The National Action Plan for the Protection and Promotion of Human Rights 2011 – 2016 as well as the full series of Sri Lanka Rights Watch are available at the Peace & Reconciliation Website.
A couple of years back, when I was first given some responsibilities with regard to Human Rights, the Police thought I was excessively critical of them. I was, for which I was rebuked on the grounds that the lapses I noticed, as compared with the military, happened because of the reduction of the training period for both officers and men. Having seen how, even in the midst of the conflict, the training period for Army Officer Cadets had been increased from 2 years to 2 ½, and having realized that the much shorter period for the police had been shortened still further, I realized that what the senior officers told me was quite true.
The pressures on the police have been terrific over the last few decades and, with military needs taking precedence, their training had indeed suffered. DIGs bewailed the lack of the detective training courses they themselves had undergone, and though the Swedish government ran what I gathered was an excellent course on Scene of Crime investigation, that was exceptional. The British had done some work on community policing, but that had not been followed up very successfully, and apart from that I believe there was very little. We did manage to run one trainer training course on Human Rights, but though that was well received, with changes in personnel we found that even the Manual that had been prepared was not being finalized.
In fairness to the IGP at the time, he said that he was fully occupied with elections, and would work on what we wanted after the spate of elections was over. That, I should note, is another unnecessary burden on the police, for with all the elections we have at different times, and all the politicians for whom security has to be provided, they are further stretched, to say nothing of the various demands that politicians, not quite understanding the role of the police, make on them.
By the time the elections were over, the Ministry of Human Rights had gone with the wind, and we were not in a position to press for swift action. For some time I thought that nothing would be done. However it turns out that there has been a fair amount of progress, with training programmes extended, and the manual having been published. The police have also brought out a fresh edition of the Handbook which all personnel are supposed to carry with them at all times, to better understand their responsibilities. When we checked on this a few years back, we found that it had not been published for years, and though the staff at the Training School agreed to get the material ready for an updated version, we were not able to follow through with that then.
I am sure that these developments have been the result of teamwork, but I should also pay tribute to the current IGP and his senior staff who have been very helpful in their responses to the work of the Task Force on expediting implementation of the Human Rights Action Plan. The Ministry of Defence has, with characteristic efficiency, provided one of the most systematic answers to the queries we had made, along with appendices that give details of what is being done. But I have been specially impressed by the fact that the IGP not only responds to us, since that might be construed as merely part of his official duties; he had also replied to an NGO that had raised with him the question of what had been done with regard to the abuse a couple of months back of a man taken into police custody in Wadduwa. He mentioned there the Circular he had issued last December, which gave responsibility to the OICs of stations for any aberrations, while as he added, ‘vicarious liability has been fixed on SSP Division, DIGG Districts of the respective Police stations’.
I don’t suppose the problems we face will all be solved immediately, but such a clear message will help in ensuring that the bad behavior of a few is not emulated. Meanwhile, in the North, on each visit I make for meetings of Divisional Secretariat Reconciliation Committee meetings, I am impressed by the good relations that are being developed between the police and the communities they are meant to serve. One area I had been told had had some problems because the personnel stationed there had not been respected, but transfers were made and those in charge now seem more constructive.
Individuals have been assigned to each Grama Niladhari Division. Though problems as to transport continue in some areas, it seems that in general a system of ensuring regular contact had been developed. And the Women and Children’s Desks, where they have been established, seem to have a clear sense of the responsibilities they have to fulfil.
I hope however that, in addition to their formal duties, the police also contribute to the general life of the community. Long ago Ena de Silva told me how her husband Osmund, the second Sri Lankan IGP (following on his father-in-law, a Civil Servant who had been brought in when the last Britisher left), had tried to develop community service programmes,. This included entertainment, given the paucity of such in those days, and the organizational capacity of the police when there was little else comparable in government service in rural areas.
In the current context, the police can, and do, assist schools with sports activities. But this should develop into a range of support, for conversation classes for language development (with police personnel also learning Tamil), for cultural activities and performances and for social service activities such as Police Cadeting and St John Ambulance Brigade training. Given the importance of awareness raising in all these areas, the police as the closest governmental representatives in the community can certainly contribute much.