“Justice for Ishalini”
“As the Bishop and Priests in the Catholic Diocese of Kandy (Central Province), we were very saddened and shocked to hear about the death of 16-year-old girl Ishalini, a parishioner of St. Anthony’s Church, Dayagama in our diocese. It is our firm conviction that a young girl like Ishalini should have been in school and not as a domestic worker in an unfamiliar setting without any protection mechanisms. It is a shame on us as Sri Lankans, including the present and previous governments, that Ishalini’s parents were in debt and an economic situation that compelled them to send a young daughter as a domestic worker”.
Bishop of Kandy in his letter made 07 demands on behalf of the tea plantation community.
This was stated in the letter sent by the Bishop of Kandy, Rt. Rev. Dr. Vianney Fernando and his priests of the diocese to his excellency the President Gotabaya Rajapaksa. The contents of the letter s was explained during the Media conference held on the 03rd August 2021 at the Human Rights Office in Kandy along with Frs. Nandana Manatunga, Ivan Jayasundara, Surendra Pragash & Fr. Christy Paul.
A round table conference was held along with Rita, the survivor, the lawyers, the staff and the members of the support group on the 12th August 2021 at the Human Rights Office to review the long walk of Rita seeking Justice and Redress.
Rita in a soft tone narrated her painful experiences in seeking Justice and described her present life being a mother of two daughters. Rita thanked profusely all those who were around her during the past 20 years.
The 04 lawyers present, Surangika Ranaweera, Suren D. Perera, Charaka Dharmasiri, & Geeva Nilmalgoda expressed their views regarding the adjudication process, court delay and their experiences in prosecuting the case. The defects of the Justice System were highlighted by all the lawyers and required reforms were also pointed out.
Dr. Clotida Perera narrated how Rita was assisted medically when necessary and also the trauma counseling provided by Sr. Mabel. A former staff at Setik, Asela Ihagama recalled how the persons who accompanied Rita were humiliated and insulted in court by the defense lawyer.
The staff of the HRO and some members of the support group recalled how they assisted Rita holistically during the past 20 years and assured their assistance in the future as well. It was noted that Rita was placed in 16 different houses for security & protection while she was studying and employed. Due to discriminative acts experienced by Rita being a Tamil at the Free Trade Zone in Katunayake, she was forced to return to Kandy.
Fr. Nandana explained how the support group was formed and the “Victim centered activities” emerged with the need to accompany victims and monitor trials. “With the case of Rita we have learnt how we should accompany victims not just for few months but even 20 years or more”.
Rita was raped on the 12th August 2001 when she was just a student in Year 10, while she was returning from St. Patrick’s Church Talawakelle on that fateful Sunday. Exactly 20 years ago.
She took the first step in seeking Justice by making a complaint to the Talawakelle Police, all by herself which was supported for 20 long years with holistic assistance by the then director and the staff of Setik followed by the director staff and members of the support group of the Human Rights Office. The Bishop of the Central Province Rt. Rev. Dr. Vianney Fernando was very much involved in the struggle in seeking Justice to Rita and encouraged Rita and those who were accompanying her.
The MR case for compensation was completed on the 30th July 2021 in the District Court, however the fresh trial of the criminal case at the High Court is still to commence after 20 years.
In 2015 the Nuwara Eliya High Court Judge sentenced the two accused for 23 years of imprisonment but due to a technical error made by the Judge who initiated the trials was pointed out during the appeal. Hence the case was ordered for a fresh trial by the Court of Appeal.
The protest that was held in Hatton against the Talawakelle Police and the post card campaign in support of Rita and Umadevi were recalled when Fr. Nandana pointed out a post card sent in 2001. Asian Human Rights Commission also sent out several Urgent Appeals requesting the authorities to conduct impartial inquiries and expedite trials.
As a response to the appeal made by the Bishop of Mannar late Rt. Rev. Dr. Rayappu Joseph, the then President Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga ordered to conduct a fresh investigation in to the criminal offence committed against Rita.
Altogether 09 High Court Judges heard the criminal case of Rita since 2007 and 10 State counsels have led the prosecution and more than 20 lawyers have appeared during the court hearings on behalf of Rita. Further several Priests, Religious, staff members and members of the support group have accompanied Rita to court during the past 20 years.
How long the fresh trial will take is a question... another....10 years...or 20 years ..
The right to a fair trial is fundamental to the rule of law and to democracy itself.
The victims of rape, Torture domestic violence and of Human Rights violations have to follow the legal process to punish the perpetrators and hence Legal assistance comes in to the forefront in the process of seeking Justice & Redress. Often victims tend to take Law in to their hands and punish the perpetrators instead of following the adjudication process. The delay in the adjudication process and the defects have made people to lose confidence in the Justice system. In this context, HRO encourages the victims to seek Justice through adjudication process, identify the defects and campaign for necessary reforms.
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