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UN workers in Sri Lanka examined for signs of torture – radioaustralia

[MISC, Monday, 20 July 2009 14:53 No Comment]

Sri Lanka’s Supreme Court has ordered two local United Nations workers be examined for signs of torture .

The men’s lawyer says the two were abducted by government forces in June.

Presenter: Claudette Werden

Speakers: Dr Politha Kohona, Permanent Secretary to Sri Lanka’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs; K.S. Ratnavale Lawyer; Bhavani Fonseka, Researcher Centre for Policy Alternatives

WERDEN: The two men in detention are a 45 year old employee of the UNHCR and a 31 year old man employed by the UN Office for Project Services.

Their lawyer K.S. Ratnavale says his clients after being abducted in June, were threatened with death if they didn’t identify members of the rebel LTTE or Tamil Tigers when taken to Tamil refugee displacement camps and also offices of the UNHCR and NGO’s including Oxfam. The government run camps were established during Sri lanka’s 25 year separatist war which ended in May this year.

ATNAVALE: Out of pressure and possible threat of torture they might have been

WERDEN: So the government is alleging they are members of the Tamil Tigers?

ATNAVALE: Well that seems to be their position, it was orally stated in court.

WERDEN: Sri Lanka’s Centre for Policy Alternatives, an independent think tank says the case highlight’s huge flaws in the country’s legal system where due process is not being followed and police and other government agencies are taking the law into their own hands.

FONSEKA: If they are charged again due process should be followed where charges are served on them, detention orders are make transparent and people are informed as to why they’re being held none of this has happened in this case.

WERDEN: CPA Researcher Bhavani Fonseka who says the case is not an isolated one.

FONSEKA: Some of the reports produced for international organisations such as Amnesty and Human Rights Watch, the International Crisis Group points to the breakdown of the rule of law and culture of impunity and it’s a continuing trend we see because there seems to be no genuine interest by the government to address these problems.

WERDEN: But government spokesman Dr Palitha Kohona denies there is a systemic practice of torture in Sri Lanka and he says identifying Tamil Tiger rebels inside the displacement camps is a priority.

KOHONA: Anybody can make allegations of this nature, you have to remember there are 287-thousand people in these camps. We have already identified 9-thousand former LTTE tigers including today the man who masterminded the attack on the Vavuniya airforce base. It is a major challenge for the government to actually separate the normal citizens from the LTTE cadres, I’m not sure about the background to this case, if there have been allegations of torture I’m sure this will be investigated but by and large to focus on two individuals out of 285-thousand and make a hue and cry about it, I think it’s a little unfair, so I do not think there’s a systemic practice of torture in Sri Lanka. If an individual claims he has been tortured, as these two have done they have ecourse to the courts and I am sure the Supreme Court will be more than happy to look after their interest.

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