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Sri Lanka’s New Parliament Must Drop Emergency Laws

LONDON - Sri Lanka’s first post-war parliament
must get rid of draconian emergency laws that have allowed for decades
of widespread human rights abuses, Amnesty International said today.  

Ahead of the first sitting of Sri Lanka’s first post-war parliament
on 22 April, Amnesty International is calling on Sri Lanka to lift the
State of Emergency that has been in force almost continuously since
1971, and to abolish the Prevention of Terrorism Act and other
associated emergency security laws and regulations, replacing them with
human rights-friendly laws.

The emergency laws grant state authorities sweeping powers of
detention and permit the use of secret prisons, a practice that
encourages human rights abuses like enforced disappearances, torture
and death in custody, which could constitute crimes under international
law. In the last thirty years, thousands of Sri Lankans have spent
years in detention without trial.

Over the past year, the government has increasingly used these laws
to crack down on journalists, political opponents, and trade unionists.

“Sri Lanka must repeal these laws and end impunity for human rights
violations if it wants to move forward,” said Madhu Malhotra, Amnesty
International’s Asia-Pacific Deputy Director.  “The Prevention of
Terrorism Act, the Public Security Ordinance and other emergency
provisions in Sri Lanka enable security forces to systematically
violate human rights.”

Since the war with the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) ended
almost a year ago, Sri Lankan legislators have continued to extend the
State of Emergency on a monthly basis. Successive governments have
ignored calls for repeal of the Prevention of Terrorism Act.

“The war is over. Perpetuation of the emergency is now just being
used as a weapon against political opposition, and as a quick fix for
poor law enforcement practices and a dysfunctional justice system,”
said Madhu Malhotra.

Amnesty International is calling on the new parliament to press for
the release of people detained under Sri Lanka’s emergency laws unless
they are charged with an internationally recognized criminal offence,
and are tried in regular civilian courts to international standards for
fair trial.


The emergency laws reverse the burden of proof when it is alleged
that police obtained confessions under torture. The Public Security
Ordinance, Prevention of Terrorism Act and emergency regulations also
shield officials from prosecution for actions taken under these laws,
provided they acted “in good faith”.

In July 2006 President Rajapaksa issued directives to the security
forces aimed at protecting the human rights of persons who had been
arrested or detained. Although the emergency regulations do not require
the government to publish places of detention, the President ordered
that a person under arrest be “afforded reasonable means of
communicating with a relative or friend to enable his whereabouts being
known to his family"; for the Sri Lankan Human Rights Commission to be
informed of the arrest and the place of detention in each case within
48 hours, and for Commission members to visit those arrested. 

These safeguards were never effectively implemented.

Beyond concerns about the nature of legislation and the government’s
failure to rectify shortcomings, Amnesty International is concerned
that the security forces have used the general threat of their wide
ranging powers under the emergency laws to intimidate people.  Because
they provide for vaguely and broadly defined offences such as
“terrorism,” the emergency laws have also been used to restrict freedom
of expression and association, increase pressure on human rights
activists, journalists, trade unionists and others holding dissenting



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