(July 06, Colombo, Sri Lanka Guardian) Sarani Fernando is a lawyer living in Negombo. She has been active in human rights work for about ten years. She made following comments in answer to questions posed to her.
What do you think of the policing system of Sri Lanka?
The policing system we have now is one of the most corrupt places within the public sector. It is not possible to say that it is a good one at all. The idea of creating a police force is to protect the peace within the country and eliminate crimeThough the police force was established for these purposes in actual practice these aims are not being pursued at all. Instead of protecting peace and eliminating crime the police service is beset with corruption and is also an institution of terror. This is not an institution that can meet the expectations of the people in a democratic country and what is happening today should not be allowed.
There are many reasons why the police in our country have come to this sad situation. Some of these reasons are as follows: like all the agencies of the state the police service has been politicised. Although the people of the state sector whose salaries are paid by the people's taxes are supposed to work for the welfare and benefit of the people, the mindset of the police is not geared towards that aim. There are enormous problems of mentality and mindset within the police. The police officers do not understand what their responsibilities are, what they obligations are, what they are supposed to do and what they are not supposed to do. The necessary politeness and the discipline which is essential for the success of a policing system do not exist within the setup now. The ethical attitudes and behaviour of the police is sadly lacking. Instead of protecting peace and eliminating crime, the police are working only for personal economic benefit and to promote their own position . For these reasons and perhaps others, the police have failed to win the confidence and approval of the people.
What do you think of use of torture by the police?
By the very term 'torture', by the very meaning of the word itself it suits only a barbaric society. It is not a practice that is suitable for a civilised society. Whether it is the state sector, or non state sector nobody expects the use of torture from a state institution. It is not something that can be approved by anybody. However, the police service has been established to eliminate crime and establish peace uses torture extensively. It is sad to say that torture has become part of the very identity of the Sri Lankan police service. In the past torture was used in order to punish criminals. However, as the society became civilised this was established as a barbaric system that was not suitable for society. The power of punishment according to the law is given to the courts. The police have no right to punish anyone. What happens at present is that the police are doing something which they have no right or power to do. They are following a methodology which is contrary to the law. The fact that these things happen impacts on the thinking of society and influences the mentalities of the people.
Sometimes the mentality is created that believes that in order to eliminate crime it is necessary to subject the people suspected of doing such crimes to torture. The belief has been created that without doing that it is not possible to eliminate crime. Such ideas and mentalities should be eliminated from our society. The evidence that needs to be collected for the proof of a case should not be obtained by subjecting people to torture but by proper method of investigation. According to the law of evidence any statement taken by the use of torture cannot be used in court. However, the majority of the policemen do not understand that and they use their authority in a wrongful manner. Sometimes they work with the idea of getting a promotion by doing things like that. They deprive or obstruct the rights that the Constitution has guaranteed the people of the country. The present situation cannot be approved or accepted in any manner.
How is the relationship between the police and the people?
Due to their arbitrary ways of working and their illegal activities people do not have confidence in the police. They do not provide an example for the people to follow. Their activities are corrupt. Relationships only work if there is mutual confidence.
By now the police are demoralised and do not have the confidence that they are working for the welfare of the people. If a better relationship has to be created with the police then their corrupt practices and the atmosphere of terror that they create has to be eliminated. The use of corruption and terror are methodologies that are not acceptable under modern circumstances. If the purpose for the creation of the police under the Constitution is to be realised these things have to be changed.
Will you go to a police station of you have a problem?
Many people go to the police to make a complaint when they have a problem because that is a requirement of the law. They have no other place to do this. As they have no alternative they go to the police. However, very often, even at the point of making a complaint about a problem the police turn the whole matter into a sort of chaos. The reason for this is because the police do not look for the truth behind what has happened but rather act either for political reasons or under the influence of money or because of pressure exerted by the powerful.
Especially women, before they go to the police have to think twice about doing so. This is a very sad situation. I cannot say at all that it is safe to go to a police station.
Is there a law on domestic violence in your country?
Domestic violence is a symptom of a society that is patriarchal. In our country that is the situation that is predominant. Under the modern circumstances there is a domestic violence law in order to stop such practice and in order to provide protection for women. However, as they woman is treated as being lower in society in all aspects the protection that is available to women is still very poor. Despite of the domestic violence law it cannot be said that domestic violence has been eliminated from the society.