AMNESTY FILE ON SRI LANKA'S TORTURE - OCTOBER 1985

Place: Sri Lanka | Courtesy: Amnesty
| Date: 19851000

Allegations that torture occurs in Sri Lanka have long been of concern to AI. Over the past five years, however, the organization has received consistent reports, many in the form of sworn affidavits, which lead it to conclude that the practice is widespread and persistent Torture is used particularly against political detainees, some of whom have died as a result, and also against criminal suspects. The following types of torture have been reported to AI:

  • prolonged hanging upside down while being beaten all over the body, sometimes for the duration of one night and sometimes with the head tied in a bag in which chillies were burning, making the victim feel close to suffocating;
  • prolonged beatings especially on the soles of the feet while lying stretched out on a bench or while hanging by the knees from a pole;
  • beatings on the genitals and other parts of the body with sticks, batons and sand-filled plastic pipes;
  • insertion of chillie powder in the nostrils, mouth and eyes and on the genitals;
  • electric shocks;
  • insertion of pins under fingernails and toenails and in the heels;
  • insertion of iron rods in the anus;
  • burning with cigarettes;
  • mock or threatened executions.

Prohibited

When the present government took office in 1977 it prohibited torture and cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment under the Constitution. It has also denied that torture is permitted, stating, for example in a letter to AL on 30 July 1984: "The Government of Sri Lanka categorically denies that it permits or condones the use of torture for any purpose what In 19X2 the government also deposited a Unilateral Declaration Against Torture with the United Nations.

However torture has been widely reported by a variety of sources. AI has received testimonies from former detainees detailing torture and from witnesses to the torture of others; from relatives of victims and from lawyers. In addition, the findings of several medical examinations of former detainees are consistent with the tortures alleged.

Similar reports have been published in the international press. In January 1985 The Times (London) reported that hospital staff in Jaffna had seen "...many victims of army beatings. Typically boys emerge from interrogation and spells in custody with multiple bruises caused by thrashings with PVC pipes filled with sand. Some have heel fractures, having been suspended and beaten on the feet. A doctor said: 'I see about five of these cases a week, but remember that many victims do not seek treatment because they are afraid or because it is impossible to travel'."

Those most at risk are young men, between the ages of 17 and 25, who are members of the Tamil community and have been arrested under the 1979 Prevention of Terrorism Act (PTA). Tamil women are also known to have been tortured.

Assault

Al has also received allegations that Sinhalese prisoners belonging to opposition parties, in particular the People's Liberation Front (JVP) and the Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP) have been tortured. Sinhalese criminal suspects are also regularly reported to have been tortured. For example, W.A. Dayaratne a young man arrested on suspicion of theft, died in custody on 28 March after interrogation in Wallawa police station. At the inquest the magistrate stated he had died as a result of police assault.

Torture occurs in military and police camps and in police stations, but is rarely reported from prisons. It is used to extract "confessions" or to obtain information. It is widely used by the army and the police, including the Criminal Investigation Department (CID) and the Special Task Force, a recently formed police unit which operates in the Eastern Province.

Arrny camps in the north where former detainees have alleged they were tortured include Vavuniya, Palaly, Panagoda, Elephant Pass, Point Pedro. Keerimalai, Thallady and Gurunagar. There have also been allegations of torture in the recently established camps of the police Special Task Force at Kalladi and Kaluwanchi in the Eastern Province and at Boosa Camp and Tangalle Prison in the south.

A young man arrested in August 1984 for allegedly being in possession of "subversive literature" stated in an affidavit that on arrival in Panagoda Camp:

"...I was put into a dark room, stripped of all my clothes and made to lie on the floor. My hands and feet were chained and large spikes were inserted into my body. .. I was assaulted with machine guns, iron rods on the knee joints, neck regions, close to the eyes, on the feet and almost all parts of the body...! was bound with chains on the legs and let down a deep well and linen pulled up."

Another former detainee stated that in May 1984, at Elephant Pass Army Camp, "..my legs and feet were handcuffed I was then suspended from the roof by my Legs. A soldier hit me on both feet with a loaded (plastic) pipe, while another hit me on the back. The beating was so severe that I broke the handcuff while trying to free myself."

Torture victims have been warned not to make statements about their experiences by members of the security forces and threatened with rearrest and further torture should they do so. Some detainees who made statements alleging torture have been beaten. In spite of such threats many former detainees have alleged that they were tortured.

Affidavits

As well as receiving affidavits such as those above, Al has also interviewed a number of detainees who have left the country, most of whom wish to remain anonymous for fear of reprisals against their families. In some cases medical examinations were conducted at AI's request. One such case is that of a young man detained at Kallady Camp near Batticaloa, in late December 1983. He said he was beaten for several hours with rises, iron rods and plastic pipes while being questioned about incidents attributed to Tamil opposition groups.

