Torture Widely Practiced in Sri Lanka

Says UN human rights expert

by UN News Centre, October 29, 2007

“The high number of indictments for torture filed by the Attorney General’s Office, the number of successful fundamental rights cases decided by the Supreme Court of Sri Lanka, as well as the high number of complaints that the National Human Rights Commission continues to receive on an almost daily basis indicates that torture is widely practiced in Sri Lanka.”

29 October 2007 – An independent United Nations human rights expert said today that although Sri Lanka has measures in place to prevent torture, the brutal practice is widespread and “prone to become routine in the context of counter-terrorism operations.”

“The high number of indictments for torture filed by the Attorney General’s Office, the number of successful fundamental rights cases decided by the Supreme Court of Sri Lanka, as well as the high number of complaints that the National Human Rights Commission continues to receive on an almost daily basis indicates that torture is widely practiced in Sri Lanka,” Manfred Nowak told the General Assembly committee dealing with social, humanitarian and cultural issues, known as the Third Committee.

“This practice is prone to become routine in the context of counter-terrorism operations,” Mr. Nowak, the UN Special Rapporteur on torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment, added.

Mr. Nowak said that during the course of his visit to the country from 1 to 8 October, he received “numerous consistent and credible allegations” from detainees who reported that they were ill-treated by the police to extract confessions, or to obtain information in relation to other criminal offences. Similar allegations were received with respect to the army.

UN New York HeadquartersIn an effort to criminalize torture and bring perpetrators to justice, the Government enacted the 1994 Torture Act. While the significant number of indictments filed under the Act was encouraging, Mr. Nowak decried the fact that only three people have so far been convicted.

“Given the high standards of proof applied by the Supreme Court in torture related cases, it is regrettable that the facts established do not trigger more convictions by criminal courts,” he stated.

While the Government does not agree that torture is widely practiced, “I’m convinced and I think I have enough evidence for that,” Mr. Nowak told reporters after his address to the committee.

He said he found “overwhelming evidence that torture is routine” at a detention facility run by the Terrorist Investigation Department at Boossa, near Galle.

In addition, “serious incidence of corporal punishment” was discovered at Bogambara, the main prison in Kandy, even though that practice was recently abolished by law. The Government has stated it will investigate those cases and dismiss those responsible. “In my opinion they should be dismissed and also brought to justice under Sri Lankan criminal law,” Mr. Nowak said.

The Special Rapporteur also highlighted the problem of overcrowded prisons, one of the main reasons for which is the high number of pre-trial detainees in the prisons than actual convicted prisoners. There are some 28,000 people being held in prisons that have the capacity to hold 8,200.

Mr. Nowak added that the most serious allegations of human rights violations, including torture, relate to the ongoing conflict between the Government and the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE). But he noted that he was not in a position to speak about that since he was not able to visit detention facilities in army camps or those run by the LTTE.

In addition to Sri Lanka, Mr. Nowak has visited Paraguay, Nigeria and Togo in the last year. He is scheduled to visit Indonesia next month and Equatorial Guinea and Iraq early next year.

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Redress for Victims of Torture: Systems in Place, Systems in the Making

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UN sleuth urges Sri Lanka crack down on torture

by Reuters, October 29, 2007

GENEVA – A U.N. investigator called on the Sri Lankan government on Monday to crack down hard on what he said appeared to be a widespread use of torture by security forces in their battle with Tamil Tiger rebels.

Manfred Nowak, special rapporteur on torture for the U.N. Human Rights Council, issued his call along with a list of recommendations following a week-long visit to the country earlier this month on an official invitation.

The high number of torture indictments filed by official bodies and the many complaints received by the National Human Rights Commission on the island “indicates that torture is widely practised in Sri Lanka”, Nowak said.

The practice, he added in a report issued through the office of the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Louise Arbour, “is prone to become routine in the context of counter-terrorism operations”.

Nowak said he appreciated the challenges the government faced in the violent and long-running conflict with the Tigers.

But he said that on the basis of his findings, the authorities should investigate torture allegations against the country’s Terrorist Investigation Department (TID) and speed up criminal procedures in torture cases.

One way to do this would be establishing special courts to deal with torture and ill-treatment of detainees, Nowak argued.

The government, he said, should “ensure that all allegations of torture and ill-treatment are promptly and thoroughly investigated by an independent authority” and establish an independent complaints system in prisons for torture and abuse.

It should also ensure that confessions made by people in custody without the presence of a lawyer and not confirmed before a judge should not be admissible as evidence against the person making the confession, the investigator added.

He also called for the abolition of capital punishment, or at least the commutation of death into prison sentences.