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Monday, February 26, 2024

CAT: SL responses just hit the tip of the iceberg, and left many questions answered – UN Rapporteur

Follow-Up Questions by Committee Experts to Sri Lankan Delegation
FELICE GAER, the Committee Expert who served as Rapporteur for the report of Sri Lanka, said that the delegation’s responses just hit the tip of the iceberg, and she was left with as many questions, if not more, than before.

The Human Rights Action Plan was an admirable initiative, especially as it engaged civil society, and the things presented in it were very impressive. It covered issues such as prevention, monitoring, tracking torture, impunity, special protection for women and children, restitution for victims of torture and establishing the Convention. Should it be implemented, members of civil society and victims of torture would be very pleased. However, Ms. Gaer said she looked closely at the discussion but did not find a single reference to prosecution.

The verbs used were ‘to train, strengthen, establish, create, assist’ etcetera. There were enough studies running to keep every lawyer in Sri Lanka busy. But there was no reference to investigating and prosecuting persons responsible for torture. States parties to the Convention were obliged to maintain prompt and impartial investigations whenever there were reasonable grounds to believe an act of torture had taken place – not just when a complaint had been made. Could the delegation comment on that central issue?

Would the State party publish a list of all persons in Government custody or detained? That included the 5,000 persons still missing, whose families had no idea where they were. The delegation may claim that publishing such a list was a privacy issue, but Ms. Gaer said it would clarify the whereabouts of those 5,000 persons. The delegation said that the secret detention facilities cited by Amnesty International did not exist. Would they undertake an impartial and independent investigation into allegations that secret detention facilities did exist?

There were concerns that allegations of sexual violence against women in Sri Lanka, at the end of the conflict, and done by the soldiers, had not been investigated. Furthermore in 2007, 114 members of a Sri Lankan battalion attached to the United Nations peacekeeping force in Haiti were accused of sexual exploitation of minors. One hundred and eight of those soldiers were repatriated to Sri Lanka on disciplinary grounds. The United Nations found that such acts were frequent, happened at night and those repatriated soldiers should be charged with rape. What charges were brought against those soldiers, where were the persons involved serving today, if at all?

The Committee asked about photo and video footage from the conflict depicting naked female bodies of women who had been members of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), which contained commentary from Sri Lankan soldiers that strongly inferred sexual violence had occurred before the women’s execution. The footage showed some bodies had mutilated sexual organs. That footage was published in a documentary by United Kingdom broadcaster Channel 4. Had any of those soldiers been prosecuted, suspended or even transferred? The Government may claim that the footage should not have been filmed in the first place, or published, but there should be an investigation.

Had there been any investigation into the so-called ‘grease devils’ cases, when in one instance over 100 young men were forcibly taken from their homes in the town of Puttalam and beaten, denied medical treatment and detained.

Yesterday the delegation said they were “with the Committee against Torture 110 per cent”, but were they 110 per cent behind their civil society when it exposed human rights violations and acts of torture?

ALESSIO BRUNI, Committee Expert who served as Co-Rapporteur for the report of Sri Lanka, said a large amount of information received concerned legal provisions, and only a small amount was about what happened in practice in the country. There was no doubt that legal and administrative measures existed to combat torture, but the reality seemed to be very different. The amount of allegations, coming from the most reliable sources, including United Nations sources, was impossible to ignore and meant that one could not say there was a real ‘zero tolerance policy’ in Sri Lanka.

Mr. Bruni said he had visited quite a few police stations and prisons in Sri Lanka, in a different capacity, so he had a visual picture of what they were. He corrected a detail about the Mount Laviniya Police Station, and said that he wanted to know what had been done.

He asked for clarification on whether statements made to the police were inadmissible in court, as if true that would be very frustrating to police who sometimes detained a person for 18 months of interrogation.

Mr. Bruni said it sounded like the rehabilitation camps were actually detention camps, and that saying former combatants were at ‘rehabilitation camps’ on a voluntary basis – as an option to standing trial – was mis-representing the term ‘voluntary’.

An Expert asked whether there was specific legislation for the treatment of stateless persons, and also what protection was given to migrant workers, particularly women working as domestic servants in the Gulf States. Those persons were often highly vulnerable and worked as indentured servants.

A Committee Expert observed that the delegation argued passionately that there was no need for a lawyer at a police station; however, a person should be able to access a lawyer from the outset to protect him or her from other forms of torture or ill-treatment.

OHCHR press release


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