Amnesty International Report 2014/15 Democratic Socialist Republic of Sri Lanka

Democratic Socialist Republic of Sri Lanka
Head of state and government: Mahinda Rajapaksa

Unlawful detentions and torture by security forces were carried out with impunity as the authorities continued to rely on the Prevention of Terrorism Act to arrest and detain suspects without charge or trial. Human rights defenders and f amily members of people subjected to enforced disappearance were threatened and arrested, and fatal attacks on religious minorities went unpunished. Systematic impunity for alleged war crimes and crimes against humanity led the UN Human Rights Council in March to pass a resolution calling for a comprehensive investigation to be undertaken by the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights – a move the government opposed and refused to co-operate with. Human rights defenders received threats of reprisals by government officials and supporters if they were suspected of contacting investigators or otherwise advocating human rights accountability. Political violence and intimidation – mainly against political opposition supporters and civil society activists – were reported in the run-up to the snap presidential election called for January 2015.

Arbitrary arrests and detentions

Tamils suspected of links to the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) continued to be arrested and detained under the Prevention of Terrorism Act (PTA) instead of ordinary criminal law. The PTA permits extended administrative detention, and shifts the burden of proof to a detainee alleging torture or other ill-treatment. It also restricts freedoms of expression and association and has been used to detain critics.

Torture and other ill-treatment

Torture and other ill-treatment of detainees – including sexual violence – remained widespread in Sri Lanka, especially at the moment of apprehension and during early stages of pre-trial detention. Victims reported torture of both adult and juvenile detainees; these included individuals arrested in the context of security operations as well as suspects in ordinary criminal cases.

Excessive use of force

Unnecessary and excessive use of force, causing the deaths of demonstrators, continued to be reported and to go unpunished. In May, four army officers suspended in the wake of an internal inquiry into the shooting and killing of demonstrators in a 2013 protest against pollution of the water supply in Weliweriya were reinstated and assigned to new posts. One victim in this incident was reportedly beaten to death while sheltering in a church. The army’s report on the shooting was not made public.

Deaths in custody

In June, the Friday Forum, an informal citizens’ group, called on the Inspector General of Police to take action against the killings of criminal suspects while in police custody. Police often claimed that the suspects were killed in self-defence or while trying to escape. The Bar Association of Sri Lanka also condemned the killing of suspects in police custody. In late 2013, four men who had been arrested for the alleged murder of a police constable and his wife died under suspicious circumstances in custody within a two-week period. The Bar Association released a statement in December 2013 expressing concern that the police explanations were virtually identical to those of past cases and that the deaths appeared to be extrajudicial executions.

Enforced disappearances

The ad hoc Presidential Commission to Investigate into Complaints Regarding Missing Persons (the Disappearances Commission) was appointed in August 2013 to examine complaints between 10 June 1990 and 19 May 2009. It received some 15,000 civilian complaints as well as about 5,000 cases of missing armed forces personnel. By August 2014, the Commission had reportedly begun inquiries into less than 5% of these cases, or 462 complaints. Some complaints, which the Commission said were being analyzed for further investigation, were potentially over a decade old.

Impunity

Serious violations of international law committed during the armed conflict, including enforced disappearances, extrajudicial executions and the intentional shelling of civilians and protected areas such as hospitals, remain unaddressed. The government continued to deny that such violations occurred until 15 July when it announced that it was expanding its Disappearances Commission to investigate other alleged crimes under international law. A panel of international lawyers was appointed to advise the government.

Refugees and asylum-seekers

Sri Lanka detained and forcefully deported asylum-seekers without adequately assessing their asylum claims, including individuals who were registered with UNHCR, the UN refugee agency, and were awaiting interviews. Authorities arrested and detained 328 asylum-seekers between June and mid-September, and deported 183 of them to Pakistan and Afghanistan. UNHCR said in September that it believed there were still more than 100 people of concern to them in detention, including 38 Pakistani nationals and 64 Afghan nationals. Many belonged to minority religious groups which were subject to discrimination and violence in their home countries.

