Feb 21, Colombo: The global rights organization, Human Rights Watch (HRW) says the Sri Lankan government has not met its pledge to curtail police abuses prior to the March 2017 session of the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC).
Reminding that security sector reform was one of 25 undertakings by Sri Lanka in the Human Rights Council resolution adopted by consensus in October 2015, the New York based HRW said the Sri Lankan government has failed to repeal the abusive Prevention of Terrorism Act (PTA) or take serious measures to reduce torture in custody.
“It’s crucial that the Human Rights Council consider closely whether Sri Lanka made progress in the security sector as well as its other commitments such as transitional justice,” said Brad Adams, Asia director.
“Nearly 18 months after making important promises to the council, Sri Lanka’s leaders appear to be backtracking on key human rights issues, including reforming the police.”
According to HRW, reform of the security sector has lagged behind action on the council resolution’s four pillars of transitional justice: accountability, the disappeared, truth-seeking, and reconciliation. A recent report from the UN Special Rapporteur on torture, Juan Mendez, highlighted the ongoing “culture of torture” in the country.
A 2015 report by Human Rights Watch also found that Sri Lankans routinely face torture and other ill-treatment by the police. In the vast majority of cases, the victims were unable to obtain any meaningful redress.
The government has also yet to repeal the draconian Prevention of Terrorism Act (PTA), which has been used to arbitrarily detain terrorism suspects and others without charge for years, the HRW recalled. During the three decade long war PTA was a necessary tool in its battle against the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam but it has not yet been repealed nearly eight years after the war ended in May 2009.
“A number of those arrested in 2016 under the Prevention of Terrorism Act were implicated in committing or plotting terrorist crimes,” Adams said. “Yet there was no good reason for not using the regular criminal code rather than an abusive law that should have been repealed years ago.”
The Special Rapporteur on torture, following a May 2016 visit to Sri Lanka, found that torture to produce confessions, including beatings, sexual violence, extreme stress positions and asphyxiation, was being committed in police stations, military facilities and detention centers throughout the country.
“Deeply embedded practices linked to the war, like police torture, don’t just go away once the war is over,” Adams said adding that curtailing torture in Sri Lanka requires serious reforms of the security sector, prosecutions of those responsible, and sustained political will from the top.
In June 2016, President Maithripala Sirisena issued a directive to the police and military to refrain from torture but the impact of the directive has gone unreported, HRW says
The rights organization says the upcoming Human Rights Council session provides an important opportunity for UN member countries to closely examine the Special Rapporteur on torture’s report and the problem of torture and other police abuse in Sri Lanka.
“They should press the government to address these concerns as part of the overall reform efforts underway under the Human Rights Council resolution. And they need to be careful not to endorse measures that would set back human rights protections, such as earlier draft counter-terrorism bills to replace the PTA,” HRW said.
Updated On: Feb 21, 2017