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UN Special Rapporteurs urge Sri Lanka to stop torture and repeal PTA

UN Special Rapporteurs on Wednesday urged the Sri Lankan government to stop the ongoing torture taking place and ensure the legal framework allowing human rights violations is replaced and the Prevention of Terrorism Act is removed.

“Sri Lanka is taking steps to draft a new constitution, an undertaking that presents an opportunity to reinforce the independence and impartiality of the justice sector and provide more safeguards against torture and other serious human rights violations,” Mónica Pinto, UN Special Rapporteur on the independence of judges and lawyers, and Juan E. Méndez, UN Special Rapporteur on torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment, said in statement following their recent visit to the island.

“The change in Government has led to some promising reforms, such as the re-instatement of the Constitutional Council. But more reforms are needed before Sri Lanka can be considered to be on a path to sustainable democratization,” they said.

“The testimonies I heard from victims, including detainees, who took the risk of speaking to me despite safety concerns, persuade me that torture is a common practice inflicted in the course of both regular criminal and national security-related investigations,” Mr Méndez said. “Severe forms of torture continue to be used, although probably less frequently, while both old and new cases of torture continue to be surrounded by total impunity.”

“I have been assured by the authorities that confessions alone are not sufficient evidence for a conviction; however, in practice, 90 per cent of convictions are either solely or mainly based on a confession,” he said.

“The Government has to ensure that every person detained has access to a lawyer from the moment of the arrest and that every person is properly informed about this right,” Ms. Pinto added.

“The Government should repeal the PTA. Any legislation to replace it, if considered necessary, should only be adopted after broad and transparent consultations and must fully comply with international human rights standards,” both of the UN experts reiterated.

Highlighting the delays in the justice mechanism, Ms Pinto said,

“Even in ordinary cases that are non-political and not related to the armed conflict, judicial proceedings can last years. Such delays often amount to a denial of justice, especially for victims and suspects remanded in pre-trial detention."

“Suspects are subjected to lengthy remand periods with many being detained for years, some even up to 15 years before trial. I urge Sri Lanka to make use of bail and alternatives to incarceration, especially for non-violent offences,” Mr Méndez added.

“The administration of justice must be more transparent and democratic. Transparent procedures and institutions play an important role in strengthening democracy and protecting from arbitrariness,” said Ms Pinto.

Calling for a justice system's independence to be safeguarded, Ms Pinto said,

“I am also concerned that the diversity of the population is not reflected in the composition of the judiciary, the Attorney-General's office, or the police, or in the language in which proceedings are conducted. The authorities should take immediate measures to increase the representation of minorities in these bodies and ensure the availability of quality interpretation and translation."

“I did not receive any complaint of mistreatment in prison, but I am deeply concerned about the more than deplorable prison conditions, including deficient infrastructure and severe overcrowding,” Mr. Méndez added. “In addition, I have come across cases of prolonged or indefinite isolation in Terrorism Investigation Division detention facilities. These combined conditions constitute in themselves a form of cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment.”

Find Mr Mendez end of mission statement here, and Ms Pinto's here.