Civil society organizations and women’s groups in Sri Lanka have called for the immediate removal of Acting Inspector General of Police Deshabandu Tennakoon, citing his involvement in torture and other human rights violations.
In a statement released today, the groups condemned Tennakoon’s appointment and tenure, highlighting a recent Supreme Court judgment that held him personally responsible for torture perpetrated by his subordinates. The Court also found him guilty of violating other constitutional rights, including equal protection of the law and arbitrary arrest.
The statement emphasizes that Tennakoon’s position of authority is incompatible with his record of human rights abuses. It argues that his continued presence in office undermines public trust in the police and the rule of law, and further erodes institutional credibility.
The groups have urged the President and the National Police Commission to take immediate action, demanding Tennakoon’s removal from the office of Acting IGP and his suspension from all police responsibilities. They have also called for disciplinary action against him and the prosecution of all police officers implicated in the torture.
The statement concludes by reiterating the importance of human rights and good governance in Sri Lanka, and expresses the expectation that the authorities will act swiftly and decisively to address this critical issue.
Full statement with signatories:
We, citizens, Civil Society Organisations, including women’s groups, are appalled and outraged at the appointment and continued tenure of Deshabandu Tennakoon as Acting Inspector General of the Police (IGP). Two weeks after this appointment the Supreme Court judgment on 14th December 2023 held him personally responsible along with subordinate police officers for torture. Perpetrating and permitting torture is a violation of the Constitutionally guaranteed right of all citizens to be free from torture at the hands of State institutions, including the Police. Deshabandu Tennakoon was held culpable for both ‘commission’, ‘omission’ and for command responsibility as the Senior Police officer in charge at the time. The court also found him guilty of violating other constitutional rights such as equal protection of the law and arresting a person and holding him in custody without being produced before a judge as required legal procedure. The Court called for necessary disciplinary action to hold these perpetrators to account.
Human rights violations of this magnitude must disqualify a person from holding public office. Therefore, immediate steps must be taken by the President and government to ensure Deshabandu Tennekoon is removed from holding any further responsibilities as Acting IGP until disciplinary action is taken by the Police Commission. It is critically important that law enforcement by the Police must respect the Rule of Law and fundamental rights under our Constitution. The Police cannot misuse their powers through illegal repressive and discriminatory practices.
Public officers holding high positions must hold such office with the confidence and trust of the people. A culture of accountability, human rights, legitimacy and good governance, demands that a public officer, implicated in the manner Deshabandu Tennakoon is, be removed from office until an investigatory process is concluded. The damage caused to institutional credibility by failing to do so increases public frustration, and a loss of faith and legitimacy in the system of governance.
As civil society activists, women’s rights activists and concerned citizens, we have prioritised human rights and good governance in our work. We have demanded a serious commitment to addressing torture and cruel and degrading treatment by police officers, including the impact of violence against women. Violence by state officials can only manifest as violence within our communities and also within our families. We cannot have a person found responsible for torture and failing to abide by the laws of the country and the Constitution hold broad powers of law enforcement in the highest position of the Sri Lanka Police.
We therefore call the President and the National Police Commission to immediately remove Deshabandu Tennakoon from the office of Acting IGP, suspend him from all responsibilities as Senior Deputy Inspector General of Police and take appropriate disciplinary action respectively. We also urge the Attorney General to prosecute Deshabandu Tennakoon and other police officers found responsible for torture under the Convention Against Torture and other Cruel, Inhumane or Degrading Treatment or Punishment Act. No. 22 of 1994 and other relevant laws without delay.
Full List of Signatories:
Savitri Goonesekera, Emeritus Professor of Law University of Colombo
Fr. Sarath Iddamalgoda
Gananath Obeyesekere, Professor Emeritus, Princeton University; USA and also formerly, University of Peradeniya, Sri Lanka
Dr. Ranjini Obeyesekere, Retired Professor, Princeton University, USA and also formerly University of Peradeniya
Prof. Sharya Scharenguivel Emeritus Professor of Law University of Colombo
Prof. Camena Gunaratne Senior Professor in the Department of Legal Studies OUSL.
Prof. Chandraguptha Thenuwara, University of Visual and Performing Arts
Prof. Sharmala Kumar, Faculty of Agriculture, University of Peradeniya Peradeniya, Sri Lanka.
Dr. Alagu Caruppiah Visvalingam
Dr. Sepali Kottegoda
Dr. Mario Gomez
Dr. Sakunthala Kadirgamar
Shreen Abdul Saroor
Tharanga de Silva
Athwela sahana piyasa
Centre for Women’s Research
INFORM Human Rights Documentation Centre
International Centre for Ethnic Studies
Law and Society Trust
Movement for the Defense of Democratic Rights
National Fisheries Solidarity Organisation NAFSO
Revolutionary Existence for Human Development
Right to Life Human Rights Center
Stand Up Movement Lanka
The Grassrooted Trust
We Women Lanka Network
Women and Media Collective
Women’s Action Network
Women’s Development Foundation, Kurunegala
29th January 2024