72nd International Human Rights Day 2020 was celebrated at the Human Rights Office Kandy on the 10th December 2020 with limited participants due to health restrictions. "Accept the present realities and include everyone - Human Rights for All” was the theme for Human Rights Day.
Speaking about the Prisons in Sri Lanka, Mr. Charaka Dharmasiri in his keynote address, remarked that the riots and violence erupted in Mahara Prison was a reaction by the prisoners against overcrowding, unhealthy conditions and inhuman treatment. “Prisoners reacted with fear and frustration due to the COVID 19 pandemic being spread among the prison inmates”. He further said that our prison system does not provide opportunities for rehabilitation.
Mr. Charaka Dharmasiri - Senior Legal Counsel, former Senior State Counsel focused on the Extrajudicial killings and the Rights of Prisoners. At the very outset he explained how the Universal Declaration of Human Rights came into to existence 72 years ago. “Human Rights are inherent to every human being and therefore people do not have to beg for their Rights”.
Mr. Charaka highlighted the reasons for people to be imprisoned. Suspects should have an inherent right for a fair trial adhering to the standard criminal procedure and the suspects have the constitutional right under the prevailing law to be presumed innocent until proven guilty. “The suspect should be informed of the charges before he is arrested. Unfortunately, which does not usually happen in Sri Lanka“. Explaining about the prisoners, he said that there are different categories of prisoners such as remand prisoners, sentenced prisoners and prisoners pending their appeal in an Appellate Court.
He then went on to explain how leaders of several countries served prison sentences such as Nelson Mandela, Mahatma Gandhi and how they turned their prison wards into a place of learning. Further he said that remand prisoners are only detained as suspects and they are at no pint should be branded as criminals until proven guilty. Prisons have four major purposes: retribution, incapacitation, deterrence and rehabilitation. Retribution means punishment for crimes against the society. Depriving criminals of their freedom is a way of making them pay a debt to the society for their crimes. Finally, he invited everyone to continue this dialogue and to voice to improve the prison conditions to treat the Prisoners as Humans.
At the inauguration of the International Human Rights Day 2020, the traditional oil lamp, was lit followed by religious observances and silence observed in respect of the slain Human Rights Activists and Victims who fought for Justice. The participants who represented the families of the disappeared, the families of the prisoners, the Torture victims and victims of miscarriage of Justice and the members of the support group and the lawyers were welcomed by the director of the Human Rights Office, Fr. Nandana Manatunga.
Commemorating the International day of the Victims of the Enforced Disappearances 2020, the families of the disappeared along with the Human Rights Office organized a Human Rights market place on the 30th August 2020 at St. Paul the Hermit Church in Digana, Kandy Sri Lanka.
The Human Rights market place comprised of fruits, vegetables, eatables and products of the families of the disappeared that attracted the people to the market place. The photos of the disappeared that were exhibited behind each stall explained the sad story of each disappeared person and the very purpose of the families of the disappeared to organize a market place. Further memories of the disappeared persons were recalled when they narrated the cruel disappearing incidents by the family members, while the business at the market place continued. “There is not a day that passed by without the memories haunting” the mothers lamented while tears flowed down their cheeks.
It was an opportunity for the families of the disappeared to speak about their loved ones who were made to disappear. Further they explained the reason for their campaign; they all wanted to know “THE TRUTH”. What really happened to them.
Mrs. Sandya Eknaligoda whose husband Prageeth Eknaligoda was made to disappear ten years ago also joined the campaign at the market place and there were several journalists who interviewed her and the other members of the families of the disappeared.
Soon after the Sunday service at Digana Church, people walked into the market as they were already prepared during the service. The disappearances day was explained at length during the introduction and the theme was connected to the day’s liturgy and the homilies given by the celebrants Fr. Nandana Manatunga & Fr. Christy Paul in Sinhala and in Tamil. The market place was declared opened by the Parish Priest of Digana, Rev. Fr Christy Paul.
Families of the disappeared demand the consecutive governments to deliver justice, truth and reparation to the families of the forcibly disappeared.