Beaten

"They tied the rope around my arms, crossed right over left over my chest. My arms were tied together just above the elbows and I was suspended that way. My toes could reach the floor but they brought a tray of burning coals so that I was forced to bend my legs to avoid being burned, all my weight being taken by my arms. was beaten land] hit on the soles of my feet. A mug of chill) powder mixed with water was brought in and the paste applied to my eyes which were forced open, into my nose, cars and on to my genitals. When I opened my eyes from crying they put more in. This continued for several hours. I started feeling a numbness in my arms."

Ten months later a medical examination conducted at Al's request found that: "...the remaining physical scars confirm the essential story. The multiple faint scars cries-crossing his back are typical of a beating. The scars above each elbow... are ... consistent with abrasions caused by a restraining rope, tying the arms together...". Paralysis in the median and radial nerve distribution on the let's was confirmed at this [medical] examination in 1984. "The more severe nerve damage in the left arm is consistent with the position of the arms, as described...This man is fortunate that the damage to these major nerves was not sufficient to leave a permanent disablement."

Student

X a student at Jaffna University had been arrested in January 1985 while applying for a permit to travel to Jaffna to resume his studies During his arrest he was shot in The let's leg. He was taken to the Kaluwanchikudi Commando Camp and beaten and then to Batticaloa Commando Camp. He was interrogated six weeks later. "My hands were then tied behind (me) ...a rope was secured and...thrown over the wooden beam on the roof. l was made to hang from this rope.

"Chilli powder was thrown into my eyes. My clothes were taken off and chill) powder rubbed onto my body and genitals. They placed nails on the soles of my feet and started hammering the nails with a length of plastic piping. Into the wounds on the soles of my feet also they rubbed chill) powder.

"I was hung like this from 8 p.m till 12 midnight. The following day I underwent the same treatment... I was hung up in the same manner and beaten from Ham till about 4 p.m. I was also burnt on my buttocks with a heated metal rod... When they released me from their treatment I was unable to move my hands or my feet."

A week later he was released and taken to Batticaloa Hospital. `'The doctors found that owing to the long hours during which I was hung up by my hands, my nerves were affected. l was still unable to move my hands. I was hospitalized for three months and 20 days. l am still unable to use my right hand. I am immensely handicapped and have to learn to write with my left hand "

Hospitalized

A doctor who reportedly treated him in Batticaloa two weeks after he was tortured stated: "There were contusions and linear abrasions on the back, thigh and chest wall. He could not move his upper arms, almost completely paralysed. There were flickers of movement in the left fingers The lower limbs were also paralysed."

Safeguards against torture suspended

In all cases of torture and ill-treatment reported to AI detainees were held incommunicado. Al has repeatedly informed the Sri Lankan Government that special legal provisions, especially those in force since 1979, facilitate torture. Under the 1979 Prevention of Terrorism Act normal legal safeguards arc suspended and detainees can be held for up to 18 months without access to lawyers and relatives. They can be held in incommunicado detention in unknown places without any form of independent control or supervision. Relatives have difficulty in establishing the whereabouts of detainees and in recent months over 180 arc reported to have `'disappeared", the authorities having denied any knowledge of their detention. Lawyers and relatives complain they are rarely permitted access to detainees during the initial months of detention, when torture reportedly occurs.

Repercussions

Article 126 of the Constitution permits the Supreme Court to hear petitions of infringements of fundamental rights. However, cases alleging torture rarely reach the Sri Lankan courts. There are well-founded fears of repercussions and many victims do not have the financial resources to approach the courts. Relatives say it is difficult to find lawyers to take up the cases of those detained under the PTA. Where allegations of torture of political detainees have been brought before a court no effective action is known to have been taken to punish those responsible.

K. Navaratnarajah, who was detained under the PTA, died on 10 April 1983 in Gurunagar Army Camp. A post mortem identified 25 external and 10 internal injuries on his body and the magistrate at the inquest into his death returned a verdict of homicide. No action has apparently been taken to bring those responsible to justice. AI knows of no case in recent years in which police or security personnel have been prosecuted for acts of torture or deaths in custody of political detainees held under the PTA.

Deaths in custody

Several deaths have been reported recently. A young man detained in Elephant Pass camp in 1984 described the death of two fellow inmates: " At 12 midnight on 13 August 1984, Kandasamy Pathar Pirapaharan of Valvettiturai and Sivasubramaniam wanted to urinate. They were taken out and later their dead bodies were brought into the room with large wounds on their backs."

