Report of Special Rapporteur on Torture by UN Special Rapporteur on torture, Geneva, December 22, 2016

SR Torture report on visit to Sri Lanka

Conclusions

109. The issue of torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment is part of the legacy of the country’s armed conflict, and one of the reasons why the citizens of Sri Lanka continue to live without minimal guarantees of protection against the power of the State, in particular its security forces.

110. Torture and ill-treatment, including of a sexual nature, still occur, in particular in the early stages of arrest and interrogation, often for the purpose of eliciting confessions. The gravity of the mistreatment inflicted increases for those who are perceived to be involved in terrorism or offences against national security. The police resort to forceful extraction of information or coerced confessions rather than carrying out thorough investigations using scientific methods.

111. Procedural norms that entrust the police with full investigative powers over all criminal cases and, in the case of the Prevention of Terrorism Act, allow for prolonged arbitrary detention without trial are firmly in place. This enables an “open door policy” for police investigators to use torture and ill-treatment as a routine method of work. The result is that cases, old and new, continue to be surrounded by total impunity.

112. Conditions of detention amount to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment owing to severe overcrowding, insufficient ventilation, excessive heat and humidity, and the denial of adequate access to health care, education, vocational training and recreational activities.

113. The current legal framework and the lack of reform within the structures of the armed forces, the police, the Office of the Attorney-General and the judiciary perpetuate the risk of torture. Sri Lanka needs urgent and comprehensive measures to ensure structural reform in these institutions to eliminate torture and ensure that all authorities comply with international standards. A piecemeal approach is incompatible with the soon-to-be-launched transitional justice process and could undermine it before it really begins.

114. The establishment of a transitional justice mechanism is an important aspect of the reform process in Sri Lanka and may contribute to the elimination of torture and provide for reparations. To be effective, it must be implemented in good faith and trusted by victims and other stakeholders. Without this, there will be lack of confidence in the transitional justice system.

Hunger Strikers in Sri Lanka Demand Answers ‘Give us our children back’

by Dharisha Bastians & Geeta Anand, ‘The New York Times,’ January 26, 2017

COLOMBO, Sri Lanka — Seated on a platform outside a regional post office in Sri Lanka’s former war zone, about 150 miles north of the capital, Colombo, a mother whose son has been missing for seven years sobbed as she spoke.

“All we are asking for is for them to give us our children back. They took my child,” the aggrieved mother, Sangarappillai Vanalochini, said in an interview widely viewed on television and social media in Sri Lanka this week.

For four days, Ms. Vanalochini has refused food and water, joining 13 other people on a hunger strike in the northern town of Vavuniya, only a few miles away from the center of some of the most brutal fighting during Sri Lanka’s 26-year civil war, which ended in 2009.

She and the others fasting are trying to force the government to investigate what happened to family members who disappeared during the conflict in which Tamil Tiger rebels fought for a separate state for the Tamil minority in the island nation’s north and east.

The condition of the hunger strikers grew so grave on Thursday that Sri Lanka’s state defense minister, Ruwan Wijewardene, flew from the capital to meet them. The strikers agreed on Thursday evening to call off their fast after he promised in writing to ensure “a proper response on Feb. 9 through a meeting between the families of the disappeared and a delegation of government ministers and officials at the office of the prime minister,” said Ruki Fernando, an activist who has been in regular contact with the families.

If the response is not satisfactory at that meeting, “the families have said they will restart a larger fast unto death,” he said. The state defense minister could not immediately be reached for comment.

The government under the former president, Mahinda Rajapaksa, defeated the Tamil rebels, ending the civil war in a surge of violence. Amnesty International estimates that 60,000 to 100,000 people are still missing from two communist insurgencies and the long war with the Tamil Tiger rebels.

The current president, Maithripala Sirisena, was elected to office in a stunning upset in 2015, to a great extent on the promise of promoting justice and reconciliation, including an investigation into the disappearances during the war. But little progress has been made in the two years since he took office.

Human rights groups say that many of the thousands who disappeared were abducted by military units and paramilitary groups, while some who surrendered to government forces at the end of the conflict never came home.

Canagasabapathy Viswa-lingam Wigneswaran, the chief minister for the Tamil-majority Northern Province, said in a letter to Mr. Sirisena this week that the Tamil people had placed “tremendous expectations and hope” in Mr. Sirisena in 2015 and helped to elect him to office.

“Those hopes seem to be eroding in recent times,” he said in the letter.

A Tamil member of Parliament, S. Sivamohan, said that Tamils had grown increasingly frustrated at the lack of progress. He noted that the Sirisena government passed a law to set up a permanent office last August to investigate disappearances. But six months later, the office has yet to be constituted.

“All the initiatives of the government remain on paper, there has been nothing evident in practice,” Dr. Sivamohan said.

