Responding to the news that Sri Lankan State Minister for Prison Management and Prisoners Rehabilitation, Lohan Ratwatte, forced detained Tamil inmates at Anuradhapura prison to kneel down at gunpoint, Amnesty International has demanded “a prompt, impartial and effective inquiry”.
The incident occurred on Sunday, when the Minister and his friends were inebriated and entered the prison and threatened to kill the Tamil prisoners if they did not comply with his orders. Reports note that they had forced their way in and verbally abused the prison guards. Rawatte has a history of mass murder and irresponsible behaviour with firearms. He led the killing of ten unarmed Muslims during the 2001 general elections for which he was convicted and sentenced by the high court. He was later acquitted on flimsy grounds however five security forces personnel-security guards of the family were convicted and sentenced to death. More recently, in late December 2020, he terrified hotel guests in Kandy by firing gunshots into the air reportedly due to anger.
Since the incident the Minister has resigned from his post however he is yet to face any accountability for this crime.
Commenting on the incident, Yamini Mishra, Amnesty International’s Asia-Pacific Director said:
“These dumbfounding reports go to show that our ongoing concerns regarding Sri Lanka’s treatment of prisoners, especially the authorities’ torture and other inhumane and degrading treatment of PTA detainees are all too valid. They also demonstrate the level of impunity for criminal behaviour that is indulged at the highest levels of government. There must be a prompt, impartial and effective inquiry and the Minister must be held to account for his actions”.
She further slammed the Foreign Minister’s opening remarks at the UNHRC session stating:
“At yesterday’s UN Human Rights Council session, Sri Lanka’s Foreign Minister boasted about the early release of 16 Tamil Tiger members under a Presidential pardon. These men were in fact already due for release. Lohan Ratwatte’s alleged conduct further undermines the government’s piecemeal efforts made to address the conditions of PTA prisoners, which islabelled as reconciliation”.
She also highlighted drew scepticism over the Minister’s claim that there were “domestic processes that are vigorously addressing the relevant matters” by noting that “unless Lohan Ratwatte is held to account for his criminal actions, these words will be hard to take seriously.”
Amnesty International further highlighted the sordid history of violence in Sri Lanka’s prisons noting that Welikada is the site of two prison massacres in 1983 and in 2012. This history they note, has been met with impunity.
They conclude their statement noting that the incident comes during the ongoing 48th UN Human Rights Council session, where the High Commissioner has expressed alarm over continued deaths in custody, and reports of torture by Sri Lanka’s law enforcement officials.
The human rights organisation urged the government to immediately repeal the PTA, which
they note “continues to be used to detain hundreds of people for prolonged periods without trial”.
Read more here.