The decision taken by the government to include intelligence chief Sisira Mendis in Sri Lanka’s delegation to the recent session of the UN Committee against Torture in Geneva, has turned out to be a bad move.
Mendis was part of the Sri Lankan delegation when the UN Committee against Torture reviewed Sri Lanka last month.
Last week the UN Committee issued its assessment on Sri Lanka and in that assessment it noted shock at Mendis being included in the delegation.
Mendis was the Deputy Inspector General (DIG) of the Criminal Investigations Department (CID) when the former government was in power.
The CID under Mendis was accused of torture in a UN investigations report and so the UN Committee demanded an investigation on the allegations.
In a detailed report on Sri Lanka, the UN Committee against Torture called on the government to provide detailed information on the role Mendis played when the allegations of torture were raised against the CID.
The UN Committee had called for investigations that war displaced people had also been tortured at welfare camps by the CID.
Last month the International Truth and Justice Project noted that during the final phase of the civil war in Sri Lanka, from March 2008 the CID under Mendis and the TID well were named by a UN investigation as responsible for torture and sexual violence.
The UN in its 2015 investigation into Sri Lanka also named Mendis as the officer in charge of CID at the end of the war.
The Truth and Justice Project said in its report that in 2008-9 there were several high profile torture cases that cannot have escaped the notice of Mendis.
For example, it said, a journalist brought to court in 2008 alleged torture at the hands of TID, but neither Mendis nor the government at the time took any action at the time to investigate this or prevent its recurrence.
Meanwhile, the government had in a submission last week to the UN Committee, noted that it had taken serious note of allegations pertaining to torture and ill treatment of persons in welfare centres immediately following the end of the conflict and appreciated the allegations being brought to the attention of the government during the proceedings of the UN Committee.
“The government takes all allegations that have been brought to its attention seriously. In this connection we would like to emphasize the unwavering commitment of the government to deal with all aspects of the Right to Justice and to an effective remedy. Consistent with the HRC resolution 30/1, the government has embarked on an inclusive process with the objective of ensuring the right to truth, justice, reparations and guarantees of non- recurrence,” the government said.
The government said all these aspects will be comprehensively dealt with on the basis of credible and admissible evidence, through an effective mechanism providing guarantees of a fair trial, taking into account rights of victims, which would be designed to address the problems of human rights violations suffered by all.
“In this context, a Task Force consisting entirely of civil society representatives has been appointed to seek the views of the public that will inform the designing of the mechanisms. This Task Force has now completed its work and their Report is to be handed over to the President and the Prime Minister this month. Based on the outcome of the process, due follow- up action will be taken. We would like to stress that the government remains firm in its commitment to ensuring reconciliation, peace building, justice and non- recurrence, upholding rights and dignity for all,” the government said in a last minute submission last week.
At the beginning of the session last month the government said it was firm in its commitment of a zero tolerance policy on torture.
Attorney General Jayantha Jayasuriya told the Committee Against Torture that in June this year, President Maithripala Sirisena, joined by the Minister of Law and Order, joined an initiative of the National Human Rights Commission to march against Torture, sending a message at the highest level of Government regarding the Government’s commitment to zero tolerance on torture.
“The Government, keeping in line with its constructive engagement with the Human Rights Treaty mechanisms has taken several progressive policy measures over the last two years, recognizing the importance of a transparent and independent mechanism for investigation into alleged incidents of torture in custody,” the AG said in a statement last month on behalf of Sri Lanka.
He said that a declaration was made under Article 22 of the Convention Against Torture recognizing the competence of the Committee against Torture to receive individual communications in August 2016.
The AG said that continuing its commitment to the pledge given to the people of the country to uphold, promote and protect the human rights of all, and in keeping with international treaty obligations as well, the Government has undertaken a voluntary process of introducing a National Human Rights Action Plan (NHRAP) for the period 2017-2021.
He said that in May 2016 the Cabinet approved an Inter-Ministerial Committee tasked with drafting the National Human Rights Action Plan for 2017-2021, assisted by a Steering Committee of officials and experts and drafting committees working on each of the thematic areas. Prevention of Torture is one of the thematic areas focused in developing the National Human Rights Action Plan for 2017 – 2021.
Jayantha Jayasuriya said that the government has also initiated a process to develop the policy and the legal framework of a new counter terrorism legislation for Sri Lanka. The new legal framework focuses on reviewing the provisions of the PTA in line with international human rights norms and standards.