Speaking to Media, Fr. Nandana said that “The commemoration is a sad reminder of the painfully long wait of families of forcibly disappeared for answers about their loved ones; they have been denied the truth about their whereabouts”. Further he said the Office of the Missing Persons is also gradually disappearing and the allocated funds by the previous budget as reparation were not received by the families and their future hopes are deemed. Some families in the north of the forcibly disappeared have been holding outdoor vigils continuously for over 1,300 days’ search for justice and answers remains elusive.
It is only by keeping alive the memories of the disappeared and the event could prevent further repetition of events. The poster printed by the HRO was distributed widely, invited the citizens to commemorate the disappeared and prevent disappearances.
"I have Dignity just like you", focusing on the Dignity of women, the International Women's day was held on the 07th March 2020 at Fatima Shrine Padiwatte Parish hall organized by the Human Rights Office in Kandy along with the women headed families.
125 participants from the families of the disappeared, the families of the prisoners, the survivors of torture and their families, the members of the support group and the staff of the Human Rights Office participated in the day’s programme.
Mr. Mahinda Namal was the guest speaker, a reputed resource person, instructor at the Holy Cross Convent Kalutara. As customary the traditional oil lamp was lit, invoking blessing on all the participants followed by an introduction to the theme on “Dignity of Women” by Fr. Nandana Manatunga, the director of the Human Rights Office. Welcoming the participants, a welcome dance was staged by the children of the families of the disappeared.
The guest speaker Me. Mahinda Namal then took over the stage and made a very powerful presentation on the worth of womanhood & her dignity. He spoke at length and made clear that it only the woman who could give life and at any stage of the life of a woman, she should not regret being a woman. Further he said the women should not under estimate their strength. The differences between man and woman should be understood and he sighted several examples of women who changed the whole society having understood their strength and challenged the evil structures.
The Kandy families of the disappeared then staged a drama depicting instances where women lose dignity when they are weak. Women’s groups also presented few other items, capturing the theme of the day. Women's groups that were present introduced their members while some of the participants shared their stories. The day's programme was concluded with a fellowship lunch shared by all the participants
The International Human Rights Day 2019 was celebrated at the Kandyan Arts Residency on the 14th December 2019, organized by the Human Rights Office Kandy, Sri Lanka with more than 250 participants. Focusing on the involvement of the community in protecting & promoting Human Rights, the theme for 2019 was "As a community, let us protect the Rights and respect the Dignity of our brothers & sisters".
The members of the Support Group of the Human Rights Office which came in to existence in 2005, were appreciated and saluted for their commitment and untiring efforts in working in solidarity with the Human Rights Office, journeying with the victims to seek Justice & Redress. The chief guest of the International Human Rights Day 2019 Dr. Shirley Wijesighe, Professor at Faculty of Humanities, University of the Kelaniya commended the members of the Support Group & congratulated them and gave away the souvenirs to 47 Support Group members. In his speech Dr. Shirley highlighted the value of the participation of the civil society, such as the Support Group in protecting and promoting the Rights of each other. Further Dr. Shirley called upon the Religious leaders to come together to safe guard the Rights of the people.
The formation of the support group was a premonition of Fr. Nandana Manatunga while he was the Director of the Human Rights Media Resource Center and continued thereafter, involving the civil society members in protecting the victims and providing them with security.
The Support Group discerned the specific needs and conditions of each of the victims, whether they have been tortured or sexually abused, began walking with them in their search to regain their dignity an identity. Most of the victims had to be moved from their homes and relocated elsewhere. There were the occasions when the members of the Support Group volunteered to host them and shelter them in their own houses, in addition to being sheltered in suitable Churches and Convents. We gratefully remember all the priests and religious who came forwarded to provide protection & security to the victims during the most critical times.
Another dimension of their commitment entailed the initiation of campaigns to address the major issue of Court delays. Court delays in Sri Lanka are a plague and no effective action has been taken to address this malaise. Media conferences, Street Movements, Signature campaigns and Post Card campaigns were organized to draw the urgent attention of the State so as to have the trials expedited.
The counseling component was added to the “Victim centered activity”, providing the victims with trauma counseling. As most of the family members had experienced trauma, the counseling component had to be extended to them as well. Rev Sr. Mabel Rodrigo used different forms of counseling to the victims and their families, including “Testimonial Therapy”.
