UN re­porter flays con­tin­ued rights vi­o­la­tions in Sri Lanka

Kuwait Times - - INTERNATIONAL -

A vis­it­ing United Na­tions re­porter said Fri­day that tor­ture re­mains “en­demic and rou­tine” in Sri Lanka’s counter ter­ror­ism meth­ods and a num­ber of per­sons be­ing de­tained with­out trial un­der a harsh anti-ter­ror law is a stain on the coun­try’s in­ter­na­tional rep­u­ta­tion. Ben Em­mer­son UN spe­cial re­porter on the pro­mo­tion and pro­tec­tion of hu­man rights while coun­ter­ing ter­ror­ism said at the end of a five-day visit to Sri Lanka that he is con­cerned that even those ar­rested as re­cently as late last year have been sub­jected to tor­ture, de­spite a new gov­ern­ment promis­ing to end such prac­tices.

“In Sri Lanka, how­ever, such prac­tices are very deeply in­grained in the se­cu­rity sec­tor and all of the ev­i­dence points to the con­clu­sion that the use of tor­ture has been, and re­mains to­day, en­demic and rou­tine, for those ar­rested and de­tained on na­tional se­cu­rity grounds,” he said. Em­mer­son said that he heard “dis­tress­ing sto­ries” dur­ing his in­ter­views with for­mer and cur­rent de­tainees un­der the Preven­tion of Ter­ror­ism Act of ex­tremely bru­tal meth­ods of tor­ture, in­clud­ing as­phyx­i­a­tion us­ing plas­tic bags drenched in kerosene, the pulling out of fin­ger­nails, the in­ser­tion of nee­dles be­neath the fin­ger­nails, the use of var­i­ous forms of wa­ter tor­ture, the sus­pen­sion of in­di­vid­u­als for sev­eral hours by their thumbs, and the mu­ti­la­tion of gen­i­tals.

Hu­man rights vi­o­la­tions

He said he ob­tained of­fi­cial fig­ures which said 70 per­sons de­tained un­der the ter­ror­ism act have been in de­ten­tion for more than five years with­out trial, with 12 hav­ing been de­tained for more than 10 years. ‘Th­ese stag­ger­ing fig­ures are a stain on Sri Lanka’s in­ter­na­tional rep­u­ta­tion. Steps should be taken to re­lease th­ese in­di­vid­u­als on bail im­me­di­ately, or bring them to trial within weeks or months, not years or decades,” he said. Sri Lanka’s bloody civil war ended in 2009 when gov­ern­ment troops crushed eth­nic Tamil rebels’ 26-year cam­paign for an in­de­pen­dent state.

Both sides were ac­cused of se­ri­ous hu­man rights vi­o­la­tions in the con­flict. The num­ber of deaths in the con­flict is not clear, how­ever, a con­ser­va­tive UN es­ti­mate sug­gests 100,000 deaths. A sub­se­quent UN re­port said at least 40,000 Tamil civil­ians were killed in the fi­nal months of the fight­ing. Sri Lanka was fac­ing in­ter­na­tional sanc­tions for re­fus­ing to in­ves­ti­gate al­le­ga­tions of hu­man rights vi­o­la­tions and war crimes.

But the coun­try’s out­look changed af­ter the elec­tion of a new pres­i­dent whose gov­ern­ment co-spon­sored a UN res­o­lu­tion in 2015 promis­ing to ad­dress the past and en­sure ac­count­abil­ity and rec­on­cil­i­a­tion. Ac­cord­ing to a March re­port by the In­ter­na­tional Truth and Jus­tice Project - an ev­i­dence-gath­er­ing or­ga­ni­za­tion ad­min­is­tered by a South Africa-based non­profit foun­da­tion - the abuse has con­tin­ued through 2016, well af­ter the change of gov­ern­ment.

The re­port is based on tes­ti­mony from 46 Sri Lankan Tamils who fled to Bri­tain or Switzer­land and were once held at a Sri Lanka se­cu­rity forces’ head­quar­ters. Some vic­tims said they were held for months or even years with­out due process, kept in cells so small they could not lie down or were beaten, raped or tor­tured. The mil­i­tary’s chief aim, they said, was to learn of any on­go­ing rebel ac­tiv­ity as well as the lo­ca­tion of hid­den weapons caches, ac­cord­ing to the re­port. Em­mer­son said that the ful­fill­ment of the Sri Lankan gov­ern­ment’s com­mit­ments to the UN hu­man rights coun­cil has vir­tu­ally ground to a halt. —AP

NEW YORK: In this file photo, Ben Em­mer­son, UN spe­cial in­ves­ti­ga­tor on counter-ter­ror­ism and hu­man rights, holds a news con­fer­ence on mi­gra­tion poli­cies, at UN head­quar­ters. —AP

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