Human rights defenders

Authorities continued to threaten, harass and arrest human rights defenders, including lawyers, family members of the disappeared and other activists. None of the incidents known to Amnesty International were effectively investigated, and no prosecutions were initiated. People calling for accountability for past and current human rights violations, including human rights defenders attempting to communicate concerns to the UN, were harassed and threatened. In some instances , individuals suspected of “internationalizing” these issues through association with foreign colleagues were detained. Women activists in northern Sri Lanka were questioned and arrested: significantly, Balendran Jeyakumari, whose son was the victim of an alleged enforced disappearance, remained held since her arbitrary detention under the PTA in March. Prominent human rights defenders Ruki Fernando and Father Praveen Mahesan faced continued restrictions imposed by the courts after they were arrested for attempting to investigate her case.1

Freedoms of expression, peaceful assembly, association and movement

There were continuing reports of intimidation and harassment of journalists by state officials, including physical attacks, death threats and politically motivated charges. Perpetrators acted with impunity in these cases; none of the incidents were adequately investigated, and those suspected of criminal conduct were not prosecuted. Impunity also persisted for older cases of violence against journalists, including for unlawful killings and enforced disappearances.

On 18 May, the fifth anniversary of the end of Sri Lanka’s armed conflict, the military sealed the offices of Uthayan, a Jaffna-based newspaper. The newspaper and its employees had faced previous forced closures, threats and violent attacks.

Civil society organizations also came under pressure. On 1 July, the Ministry of Defence issued a memorandum to “all non-governmental organizations” warning them to stop holding press conferences, workshops and journalists’ trainings, or disseminating press releases.

Students in many parts of the country were violently attacked, and there were repeated efforts by the authorities to prevent them from organizing, including by prohibiting student unions and suspending student activists.

In October, travel restrictions were reimposed requiring foreign travellers to the Northern Province to obtain clearance from the Ministry of Defence.

In December, election monitors recorded dozens of reports of political violence, including attacks on political rallies, assaults and arson damage, most perpetrated by members of the ruling party.

Justice system

The independence of judicial institutions in Sri Lanka was compromised by the removal of checks and balances protecting the separation of powers. The 18th amendment to the Constitution, passed in 2010, gave the President the power to appoint and remove: the Chief Justice and judges of the Supreme Court; the President and judges of the Court of Appeal; the Attorney General and members of the Judicial Service Commission, which is the body responsible for appointments, transfers, dismissals and disciplinary control of judicial officers. In 2013, after the Supreme Court ruled against the government in several important cases, the Chief Justice was impeached by Parliament and then removed from office by the President, despite a Supreme Court decision that the impeachment was unconstitutional.

Discrimination – attacks on minorities

Discrimination against ethnic, linguistic and religious minorities, including members of Tamil, Muslim and Christian communities, continued. Minorities were singled out for arbitrary restrictions on freedoms of expression and association. Tamils, particularly those from the north of the country, were harassed, threatened and arrested by security forces which suspected them of sympathy or links with the LTTE, based largely on their ethnicity and place of origin or residence.

The army and police actively suppressed the rights of northern Tamils to advocate for justice publicly or to commemorate or mourn those killed in the armed conflict. Hindu and Christian religious observance was restricted in Tamil communities of northern Sri Lanka around key dates and the army’s requirement that all public gatherings, including family events, be reported to local military authorities discouraged participation in these activities.

Police failed to protect religious minorities when they faced violence by communal forces, and did not arrest perpetrators of such violence, even when there was photographic evidence to identify them. Threats, harassment and violence against Muslims, Christians and their places of worship escalated in 2014 when large-scale violence in a Muslim neighbourhood in June in Aluthgama resulted in deaths and injuries among residents and the destruction of homes and businesses.

  1. Activists in northern Sri Lanka at risk (ASA 37/006/2014) www.amnesty.org/en/library/info/ASA37/006/2014/en

https://www.amnesty.org/en/countries/asia-and-the-pacific/sri-lanka/report-sri-lanka/

Sri Lanka’s War Affected Women Call For Genuine Accountability Initiatives

by ‘Colombo Telegraph,’ February 12, 2015

133 war affected women and 20 organisations have today urged the new government to take immediate steps to address past violations and to initiate credible and independent investigations that lead to indictments and prosecutions of alleged perpetrators.

We publish below the statement in full;

We, as women impacted by war and ongoing post-war violence in Sri Lanka and working on issues of truth and justice, call upon the Government of President Maithripala Sirisena to take immediate steps to address past violations and to initiate credible and independent investigations that lead to indictments and prosecutions of alleged perpetrators. We make this call as women who have been directly impacted by the violence and witnessed numerous domestic initiatives including commissions of inquiry and other investigations that have not lead to holding perpetrators accountable.

