LTTE, Govt. under fire for rights abuses
By Dilmini Samaranayake
The US-based Human Rights Watch (HRW) said Sri Lanka's human rights situation plummeted last year with killings - particularly those opposed to the LTTE - reaching an alarming proportion.

The HRW said the spate of killings blamed on the Tigers reached "an alarming rate of one per day," by June 2005. Since the February 2002 cease-fire agreement between the Government and Tamil Tiger rebels, at least 200 Tamils have been killed for political reasons, it noted.

"Most of the killings have been attributed to the LTTE," the rights group said in its World Report for 2006 released on Wednesday."Tamil Tigers continued to assassinate political opponents with complete impunity," it said.

The HRW observed that "sectarian interests hijacked aid distribution mechanisms," to those affected by both the war and the 2004 tsunami in Sri Lanka's north and east, that "wrought tremendous destruction”.

It also accused the rebels of continuing to recruit children into its ranks despite repeated pledges to halt the practice. Recruitment rates dropped during the first half of 2005 following the Indian-ocean tsunami, but "increased significantly in mid-2005," the report said, citing numerous reports of child recruitment taking place at temple festivals in eastern Sri Lanka.

Some 483 cases of child recruitment were recorded by the United Nations children's agency, although the actual figure is believed to be much higher, the report said.

The HRW report also berated Sri Lanka's police force for continued acts of torture and the impunity with which it functions. Despite attempts at reform urged by the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) and the Police Commission in 2003, including ensuring that families and lawyers have access to detainees and holding officers in command responsible for torture in their stations, abuses continued, the report noted.

The NHRC reported at least 19 cases of death in custody, while police torture continued to be reported. The HRW also accused the police of torturing children and cited a case of an 11-year-old boy accused of stealing money, beaten and sexually tortured in the Kahawatte police station. "While some cases of deaths in custody and torture have been investigated, no one has been prosecuted or punished as yet," the report said, criticizing the impunity with which the police continue to function.

Sri Lanka was named among other Asian nations noted for human rights violations - Nepal, Cambodia, Thailand, Bangladesh and China - where the HRW said "respect for human rights has been seriously eroded”.

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