Three  Custodial Deaths: 16 Officers Arrested in 2023

Three Custodial Deaths: 16 Officers Arrested in 2023

Sri Lanka is facing a disturbing trend of custodial deaths, with three individuals losing their lives in police custody from January to November 2023. This grim statistic highlights the urgent need for reform within the country’s law enforcement system.

The deceased include A.G.S. Preethi Kumara, who died in January while detained at the Police Narcotic Bureau; R. Raj Kumari, who passed away in May at Welikada Police Station; and Jeyarasa Alex, who perished in November at Vaddukoddai Police Station. In a concerning development, a total of 16 police officers have been arrested across these three cases, indicating potential systemic issues within the Police Department.

Further adding to the gravity of the situation, the Human Rights Commission of Sri Lanka (HRCSL) recorded 24 custodial deaths and 13 encounter deaths involving Sri Lanka Police between January 2020 and August 2023. These figures point towards a consistent pattern of fatalities occurring under police custody, demanding immediate attention and action.
A 2020 report published by the Human Rights Commission of Sri Lanka (HRCSL) [iii] mentioned strong indications of collusion between judicial medical officers (JMOs) and arresting officers in the narratives of the detainees they had interviewe.

The Human Rights Commission of Sri Lanka (HRCSL) says 90% of their torture complaints are against the police with hundreds of cases being reported each year.

Experts and activists have emphasized the need for comprehensive reforms within the police department and the criminal justice system as a whole. Addressing ingrained attitudes, reevaluating training protocols to prioritize de-escalation and human rights, and establishing a stringent oversight mechanism are crucial steps towards preventing future tragedies.

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