Amnesty slams Lanka’s human rights record

Place: Sri Lanka | Courtesy: India Abroad
| Date: 20000622

By: Christine Jayasinghe,

Colombo: When Sri Lankan police asked the family members of detainee Ganesh Chandrakanthan to sign a statement saying that he had been a member of the Tamil Tigers rebels, they refused.

Colombo: When Sri Lankan police asked the family members of detainee Ganesh Chandrakanthan to sign a statement saying that he had been a member of the Tamil Tigers rebels, they refused.

Police, who would not release his body without anyone from the family present, then buried him in the Kantalai cemetery.

The family had been told on June 7 that Chandrakanthan, a Tamil laborer in the eastern town of Kantalai, died when he exploded a grenade. Chandrakanthan had been arrested three days earlier with four others and was seen a day later being carried out of the police station with his left hand apparently broken.

The incident is recounted in Amnesty International's (AI's) latest report on Sri Lanka's tough emergency regulations promulgated on May 3 which gives police and security forces a broad swathe of powers to detain suspects.

AI's 18-page report said the human rights watchdog was "concerned that the wider powers given to the security forces may be resulting in an increase in torture, disappearances and deaths in custody."

The promulgation of the emergency regulations came as government troops were chased out of three key bases in the northern Jaffna peninsula, including the important Elephant Pass camp, in April by the marauding Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE).

With the army being confined to Jaffna town, the separatist rebels closed in and began what was then thought would be the takeover of the vital northern city. However, security forces fought back and the battle has since petered out into sporadic attacks and counter-attacks.

AI' s criticism follows a report made a local human rights organization, the University Teachers for Human Rights that made several allegations against the Tigers, particularly the recruitment of children and deploying them on the battlefield.

Hitting out hard at what it described as a further erosion of human rights, AI says there has been an increase in the number of reports of torture since the introduction of the new emergency regulations.

"In addition, the methods of torture reported appear to have become more severe than before and there have been at least two reports of detainees dying in custody as a result of torture," the report said.

Another unnamed laborer who was taken in with Chandrakanthan is believed to have died as a result of being tortured at the Kantalai police station. Two others, Sinnathamby Pradeepan and Poopalaratnam Arulramesh, also arrested on June 4 by the Kantalai police, appeared to have been badly tortured with Pradeepan seen bleeding from his mouth and having open wounds on his shoulders and Arulramesh finding it difficult to walk.

"When the men's relatives tried to visit them the next morning, police chased them away," AI said of the families' efforts to trace the men after they were arrested. In the northern town of Veppankulam in Vavuniya, relatives of Thambiah Wijayakumar pleaded in vain to see him after he was taken away on June 22 by a special unit interrogating suspected LTTE members.

"The Security Coordinating Unit (SCU) and the security forces continued to deny he was in their custody. His whereabouts remained unknown until July 10 when the SCU finally admitted he was in their custody," the report said.

AI said the emergency regulations that were in force before May 3 had already drawn international criticism for "considerably exceeding the limits permissible under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights which Sri Lanka acceded to in 1980."

"Far from complying with its obligations under international human rights law, however, the Sri Lankan government has instead further eroded the human rights guaranteed in international human rights treaties."

AI pointed out that whenever the military has suffered major setbacks at the hands of the LTTE, reports of torture and disappearances increase significantly. It said that because of difficulties in communicating with Jaffna, it could not verify if this held true at this time. "But the reports received from other parts of the country clearly warrant heightened concern."

According to an UN assessment, Sri Lanka continues to hold the second slot in a list of countries with the greatest number of "non-clarified disappearances." While several of the estimated 12,000 disappearances took place under the previous government, AI indicts the government of President Chandrika Kumaratunga with the same charge.

"Amnesty International has received reports of at least 540 cases of disappearances since the change of government in 1994. The broad powers available to the security forces have long been identified as a facilitating factor," stated the report.