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March 28, 2023

Reform police and law enforcement – Women and Media Collective

Last Updated on November 23, 2022 by Lankae Cast

Strongly condemining the recent acts of brutality by certain police officers in recent months, the Women and Media Collective has stressed upon the need for reform in policing, law enforcement and the institution of the police with immediate effect.

The Collective says it is shocked about certain incidents “that has reached a level of cruelty and degradation.”

The statement in full:

The Women and Media Collective is deeply shocked, and concerned and strongly condemns Police brutality that has reached a level of cruelty and degradation that is completely unacceptable.  This must be addressed immediately and effectively at the highest levels. The Police is a service whose objective is to uphold law and order, ensure peace and protect the security of all citizens.  Rather, it has become a force with impunity that unleashes violence against citizens exercising their legal rights, including women and children.

We highlight three horrendous incidents that came to public attention in November 2022 and call for urgent reform of policing, law enforcement, and the institution of the Police.

The first incident relates to the alleged corporal punishment of a group of 10-year old grade 5 students at the Millaniya Primary School in Horana and subsequent police assault and torture, including the use of electric shocks (currently under investigation by the Child Protection Authority).  The second incident relates to the pushing and shoving of two Women Police Officers by the Chief Inspector of the Kalutara Police, evidenced by video footage, and the third incident is connected and deals with the illegal stopping of a peaceful march by the Police at Kalutara and the manhandling of a woman protester by the Chief Inspector of the Kalutara Police (currently being investigated by the National Human Rights Commission – )

Police violence and brutality is now commonplace in Sri Lanka and to all intents and purposes normalized as these incidents illustrate. The acts of violence, impunity, and entitlement referred to above are part of the legion of police infringements of citizens’ rights, from illegal arrests, assault, torture, and death in custody reported extensively, and particularly commonplace when the victims are allegedly sex workers, trans people, those accused of drug abuse and those arrested for political dissent.  Policing today is steeped in a culture of violence and impunity which relies on the use of force, inhuman and degrading treatment, and torture to instill fear, enforce obedience and maintain power.  It also reflects the systemic acceptance, normalization, and condoning of such violence within the Police force as it does the social acceptance of draconian laws, structures and practices.  The case of the ten-year-old school children in Horana handed over to the Police by a school Principal who should be protecting the rights and safety of students under her care is a grim illustration. 

We also unreservedly condemn the degrading treatment and violence meted out to Women Police Officers by a Senior Police Officer, displaying the misogyny embedded within the Police Force.  The women Police Officers were carrying out their duties and the horrendous display of patriarchal power and intimidation is completely unacceptable and a violation of the right to a safe and secure working environment constituting harassment at the workplace for which the IGP must be held accountable. 

The subsequent report that the women Police Officers did not have any issue with the Senior Police Officer manhandling them is not credible and is a clear indication of the internal struggles faced by women in the Police force. The intimidation of WPCs in public reflects a serious and pervasive trend within the Police force of systemic discrimination and subordination of women within its ranks.  We condemn the negative aspects of policing culture that makes the law enforcement environment toxic for women working within the Police force.  An audit of police practice within its work environment is also urgently necessary and the outrage inspired by this incident should be leveraged to ensure a safe and secure work environment for women Police officers.

We are also deeply outraged and condemn unequivocally the use of force by law enforcement officers to break up peaceful protest and dissent.  This is a blatant violation of citizens’ rights to equal protection of the law and to freedom of speech and association guaranteed by the Constitution. We call on the government to end this continued pattern of excessive use of force, arrests, arbitrary detention, and degrading and inhuman treatment of peaceful protesters. We demand that the government respect its obligations under the Constitution as well as those under international human rights law to protect the rights to freedom of expression, peaceful assembly, and the right to personal security and freedom from arbitrary arrest and detention. We note that in the wake of these incidents, News 1st reported that the National Police Commission has received approximately 1,200 complaints against the Police since January 2022.

While we welcome the immediate investigations conducted by the National Human Rights Commission and the National Child Protection Authority into these reprehensible incidents of violence, we reiterate that this violence is not merely related to the conduct of individuals within the Police force but also a reflection of serious systemic problems relating to impunity, criminality, inhumanity and the politicization of the Police.  The government must take responsibility for ensuring institutional and personal accountability for human rights violations.  Failure to do so has only perpetuated the prevailing culture of impunity and also indicates a level of unacceptable State complicity in such violations which must be addressed forthwith.

The people’s Aragalaya came to be in protest against this entrenched culture of violence and impunity and was based on aspirations of democracy, good governance, and the safeguarding of all human rights. The continued suppression of peaceful protest and dissent will not silence the spirit and democratic voice of the people. We demand accountability for these reprehensible incidents and call for appropriate and immediate action against those officers responsible as we call for systemic reform of law enforcement.  We will not condone Police violence and impunity.

Women and Media Collective