A Sri Lankan Tamil woman holds a portrait of a missing relative

A Sri Lankan Tamil woman holds a portrait of a missing relative

In the context of decades of failed domestic processes, we reiterate the importance of the investigation being carried out under the auspices of the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights Investigation on Sri Lanka (OISL) established by resolution A/HRC/25/1 titled “Promoting reconciliation, accountability and human rights in Sri Lanka” which we believe is essential in the search for truth and justice in Sri Lanka. We take this opportunity to urge that the findings of the investigation be discussed at the forthcoming 28th Session of the UNHRC leading to a resolution providing a mandate for the High Commissioner to monitor the human rights situation as well as progress on how the findings and recommendations of the OISL inquiry are being addressed.

This appeal is made at a time when the Sirisena Government has promised investigations via credible domestic processes. There was also recognition of the past and the need for healing in its Declaration of Peace made at the 67th Independence Day celebration held on 4th February 2015. We sincerely hope this is a shift in policy in terms of recognizing the past and ending the silence and we take this opportunity to call on the Government to take a strong position in addressing truth and justice in Sri Lanka. While several officials of the new government have made statements regarding domestic accountability processes, there is no information publicly available as to what initiatives and modalities will be used to investigate and hold perpetrators to account. It is also uncertain as to the status of ongoing investigations including the Commission of Inquiry looking into missing persons appointed in August 2013. With its mandate expiries in February 2015, we fear that the over 20,000 complaints received so far will be unaddressed and no information will be publicly known regarding the status of cases. Although the commission has been critiqued for structural and practical flaws, thousands of families searching for missing loved ones went before it in search for answers and for justice. The fact that it may come to a sudden halt is of serious concern to us and makes a mockery of the families who have engaged in the hope for answers.

We also write this appeal at a time when reports suggest that there may be a deferral of the OISL report, with reports even suggesting that Sri Lanka maybe dropped from the agenda of the UNHRC. These are extremely disturbing when the situation in Sri Lanka is still uncertain including whether domestic processes will be credible and can deliver in terms of truth and justice. We say this having witnessed countless commissions and committees reportedly inquiring and investigating but a cloud of secrecy remains as to whether perpetrators were ever held to account. Victims, survivors and affected communities took significant risks by submitting evidence to the OISL in the hope of justice and accountability, a small glimmer of hope when all else had failed in Sri Lanka. We fear that a delay now in terms of the OISL is a denial of justice and a sign to perpetrators that impunity is acceptable.

The fact that thousands of women have gone before national commissions, committees and courts and appealed to international actors, including the United Nations Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances (UNWGEID), is indicative of the undeniable need to know what happened to loved ones and for justice. Despite numerous promises, no independent investigation into serious human rights violations in recent years has resulted in a successful prosecution and conviction of alleged perpetrators in Sri Lanka, a sign of the culture of impunity pervasive in post war Sri Lanka. We therefore call on the international community to engage and support Sri Lanka strive for truth and justice. A first step in this is to discuss the findings of the OISL findings in March 2015 and for UNHRC to provide a mandate for continuous monitoring of the human rights situation in Sri Lanka via the OHCHR. Another important step that can be sequenced is to support domestic credible processes. We believe these are both fundamental in the search for truth, justice and reconciliation in Sri Lanka. We therefore make the following demands from the Government of Sri Lanka and the international community.

To the Government of Sri Lanka

  • Constructively engage with the UNHRC and the OISL in terms of the present investigation and for a debate at the forthcoming UNHRC Session.
  • Initiate a credible domestic process that includes components of truth telling and trials. In light of the short comings of the present framework, initiate immediate legal and policy reform to introduce processes that are independent and impartial and have the necessary resources and expertise to carry out investigations and inquiries.
  • Introduce a victim and witness protection legislation and mechanism.
  • Facilitate the pending visits of UN Special Procedures including the UNWGEID
  • Initiate a comprehensive reparations program that addresses the grievances of affected communitiesTo the International Community
  • Table the OISL report and discuss Sri Lanka at the 28th Session of the UNHRC.
  • Pass a resolution at the 28th Session of the UNHRC which provides the High Commissioner the mandate to monitor progress of domestic initiatives in Sri Lanka and to annually report to the UNHRC.
  • The OHCHR should provide technical and other support to the Government of Sri Lanka in terms of moving forward with credible domestic processes.

