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Amnesty International Documents Sri Lanka’s Shameful Record on Detention Without Trial in New Report
WASHINGTON - March 13 - Hundreds of people languish in arbitrary, illegal and often incommunicado detention in Sri Lanka, vulnerable to torture and extrajudicial execution, despite the end of the country’s long conflict, Amnesty International said in a new report, launched today in Geneva.
The new report, Locked away: Sri Lanka’s security detainees, reveals that arbitrary and illegal detention and enforced disappearances remain routine in Sri Lanka, where human rights abuses are not investigated nor punished.
Counter-terrorism legislation allows authorities to arrest people without evidence and to hold them without charge or trial for extended periods. For years, the Sri Lankan government justified this legislation as necessary for combating the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE).
"If Sri Lanka is serious about moving from war to peace, it needs to ensure that the rule of law is not a matter of lip-service, but is the lifeblood of the nation’s justice system," said Suzanne Nossel, executive director at Amnesty International USA. "This report documents that the government persists in using the same unlawful tactics against individuals who dare to criticize them that were in place during the decades of conflict. Opponents are still being silenced through harassment – and even disappeared. The authorities must be held to account for their unlawful actions now and for the alleged war crimes of the past."
"The LTTE had a horrific record of abuse, including killing and imprisoning its critics, but that did not, and does not, excuse the widespread and systematic mistreatment of detainees by the Sri Lankan government," said Sam Zarifi, Amnesty International’s Asia-Pacific director. "The security regime that was a hallmark of war continues after the LTTE’s defeat – little has changed. Authorities take advantage of laws allowing them to imprison people for months or years, with no need for prosecution in a court of law."
Sri Lankan authorities detain those deemed to be threats to security such as suspected members of armed groups, but they also arrest their families and colleagues. Peaceful critics of the government, including journalists, have been subject to threats and arrest.
Reports of illegal detentions persist. Since October 2011, 32 people have been "abducted" or subjected to abduction-style arrests that may qualify as enforced disappearances. Many of these people are still missing.
Today many hundreds of Sri Lankan security detainees remain in facilities ranging from prisons to "rehabilitation" camps. The country has no central registry of detainees, making it difficult to gain information on those still detained.
According to witnesses, when the Sri Lankan government defeated the LTTE in May 2009, the army called anyone who had spent "even a day" with the LTTE to voluntarily "surrender" for "rehabilitation." Many "surrendees" were indefinitely detained, some were tortured.
Many people detained or "rehabilitated" were held without charge or trial for years, some with no access to legal counsel or family. People released from detention have remained under surveillance by intelligence forces.
Former detainees have been harassed and rearrested, and physically attacked. Killings and enforced disappearances of newly released detainees have also been reported. Sri Lanka’s constitution prohibits arbitrary detention and torture, in line with international law.