Freedom of expression and fundamental rights

What is torture? Let’s identify the laws against it. (Part I)

Dinee Fernando

Tortue is one of the top most intolerable, unacceptable behaviours of human beings. But is a common belief among people that torture is a very effective method in implementing “good” discipline. 

Historical evidence proves that various forms of torture had been used prominently and openly as a means of punishment in ancient Sri Lanka. 

Following is a definition of “torture”, presented at the World Medical Professionals Convention in 1975.

Declaration on the Protection of All Persons from Being Subjected to Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment, as adopted by the General Assembly on 9 December 1975 is shown below. 

For the purposes of this Convention, the term “torture” means any act by which severe pain or suffering, whether physical or mental, is intentionally inflicted on a person for such purposes as obtaining from him or a third person information or a confession, punishing him for an act he or a third person has committed or is suspected of having committed, or intimidating or coercing him or a third person, or for any reason based on discrimination of any kind, when such pain or suffering is inflicted by or at the instigation of or with the consent or acquiescence of a public official or other person acting in an official capacity.”

Emancipation from torture is a basic human right. and it can be seen mentioned directly and indirectly in the 1982 Human Rights Code that torture must be stopped by all means necessary. In particular, article 5 of the above-mentioned Code states that “no one shall be subjected to torture or cruelty, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment”. This can be seen accepted and sanctified in article 11 of the Constitution of Sri Lanka adopted in 1978, and amended in 2015. On 9th December 1975, The United Nations brought in a convention protecting “ All Persons from Being Subjected to Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment” with the intent to abolish torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment as a result of the development of human dignity and dignity.

It was brought into discussion and passed on the 10th of December 1984 as well.

Furthermore, As per The Convention against Torture and Cruel and Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment Act, No. 22 of 1994, The 1984 Convention Against Torture and Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment was signed and ratified in Sri Lanka. Article 2 (1) of the Convention states that torturing or attempting, aiding and abetting a person to torture, is a punishable offense. Article 2 (4) deals with the punishment of offenders. Reflecting the contents of the Convention Act, Article 4 (1) states that The High Court of Sri Lanka has jurisdiction to hear cases of torture committed outside Sri Lanka, whether the offender is a Sri Lankan citizen or not. 

Even in this instance, to fall into the category of “torture”, it has to be performed with regards to a government official. The Act, which integrated international laws and standards into the local judicial system makes it possible for such perpetrators to be brought to justice in Sri Lanka and both mental and physical torture are taken into consideration in this instance. 

Sections 25 and 26 (1) of Evidence Ordinance No. 14 of 1995 play a vital role in this matter. This gives a person the ability to debunk any false allegations and point out false verbal accusations or to confess the crime to the magistrate and to provide information and statements without being tortured or influenced by the judicial system. Sections 28 and 38 of the Code of Criminal Procedure, Act No. 15 of 1979 is equally important as it prevents detainees and suspects from being tortured by the police and authorities in order to harvest information or statements. 

The views and opinions expressed in this publication are those of the authors. They do not purport to reflect the opinions or views of the Sri Lanka Press Institute.

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