Decisive action sought to hold perpetrators accountable

Sri Lankan authorities have been urged to take decisive action to stop torture and other ill-treatment, investigate complaints, and hold perpetrators accountable.

“If the Sri Lankan authorities are serious about breaking with the harrowing legacy of the country’s decades-long conflict, it must end impunity for torture and other acts of ill-treatment,” said Champa Patel, Amnesty International’s South Asia Director.

“Sri Lanka has taken important and positive steps. However, we also share the UN Committee against Torture’s alarm over Sri Lanka’s failure to prevent these crimes by the security forces and their concern that torture and other ill-treatment continue to take place. Impunity persists for perpetrators, as well as for those who have committed enforced disappearances, and deaths in custody and the use of coerced confessions continue to be reported.”

In its assessment of Sri Lanka’s record on torture and other ill-treatment, the UN Committee against Torture said that the 26-year-long internal armed conflict continues to cast a long shadow over the country. Despite promises, the authorities have failed to investigate serious human rights violations committed during the armed conflict.

Violations, however, were not limited to the legacy of the past. The Committee expressed concerns – shared by Amnesty International – that torture by police remains “a common practice,” with the absence of crucial safeguards in detention facilitating such abuse. Amnesty International joins the UN Committee against Torture in calling on the Sri Lankan authorities to identify and prosecute perpetrators of unlawful killings, including of five Tamil students on Trincomalee beach and of 17 aid workers in the town of Muttur in 2006.

Amnesty International supports the call of the Committee for Sri Lankan authorities to protect the family of disappeared political cartoonist Prageeth Eknaligoda from harassment or reprisal as they seek truth and justice.

“The Sri Lankan government has previously made a commitment to address the widespread human rights violations that occurred during Sri Lanka’s armed conflict and in its immediate aftermath. But it has yet to lend those words substance by establishing the promised institutions, such as a judicial mechanism with a Special Counsel, a commission for truth, justice, reconciliation and non-Recurrence, and an office for reparations,” said Champa Patel.

Amnesty International is encouraged by some of the important steps Sri Lanka has taken, including the introduction of legislative and other measures designed to prevent torture and other ill-treatment. However, these efforts have yet to be implemented effectively, leaving impunity for perpetrators in place.

The Sri Lankan authorities have also failed to act on previous observations made by the Committee against Torture. Safeguards are yet to be introduced to prevent torture and other ill-treatment by the security forces, and despite prohibitions in Sri Lanka’s Evidence Ordinance, courts continue to admit “confessions” obtained through torture and other ill-treatment into evidence.

The Committee expressed alarm that an official with previous command responsibility over a notorious site of torture and other ill-treatment was part of a delegation to meet with UN officials in Geneva.

“The Sri Lankan authorities need to match their words with actions. The Committee against Torture has made a series of recommendations that should be acted on immediately. Safeguards should be put in place. Security forces have to know that torture and other ill-treatment will not be tolerated and that any survivors must obtain redress,” said Champa Patel. (Colombo Gazette)

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