A first step

Monday, 27 August 2012 00:01 -     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}

As Sri Lanka heads into another round of elections in less than two weeks, the National Police Commission (NPC) has made new rules of procedure to investigate public complaints against Police officers. According to reports over the weekend, the new rules simplify the procedure to be followed by the commission to investigate public complaints.

With regard to complaints such as refusal to record complaints, undue delay in making available certified copies of statements made to the Police, discouraging complainants or witnesses from making statements, use of abusive language, threats or intimidation of complainants or witnesses and inaction or partiality by the Police in taking action on complaints made, the commission said it would make every effort to conclude investigations within 30 days.

With regard to complaints about violation of human rights, allegations of torture or cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or injury to a member of the public in Police care or custody, death of a person in Police care or custody, fabrications of cases and making false reports or statements to court, the NPC said it would attempt to conclude investigations within 60 days.

Any person aggrieved by an act or omission committed by a Police officer, or the Police force in carrying out his or its duty, can lodge any complaint with the NPC against such officer/s or the Police force.

The NPC said that every complaint received by the commission will be recorded in a register according to the province and district and acknowledged within seven days of its receipt thereof, while the complaint and related documents, if any, will be securely maintained by the commission. The new rules also allow for members of the commission, with the cooperation of the Inspector General of Police (IGP), to visit any Police station and inspect any person in Police custody.

While these guidelines sound good on paper, they need to be breathed life into by action. Sri Lankan bureaucracies have a habit of making promises that they fail to keep and the NPC since its reincarnation several months ago has failed to impress. In its very composition critics have pointed out that with the advent of the 18th Amendment, the powers of the NPC have been severely restricted and its ability to be independent likewise undermined. The NPC along with the general Police force have also become politicised and they have their work cut out to prove otherwise.

People have long questioned the independence of the Police and their ability to deal with serious crimes, high-powered politicians and inadequate resources. Just last week the Bribery and Corruption Commission went on record saying that they are not given enough officials and vehicles to carry out their duties. Despite brave announcements in Colombo, newspapers have pointed out various election violations taking place in the three provinces, including blatantly displayed cut-outs that the Police have failed to remove.

Increasing numbers of crime and their ferocity have left the people taking the law into their own hands on numerous occasions. Even the National Museum robbery has given birth to speculation by prominent personalities, who have faulted the Police for not investigating a political involvement. Deny these points as they may, previous experiences of Police partiality will always leave a tinge of mistrust. Dealing with these larger problems will be the biggest challenge for the NPC.