Asylum seeker tells UK Court of Colombo sanctioned abduction, torture

The Immigration and Asylum Chamber of UK’s Upper Tribunal, during hearings of an appeal by a Sri Lankan ex-Police officer who sought asylum in the UK claiming imminent threat of persecution, refused asylum to the appellant on the grounds that there was plausible evidence that the officer knowingly participated in war-crimes, and therefore, is excluded from the protections of the Refugee Convention. The Police officer, named "Mr. AS" in the proceedings to preserve anonymity, and believed to be a Sinhala officer, told the courts that he and 11 other members of a special unit of the police took part in white-van abductions of Tamils suspected of having links with the LTTE, and that his unit operated from abandoned buildings and received direct orders from Deputy Inspector General (DIG), a high level Police authority.

PDF: UK Upper Tribunal asylum decision

The Sri Lanka police officer told the Court, inter alia, the following:

  • that he worked as a member of a special unit of the Sri Lankan police force and that his team also included members of the criminal underworld.

  • that his unit did not have a fixed location but would meet in places such as abandoned houses.

  • that orders would come to go to arrest a certain person who was a suspected LTTE member. The appellant and his colleagues would be armed. They would arrest and tie up and blindfold the detainee, and place them in the foot well of an unmarked vehicle. The detainee would then be handed over to other individuals working for the government, usually in an abandoned house, sometimes passing them over to men from another unmarked vehicle, sometimes taking the person to a police station, the handover location only being given at the last minute.

The Court concluded that the Sri Lanka police officer was aware of the fact that he carried out the abductions with the knowledge that the abductees will be tortured, and refused to grant asylum.

PDF: TAG Report: Blueprint on Sri Lanka’s White Van operations

The testimony of the Sri Lankan police officer confirmed contents of a report issued last year by Tamils Against Genocide (TAG-US), an actvist organization seeking legal redress to Tamil victims of war. The report pieced together an operational blueprint of Sri Lanka’s White Van abductions, and the complicity of State Institutions, and concluded that the white van phenomenon was not a random occurrence of isolated events, but a systemic well-organized criminal enterprise carried out by independently operating cells consisting of criminal gangs and military personnel and activated by directives from high level State officials.

In writing the opinion on the case, the Upper Tribunal Judges Peter Lane and Judge Pitt, said, inter alia,

the following on the situation related to Tamils in Sri Lanka, and the appellant’s complicity in crimes:

  • that whilst the appellant was in the special unit from 2007 to 2009 the Sri Lankan authorities committed a widespread and systematic attack against the civilian population, Tamils in particular, and that the appellant had knowledge of that attack.

  • quoted Amnesty’s reports:

    • “2007 was characterized by impunity for violations of international human rights and humanitarian law. Soaring human rights abuses included hundreds of enforced disappearances, unlawful killings of humanitarian workers, arbitrary arrests and torture. Lack of protection for civilians was a key concern as heavy fighting resumed between government forces and the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE).
    • “Enforced disappearances continued to be part of a pattern of abuse apparently linked to the government’s counter-insurgency strategy. Enforced disappearances were reported in the north and east as well as previously unaffected parts of the country including in Colombo and the south. Many enforced disappearances took place inside high-security zones and during curfew hours.”

    • “The government continued to carry out enforced disappearances as part of its counter-insurgency strategy. Enforced disappearances were reported in many parts of the country, particularly in northern and eastern Sri Lanka and in Colombo.”

  • quoted EU reports: “Sri Lanka has among the highest number of disappearances in the world since 2006. The numbers provided for disappearances vary between different organisations but all reports agree that the number of disappearances is substantial. The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights has stated that some 1500 persons disappeared between December 2005 and December 2007. Human Rights Watch has reported 1000 cases of disappearances were reported to the NHRC in 2006 and over 300 in the first four months of 2007."

    “Unlawful killings perpetrated by soldiers, police and paramilitary groups with ties to the Government, have been a persistent problem in Sri Lanka."

PDF: HRW: Sri Lanka torture report, Feb 2013

PDF: FFT Report on torture of returnees

PDF: Returnees at Risk: Detention and Torture in Sri Lanka

PDF: Liberty’s evidence to UK’s HR Commission

Political observers said that the mounting evidence accumulating in the legal institutions in the West of torture, and the continuous emergence of reports from respected rights groups on the nefarious elements of Sri Lanka governance including colonization, forced sterilization, and destruction of places of worship and cemeteries of war dead, pointing to an on-going crime of genocide, didn’t augur well for Colombo in facing international opprobrium in the near future.

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