South Asians for Human Rights

Promoting Democracy, Upholding Human Rights

A global human rights organisation today called on Sri Lankan government to abide by the directives issued by the Human Rights Commission of Sri Lanka (HRCSL) on arrests and detention under the Prevention of Terrorism Act (PTA) and take measures to revoke the draconian Act.

“The Sri Lankan government should abide by National Human Rights Commission guidelines on arrest and detention while taking urgent steps to repeal the draconian Prevention of Terrorism Act (PTA),” New York-based Human Rights Watch (HRW) said.

Sri Lankan authorities have continued to use the PTA to detain individuals without charge, despite pledging to revoke the law at the United Nations Human Rights Council in Geneva in October 2015, the HRW noted.

The HRCSL last month issued directives to be followed by designated officials arresting persons under the Prevention of Terrorism (Temporary Provisions) Act No 48 of 1979 (PTA).

“It is encouraging that the government has taken preliminary steps to abolish the Prevention of Terrorism Act, but the process is moving too slowly,” said Asia director Brad Adams. “Until it is repealed, the government should announce a moratorium on the use of the PTA and instead rely on the criminal code, which does not allow indefinite detention without charge or trial.”

The Paragraph 12 of the consensus resolution adopted at the UN Human Rights Council in September 2015, committed the Sri Lankan government to review and repeal the PTA and enact a law in line with international best practices. The government is working on a new bill to replace the PTA but there is no sign that this will be passed soon, and little transparency or consultation about the process, the HRW says.

Recent arrests under the PTA in Chavakachcheri in the Northern Province prompted the HRCSL to issue Directives on Arrest and Detention under the Prevention of Terrorism (Temporary Provisions) Act No. 48 of 1979 on May 18, 2016. 

This comprehensive list of directives is intended to protect detainees against the security forces’ broad powers under the PTA, particularly at the time of arrest and ensuing detention. These include guarantees of medical and legal assistance, registration of arrest, right to language of the detainee’s choice, security from torture and other ill-treatment, and special protection for women and children. The directives also reassert the commission’s mandate to be promptly informed of all PTA arrests, to access any person arrested or detained under the PTA, and to access any place of detention at any time.

According to the HRW, exact numbers of those still held under the PTA are unknown, with estimates ranging from 120 to 162 detainees. Since April 2016, the government has arrested at least 11 people under the PTA for alleged terrorist activities instead of using appropriate provisions under the criminal code.

The government has made substantial progress on many cases of prior PTA detainees, the HRW says. 

The authorities have released some PTA detainees on bail, “rehabilitated” others, and promised to charge and prosecute the remainder. However, the government has still not put forward a plan to provide redress for those unjustly detained under the PTA, or addressed the issue of detainees charged and prosecuted solely on the basis of coerced confessions obtained during detention, the right organization points out.

“So long as the PTA is in place and being used, the Sri Lankan government will have a hard time convincing the Human Rights Council that it is keeping its commitments,” Adams said. 

“Revoking the PTA is absolutely crucial for ensuring respect for the basic rights of criminal suspects and the rule of law in Sri Lanka.”

Updated On: 14 June 2016