Sri Lanka must stop making empty promises to the international community and the Sri Lankan people on improving the country’s still desperate human rights situation, Amnesty International said ahead of a UN review of the country’s rights record.
The UN Human Rights Committee (HRC) in Geneva, Switzerland, will on 7 and 8 October 2014 be reviewing Sri Lanka’s respect for rights enshrined in the key human rights treaty: the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR). This is the first such assessment since 2003.
“More than a decade since the last Committee review of Sri Lanka’s record in 2002, it’s disturbing to see how many rights issues raised then still persist in the country – and how the government has ignored promises to address them. Sri Lanka still relies on draconian laws to silence dissent. Torture and enforced disappearances continue unchecked, as do violations of freedom of expression and association. On top of that, Sri Lankan authorities must now answer for escalating attacks against religious minorities,” said David Griffiths, Amnesty International’s Deputy Asia-Pacific Director.
“The Sri Lankan authorities have promised time and time again to tackle pressing human rights issues but almost never follow through. The Committee review is an opportunity for the international community to highlight this disconnect, and push the government to take genuine action.”
Major changes have occurred in the nature and scale of human rights abuses in Sri Lanka since the last review in 2002. The country transitioned from a lengthy cease-fire to intensive armed conflict with the Tamil Tigers (LTTE). Since fighting ended in 2009, the post conflict period continues to be marked by serious violations of human rights.
As Amnesty International highlights in its submission to the HRC, the Sri Lankan government continues to use the Prevention of Terrorism Act (PTA) to arrest and detain people without due process and silence dissent. The Act has contributed to the persistence of torture and ill-treatment in custody and should be repealed.
At the same time, the government of President Mahinda Rajapaksa has used the 18th amendment to Sri Lanka’s constitution to consolidate power by undermining the independence of the judiciary and key bodies critical to the protection of human rights – including the National Human Rights Commission.
“The 18th amendment must be repealed. It has eliminated checks on executive power and left key institutions effectively toothless and subject to the whims of the president,” said David Griffiths.
Despite official denials and promises to improve the situation at Sri Lanka’s last HRC review, endemic torture and other ill-treatment is persistent in Sri Lankan detention centres. Amnesty International has received numerous reports of former detainees alleging torture, sometimes sexual, in detention centres run by police, the army or intelligence services.
The Sri Lankan government has denied the routine use of torture in the country, and has refused to investigate the widespread reports of the practice or to hold those responsible to account.