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Commission finds police violated international law

Graphic: Protesters and police in Colombo

In a landmark decision, Sri Lankan police have been ordered to pay compensation for assaulting a group of students at a demonstration in Colombo.

In a landmark decision, Sri Lankan police have been ordered to pay compensation for assaulting a group of students at a demonstration in Colombo, the first time they have been censured for violating international humanitarian law.

The Press Trust of India reported that the Human Rights Commission of Sri Lanka (HRCSL) has ordered the police to pay $1,035 to nine students who complained of police assault during the demonstration.

"Students had been subjected to cruel and degrading treatment in violation of their rights guaranteed by the constitution as well as international human rights covenants," the HRCSL said in its 32-page report.

The report contends that the police used excessive force to disperse Higher National Diploma Accountancy students on 29 October 2015, following which nine of them were hospitalised.

The HRCSL report was based on expert medical evidence that students were beaten using batons and other sharp objects, even as they were trying to flee.

The police had launched water canons and tear gas, in addition to a brutal baton charge that was captured on television.

The report noted that the arrest of 39 students also may have been illegal as there was no evidence to suggest that due process had been followed. However, the HRCSL made no pronouncement on the arrest.

The police chief was ordered by the HRCSL to ensure new training procedures and guidelines in crowd control and a report to be filed to the commission by 1 March 2016.

The HRCSL noted that there was a lack of professionalism in the police and ordered the Inspector General of Police to conduct an internal investigation to identify officers who gave orders to assault students as well as those who carried out those orders and take strict disciplinary action against them.

It was the first ruling against the police by HRCSL and the Commission's first high-profile case since it was constituted as a fully independent body following the election of President Maithripala Sirisena earlier this year.

Date: 5 December 2015

Source: Press Trust of India/Economic Times


Image credits

  1. Protesters and police in Colombo - Lahiru Harshana, YouTube; https://youtu.be/_kfO1qCcFZQ