Signatures: Individuals

  1. A. Arputhaseeli
  2. A. Mariyai
  3. A. Yogamma
  4. Ameena Rahman – Shirkat Gah, Pakistan
  5. Amie Joof – FAMEDEV – Inter-Africa Network for Women, Media, Gender andDevelopment (Le Réseau Inter Africain Des Femmes, Médias, Genre etDéveloppement), Dakar, Senegal
  6. Anoma Wijewardena
  7. Astou Nathalie – SIDIBE/Women Leaders for Sustainable Development Organisation/MALI
  8. Ayesha Imam – Nigeria
  9. Ayeshea Perera
  10. Azra Abdul Cader
  11. Bhavani Fonseka – Attorney-at-Law
  12. Caryl Tozer
  13. Cayathri D.
  14. Cecilia Milesi – Global Change, Argentina
  15. Charlotte Bunch – Rutgers University
  16. Charmaine Pereira – Nigeria
  17. Chulani Kodikara
  18. D. Selvarani
  19. Damaris Wickremesekera
  20. Diana Garcia – Claritas, Argentina
  21. Diana P. Quintero – Directora, GAPI (Grupo de Acciones Públicas de Icesi),Universidad Icesi de Cali – Colombia
  22. Donna Swita Hardiani – Solidaritas Perempuan (Woman’s Solidarity of HumanRights), Indonesia
  23. Dr. Joan Nyanyuki – Coalition on Violence Against Women, Kenya
  24. Dr. Selvy Thiruchandran
  25. E. Nirmala
  26. E. Puwaneswari
  27. E. Santhapillai
  28. E. Thiresa
  29. Edna Musu Jasst – Gambia Radio & Television Services
  30. Fahima Hashim – Salmmah Women Resource Centre, Sudan
  31. Faizun Zackariya – Citizens for Justice and Peace
  32. Fatima Allian – Nisa Ul Haqq fi Bangsamoro, Phillipines
  33. Fatou Sow – Senegalise Sociologist/Activist – WLUML
  34. Githanjali Amarasingham Algama
  35. Haddy Jonga – Gambia
  36. Hasina Khan – Muslim Women’s Right Network
  37. Jayanthi Kuru-Utumpala
  38. Jayasingam. T – Eastern University of Sri Lanka
  1. Jensila Majeed – Mullaitheevu
  2. Jeyantha G. Selvarasa – Mannar
  3. Jeyatheepa P. Morthy – Batticaloa
  4. Joyce Neu – Facilitating Peace, USA
  5. Juwairiya Mohindeen – Puttalam
  6. K. Kavitha
  7. K. Parvathi
  8. K. Pushpa
  9. K. Rajaledsumi – Batticaloa
  10. K. Sivaneswari
  11. Kalani Subasinghe
  12. Kalyani Ramnath – Princeton University
  13. Kamala Vasuki – Batticaloa
  14. Kanahalingam Vickneshwari
  15. Kanapathipillai Manonmani
  16. Kanthasamy Ponnamma
  17. Kanthasamy Thevi
  18. Kheloud El Sayed – Egypt
  19. Kim Thuy Seelinger, JD – Human Rights Center, University of California, Berkeley,School of Law
  20. Krishnapriya – Trincomalee
  21. Kuhanithi Kuhaneshan
  22. Kurushanthan Mahaluxmy – Mannar
  23. Lin Chew – Institute for Women’s Empowerment, Hongkong
  24. Lina Fernanda Buchely – Universidad Icesi, Cali – Colombia
  25. Luz Mendis – National Union of Guatemalan Women
  26. Lydia M. Muthiani – Deputy Executive Director/Programmes Manager, Coalition onViolence against Women (COVAW), Kenya
  27. M. Reeta
  28. M. Sebamalai
  29. M. Sumanavathi
  30. M. Thiresamma
  31. M. Uthaya Santhira
  32. M. Vimaladevi
  33. M.A. Johnpillai
  34. Mariam Kirollos – Egypt
  35. Mariana Ballestero – Executive Director, Vientos del Sur, Argentina
  36. Marieme Helie Lucas – Algerian Sociologist and Founder of WLUML
  37. Marisa de Silva
  38. Maryam Namazie – One Law for All and Fitnah – Movement for Women’s Liberation
  39. Monica Alfred
  40. Nadia El Fani – Tunisian Film Maker
