Sri Lanka is not credibly investigating torture, Amnesty International said on the eve of a review by the UN Committee Against Torture into the country.
In its briefing to the UN committee, Amnesty International, working closely with Sri Lankan human rights defenders, documented a persistent pattern of torture of detainees and a culture of impunity in Sri Lanka.
“There is no longer an independently functioning unit investigating torture allegations levelled against the security forces, which calls into question Sri Lanka’s commitment to ending this abhorrent practice,” said Yolanda Foster, Amnesty International’s Sri Lanka expert.
“It’s not enough to have legislation if you have no effective means of implementing it. Although Sri Lanka has a law against torture, in effect it is treated as little more than a piece of paper, as Sri Lankan colleagues have pointed out,” she said.
During the first 14 years of the anti-torture legislation, only three prosecutions were reportedly made under the Special Investigation Unit of the police, which has since been sidelined.
In 2008, the government said that in the previous four years, there had been 42 indictments against 90 people as a result of investigations into allegations of torture. An additional 31 torture cases were sent to the police to start action in the Magistrate’s Court. Most of these cases, however, never went to trial.
Torture is carried out by police, inmates and prison guards. Detainees are also routinely tortured and beaten by military personnel and paramilitary units working with government forces, such as the army and navy.
Women’s rights activists have repeatedly expressed concern to Amnesty International that gender-based violence, including violence amounting to torture is not taken seriously by Sri Lankan authorities. Sexual violence is highly under-reported and where it is reported, poorly investigated, the activists say.
Enforced disappearances continue to be reported, and bodies of victims of extrajudicial killings have shown evidence of torture.
Individuals detained on suspicion of links to the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), have also been victims of torture. Sri Lankan detainees have been held arbitrarily for prolonged periods, sometimes years, without charge. Many have been arrested and detained on suspicion of links to the LTTE pending investigation and interrogation by Sri Lanka’s intelligence and security forces, or for “rehabilitation.” People alleged to be involved with the LTTE are rarely brought to trial. Most of these detainees are eventually released for lack of evidence.
Criminal suspects are also subjected to torture. In October 2011, Lalith Susantha, a suspect arrested in connection with the death of a policeman drowned in Bolgada Lake near Colombo, after police officers allegedly took him by boat to an island in the lake to reveal the location of weapons used in the murder.
“Sri Lanka must immediately begin a complete overhaul of its criminal justice system and guarantee prompt and fair investigation of any allegations of torture,” said Yolanda Foster.
“Prosecutions of security agents suspected of torture must be carried out as a matter of urgency,” she added.