Human Rights Watch (HRW) drew attention to rising police brutality, custodial and extra-judicial killings in Sri Lanka in a report released on Friday. “Sri Lanka’s police are increasingly killing and abusing people under cover of the Covid-19 pandemic measures and an anti-drug campaign,” it said.
The HRW also urged the international community in connection to law enforcement agencies in the island, including the UK government’s Police Scotland, to suspend assistance until the Rajapaksa government takes concrete steps to investigate police abuses.
“Such assistance risks appearing to endorse or lend legitimacy to agencies that are unwilling to improve their respect for human rights,” it stressed.
The report catalogued a series of cases in which the police beat civilians to death including those who allegedly violated quarantine rules. It also highlighted the case of Chandran Vidushan, a 22-year-old whom the police tied to a tree and assaulted before he was killed in custody.
Meenakshi Ganguly, South Asia director at HRW, said, “Sri Lanka’s police seem intent on building on their past record of serious abuses, instead of cleaning up their act.”
The report also pointed out the link between police abuses and the drive against drugs in Sri Lanka. Atrocities ranged from the police “planting drugs on suspects,” to “invasive body searches of female suspects.” It highlighted that the task force created by President Gotabaya Rajapaksa to create a “disciplined, virtuous, and lawful society” involving military police officers is at the helm of the campaign against drug trafficking.
The HRW then went on to emphasise that the support provided by certain international partners to Sri Lankan law enforcement agencies must be withdrawn.
“Sri Lankan law enforcement agencies receive international support from various countries. The UK government through Police Scotland provides police training. The UN Office on Drugs and Crime supports Sri Lankan counterterrorism units, which have long faced allegations of grave rights violations, as well as counter-narcotics programs.”
“International partners should suspend their engagement with abusive Sri Lankan law enforcement agencies until there is demonstrated the political will to address the situation,” the HRW stressed.
The report also instructed the Rajapaksa government to ensure that police abuses will be properly investigated and prosecuted. “Until that happens, international partners should be under no illusions about human rights in Sri Lanka, and they should withhold assistance to abusive law enforcement agencies,” Ganguly said.
Read the full report here.