Inquests into deaths in custody of criminal suspects are usually held under the ordinary procedures of the Code of Criminal Procedure. In several instances police personnel have subsequently been prosecuted, although rarely convicted. However inquests into the deaths in custody of political detainees are apparently rare, and between 3 June 1983 and 14 June 1984 all inquests into deaths in the custody of the security forces were suspended under Emergency Regulation 15a.

The Regulation authorised the police to dispose of bodies in secret and without inquests. It was replaced on 14 June 1984 by Emergency Regulation 55 B-G which permits some inquests but only under special procedures that substantially limit normal legal safeguards. Immediate investigation by an independent magistrate, applicable under ordinary law, seems to be by-passed. Inquests conducted by the High Court, in principle sitting in camera, can apparently only be held upon the initiative of the police and the proceedings may not subsequently be published without government authorisation. Furthermore it appears the security forces may still be permitted to dispose of dead bodies without an inquest in exceptional circumstances.

Witnesses

AI has heard of very few such inquests being held. For example, to AI's knowledge no inquest has been held into the death of Kamalarajah, a Tamil man from Kankesanthurai who was taken to Gurunagar Army Camp on 2 December 1984 and was reported to have been beaten frequently during the days following his arrest. Witnesses have stated that he died on 10 December as a result of continuous beatings by army personnel.

Despite a statement by Sri Lanka to the UN Human Rights Sub Commission on 26 August 1985 that the High Court has held 63 such inquests, to Al's knowledge no information has been published in the Sri Lankan press about any of them.

The government stated that "in none of these cases has there been material to establish unlawful action by any member of the security forces". But the information it provided to the UN Sub Commission gave no indication of how the investigation was carried out, what evidence was presented to the inquest or how the inquest reached its conclusion. Nor did it offer the texts of the stated High Court findings.

In one such inquest into the shooting of 32 Tamil detainees in the Joint Services Special Army Camp in Vavuniya on 2 December 1984 AI was informed that only evidence by the police and a medical officer was presented and that no relatives were present during the inquest.


Affidavits

"I saw able bodied young men naked with bleeding injuries on their bodies and swollen tell-tale marks of beatings. I also saw men standing by with pieces of plastic pipe about three feet in length...! also saw one of (them) rush at one of the men who were being beaten and attack (him) with his legs. The person who received the kick was already, from signs visible to me, in a weak position and he fell dead at the kick. This man...was covered with a mat." Affidavit of boy detained in Vavuniya Army Camp in June 1985

"While questioning me he now and then placed on my leg a device which made me feel that 1 was subjected to an electric shock. This he did five times. Every time...my whole body shook violently and I was in a state of shock. The device appeared to be about two and a half feet long and pipe-shaped, black in colour. At one end there was a coiled spring. It was this part that was applied on my body At the other end there was a switch which was pressed every time it was applied..." Affidavit of man detained in Mankulam Army Camp in June 1985.

"On 2 December 1984 I was playing with my child in the - compound of my house when a soldier armed a rifle who came along called me to come out...This soldier then spoke to another soldier who was close by and then turned and fired at me. The bullet hit on the right side of my stomach, which pierced through and found an exit on the back close to the hips, leaving a gaping wound...I was then rushed to the hospital. I did not commit any offence by playing in the compound of my house with my child and do not know why I was punished in such a . - manner." Affidavit of victim.

"I was stripped naked. A rope was tied around my ankles. I was dragged along the floor to the door way and the rope around my: ankles was passed through the wooden ventilation grill over the door. I was pulled up by my feet hanging upside down, facing the room with my head two or three inches off the ground. I was hit on the back upper part of my legs with plastic pipes...! was-struck with iron rods on the soles of my feet. One of the iron rods was forced into the anus. Then they brought burning coal and chillies on a tray. When they dropped the chillies onto the coal, the two interrogating officers had to leave the room from the smoke. A soldier then tied a - sarong around my waist so that it fell down over my head like a funnel. The burning chillies were placed inside. Owing to the fumes, I felt a burning sensation. I had difficulty in breathing. I remained like that for two or three hours. I was untied and dropped to the ground. I lost consciousness." Affidavit of young man detained at Kallady Camp in December 1983

`'I have lost my sense of hearing. I cannot :see properly. My speech has been affected. My voice is very hoarse and inaudible. I cannot walk properly as I suffer severe pains in the knee joints. I have also lost my job and doubt whether I will be able . to perform any responsible work again. Prior to my arrest, detention and torture, I was a healthy, robust and hard working person. I have lost count of the days and my memory fails me ." Affidavit of victim.