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UN Committee Against Torture calls for investigation of ‘routine torture’ in Sri Lanka

The United Nations Committee Against Torture released a report on Wednesday expressing serious concern over the use of “routine torture” by Sri Lankan security forces and called for an independent body to investigate the practise.

The Committee panel of 10 independent experts said it “remains seriously concerned over consistent reports” of torture on the island.

Committee member Felice Gaer told Reuters that "We wanted to make it clear that the present is a problem as well (as the past)".

The report went on to express “concern at credible reports indicating that the practice of so-called “white van” abductions of Tamils has continued in the years following the end of the armed conflict” and suspects that had “even remote” links to the LTTE have been abducted and “subjected to brutal torture, often including sexual violence and rape of men and women”.

It also mentioned that 48 sites had been identified by the UN human rights chief’s office or by NGOs as locations that were used as torture – a practise that has continued under the current government.

The current regime had demonstrated a “failure to carry out institutional reform of the security sector,” it noted, adding that the Committee “regrets the failure… to clarify whether it has investigated these recent allegations”. “There’s some question about their commitment to a lot of things that are needed and have been promised in that country in this very difficult time,” she added. Alan Keenan from the ICG told the New York Times “there was always a doubt about the commitment of the president and prime minister". "As time goes on, those doubts have grown,” he continued.

Some of those reports of torture were also directed against Sri Lanka’s Chief of National Intelligence, Sisira Mendis. Colombo chose to send Mr Mendis as part of the Sri Lankan delegation to observe proceedings earlier this year. 

The move had “alarmed” the Committee, said the report. 

When they had requested information on Mr Mendis’ role and submitted “specific questions,” they received no response. During proceedings, Ms Gaer asked Mr Mendis directly “Can you tell us whether you or officers under your responsibility jointly interrogated persons deprived of liberty, together with military officers, or together with the members of the TID?”. 

Mr Mendis did not respond. 

UN CAT questions Mr Mendis on his role in reports of torture by Sri Lanka security forces.

Reminding Sri Lanka that “amnesties for the crime of torture are incompatible with the obligations of State parties under the Convention,” the Committee called on the government to “provide detailed information on Mr Mendis’ role and responsibilities”. 

"What we saw was that there had been promises but that there weren't investigations, that the investigations weren't moving forward,” she told Reuters. "We didn't see evidence that the government is moving on the accountability issues either, the truth commission issues that it promised it would institute." 

Speaking during the proceedings, she told the Sri Lanka delegation:

"The issue of impunity seems to be hanging like a sword over the entire situation in your country, and frankly over our review".

Read the full text of the report here.