Apart from assisting the victims, the members of the Support Group assumed the role of evaluating and planning programmes of the Human Rights Office along with the director and the staff. Since education in Human Rights was deemed essential in the country, the Support Group focused on producing short documentaries based on the stories and the experience of victims that can serve as the basis for discussion and community action.
As the membership of the Support Group grew in numbers and their desire to share their convictions increased, they volunteered to provide accommodation not only to the victims but also to the interns who came from different organizations or countries. By the end of year 2005, Fr. Nandana began to work in the Bogambara Prison, for the welfare of the prisoners with the assistance of the members of the Support Group. Apart from the official members of the Support Group, several others such as Priests and Religious, Medical Personal, Teachers and Law students too assisted the HRO whenever their services were requested. Their contribution was also appreciated during the Human Rights Day.
Rt. Rev. Dr. Vinney Fernando, the Bishop of the Central Province (Kandy Diocese) was occasionally invited to support group meetings to listen to the stories of victims. The bishop not only showed an interest but also emphasized on the need for such an apostolate in the diocese.
In spite of the threats and challenges, the members of the Support Group volunteered to accompany the victims to police stations and other institutions as the occasion arose. Besides, the members of the Support Group accompanied the victims for the inquiries conducted by the Human Rights Commission in addition to accompanying them to safe-houses in different parts of the country.
They also made enormous efforts in the victims integrated into the society both by finding suitable places for employment and or the alternative economic activities. Besides, the members identified safe and suitable institutions that would provide the victims with vocational training in carpentry, sewing, driving, agriculture and beauty culture.
They also made enormous efforts in the victims integrated into the society both by finding suitable places for employment and or the alternative economic activities. Besides, the members identified safe and suitable institutions that would provide the victims with vocational training in carpentry, sewing, driving, agriculture and beauty culture.
Recognizing the need for on-going education in the process of empowering the members of the Support Group, programs were conducted on Human Rights, psychological counseling, on emerging issues, legal frame works and national & International mechanisms. The members of the Support Group were often invited to meet with diplomatic missions and other UN rapporteurs who visited the HRO.
The members of the Support Group were also involved with the staff of the Human Rights office in organizing Human Rights Exhibitions, Legal Clinics and Programs on the Right to Information to empower the civil society and mobilize them. Further they willingly joined the staff of the Human Rights Office in organizing events that coincided with special days such as the International Women’s Day, Human Rights Day, Disappearance Day, Mental Health Day and special programs for the victims on Sinhala-Tamil New Year and Christmas. The Support Group members came into forefront in 2019 for presidential election monitoring as HRO coordinated the Kandy district election monitoring for Paffrel.
While being committed to assisting the victims of various Human Right Violations with love and care, the members of the Support Group have played a major role in campaigning for the reform of the Police and the Judiciary.
The defense and the promotion of Human Rights work of the HRO would have been impossible without the commitment of the Support Group. The HRO expressed its gratitude to the members of the Support Group for their commitment and saluted them for their courage in the face of various challenges. HRO count on their continued support and commitment in the years to come.
The 52 members of the Support Group, many of them professionals and persons who are ready to commit themselves and sacrifice their valuable time for the noble cause of protecting the Rights of all individuals, continue to meet once a month at the Human Rights Office and are involved in campaigns and activities organized by the Human Rights Office throughout the year.
Human Rights day programme was made colorful with cultural items and on behalf of the HRO Dr. Shirley Wijesinghe, the chief guest was presented a souvenir by Bishop by Bishop Kumara Illangasinghe, the former Anglican Bishop of Kurunegala.
World Mental Health Day (10 October) is a day declared for global mental health education, awareness and advocacy. It was first celebrated in 1992 with the initiative of the World Federation for Mental Health, a global mental health organization with members and contacts in more than 150 countries.
Human Rights Office in Kandy working with different kinds of survivor groups for their legal and psychological needs, believe, that mental health is a human right. We celebrated it with the survivor families of both ethnic groups Sinhala and Tamil. Among the participants, families of the disappeared and of the prisoners and the survivors of Rape & Torture and other Human Rights violation and the members of the support group.
Importance of mental health and the significance of the day was explained by Fr. Nandana Manatunga the Director of HRO while the theme and the day's programme was explained by Sr. Mabel Rodrigo the Trauma Counselor of HRO.
