The UN Committee Against Torture has just finished meeting in Geneva. It is made up of 10 independent experts. They concluded that the Sri Lankan government has yet to implement previous recommendations that aimed to address failings around, amongst other things, ‘inadequate investigations into allegations of torture and ill-treatment’ and ‘ensuring accountability for past cases of torture and disappearance’.
You can download the report here. Summary of the main points of concern are at the bottom of the article.
A particular section worthy of highlighting here is that on ‘white van’ abductions. The white van is the vehicle that comes along to snatch Sri Lankans, usually of Tamil ethnicity, suspected of some past link to LTTE. They are beaten and forced into the van and driven away to locations such as Joseph Camp in Vavuniya, and Welikate Prison in Colombo. There, under the prevention of terrorism act, they are detained for what can often be months or years without charge. They have no access to a lawyer or doctor. They are routinely beaten, tortured, sexually abused and humiliated. Some of this is done in the guise of interrogation. Some of it doesn’t involve questions, it’s just punishment.
NGOs such as Freedom From Torture have published shocking, fact-based evidence of these practices, practices which the government deny. It’s grim. It’s unpalatable. It’s true.
Sri Lanka must be held to account.
Write to the Sri Lankan high Commission.
We have read the concluding statements from UNCAT and WE URGE SRI LANKA to ensure that all allegations of unlawful detention, torture and sexual violence by security forces are promptly, impartially and effectively investigated by an independent body.
High Commission of Sri Lanka No.13, Hyde Park Gardens, London W2 2LU,
Tel: 020 7262 1841 Fax: 020 7262 7970
General Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
Consular Division: email@example.com
Nov 15/16th 2016-12-10
Concluding Observations on Sri Lanka: Principal subjects of concern:
Torture is a common practice carried out in relation to criminal investigations in a large majority of cases by the criminal investigation dept of the police, regardless of the nature of the suspected offence.
Police power to arrest without a warrant has lead to detention whilst conducting investigations in order to obtain information under duress.
White van adductions of Tamils has continued in the years following the end of the armed conflict.
Despite the fact that Sri Lankan security forces committed widespread or systematic torture, enforced disappearances and other serious human rights violations during and in the aftermath of the conflict – there has been no institutional reform of the security sector.
The committee was alarmed that Sisira Mendis, Deputy Inspector General of the CID from March 2008 to June 2009 was part of the delegation. The CID’s 4th floor facility at police HQ in Colombo was known as a notorious site of torture. There was widespread torture including sexual violence against individuals detained at Manik Farm camp and elsewhere, by CID and by the Terrorism Investigation Dept over which he is also alleged to have supervised.
Despite verbal commitment there is still no Judicial mechanism with a special counsel, no commission for truth, justice, reconciliation and non recurrence and no office for reparations. Criminal investigations into some named emblematic cases have not progressed.
Lack of protection for those complaining of torture – and the plan is to open a victim and witness protection division within the police despite the police being responsible for most alleged cases of torture.
Impunity prevails in most cases of torture. Only 17 cases have been filed under the Convention against torture since 2012 and only two convictions. Considerable discrepancy between the complaints received (150) and the high number received by the Human Rights Commission of Sri Lanka (2259 in the same period). Torture is only investigated if the police initiate the investigation.
Prevention of Terrorism Act allows 72 hours before being brought before a magistrate then 18 months detention which cannot be challenged in court. In practice suspects have been held for as long as 15 years without indictment and 14 years without verdict when charged. There are allegations of torture and of lack of access to lawyers during these detentions. Any regime that places suspects under the custody of investigating authorities for prolonged detention and continuous questioning without access to appropriate safeguards and immediate judicial oversight would give rise to a real risk of torture.
Lack of progress of the ongoing investigation at the secret detention place in Navy Camp in Trimcomalee.
Continued use of the ‘rehabilitation’ under antiterrorism regulations, which allows confinement without safeguards programme for persons connected with the LTTE, credible accounts of torture.
Lack of due process rights for retained persons e.g. No right to meet with lawyer from the outset of detention, and in fact proposed amendment allows them the right to meet with a lawyer only after their statement has been taken.
In numerous documented cases of torture the accused persons were forced to sign self incriminatory statements, blank sheets of paper or sheets in a language they did not understand.
Human Rights Commission of Sri Lanka has not always been able to visit police stations or prisons after receiving an allegation.
Conditions of detention amount to cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment. E.g poor sanitary conditions, insufficient light and ventilation, inadequate access to health care
Concerned that deaths in custody are investigated by the same police in whose custody the suspect died
Concern about arbitrary detention of journalists and human rights defenders .e.g. the journalist Prageeth Eknaligoda who was chief of the delegation of Sri Lanka to UNCAT in 2011 and who has been declared to be victim of an abduction by the national armed forces.
No clear policy of structure for training investigative police on non coercive techniques.