Sri Lanka: 'Brutal torture', abduction of Tamils continued after 2009, says UN report

A United Nations committee has expressed concern that "white van" abductions and "brutal" torture of Tamils have continued in Sri Lanka even though more than seven years have passed since the civil war between the Sri Lankan government and the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) ended in the island nation.

The UN Committee Against Torture (CAT) that released its fifth periodic report on Sri Lanka on 7 December states that it has received information that numerous individuals suspected of having even a remote link with the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) have been abducted and then subjected to “brutal torture”, including sexual violence and rape.

“According to the information received, such practices are carried out by both military and police in unacknowledged places of detention, which have included law enforcement headquarters, army and IDP camps, and rehabilitation centres”, the report states.

 Sri Lanka: Brutal torture, abduction of Tamils continued after 2009, says UN report

Family members of people who disappeared during the war between government forces and Tamil Tiger guerrillas, protest against what they say are continued abductions, in front of the UN office in Colombo. Reuters

The committee also expressed “concern over credible reports” of so-called “white van” abductions of Tamils that has continued since the end of the civil war.

The OHCHR Investigation on Sri Lanka (OISL) has listed 48 sites that were torture centres or were used as transit points for torture centres between 2009 and 2015. The Sri Lankan government, however, denies the presence of any extant torture or detention sites.

The committee headed by Jens Modvig also said that it remains “seriously concerned” over reports of national and UN sources such as the UN special rapporteur's finding that “torture is a common practice carried out in relation to regular criminal investigations in a large majority of cases by the criminal investigation department of police” regardless of the nature of the suspected offence. The broad sweep of powers of the police in arresting people without a warrant has led to the practice of detaining persons while conducting investigations as a means to obtain information under duress.

Quoting the main findings of the OISL conducted for the period between 2002 and 2011 that said that the security forces committed widespread or systemic torture, enforced disappearances and human rights violations during and in the aftermath of the armed conflict, the UN committee is "seriously concerned" at the failure of the concerned government to undertake an institutional reform of the security sector.

The committee was also "alarmed" by the presence of Sisira Mendis, as part of the Sri Lankan delegation that interacted with CAT on the country’s torture review, since Mendis has been mentioned in the OICL’s scathing report on Sri Lanka. Mendis was the deputy inspector-general of the criminal investigations department from March 2008 to June 2009 where the fourth floor facility of the police headquarters in Colombo was a “notorious” site of torture.

Mendis was also the supervisory authority for other sites where there were allegations of torture against individuals. The state party did not answer questions related to Mendis and the subject of these torture sites during CAT’s interaction with the Sri Lankan delegation.

The committee also said that 90 percent of the convictions are based on confessions alone and in many cases individuals were forced to sign papers in a language they did not understand. It also cites the UN special rapporteur on torture’s findings that overcrowding in prisons goes beyond 200 percent.

The continued use of the "rehabilitation programme" under the emergency regulations for persons who surrendered to the army at the end of the conflict in 2009 remains a source of concern for the committee with regard to a lack of transparency for the criteria of selection, condition of detention and judicial oversight for the necessity and lawfulness of the confinement. There were recent allegations from credible sources of torture of persons under rehabilitation. This is over and above the OISL's report of torture at rehabilitation centres between 2002 and 2011.

The UN committee also noted that only 17 cases of torture have been filed under the Convention Against Torture Act since 2012 resulting in only two convictions suggesting that impunity prevails in most cases of torture by the state.

CAT, a body of ten independent experts drawn from across the world monitors the implementation of the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment by its state parties, reports to the OHCHR. It completed 59 sessions on 7 December after reviewing the torture records of and adopting recommendations for seven countries including Sri Lanka.

Updated Date: Dec 15, 2016 18:13:12 IST