The US State Department country report on human rights practices in Sri Lanka for last year was released on Friday.
According to the report, disappearances of persons continue to be reported, while an unknown number of former LTTE detainees were being held in custody, and cases of torture and illegal detention continued to be reported.
The report said an unknown number of unidentified detainees, estimated to be as high as 1,200, were thought to be held in police stations, the Criminal Investigation Division (CID), the Terrorist Investigation Department (TID, Army or paramilitary camps, and other informal detention facilities.
The report said that, according to human rights groups’ estimations, some 2,400 LTTE suspects were being held in regular detention centres.
Because of limited access to detainees, details about their treatment and whether such treatment met international standards were unavailable, the report said. However, independent observers who have met released persons saw no evidence of systematic torture or abuse, the report added.
While the Sri Lanka law provides for freedom of assembly, and the government has generally respected this right in practice, some restrictions exist, the report said, adding that the 2005 emergency regulations gave the President the power to restrict meetings, assemblies, and processions. While the law prohibits arbitrary arrest and detention, in practice such incidents have occurred, the report said, adding that the law did not clearly define what constituted arbitrary arrest. Data concerning arrests made during the year under emergency regulations were fragmentary and unreliable, it added.
The report claimed that a number of suspects detained by the Police or other security forces had died under questionable circumstances. The report listed instances of “arbitrary and unlawful killings.”
On May 23 last year, the Sri Lanka Police arrested Pattiyage Komako Lalan Peiris in what observers called a case of mistaken identity. Mr. Peiris was found dead the next morning, handcuffed to a table inside a police station cell. Police officials said the cause of death was a heart attack, but an autopsy revealed signs of torture.
On August 25, Jayasekara Arachchige Roshan Jayasekara was arrested near Kiribathgoda on a charge of stealing a mobile phone. A day later, Mr. Jayasekera’s body was brought to the local hospital by the Police. A post-mortem examination revealed multiple blunt-force trauma injuries.
A commission was set up under retired Supreme Court justice Mahanama Tillekeratne to investigate abductions, disappearances, killings, and unidentified bodies. The commission was to submit a final report to the President early in the year. It did submit an interim report to President Mahinda Rajapaksa in February.
The commission’s mandate ended on March 16, and there is no indication that a final report was given to the President. Referring to prison conditions, the report said Sri Lankan prisons were overcrowded and lacked sanitary facilities, and did not meet international standards.
Prisons designed to accommodate 10,000 inmates held an estimated 26,000 prisoners, 1,400 of whom were women, the report added. Lawyers who defended human rights cases were sometimes subject to physical and verbal threats, the report said.
There has been no progress in the investigation of a 2008 grenade attack on the home of human rights lawyer J. C. Weliamuna, who was the then director of Transparency International in the country. The report said the most prominent among political prisoners was main Opposition Presidential candidate and former Army Commander, Sarath Fonseka. Army Commander (Rtd.) Fonseka was detained on February 8 by the military, held in detention for the rest of the year, brought before several military courts martial and civil courts on various charges, and ultimately sentenced to 30 months in prison at hard labour.
The report also referred to the resettlement of internally displaced persons, among other issues.
(Visit full report )