The International Human Rights Day 2014 was celebrated by the Human Rights Office Kandy Sri Lanka on the 10th December at the Fatima Retreat house in Lewella Kandy with around 150 survivors of Rape, Torture, families of the disappeared and of Prisoners, support group members and civil society members.
Fr. Nandana Manatunga, the director of the Human Rights office introducing the day lamented on the present judicial system that is gradually collapsing with political interference. He spoke about the shrinking democratic space due to the total control of the executive presidency in all areas of the Judiciary leading to the collapse of the Rule of Law.
He further stressed on the need for the victims to voice and the civil society members to assist them in their struggle for Justice.
The key note address delivered by Fr. Reid Shelton Fernando on the proposed constitutional reforms and independent institutions that will eventually establish the Rule of Law with an independent judiciary. Fr. Reid also quoted the pastoral letter of the Bishops conference that was released on the 08th December 2013. A summary of the pastoral letter was distributed to the participants in which the bishops call for a new beginning with the integration of the different communities, and stressing the urgency for constitutional reforms to preserve the interdependency of the Judiciary. Further the pastoral letter also speak about Human Rights and open market economy.
The theme of the celebration was - Break the Silence – “Let the voices of victims be heard". Miscarriage of Justice due to corruption, inefficiency, discrimination were voiced by 04 victims. Their painful stories were unfold while the audience was dumbfounded. Malani Serasinghe explained how after a serious accident, she was forced by the Judge to accept compensation, from a stranger who appeared in court as the accused. She said even after being at hospital Intensive Care Unit for 03 months, she had the strength to listen to her conscious and fight for Justice. It was a clear case of bribery both, by the police and the Judiciary. However Malani being a very ordinary women from the village understood the sense of Justice she ought to receive and rejected the offer made by the Magistrate. The stories that followed were also about miscarriage of Justice either due to the police inaction or judicial negligence.
Jayantha, a former Civil defence force personnel attached to the Civil defence force explained his ordeal of Torture in the police for an alleged theft in the court house where he had no connection. Shantha narrated her story, how the education department officers, the principal of the school and the police officers turned a blind eye when her daughter was brutally assaulted by a senior director of the education department during a zonal athletic meet in mid-2014, while she represented her school. The incident led the student to be hospitalized for 03 days.
A young Tamil widow explained the story how her husband 35 years of age, was knocked by a lorry while he was returning home in early 2014 after work. The injuries eventually made him unconscious for 04 months until his death leaving 02 daughters and a son behind. It was a clear case of miscarriage of justice as the police officers failed miserably in conducting a proper inquiry, destroying the evidence. However after his death, his body was immediately removed by the police officers creating a story to say that he fell in the bathroom and the cause of death was pneumonia. She believes that the lorry owner has bribed the police.
A lively discussion followed, centering around the proposed reforms into the Constitution and on reforms in the police and the Judiciary.
Human Rights Office Kandy, Torture in Sri Lanka, Disappearances in Sri Lanka, Healing and Counseling
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