Sun, Jul 16, 2017 - Page 4 News List

UN envoy criticizes Sri Lanka over its anti-terror methods

AP, COLOMBO

A visiting UN envoy said that torture remains “endemic and routine” in Sri Lanka’s counterterrorism methods and a number of people being detained without trial under a harsh anti-terror law is a stain on the nation’s international reputation.

UN special rapporteur on human rights and counterterrorism Ben Emmerson on Friday said at the end of a five-day visit to Sri Lanka that he is concerned that even those arrested as recently as late last year had been subjected to torture, despite a new government promising to end such practices.

The abuses continued even after Sri Lanka’s civil war ended in 2009 when government troops crushed ethnic Tamil rebels’ 26-year campaign for an independent state. Both sides were accused of serious human rights violations in the conflict.

“In Sri Lanka, however, such practices are very deeply ingrained in the security sector and all of the evidence points to the conclusion that the use of torture has been, and remains today, endemic and routine, for those arrested and detained on national security grounds,” Emmerson said.

The number of deaths in the conflict is not clear. A conservative UN estimate suggests 100,000 had died. A subsequent UN report said at least 40,000 Tamil civilians were killed in the final months of the fighting.

Emmerson said that he heard “distressing stories” during his interviews with former and current detainees under the Prevention of Terrorism Act.

They included asphyxiation using plastic bags drenched in kerosene, the pulling out of fingernails, the insertion of needles beneath the fingernails, the use of various forms of water torture, the suspension of individuals for several hours by their thumbs and the mutilation of genitals.

He said he obtained official figures that said 70 people detained under the terrorism act had been in detention for more than five years without trial, with 12 for more than 10 years.

“These staggering figures are a stain on Sri Lanka’s international reputation. Steps should be taken to release these individuals on bail immediately, or bring them to trial within weeks or months, not years or decades,” he said.

Sri Lanka was facing international sanctions for refusing to investigate allegations of human rights violations and war crimes.

However, the nation’s outlook changed after the election of Sri Lankan President Maithripala Sirisena, whose government in 2015 cosponsored a UN resolution promising to address the past and ensure accountability and reconciliation.

According to a report in March by the International Truth and Justice Project, 47 abuse victims who later fled abroad described being tortured at a Sri Lanka security forces’ headquarters.

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