In this submission we have summarised the key findings of a review of 35 detailed medico-legal reports (MLRs) prepared by Freedom from Torture clinicians in relation to clients, most of whom are asylum seekers or refugees, who were tortured in Sri Lanka after the end of the of the civil war in May 2009.
Our forensic evidence demonstrates that, notwithstanding the formal conclusion of hostilities, Tamils with an actual or perceived association with the LTTE remain at particular risk of detention and torture.
The lack of due process reported in these cases combined with the acute scarring – often ‘diagnostic’, ‘typical’ or ‘highly consistent’ with the ascribed form of torture – evident in a high proportion of the cases is heavily suggestive of impunity for perpetrators of torture in Sri Lanka.
Moreover, these high levels of scarring could reflect a policy of permanently ‘branding’ victims not only to inflict long term psychological and physical damage but also to ensure that the individual may be easily identified in future as having been suspected of links to the LTTE. Given that release from detention in each case in this data set occurred only after payment of a bribe and was otherwise arbitrary, the implication is that those carrying such scars are at risk of detention and possible further torture if returned to Sri Lanka. Beyond the impact on the individual, these enduring signs of torture must be intended to send a signal to the wider Tamil community about the consequences of association with LTTE elements.
In light of the significant obstacles to securing documentation of torture from within Sri Lanka and the fact that our sample relies on the few survivors who have managed to flee to the UK, we have grave concerns that there are many other victims of torture who may still be in detention or for whom giving testimony of their experiences is deemed too unsafe or otherwise not possible. Moreover the testimony from the survivors whose MLRs we have reviewed suggests there is a significant number of different detention centres where torture has been perpetrated recently in Sri Lanka.
On these bases it is our view that the evidence contained in this submission is sufficiently serious to merit an urgent investigation by the Committee into whether torture is being ‘systematically practiced’ in the territory of Sri Lanka for the purposes of Article 20 of the UN Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment.
In 1998, Freedom from Torture (then still known as the Medical Foundation for the Care of Victims of Torture) submitted, along with four other London-based non-governmental organisations, information to the Committee which was considered ‘reliable and contained well-founded indications that torture was being systematically practiced in the territory of Sri Lanka’ and prompted an investigation by the Committee under Article 20 of the Convention. This investigation took place between April 1999 and May 2002.xix At the end of the investigation, the Committee concluded that ‘although a disturbing number of cases of torture and ill-treatment as defined by articles 1 and 16 of the Convention are taking place, mainly in connection with the internal armed conflict, its practice is not systematic,’xx and noted that in this light, ‘the recent developments, particularly the entry into force of the
ceasefire agreement on 23 February 2002 … effectively removes the conditions which have been identified by the Committee as a major cause for the prevalence of torture and other forms of ill-treatment’.
The fact that Sri Lanka is no longer in a state of internal armed conflict and that evidence contained in this submission demonstrates that torture is ongoing, makes a compelling case for opening a new Article 20 investigation.
For full report please see here