The trauma that was experienced by the families of the victims with the 21/4 2019 bomb attack on churches and hotels and all those who viewed the scenes via Television were highlighted and the need to be in solidarity with them with ongoing trauma counseling was pointed out.
Drama Therapist Dr. Ravindra Ranasinghe and his Team conducted several exercises along with the participants while explaining how to cope up with stress and trauma, hence it was active participation and learning.
Body movements and yogic postures session kept their minds in a state quietness all through the sessions. It immensely helped the participants to search and observe objects that reflect their own personal stories as they mindfully walked around the nature and surroundings and later to share them in the group.
One of the best techniques of managing stress is laughing out aloud. Group performance of laughing out aloud integrated with movements, and sharing in small groups each person’s unique ways of creating happiness for oneself and managing stress helped them to learn innovative ways of daily living. At the closure of the session participants were given an exercise on progressive relaxation, an opportunity to expose their pains and tears within a religious ritual and release them to the nature.
On 2019 Metal health day, all the participants were able to take part in a living session of discovering their personal journey with their traumatic pain and ways of dealing with pain and tears.
Human Rights Market
The family members of the disappeared brought along with them their produce / harvest such as fruits, vegetables, flower plants, eatables etc. Behind each of the stalls, the photos of the disappeared were posted, while the consumers bought items the family members had the opportunity to speak about their disappeared, their loved ones and explain the reason for their campaign...TO KNOW THE TRUTH....
Soon after the Sunday service at Fatima Shrine, people walked into the marked as they were already prepared during the service. The disappearances day was explained in length during the introduction and the homily. Further Fatima Shrine at Padiwatte Kundasale, Kandy was significant in remembering the disappeared as thousands of youth were killed during the JVP insurrection in 1989-91 on the bridge of Tennakumbura- Kandy and thrown into the Maheweli river, right in front of the Fatima Shrine.
“Justice Delay is Injustice” was the theme of the International day in support of the Torture Survivors held in Kandyan Arts Residency Kandy on the 29th June 2019 organized by the Human Right Office, Kandy, Sri Lanka. Torture is one of the most brutal human rights violations that routinely take place in police stations in Sri Lanka. Due to the court delay Torture victims further suffer and hence victims prefer to go silent without seeking Justice. Female Torture victims rarely speak about Torture they suffer, however H. M. Podikumarihami, in spite of threats by the OIC of Mahiyanganaya Police, continues with her struggle for Justice. Hence in 2019 once again she made he voice heard and presented the second chapter, the atrocities committed by the Mahiyanganaya Police since “2018 Torture day” during which she initially opened up, her Torture story to the public. The worst threats have come with the declaration of emergency regulations after the 4/21 attack. Podikumarihami was threatened by the OIC to the extent that she would be detained without bail with fabricated charges of possessing explosives, if she does not withdraw the Fundamental Rights case filed in the Supreme Court.
Along with Podikumarihami, a child victim Dhanushka and Anurasiri Vithanarachchi who were brutally tortured by police officers also made their story pubic
Introducing the day, Fr. Nandana Manatunga, the director of the Human Rights Office said that the police officers make use of the emergency regulations to act with their free will and Torture suspects and the civil society who are more concerned of the terrorist threats do not take the issue of Police Torture. Further he said the focus is now shifted to upcoming elections and the Rule of Law is at stake
Podikumarihami unfolded the new chapter in a form of an interview led by the Rev. Fr. Nandana Manatunga the director of Human Rights Office, Kandy and Attorney at Law, Mr. Suren D. Perera. The brutal torture of Dhanushka (13), a student of year 08 by Galaha Police was narrated by Ms. Nelum Weerasinghe, and Mr. Supun Dissanayaka. This was followed by the story of Anurasiri Vithanarachchi, 44 years old lorry driver who was inhumanly tortured by Thalathuoya Police, while the audience and the panel of jurists listened attentively.
The panel comprised of Mr. Lal Wijenayake the eminent Constitutional Lawyer, Ms. Visaka Dharmadasa the founder and chair of the Association of War Affected Women (AWAW) and Parents of Servicemen Missing in Action, Ms. Kumuduni Vithana the coordinator of Kandy Regional Office of Human Rights Commission, Ms. Sarah Arumugam a Human Right Lawyer and Mr. Vasantha Premaratne the Coordinator ICES Kandy.
