Guneththige v. Sri Lanka

In a decision published on 7 May 2015, the UN Human Rights Committee (HRC) upheld the petition brought by REDRESS and the Asian Human Rights Commission concerning the torture and subsequent death of Sunil Hemachandra in detention in Sri Lanka.  The HRC found that, with respect to Sunil, Sri Lanka had breached: article 6 (1) (right to life), read alone and in conjunction with article 2 (3) (right to effective remedy); article 7 (prohibition against torture) and article 9 (1) (right to liberty and security of person), 9 (2) (right to be informed of reasons for arrest) and 9 (4) (right of habeas corpus).  With respect to the authors of the petition, Sunil’s aunt and mother, the HRC found that Sri Lanka had breached article 7 (prohibition against torture) in light of the continued anguish caused to them.

The HRC recommended that Sri Lanka provide Sunil’s aunt and mother with an effective remedy, which includes a prompt, thorough and independent investigation into the facts; ensuring that the perpetrators are brought to justice; and ensuring reparation, including the payment of adequate compensation and a public apology to the family.  The HRC also recommended that Sri Lanka take measures to ensure that such violations to not recur in the future.

Background of the case:

On 29 June 2003 T. Sunil Hemachandra learnt that he had won more than three million rupees (approximately US$ 25,000) in a lottery game he had played. The money was paid into his aunt’s account (he had been living with his aunt and her family from around the age of 10). Sunil spent much of the money on a van, a three-wheeler vehicle and gave some of it as a gift to a family member.

On or around 21 July 2003 a team of police officers arrived Sunil’s aunt’s house looking for him and asking how Sunil had spent his lottery money. One of the police officers warned that Sunil’s “happiness would not last long”. The police officers requested that Sunil report to the Moragahahena Police Station. Later that day, Sunil went to the station. One of the police officers (sub-inspector) requested Sunil to pay money as “support”. Sunil replied that the money was with his aunt and declined to pay. The same policeman then insisted on the payment of twenty-five thousand rupees “to cover the expenses of a procession of Vidyarathana temple in Horana”.

The next day, in the late evening of 22 July 2003, five police officers arrived at Sunil’s aunt’s house. They beat Sunil including by hitting him on his head, and arbitrarily arrested him, transporting him to a place of detention. On the morning of the following day, 23 July 2003, at approximately 6:45 am, Sunil was visibly unwell. He was bleeding from his nose and mouth. Officers did not call a medically qualified person to provide the required medical assistance to him. The bleeding from his nose and mouth continued and he vomited blood clots. Sunil’s aunt came to visit him and emotionally alarmed the police officers to Sunil’s grave condition but she was chased away by them. The police officer further told her that Sunil’s condition had resulted from epilepsy. She did not believe the police officer as she knew Sunil had never suffered from epilepsy.

Only at around 10 a.m. Sunil was taken to the Horana Base Hospital in a police jeep. On the next day, 24 July 2003, Sunil’s mother and aunt learnt by chance that Sunil had been transferred to the National Hospital in Colombo where he had undergone brain surgery and was being treated in an intensive care unit. On 26 July 2003 the Second Author was informed by the staff of the National Hospital that Sunil had passed away earlier that day.

Sunil’s aunt and mother brought a complaint to the UN Human Rights Committee. The complaint was submitted to the UN Human Rights Committee in July 2011.

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