A spokesman for Mr. Sirisena declined to comment.

Mr. Fernando, the activist, said that the strikers had expressed deep frustration at the beginning of their fast, and that years of protests, petitions, complaints and testimony had yielded nothing.

“If the government is serious about postwar reconciliation, it’s time to move beyond rhetoric,” he said.

Follow Geeta Anand on Twitter @GOAnand.

ICJ: Implement Task Force Recommendations to Deliver Justice

by International Commission of Jurists, Geneva, January 19, 2017

The Sri Lankan government must deliver on the clear demand for justice from Sri Lankans nationwide by implementing the Consultation Task Force recommendations without further delay, the ICJ said today.

Among these recommendations, the calls for a special court with international judges and a bar against amnesties for crimes under international law are of particular importance, the ICJ added.

The Consultation Task Force on Reconciliation Mechanisms (CTF), a panel of 11 independent eminent persons appointed by Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe in January 2016, publicly released its final report on 3 January 2017.

The report, reflecting the views of people across the country gathered through island-wide public consultations on transitional justice, highlights the lack of public confidence in the justice system’s capacity and will to deliver justice for victims of Sri Lanka’s nearly 30-year armed conflict that ended in 2009.

“The CTF report highlights a widespread lack of trust among Sri Lankans across the country, regardless of region, ethnicity, religion or language, in the ability of the criminal justice system in its current form to address serious human rights abuses stemming from the conflict,” said Nikhil Narayan, the ICJ’s South Asia senior legal adviser.

The report also calls upon the Government of Sri Lanka to take necessary steps to ensure a credible transitional justice process in line with the October 2015 UN Human Rights Council resolution 30/1 that it co-sponsored.

“If the Sri Lankan government wants to restore public confidence in the system, it must seriously consider victims’ voices and implement the CTF recommendations on truth, justice and reparation consistent with the commitments it voluntary undertook at the Human Rights Council,” Narayan added.

Importantly, the CTF report reiterates the commitments pledged in HRC resolution 30/1, calling for active international participation in a special judicial mechanism established to deal with accountability for human rights abuses committed during the conflict by both sides, and for a bar against amnesties for international crimes.

According to the ICJ, the Sri Lankan government took an important first step towards reconciliation when it adopted the UN resolution and later established the CTF to carry out public consultations to hear a cross section of voices on transitional justice.

“Unfortunately, since then, it has been disappointing in its lack of urgency in implementing much of those stated promises and in its apparent disregard for the CTF recommendations,” Narayan said.

Several members of the government have dismissed the CTF’s recommendations, especially with regard to the inclusion of at least one international judge on every bench of the special judicial mechanism.

The Minister of Foreign Affairs recently spoke of the need for “an independent and credible domestic mechanism” without alluding to any international participation, as has been reiterated by those seeking redress as a crucial element to ensure faith in the justice mechanism.

The ICJ has in the past highlighted Sri Lanka’s culture of impunity in the justice system looking at a number of emblematic cases, and called into question the State’s capacity and political will to use the criminal justice system and other ad-hoc measures to deliver justice and accountability to victims and survivors of serious human rights abuses.

“As the situation of Sri Lanka comes before the UN Human Rights Council again this March, the Sri Lankan government is in a position to demonstrate both to the UN Member States but more importantly to its own people at home its seriousness in pursuing truth, justice, reparation and non-recurrence for conflict victims who have been waiting for justice for decades. It must seize this opportunity before it is one more of many missed opportunities,” Narayan added.

Contact:

Nikhil Narayan, ICJ South Asia senior legal adviser, t: +91-8939325204 (Chennai); +94-758898067 (Sri Lanka); +1-562-261-3770 (Whatsapp) ; e: nikhil.narayan(a)icj.org

Download the full text with additional background info, in PDF:
Sri Lanka-CTF recommendations-News-Press release-2016-ENG

Sri Lanka: implement Task Force recommendations to deliver justice for victims of human rights abuse

Amnesty: Refusing to Disappear Tens of thousands missing, families demand answers

by Amnesty International, London, January 23, 2017 Index number: ASA 37/5497/2017

As any family member searching for a missing loved one can tell you, enforced disappearance is a crime without end. Until parents, wives, siblings, and children know the truth about the fate of a missing family member, they can find it almost impossible to seek justice and reparation for crimes they have suffered, and cannot properly mourn their loss.