The panelist admired the courage of Podikumarihami and appreciated Ms. Nelum Wirasinghe and Mr. Supun Dissanayaka for assisting and accompanying the child victim and voicing on behalf of him. Mr. Lal Wijenayake said that it is unfortunate that torture still continue in police stations and expressed his disappointment regarding the criticism made by of the president and the opposition parliamentarians on the 19th amendment which actually made several institutions independent including the Judiciary.
Sarah Arumugam while speaking about police torture on the poor and the powerless called the audience to campaign against the death penalty. Further, the panelists critically pointed out the causes for police Torture: Inefficiency of the Institutions, Breakdown of the Rule of Law, Delay in the Justice system (court delay). The panelist called for immediate police reforms. Panelist also emphasized the need for Judicial reforms to activate the Justice System to deliver Justice without delay.
After listened to the tragic and unending torture story of Podikumarihami, the participants of the International day in support of the survivors of Torture decided to sign a petition requesting both Inspector General of Police and the chairman of the Police Commission to take immediate disciplinary actions against the OIC of Mahiyanganaya Police and transfer him from Mahiyanganaya. Concluding the International Day in support of the torture victims, the Human Right Office, Kandy formally released the media statement.
The Human Rights Office in Kandy organized the Human Rights Day 2018 coinciding with the 70th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) and the 10th anniversary of the Human Rights Office at the Good Shepherd Convent Kandy on the 09th December 2018 with the theme “In spite of our differences, Let us respect and ensure each other’s Rights”.
During the celebration 02 prominent Human Rights Activists and family members of the Disappeared from Kandy and the winners of schools and Religious Schools Art and Essay competitions were awarded. Hon. Saliya Pieris, President's Counsel the Chairman of the Office on Missing Persons (OMP) of Sri Lanka was the chief guest and Rt. Rev. Dr. Bishop Vianney Fernando Bishop of the Central Province was the Guest of Honour.
The occasion was graced with the participation of more than 500 people including religious leaders, victims, human rights defenders, award winners and well-wishers.
The families of the Disappeared from Kandy were awarded for their long journey with the Human Rights Office in seeking Truth & Justice and for their commitment to be in solidarity with all families of the disappeared in the country and campaign against disappearances - a crime against Humanity -.
Rev. Sr. Mabel Rodrigo was awarded for upholding Christian values, for her commitment and dedicated services as a Trauma Counselor for the victims of Torture, Rape and all victims of Human Rights violations, in restoring their Dignity and for her creative approach of healing memories of the Families of the Disappeared.
Mr. Sampath Samarakoon was awarded for his commitment in upholding democracy and for his untiring work with the voiceless people in Sri Lanka in defending and campaigning for their rights as a Journalist and a Human Rights Activist.
The winners of Art & Essay competitions who will be the future in creating a culture of Human Rights in our country were award too.
Introducing the day and welcoming the guests, Fr. Nandana Manatunga, the director of the Human Rights Office said that it was an honor to have Hon. Saliya Pieris as the chief guest who always maintained his credibility as a committed human rights lawyer. Fr. Nandana thanked all those who supported various initiatives of the Human Rights Office during the past ten years and appreciated the encouragement given by the Bishop. He also thanked the lawyers, the survivors, the members of the support group and the Partners. Fr. Nandana said that the “Ten year journey” was challenging with threats, in establishing the Rule of Law with the campaign to reform the police and the judiciary, however he said the effort was rewarding as the HRO made a headway in creating a culture of human rights.
Hon. Saliya Pieris, the chief guest addressing the gathering said that he was honored by the invitation to participate at the Human Rights Award Ceremony organized by the Human Rights Office in Kandy and congratulated the Award Winners of 2018 award ceremony. He recalled the dark days when thousands of youth were indiscriminately killed and made to disappear during the JVP insurrection and congratulated the parents and family members of the disappeared for their consistent campaign in seeking Justice & Truth and thanked the Human Rights Office for journeying with them. He further said that as a country we have to acknowledge the disappearance that happened both ion the north & south and help the families of the disappeared to know the truth and assure that it may not happen again. Finally he praised the judiciary for upholding the independence of the judiciary amidst of crisis.
