UN watchdog concerned at the absence of means to deter HR abuses in Lanka

The UN Committee Against Torture (CAT) has expressed concern at the absence of an effective mechanism to ensure the protection of and assistance to witnesses and victims of human rights violations and abuses in Sri Lanka.

The Committee has observed that the absence of such laws has a negative impact on the willingness and ability of witnesses and victims to participate in investigations or to testify in proceedings. Sri Lanka was one of the countries the State report of which was taken up for consideration by CAT at the 47th session of the Committee held in Geneva from October 31 to November 25.

The Committee noted with concern that a Bill on witness and victim protection has been on the Parliamentary agenda since 2008 and reiterated its earlier recommendation that Sri Lanka should ensure that witnesses and victims of human rights violations are effectively protected and assisted, in particular by ensuring that perpetrators do not influence protection mechanisms and that they are held accountable.

CAT , one of the human rights bodies within the UN Human Rights Council (UNHRC) said that despite the end of the military conflict and the country’s public commitment to the Committee that has a zero-tolerance policy on torture as a matter of State policy and practice, the Committee remains seriously concerned about the continued and consistent allegations of widespread use of torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment of suspects in police custody, especially to extract confessions or information to be used in criminal proceedings.

The Committee said it is also concerned at reports that suggest that torture and ill-treatment perpetrated by State actors, both the military and the police, have continued in many parts of the country after the conflict ended in May 2009 and is still occurring in 2011, the concluding observations noted.

It called on the Government to take immediate and effective measures to investigate all acts of torture and ill-treatment and prosecute and punish those responsible with penalties that are consistent with the gravity of their acts.

The CAT also said that notwithstanding the statement of the Sri Lankan delegation categorically denying all allegations about the existence of unacknowledged detention facilities in its territory, the Committee is seriously concerned about reports received from non-governmental sources regarding secret detention centres run by the Sri Lankan military intelligence and paramilitary groups where enforced disappearances, torture and extrajudicial killings have allegedly been perpetrated.

The Committee also asked the government to act against enforced disappearances by ensuring that the cases of enforced disappearances are thoroughly and effectively investigated, that suspects are prosecuted and those found guilty punished with sanctions proportionate to the gravity of their crimes and those who have suffered harm as the direct result of an enforced disappearance have access to information about the fate of the disappeared person be adequately compensated.

The concluding remarks also called on the State to take all necessary measures to ensure that it’s legislative, administrative and other anti-terrorism measures are compatible with the provisions of the UN Convention against Torture.

The Committee also expressed concern at reports that human rights defenders, defence lawyers and other civil society actors, including political activists, trade unionists and independent media journalists have been singled out as targets of intimidation, harassment, including death threats and physical attacks and politically motivated charges.

The Committee inquired about several cases including the cases of journalists, such as Poddala Jayantha, Prageeth Ekneligoda and J. S. Tissainayagam, and lawyers, such as J.C. Welliamuna and Amitha Ariyaratne.

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