Statements in the UN on Torture in Sri Lanka
March 13th, 2008
Extracts from statement by the Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances
Disappearances are currently a global problem. Today disappearances are current in countries suffering from internal conflicts such as Colombia, Nepal, the Philippines, the Russian Federation and Sri Lanka.
In the context of internal armed conflict we have received information that opposition forces have perpetrated acts that are analogous to disappearances such as in the case of Colombia, Nepal, the Russian Federation and Sri Lanka. Although our mandate is limited to violations carried out by state agents or other non state actors acting with the consent or acquiescence of the state the Working Group condemns the practice of acts analogous to enforced disappearance irrespective of who the perpetrators may be.
The Working Group is also concerned at the increasing number of reported cases of disappearances in Sri Lanka. As a result the Working Group sent a request in October 2006 for an invitation to be extended for a visit to that country in early 2007. However, the Government responded that it would not be possible for the visit to take place at that time. The Working Group hopes to meet with the delegation of Sri Lanka during this session and invites the government to issue an invitation for a visit by the Working Group as soon as possible.
Extract from statement by Manfred Novak the Special Rapporteur on torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment
I also undertook a visit to Sri Lanka in October 2007. I have full appreciation for the challenges faced by the Government in relation to the violent and long lasting conflict with the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam. However since the Government did not allow me to travel to LTTE controlled areas I cannot report on the situation with regard to torture and ill treatment by LTTE in this region of the Island.
The Sri Lankan Government has taken a number of important legal steps in order to prevent and combat torture as well as to hold perpetrators accountable such as the enactment of the Torture Act 1994 and the Corporal Punishment Act of 2005.
Nevertheless I came to the conclusion that the current legal system cannot be regarded as fully effective. The high number of successful fundamental rights cases decided by the Supreme Court of Sri Lanka and the even higher number of complaints received by the national Human Rights Commission indicate that torture is still widely practiced.
While I received only a comparatively low number of torture allegations from detainees suspected of ordinary crimes, in the context of detentions under the Emergency Regulations, in particular with respect to LTTE suspects, the clear majority of detainees complained of having been subject to torture and ill treatment by the police and/or the Army.
I was shocked by the brutality of some of the torture methods which included burning with soldering irons and suspension by the thumbs.
With regard to prisons, I am concerned about the high number of complaints of corporal punishment I received and about conditions of detention in severely over crowed and antiquated institutions. In police stations, detention under the Emergency Regulations for periods of several months up to one year in cells not intended to be used for such prolonged detention amounts to inhuman treatment.
Third I found that under the Emergency Regulations most of the safeguards against torture either do not apply or are simply disregarded. This opens the door for abuse of detainees and lead to a situation in which torture becomes a routine practice in the context of counter terrorism operations.
Finally, I wish to express my concern about the reported collaboration between the Government and the TMVP-Karuna Group which was confirmed by a representative I met during my visit in Trincomalee. This group, whose leader Colonel Karuna is currently detained in the United Kingdom, has been accused of particularly brutal human rights abuses in Sri Lanka such as torture, summary executions and recruitment of children.
Extract from statement by Australia
In particular, Australia is concerned at continued reports of widespread forced disappearances in Sri Lanka, with more than 5,000 outstanding cases reported.
We strongly encourage the Sri Lankan Government to act to ensure the alleged perpetrators of such serious crimes, from all parties to the conflict, are brought to justice swiftly.
We would also encourage the Sri Lankan Government to schedule a visit by the Working Group, which was unable to go ahead during 2007 due to visits by other special rapporteurs.
Extract from the statement by Switzerland
Switzerland is also grateful to you for your mission report on your mission to Sri Lanka and the many recommendations you make in it. Your report which takes into account some positive developments concludes nevertheless that torture is widespread in Sri Lanka and is linked to the conflict and it is practiced both by the Government of Sri Lanka and by non government armed forces, Group/TMVP the LTTE and the Karuna Faction and the LTTE. Switzerland greatly regrets the fact that you were unable to go to the areas controlled by the LTTE which would enabled you to give a better report to the Council on violations perpetrated by the LTTE.
Switzerland believes that the fight against impunity is a priority and we have therefore taken note of your comment in paragraph 16 of your report on Colonel Karuna and the deals that have been made to prosecute him under universal jurisdiction for war crimes including for the recruitment of children, for summary executions and for torture.
Could you perhaps give us additional comments on this particular case. Could you in particular comment on universal jurisdiction when it comes to cases of torture.
(Statements during the interactive dialogue with the Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances and Special Rapporteur on torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment, 10 and 11 March 2008)
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