Addressing the gathering, Bishop Vianney Fernando the Bishop of the Central Province & the chairman of the National Commission for Justice Peace, thanked the Director of the Human Rights Office, Fr. Nandana and his staff for their untiring efforts and commitment in journeying with the victims of human rights violations in seeking Justice during the past ten years. Bishop further said that all of us are called as not only as followers of Christ but also as citizens of this country to work for Justice & Peace and uphold democracy in the country at this crucial moment when democracy is at stake.
The award winners of the 2018 Human Rights Award ceremony also made their comments appreciating the Human Rights Office for its initiatives in acknowledging and appreciating the commitment of the human rights defenders and thanked all those who supported them.
The award ceremony was made colourful with dances and cultural items. The birth of Christ, the Prince of Peace was reminded with a dance staged by the students of the Nuwara Eliya Good Shepherd Convent closing down the curtain of the 2018 Human Rights Award ceremony.
The International day of the Disappeared scheduled for the 30th August was commemorated on the 15th September 2018 The programme was organized by the Human Rights office Kandy and held at the OMI Scholasticate in Ampitiya Kandy Sri Lanka.
Staff and members of the support group joined 59 Participants from the families of the disappeared from Mannara, Jaffna and from Kandy for the event. An introduction to the day's programme was given by the Director of the Human Rights office Rev. Fr. Nandana Manatunga which was followed by stories of abduction and enforced disappearances. Two women from the North and two from the south narrated their stories. Even though the abductions and enforced disappearances took place several years ago, for the wives and mothers who narrated the dreadful incidents that made their sons and husbands disappear, they were fresh in their hearts and minds.
Mrs. S. Sebamani from Parrapakandal Mannar narrated the story of the abduction of her two sons by the Armed forces during the civil war and made them to disappear, she said that she is still waiting for their return as she never saw their bodies and believe that they are still alive. Further she said the government offered her some money but asked her to return the money, in case if her sons return. Ms. J. Sagayaseeli from Kalikattukadi Jaffna elaborated the story of the abduction of her only brother.
The two women from the South, Mrs. Sujatha Manike & Mrs. Kumari Beligala narrated their stories, how their husbands were abducted by the police during the JVP insurrection and later learnt that their bodies were dumped by the roadside.
A very timely presentation was done on OMP by Mr. Sampath Samarakoon that led to several questions and clarifications. Sampath made it clear that the testimonies given to the OMP would be kept confidential and therefore the fear of further abduction will not happen. He further reiterated that the OMP will address the cases of missing and disappeared persons irrespective of ethnicity, religion and region, as the office has been established to serve all affected victims. Despite the passage of time and multiple commissions established by successive governments, many of these families, not knowing the fate of their loved ones continue to suffer and remain engaged in a search for truth.
Sampath assured that the missing and disappeared cases that the OMP would examine cover both civilians and combatants, including several thousand members of the Armed Forces, Police and Civil Defense Force who have been identified as missing in action, in addition to members of various armed groups who were party to Sri Lanka's conflict.
Following the meaningful "Disappearances day programme" the 06 women's groups from North and South followed the psych-social workshop until the 17th September evening which was designed and conducted by Monica Alfred. The groups had several activities for interaction and enjoyed the calm atmosphere and the natural beauty of the surroundings of the Ampitiya seminary walking through the "Emillion".
A cultural night on the 17th September was organized by the women to which the support group members of the Human Rights office joined. The disappeared families expressed their fraternity “Fighting for a common cause” and as each group expressed emotions through cultural items, drama, songs and dance.
"They caught me by my hair and dashed my head against the wall,
when I knelt and pleaded, I was kicked by the OIC with his boots,
they warned if I complained, that I will be shot"
“Everybody is harmed when one person is Tortured…."
“Let the survivor speak….
The International day in support of the survivors of Torture was held in Kandyan Arts Residency on the 29th June 2018 organized by the Human Rights Office Kandy, Sri Lanka. The focus of 2018 Torture day was on "Torture of women" as women victims are usually reluctant to speak of their ordeal of Torture. The Human Rights Office therefore broke the silent suffering of women victims of Torture by opening the stage to a courageous Torture victim, Podikumarihami, who was brutally tortured by the Mahiyanganaya male police officers
Podik Podikumarihami's Torture story was unfolded in a form of an interview led by Attorney at Law, Mr. Suren D. Perera before a panel of jurists on the International Day in Support of Torture survivors in Kandy. The panel comprised of Dr. Deepika Udugama - The chairperson of the National Human Rights Commission, Ven. Dr. Atipola Mangala Thero, Senior criminal lawyer Mr. Titus Manatunga and Mrs. Namalika Dissanayake, the Principal of the Blue Rose Special School. The compare was Rev. Fr. Nandana Manatunga - the director of Human Rights Office in Kandy.
