students from schools, even for minor violations.

Dr. Udagama said they have requested from the Ministry of Education to have discussions with principals and teachers of national schools (to start off with), along with psychologists and psychiatrists to discuss ways in which discipline can be enforced in a more humane manner.

“We don’t think we can produce the kind of democratic citizens through a system based on exams. We need to revise the whole curriculum”, she noted further, explaining that their Education Policy Sub-Committee report on the matter would be released this year.