  41. Najia Munira Akhunzada – South Asian Feminist Alliance, Afghanistan
  42. Nimalka Fernando – Women’s Political Academy
  43. Nishanthini G. Starlin – Mannar
  44. Olenka Ochoa – FEMUM- ALC Council Board Federation Mujeres & MunicipalidadesA. Latina y Caribe
  1. P. Francisca
  2. P. Manjula
  3. P. Periyaaththa
  4. P. Pushparani
  5. Paneerchelvam Pushparani
  6. Pragna Patel – Southall Black Sisters
  7. Priti Darooka – Executive Director, The Programme on Women’s Economic, Socialand Cultural Rights
  8. R. Mary Emakulet
  9. R. Subaletchumi
  10. Radha Paudel – Action Works Nepal
  11. Radhika Hettiarachchi
  12. Rajany Chandrasegaram – Jaffna
  13. Ramin Forghani – Founder, Ex-Muslims Scotland
  14. Rehana Wagh – Mauj Development Foundation, Pakistan
  15. Renu Alehendiram – Trincomalee
  16. Rev. Sr. Noel Christine Fernando – Sramabimani Sansadaya
  17. Rohana Jayaratne
  18. S. Bernabeth
  19. S. Mariya
  20. S. Nageswari
  21. S. Rajaluxmy – Mullaithivu
  22. S. Sri Tharuni – Batticaloa
  23. S. Subashini
  24. S. Thayarani – Trincomalee
  25. S. Thiresamma
  26. S. Victoriya
  27. S. Vijitha
  28. S. Vimalarani
  29. Sally Zohney – Egypt
  30. Saman Rizvi – Shirkat Gah, Pakistan
  31. Sandya Ekneligoda
  32. Sarjo Camara – President, Women Journalist’s Association, The Gambia
  33. Sebathian Mariya Jasintha
  34. Seynabou Male Cissé – Coordinatrice du CRSFPC/USOFORAL.wfd, Sénégal
  35. Shanmuganathan Maya Shanthi
  36. Sharmila Daluwatte – Women’s Alliance for Peace and Democracy
  37. Sherine Xavier
  38. Shreen Saroor
  39. Sugathini Theivendram – Killinochchi
  40. T. Mathuri – Attorney-at-Law
  41. Thirunawakkarasu Mangeleshwari
  42. Thiruni Kelegama
  43. V.V. Ganeshananthan
  44. Vanie Simon – Ampara
  45. Vanitha Mahendran – Vavuniya
  46. Venuri de Silva
  1. Visakha Tillekeratne – Citizens for a Secure Sri Lanka
  2. Yamini Ravindran – Attorney-at-law
  3. Yogarasa Kanaha Ranjani
  4. Zarina Salamath – Pakistani Peace Activist
  5. Zeinab Blandia (Ph.D) – Centre Reines Daura des Ressources pour la Promotion, le Développement et le Rayonnement de la Femme Nigérienne

Organizations

  1. Asian Federation Against Involuntary Disappearances (AFAD)
  2. Association for War Affected Women (AWAW)
  3. Association for Women’s Rights in Development (AWID)
  4. Association of Families Searching for their Disappeared Relatives, Vanni
  5. Association of Parents of Disappeared Persons (APDP) – Jammu and Kashmir
  6. GREFELS – Groupe de Recherche sur les Femmes et les Lois au Senegal
  7. International Relations Research Center (NUPRI/USP), University of Sao Paulo, Brazil
  8. Jaffna Women’s Action Network
  9. Jammu Kashmir Coalition of Civil Society
  10. Lanka Solidarity
  11. Mannar Citizen’s Committee (MCC)
  12. Mannar Women’s Development Federation
  13. Mothers and Daughters of Lanka
  14. Mulaitheevu Women’s Development Federation (MWDF)
  15. Muslim Women’s Development Trust (MWDT), Puttalam
  16. Non-Violent People’s Movement
  17. SAMADANA/M- Centre for Promoting Non-Violent Conflict Resolution, Handling andPeace Building
  18. Voluntary Service Development Organisation for Women, Trincomalee
  19. Women living under Muslim law
  20. Women’s Action Network (WAN), Sri Lanka