The background that led to the brutal Torture of Podikumarihami, an innocent woman from Mahiyanganaya, in the Badulla District of Sri Lanka a mother of five children the youngest aged 19 and 13 years clearly described in her words "It all started with a two-acre land near the Mahaweli River in Mahiyangana which is ideal for sand mining”. One day a police constables attached to the Mahiyangana police station approached the 50 year old Podikumarihami living on the land and wanted the property sold to him. Podikumarihami then sighed and said "I had no other place to go and I loved that plot of land". She was selling betel and coconut close to the Buddhist temple in the Mahiyanganaya town for her living. Since 2006 from the time she refused to sell the land, Podikumarihami alleged that she had been facing serious threats and constant harassment by the police and the Officer-in-charge of the Mahiyanganaya Police officers
Harassment of Podikumarihami by the police went to the extent when she was arrested for not wearing a white saree when she appeared in the Magistrate court and the female Magistrate remanded her for 14 days. The criminal case continues against her and she had been warned by the said Magistrate not to retain a lawyer from Mahiyangana to defend her. Police officers then further extended harassing her 17 year old son and he was arrested several times. On November 5, 2017, she alleged that her son was arrested by Mahiyanga Police and severely tortured and was hospitalized at which point the Magistrate came to the hospital and remanded him at Badulla remand prison. She had also said that the Magistrate was married to a senior police officer.
Eventually Mihiyangana Police officers invented another charge, to introduce drugs, to harass Podikumarihami and her family. On August 15, 2017, Podikumarihami was arrested again and no female Police officer was present during the time of her interrogation. She said she was allowed on police bail and her son-in-law was then remanded for 14 days. On the same day, police officers from Mahiyangana Police arrived at her house and attempted to arrest her daughter but when Podikumarihami objected to the arrest, she was physically harassed by the OIC and two other constables named Senadeera and Wimalasena. They caught her by her hair and dashed her head against the wall. When she knelt and pleaded, she was kicked by the OIC with his boots. They warned if she had complained, she could be shot. By August 20, 2017, Podikumarihami was summoned to the Police Station and was warned not to pursue any complaint against the Police and if she did so, she would have to face dire consequences.
It is at this time that Podikumarihami complained to the Human Rights Commission. Her case No HRC/BD/147/17 was scheduled for hearing on November 27. Podikumarihami and Dilshan her son in law alleged that their arrest by the Mahiyanganaya Police was an act of reprisal.
Podikumarihami stated that she had written to the Police Commission, to the Attorney General, The Human Rights Commission of Sri Lanka and the DIG Badulla range. The Special Investigations unit has already concluded their investigations. With tears in her eyes Pdikumarihami said that her safely, her dignity, her son’s education and her ability to engage in her livelihood is at stake.
The members of the panel were stunt when they listened to the brutality of the police officers who are supposed to be the law enforcing agency. The panelist appreciated the courage of Podikumarihami and sighted some brave acts of women who even challenged the corrupt judges and the system. A discussion followed the comments from the jurists and Podikumarihami who cannot read and write, answered the questions with exact names dates and times.
The journalist and the civil Society who were present passed and eight-point resolution in a form of a statement calling upon the state to ensure effective protection and redress for Podikumarihami. They also called on the Judicial Service Commission to conduct an inquiry into the Mahiyangana former Magistrate pertaining to these incidents and urged the National Police commission to inquire into the alleged conduct of the Mahiyanganaya Police
Concluding the International Day in support of the Torture victims, the HRO formally released the statement along with signatures collected since 2015, calling the attorney General to indict the Torture perpetrators and reactivate the Torture Act no 22 of 1994
Human Rights Office Kandy, Torture in Sri Lanka, Disappearances in Sri Lanka, Healing and Counseling
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