Sri Lankan police operate like thugs and gangsters, often committing "catastrophic" levels of torture, a human rights group said Monday, as it urged the United Nations to take measures to curb the abuses. The Asian Legal Resource Center said key institutions such as the police, prosecutors and the judiciary had effectively collapsed in Sri Lanka, leaving the country with no effective way to prevent torture.
The Hong Kong-based group said that Sri Lankan police were responsible for a "catastrophic level of torture" and that many victims never pursued complaints due to fear of retribution because little protection is offered witnesses and victims.
"Police in Sri Lanka often operate, not like professional law enforcement agents, but (like) thugs or gangsters, and this gang behavior is often displayed through abuse, use of violence and torture," the group said in a report.
Sri Lankan police spokesman Rienzie Perera dismissed the allegations. He admitted there were isolated incidents of torture but said they were always fully investigated.
Excerpts of the 180-page report were released ahead of U.N. Human Rights Committee hearings on Sri Lanka scheduled for Nov. 7-25 in Geneva. The committee is to focus on torture and police abuses, said Basil Fernando, a spokesman for the ALRC.
The report said there was a lack of state-sponsored programs to help rehabilitate torture victims physically and psychologically.
The group urged the United Nations to pressure the Sri Lankan government to implement a series of measures to help overcome flaws in the system, including enacting a witness protection law and establishing a permanent special body to investigate torture.
It also called on the National Police Commission to strengthen its procedures for acting on complaints from the public, and recommended making senior police officials accept more responsibility for countering torture committed by subordinates.
"The breakdown of the state justice machinery has been caused by the malfunctioning policing system where command responsibility is treated as a trivial matter," said the report. "The underlying problem is the inability of the policing system to uphold the rule of law."