Police Scotland is seeking to extend a controversial training project with Sri Lankan police despite new evidence of the force’s involvement in torture, The Ferret can reveal.
Police Scotland had a contract that expired at the end of March this year to train Sri Lankan police officers and develop “ethical leadership” at its National Police Academy.
The project proved highly controversial at the outset in 2012 due to Sri Lanka’s appalling human rights record but Police Scotland defended the new relationship at the time, arguing that it was aiming to improve the human rights situation.
However, a new report from Freedom from Torture revealed that last year 17 Sri Lankan asylum seekers – including a child – who were tortured after President Sirisena’s election in January 2015 were referred to the charity.
FfT’s report said police were among state actors alleged to have tortured people, prompting fresh concerns over the efficacy of Police Scotland’s training project.
Both FfT and Amnesty International have called for an immediate end to torture by the Sri Lankan regime and greater scrutiny of the programme which was funded by the British High Commission.
FfT said that in 2015 – for the fourth year running – Sri Lanka was the top country of origin for people referred to its services.
A spokeswoman added: “Freedom from Torture’s report, Tainted Peace, published in August 2015, reported on 148 Sri Lankan cases forensically documented by its Medical Legal Service between May 2009 and August 2014.”
“Since then the charity has completed medico legal reports (MLRs) on a further 100 cases. In addition, Freedom from Torture has received 17 referrals, to either its Medico-Legal Service or its therapeutic treatment services, for people – including a child in one case – tortured after President Sirisena’s election in January 2015.”
“They have reported torture by a range of state actors, including the Criminal Investigation Department, the Terrorism Investigation Department, the police, “security” and the army.”
Methods of torture included beatings, burning, rape and other forms of sexual violence, asphyxiation, electric shocks, mock executions, and stabbings.
FfT’s Tainted Peace report said detention conditions are dreadful in Sri Lanka, with many detainees held in darkness and deprived of adequate food and water. Seventy per cent of people were held in solitary confinement.
Regarding torture by the state, it added: “The high prevalence of burning with cigarettes or heated pieces of metal could reflect a policy of branding, not only to inflict long term psychological and physical damage, but to ensure that the individual is easily identifiable in future as having been of adverse interest to the authorities.”
People were slapped, punched or trampled on their heads, hands, feet, genitals and abdomen. Many reported losing consciousness – and coming around only to be tortured again.
Some of those who were subjected to water boarding or suffocated with the fumes of burning chillies or petrol said it was the worst form of torture they endured.
We want to see the UK government ensuring that its engagement with Sri Lanka, including training and capacity building of the police, military and other security services, includes a significant commitment to torture prevention programmes Freedom from Torture
Seventy-one per cent of the cases in the study suffered some form of sexual violence as part of torture. Eighty-seven per cent of women and 3 per cent of men were raped. Some women were raped night after night by different officers, while men also described being raped on multiple occasions.
Almost half of the people in the study were forced to remain naked, causing them intense humiliation.
FfT said: “We want to see the UK government ensuring that its engagement with Sri Lanka, including training and capacity building of the police, military and other security services, includes a significant commitment to torture prevention programmes to support the Sri Lankan government in moving away from its violent past and towards creating institutions which protect all communities.”
“This must be coupled with the need for a rigorous and transparent human rights impact assessment of the police cooperation programme, given evidence we have supplied to the UK government over many years of police torture in Sri Lanka.”
Naomi McAuliffe, Amnesty International’s Scotland Programme Director, said: “We will continue to advise Police Scotland that any officers engaged in training in Sri Lanka must be aware of the serious human rights violations that have taken place there, and be certain they do not facilitate training that would lead to further brutality.”
“There should also be a consideration of how appropriate it is to train forces in countries with appalling human rights records. The current Sri Lankan government has promised improved human rights protection but grave breaches remain including persistent use of arbitrary arrest and detention, torture, enforced disappearances, and deaths in custody.”
In response, Superintendent Shaun McKillop, who leads Police Scotland’s International Development Unit, defended the contract. He said: “Police Scotland is viewed as a worldwide exemplar of law enforcement training and has provided assistance to the Sri Lankan authorities on a project funded by the British High Commission to develop a National Police Academy, with the capacity to deliver accredited programmes.”
“The initial focus has been on the development of training modules in organisational management, ethical leadership and crime investigation supported by the development of academic governance systems and processes in Sri Lanka, and involved a series of deployments of subject specialists.”
“This project followed an earlier three year initiative to develop community policing in Sri Lanka, funded by the Scottish Government.”
“The last contract expired on 31st March 2016, however we are in dialogue with the British High Commission about a new contract for 2016/17 which will further the work already undertaken to develop the courses delivered by the National Police Academy, and building capacity in other key areas of policing.”
“We appreciate that the creation of a complete criminal justice system, following many years of civil war, is a long-term project for the Sri Lankan authorities, and are grateful for the opportunity to help them develop a system which is based on the highest ethical standards.”
A 38 Degrees petition was raised previously demanding Police Scotland end its link with Sri Lankan police.
Cover photo: Sri Lankan Soldiers | CC | Chamal Pathirana | http://bit.ly/27QRtCw