Enforced Disappearance has touched every community, and within Sri Lanka there has been virtually no accountability for these grievous crimes. With a backlog of between 60,000 and 100,000 alleged enforced disappearances since the late 1980s, there is no shortage of examples of frustrated justice. And yet, family members of the disappeared continue to demand accountability. Their experiences illustrate the impact of these crimes and demonstrate the burden placed on those – particularly women – seeking accountability and the lengths to which some families have gone to get attention to their demands. This includes braving very serious threats of retaliation for their activism. Families of the disappeared know what they want and what they need. It is up to Sri Lanka’s decision makers to hear their demands and to implement them. If Sri Lanka is to succeed in pulling away from its violent past, policymakers must prioritize victims so they take their rightful place at the center of the process. It should act on the demands of victims’ families to criminalise enforced disappearances under Sri Lankan law, and act decisively to protect those who make complaints.

It will be a long, difficult road, and navigating it will take great courage. But it is not a road Sri Lanka has to travel alone. Amnesty International urges Sri Lanka to seek and accept international assistance where it is needed, so that all Sri Lankans can finally learn the truth.

Full report at https://www.amnesty.org/en/documents/asa37/5497/2017/en/ and Amnesty Refusing to Disappear ASA3754972017
(Download PDF)

HRW: Adopt Task Force’s Justice Proposals Consultations Highlight Broad Accountability Concerns

by Human Rights Watch, New York, January 11, 2016

Sri Lanka’s government should promptly implement recommendations on transitional justice proposed by the Consultation Task Force (CTF) in a report released on January 3, 2017, Human Rights Watch said today. The report reflects the first broad survey of Sri Lankan citizens on their aspirations for truth and justice, as called for by the October 2015 resolution of the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC).

Key among the task force’s recommendations is the creation of a war crimes court comprised of both international and national judges and other officials, with no time limit on its jurisdiction. Support for this court included ethnic Sinhalese, whose population suffered thousands of enforced disappearances three decades ago for which there has been no accountability. The task force also recommended a countrywide response to disappearances, financial and symbolic reparations, a constitutional and political settlement, resolution of longstanding land disputes, and attention to psychosocial needs.

“The task force report is remarkably comprehensive and clear in setting out the concerns and needs expressed by Sri Lankans across all communities on the transitional justice process,” said Brad Adams, Asia director. “The government should now own the report’s recommendations and set out a framework for putting them into action, in line with its pledges at the Human Rights Council.”

The Consultation Task Force was formally appointed in February 2016, and began receiving submissions in April 2016 on the proposed mechanisms outlined in Human Rights Council Resolution 30/1, in which the government promised to deliver justice, accountability, and reconciliation in the aftermath of Sri Lanka’s 26-year-long civil war. The task force, aided by civil society representatives, received 7,306 submissions from the Sinhalese, Tamil, Muslim, and other communities, as well as the security services during the course of their hearings.

The CTF concluded its consultations in August 2016. The task force reported that there had been no government interference or attempts to impede their work, and that the report reflected the views of all 11 members. In a news conference held after the report’s release, CTF members noted that concerns about justice and accountability were raised both in the country’s north and south by many in all communities.

Sri Lankan governments have avoided addressing wartime accountability despite credible reports of thousands of enforced disappearances, extrajudicial executions, torture, and sexual violence committed by both government forces and the secessionist Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE). A new government, elected in January 2015, undertook a more conciliatory approach to domestic and international efforts to address the matter, and in October 2015 agreed at the Human Rights Council to establish at least four mechanisms on transitional justice, of which the consultations were part.

Sri Lanka is on the March 2017 agenda of the Human Rights Council, where High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein is expected to report on Sri Lanka’s compliance with the resolution.

The government should recognize that its commitments were not only to concerned governments in Geneva, but to its own citizens seeking justice and reconciliation after a terrible war.
Brad Adams
Asia Director

This will include the government’s willingness to promptly implement the CTF report recommendations. However, the immediate response by senior officials has been disappointing. Justice Minister Wijedasa Rajapaksa and Health Minister Rajitha Senaratne both separately ruled out the participation of foreign nationals on the special court, while Finance Minister Lakshman Yapa Abeywardene said that President Maithripala Sirisena rejected the inclusion of foreign judges and would not allow the government to prosecute “war heroes.” The cabinet spokesperson claimed that Al Hussein had agreed that there should be no foreign involvement in the court during a previous meeting – a claim that Al Hussein himself immediately rejected.

The report recommendations also contain important confidence-building measures that the government could adopt immediately. These include a robust victim-witness protection law, meaningful outreach by the government across all communities, symbolic gestures to allow public grieving and memorialization, and a minority rights commission.

“The Sri Lankan government took the bold step of agreeing to a multi-ethnic task force for broad consultations on transitional justice,” Adams said. “Now that the task force has listened to the country, it’s crucial that the government doesn’t drop its key recommendations. The government should recognize that its commitments were not only to concerned governments in Geneva, but to its own citizens seeking justice and reconciliation after a terrible war.”

https://www.hrw.org/news/2017/01/11/sri-lanka-adopt-task-forces-justice-proposals