The Human Rights Office, Kandy, also stated that the law students who had attended the debate, found the debate to be a lively and sensitive one where they were able to gain first-hand experience on the lives the prisoners, the problems which occurred during legal cases, and issues when dispensing justice through the system.
The debate also brought up the need to treat prisoners and those who have been rehabilitated and released as part of society and not as outcasts. A prisoner speaking on his own experience said that due to the stigma of his being in prison, his child found it hard to get even a Grama Sevaka certificate.
At the end of the debate, a visibly moved law student had declared that she did not want to use the word ‘prisoners’ to refer to her opponents and that she felt that they were part of her own family.
Many important aspects in the arena of human rights too were discussed; the law students who spoke of the law against torture in Sri Lanka pointed out that there were several legislations against torture. But the prisoners said that even though they had made several complaints regarding torture, the police was not independent enough to enforce the law. One of the most important arguments revolved around the Victims and Witnesses Protection Act No. 4, 2015. The prisoners pointed out that with no independent organisation outside of the police to help enforce the Act, it was hard for the national body responsible for such an Act to keep the victims and witnesses safe.
The debate ended on a high note. Given its success, the University has agreed to continue such debates and discussions with the prisoners and law students in future. The Chairman of the judging panel, a lawyer also chose to speak further with the prisoners after the debate and promised to pursue the injustices they faced within prison with the courts and other agencies.
The debate, however, was a spotlight on the gaps in our justice system. It helped realize that the system needed to do more to protect the vulnerable and live up to the common values of equality and fairness.
The Peradeniya University students in the end, similar to students from Harvard, walked away at the end of the debate, knowing that they had met their match amongst the orators behind bars