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4 international rights groups submit report on torture to UN committee

Four international human rights groups, working against the use of torture, submitted a joint report to the UN Committee Against Torture (CAT) to rival the committee's customary third periodic report of Sri Lanka, due to be discussed next month.

The 22 page report was compiled by Asian Legal Resource Centre (ALRC) based in Hong Kong, REDRESS Trust in London, Rehabilitation and Research Centre for Torture Victims (RCT) in Denmark and Action des chrétiens pour l'abolition de la torture (ACAT France) in France.

The report condemns the widespread torture practised in Sri Lanka, the government's failure to adequately investigate such allegations and the "inadequate legislative, administrative, judicial or other measures taken to prevent acts of torture in territory under Sri Lanka’s jurisdiction".

The groups urged the UN to act, in order to ensure accounability and justice, given Sri Lanka's ongoing failure to make any meaningful progress on the issue.

"Should Sri Lanka continue to fail to take the requisite measures despite the availability of credible evidence of torture and ill-treatment, it is the responsibility of the United Nations and its organs, as well as the treaty bodies, to do their utmost to ensure accountability and justice for the victims of these violations."

"It is now the next logical step to call for a full implementation of the Panel’s recommendations.

"This could build on previous precedents where UN bodies have urged the Secretary-General to call for the establishment of an international accountability mechanism, namely the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia.

"Conversely, a failure to take action would compound the climate of impunity in Sri Lanka and would constitute a betrayal of the Convention against Torture, which was adopted ‘to make more effective the struggle against torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment throughout the world’."

 

Further extracts are reproduced below:

Arbitary arrests and police interference

"there have been a number of incidents in which arrested or detained persons were denied effective access to lawyers of their choice, especially at the most crucial initial stages of their arrest and first interrogations by the police. Intimidation of lawyers themselves who appear for clients in cases where police officers are involved is also evident."

"[Junior medical officers] frequently find themselves subject to considerable police influence. This concerns, in particular, the police practices of refusing to leave a room or a place when judicial medical officers examine individuals who may have suffered from torture and ill-treatment, and write their reports."

"There is a significant shortage of competent Tamil-speaking judicial translators and interpreters."

"There are few Tamil-speaking police officers, prosecutors and judges, which adds to the overall situation of heightened vulnerability of Tamil detainees."

 

Use of Prevention of Terrorism Act and police violence on Tamil civilians

"Although the Emergency Regulations were allowed to lapse on 31 August 2011, there is no intention of the Government to repeal the Prevention of Terrorism Act. Instead, the Attorney General recently announced the Government’s plans to introduce new regulations under the Prevention of Terrorism Act.

The situation of total arbitrariness in which those detainees find themselves is exacerbated by the fact that they are being held in undisclosed and remote locations in the Northern Province.

In particular, such makeshift detention  centres are frequently disguised as orphanages, children’s centres, welfare centres or medical institutions.

In this situation there is no realistic opportunity for independent monitoring of those places of detention, for example, by magistrates even if they were prepared, in the circumstances, to exercise their right to do so, as they will not be able to locate the relevant de facto detention centre.

One of the recent examples of mass detention under the Emergency Regulations took place in the village of Navanthurai, Jaffna District, Northern Province, on 23 August 2011.

In a late-night operation conducted by the Sri Lankan Army more than one hundred villagers were arrested and subsequently detained.

They were severely beaten up with rifle butts and iron rods and dragged to the premises of the army detachment not far from their village.

Women and children who tried to defend their husbands and fathers were also beaten.

Those injured were initially not provided with medical treatment.

The Assistant Superintendent of Police for the Jaffna District who appeared in person in the subsequent proceedings before the Magistrate accused the villagers of “unlawful gathering”, thus suggesting the latter had been detained by the Army on the basis of the provisions of the Emergency Regulations"

 

Rajapaksa's regime on human rights

"the Government attempts to discredit the very idea of human rights. The authorities frequently refer to human rights as a “western concept” that is detrimental to national integrity and sovereignty."

"The totality of the Government’s comments on human rights and the individuals and bodies seeking to promote and protect human rights results in the cultivation of a negative perception of human rights and reinforce a climate of impunity

"Such an attitude openly expressed at the highest levels of administration seemingly contributes to an indifferent attitude towards human rights education, especially among law-enforcement personnel."

 

Failure to comply with convention against torture

"One of the most crucial issues severely undermining Sri Lanka’s compliance with its obligations under the Convention is its systemic failure to promptly and impartially examine credible allegations of torture and other forms of cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.

 

Lack of independence and impartiality

"The lack of independence and impartiality of investigations into allegations of torture and ill-treatment, particularly by  the police, is a central factor that perpetuates the climate of impunity."