"Hundreds of people languish in arbitrary, illegal and often incommunicado detention in Sri Lanka, vulnerable to torture and extrajudicial execution, despite the end of the country’s long conflict… arbitrary and illegal detention and enforced disappearances remain routine in Sri Lanka, where human rights abuses of all types go uninvestigated and unpunished," Amnesty International said in a new report "Locked away: Sri Lanka’s security detainees," released Tuesday.
For years, the Sri Lankan government justified this legislation as necessary for combating the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), and counter-terrorism legislation allowed authorities to arrest people without evidence and to hold them without charge or trial for extended periods, Amnesty said.
While LTTE has horrific record of rights violations, "that did not, and does not, excuse the widespread and systematic mistreatment of detainees by the Sri Lankan government,” said Sam Zarifi, the group’s Asia-Pacific Director.
“A lack of accountability for alleged war crimes gives the green light to Sri Lankan authorities to act with impunity. Meanwhile the message coming from the Sri Lankan government is that those who dare criticise it risk harassment, or even disappearance,” Amnesty said.
Tamil activists, however, questioned the reluctance of Amnesty to calling at least a selective group of Tamil prisoners as Prisoners of War, pointing out that:
the Ceasefire Agreement of 2002 February 22 had recognized the LTTE as a Party with armed forces, and
the Geneva Convention Article 4.1 defines the Prisoners of War as "Members of the armed forces of a Party to the conflict as well as members of militias or volunteer corps forming part of such armed forces."
Activists argue that these prisoners should be accorded the same rights as those given to Prisoners of War (PoW).
The Sri Lankan Army continues to have a large presence in the north and is deployed for civil policing, Amnesty noted, adding, the Special Task Force (STF), an elite police commando unit with a history of human rights violations, remains active across the country.
Amnesty adds, [f]ormer detainees have been harassed and rearrested, and physically attacked. Killings and enforced disappearances of newly released detainees have also been reported."
“The war crimes alleged in Sri Lanka in the final stages of the war are of such magnitude that if unchallenged risk fundamentally undermining international justice mechanisms – the UN must support an independent international investigation into these alleged crimes,” Amnesty said, reminding the 19th session of the UN Human Rights Council to pass the resolution against Sri Lanka tabled by the U.S. and thereby intervening in the island to establish accountability and justice.
Spokesperson for Tamils Against Genocide (TAG), an activist group that seeks legal redress for Tamil victims of war said, "while it is clear that Colombo is complicit in several forms of gross rights violations, TAG believes that white van abductions, torture, illegal detention, and disappearances are linked in majority of cases, and a criminal network comprising of selected prisons, ex-military men, prison officials, military intelligence, and even certain courts, with tacit authorization from highest levels of government executes the crimes in a systematic fashion. While reports focusing of individual types of rights violations are extremely effective, they fail to expose the highest and the most sinister level of organized crimes orchestrated by Colombo," TAG said.