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Sri Lanka said to still violate rights

[telegraph.co.uk, Thursday, 15 September 2011 08:34 No Comment]

Despite removing draconian wartime laws, Sri Lanka’s government is using new abusive regulations to keep hundreds of people in jails without trial, an international human rights groups said.

In a statement Wednesday, the New York-based Human Rights Watch called on the government of President Mahinda Rajapaksa to abolish such detention laws and free the prisoners.

“The Sri Lankan government announced that the state of emergency is over, but it is holding on to the same draconian powers it had during the war’’ against the Tamil Tiger rebels, said Brad Adams, the group’s Asia director.

Foreign governments critical of Sri Lanka should not be “fooled by this cynical bait and switch,’’ he said.

The statement comes as a reminder that Sri Lanka’s government remains on the radar of civil rights groups, which have repeatedly accused it of gross violations during the 26-year war against separatist Tamil Tigers, who were vanquished in 2009.

Between 80,000-100,000 people were killed in the war. However, a UN panel reported this year that tens of thousands of ethnic Tamil civilians might have been killed in the final months of the war, leading to claims the death toll could be much higher.

The emergency laws that had curbed civil and political liberties for most of the past 30 years in the island nation lapsed last week. The laws had allowed authorities to detain suspects for up to one year without bringing them to court, displace residents from their land, and set up ubiquitous military checkpoints.

Rajapaksa said the laws were no longer needed, but he approved four regulations under the powerful Prevention of Terrorism Act allowing the government to continue holding rebel suspects. Tamil lawmakers say there are about 900 such detainees.

The terror act also allows for arrests for unspecified unlawful activities without warrant and permits detention for up to 18 months without trial.

Such laws “leave an abusive detention regime in place,’’ Human Rights Watch said.

The terror act has existed for some time and people arrested over alleged terrorist activities will be detained until the investigation on them ends, said Lakshman Hulugalla, head of the government’s Media Center for National Security. He also said people who are undergoing rehabilitation are being released.

The government is holding about 3,000 former rebels in rehabilitation centers. About 11,000 Tamil rebels surrendered and nearly 8,000 have been freed after rehabilitation, the military says.

Rights groups and countries including the United States have urged Sri Lanka to charge the detainees or release them.

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