Pax Christi Scotland chair Marian Pallister reflects on the issue of Police Scotland’s training of Sri Lankan police officers
For many months, Pax Christi Scotland has been asking questions about Police Scotland’s training of Sri Lankan officers at Tulliallan Police College. With the help of former MSP Neil Findlay, those questions were raised in the Scottish Parliament. An article appeared in The Sunday Post back in January based on responses to those questions. We have written letters to the Justice Minister and to the Police Authority. The answers have been vague and – frankly – buck-passing.
And then on August 12, The Herald noted that this training was halted. The Times had a similar story on August 13, saying that the New York-based Human Rights Watch had last week called on the Scottish national force to ‘suspend assistance programmes until there is progress on accountability and reform’.
Pax Christi Scotland became involved because of our concerns that there has been a rise in police abuses in Sri Lanka during the pandemic, and our Pax Christi Sri Lanka contact has confirmed that law officers in the country consistently use violence and torture.
Earlier in August, we noted that a report in the Tamil Guardian quoted a senior Sri Lankan law attorney, Ajith Rohana, who admitted that ‘under no circumstances’ would they separate a married couple in cases of domestic abuse.
Questioned by the media as to whether the police would take a different approach if there were continuous complaints, Rohana claimed the police would take action but not in cases of ‘slight abuse’ or ‘abuse and threats’.
He said, ‘Unlike European countries we have a culture, we have values, we have ethics.’
Ironically, the response to a joint letter to the Scottish Justice Minister from Pax Christi Scotland, Human Rights Watch, Sri Lanka Campaign and Freedom From Torture (which was passed on to Peter Jamieson, Police: Powers and Workforce Unit) said:
‘Police Scotland’s current activity in Sri Lanka is focused on community policing, promoting gender equality within the Sri Lanka Police Service and enhancing the response to sexual and gender based violence.
‘All of this activity contributes to, and is in support of, the UN Sustainable Development Goals and aims to support the development of a community based police force that is human rights compliant; better at tackling diversity issues; more reflective of the community it serves; and more capable of building the confidence of and protecting Sri Lanka’s diverse ethno-religious communities.’
We had previously been told that the training was suspended because of COVID. What is the real situation? Should we react positively because as The Times suggests, Police Scotland is suspending training of Sri Lankan officers because of the increased violence – or is it simply a question that COVID regulations have prevented the programme from continuing and it will resume as soon as possible?
Meanwhile, Tulliallan Police College has reportedly received delegations from Saudi Arabia, UAE, and Israel, and we have to wonder if Police Scotland’s intention is to train police forces from the world’s most questionable states.
Working with Human Rights Watch, Freedom From Torture and the Sri Lanka Campaign, we will continue to seek answers from the Scottish Parliament, from Police Scotland and from the Scottish Police Authority. We would urge Pax Christi Scotland members to write to their own MSPs (through our website if that makes it easier) on this issue that affects peace in Sri Lanka and the peace of mind of those affected by gender violence in that country.