A Statement by the Asian Human Rights Commission
June 1, 2011

SRI LANKA: Who gave the orders to use live bullets on protesters at Katunayake?

The government of Sri Lanka has announced the appointment of a one-man commission to inquire into the shooting at Katunayake on May 30, where, according to reports over 200 persons were injured when police opened fire against demonstrators using live ammunition. About 20 workers are reported to have been critically wounded and are being treated at hospitals. The protests were part of an Island-wide campaign against a proposed law endangering the provident fund of the workers of the private sector. In the aftermath of the shooting the government announced that the bill will not be presented to the parliament.

The use of live ammunition has come under public condemnation, even from some of the government ministers. The one-man commission of inquiry was appointed in answer to such criticism.

However, the mandate of the one-man commission is not clear. The basic questions that any public inquiry must resolve are:

– Who gave the orders to use live ammunition against the protestors?
– What is the top most authority that authorized such use?
– Who was the highest ranking officer on the ground who gave the orders to use live ammunition?
– Were the protestors warned prior to the police opening fire and were warning shots fired before deadly force was used.
– How many rounds of ammunition were expended and by whom?
– Was it the intention of the authorities to use of such deadly force in order to bring the protest to an end and was it pre-planned?

As for the top most authority that authorized the use of live ammunition it is most likely that the orders came from the Secretary of the Ministry of Defense or someone working under him. Further, it is also unlikely that such a shooting would take place without the knowledge, if not the tacit consent of the Inspector General of police.

Will the one man commission have the power and the will to investigate this matter in order to meet the requirements of the rule law?

Will there be a forensic inquiry into all aspects of the shooting, for example an examination of all the weapons used during the incident? What are the means available for the one-man commissioner to conduct such an inquiry in terms of the requirements of criminal law?

These are just a few of the questions that need to be answered if the inquiry is to be credible and genuine and not just another white wash.

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About AHRC: The Asian Human Rights Commission is a regional non-governmental organisation that monitors human rights in Asia, documents violations and advocates for justice and institutional reform to ensure the protection and promotion of these rights. The Hong Kong-based group was founded in 1984.

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