Sri Lanka
Urgent Interventions

The United Nations Human Rights Committee Rules Against Sri Lanka in Torture Case

Summary On 14 July 2006, in the case of Sundara Arachchige Lalith Rajapakse v. Sri Lanka, Communication No 1250/2004, the UN Human Rights Committee found Sri Lanka in breach of its obligations under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights with respect to Mr Rajapakse, a Sri Lankan citizen who had been arbitrarily arrested and detained, and subjected to acts of torture inflicted by Sri Lankan police officers. The Committee found violations of article 2, paragraph 3, in connection with article 7, regarding the failure of the State party to provide an effective remedy; Article 9, paragraphs 1, 2 and 3, relating to the circumstances of his arrest; and article 9, paragraph 1, concerning his right to security of person. Mr Rajapakse was represented by counsel, the Asian Human Rights Commission and the World Organisation Against Torture (OMCT). On 18 April 2002, Mr Rajapakse was arrested and charged with two counts of robbery. Upon arrest, he was beaten by police officers and dragged into a jeep which transferred him to the Kandana Police Station where he was detained. During his detention, Mr Rajapakse, 19 years old at the time, was subjected to acts of torture with the aim of obtaining a confession in relation to the alleged robberies. He sustained serious injuries and was eventually found lying unconscious on a police cell floor by his grandfather on 20 April 2002, thereafter which he remained unconscious for 15 days. He could not speak with clarity until after 13 May 2002 and was hospitalised until June 2002. In September 2003, Mr Rajapakse was acquitted of the two charges of robbery as the alleged victims had not made complaints against him. Mr Rajapakse filed a complaint for the violation of his fundamental rights to the Sri Lankan Supreme Court and a criminal action was eventually filed against one Sub-Inspector from the Kandana Police under the Torture Act in July 2002. Despite these civil and criminal initiatives to obtain redress, and a request to expedite proceedings, both procedures were continuously postponed and were still not held at the time of the Committee’s decision. Moreover, the police officer in question was not suspended from his duties nor taken into custody and Mr Rajapakse was exposed to threats and forced to go into hiding. Having found that the delay in both the fundamental rights application and the criminal case amounted to an unreasonably prolonged delay within the meaning of article 5, paragraph 2(b) of the Optional Protocol, the author’s communication was declared admissible. Upon examination of the merits, the Committee stressed that “the State party may not avoid its responsibilities under the Covenant with the argument that the domestic courts are dealing with the matter when it is clear that the remedies relied upon by the State party have been prolonged and would appear to be ineffective”. Accordingly, the Committee found the State party in violation of article 2 paragraph 3, by denying the author’s right to an effective remedy. In regards to his arbitrary arrest and detention, the Committee took note that the State party had not refuted that the author was unlawfully arrested, was not informed of the reasons of his arrest or any of the charges brought against him, and was not brought promptly before a judge. The Committee therefore found a violation of article 9, paragraphs 1, 2 and 3, alone and together with article 2, paragraph 3. Lastly, the Committee examined the author’s claim that the State party failed to take adequate action to guarantee the author’s protection from threats coming from police officers. Recalling its jurisprudence that “article 9, paragraph 1 of the Covenant protects the right to security of person also outside the context of formal deprivation of liberty”, and in view of the State party’s failure to adequately protect the author from threats and harassment or to even investigate the author’s complaints in this respect, particularly as the alleged perpetrator was not placed in custody, the Committee concluded that the author’s right to security of person had been violated. The Committee has requested that the State party provide information about the measures taken to give effect to its views within 90 days. To read the full decision click on the following link
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