AMNESTY REFUTES SRI LANKA'S DENIAL OF TORTURE - DECEMBER 1985

Place: Sri Lanka | Courtesy: Amnesty
| Date: 19851230

Amnesty International today, 30 December 1985 announced that it had called on the Sri Lankan Government to act urgently to stop torture by government forces.

The International Secretariat of the worldwide human rights movement sent its appeal after the Sri Lankan press reported that the government's response to published evidence of torture had been to denounce Amnesty International's information as "unfair, biased and untrue". The appeal was telexed to President J R Jayawardene on 24 December 1985.

The government statements were in reaction. to the publication in the October issue of the movement's International Newsletter of sworn testimony describing widespread and persistent torture, particularly against political detainees, the methods including prolonged hangings of persons in an upside down position while being beaten all over the body, prolonged beatings on the soles of the feet and other parts of the body as well as insertion of chill) powder in the nostrils, mouth and eyes and on the genitals.

Amnesty International expressed its deep concern at the government's failure to respond positively to the reports of torture it has repeatedly provided in recent years to the Sri Lanka Government including cases in which the victims were reported to have died. The organisation said it had repeatedly called on the Government to investigate these reports and take effective action to prevent torture. It sent such information in the report of a mission which visited the country in 1982 and in letters and telex messages since then. But to Amnesty International's knowledge, the government has repeatedly denied that torture takes place, failed to order impartial investigations into persistent allegations of torture submitted by the organisation, and has taken no effective action to halt the torture.

For example, Amnesty International received no answer to its appeal to the Government, sent on 30 April 1985, to investigate the reported torture in January 1985 of Menendra Kesavapillai, a student at Jaffna University, by Special Task Force personnel, whose case is among those detailed in the October File on Torture. He said he was beaten, suspended from a wooden beam, had nails driven into his skin and chill) powder rubbed into the wounds, and was burned with a metal rod. He is believed to have lost the use of one hand.

In its letter Amnesty International again urged the government to take immediate measures for the prevention of torture, including the establishment of an independent machinery to investigate complaints of torture.

In this and numerous other cases, the organisation said it had not received information regarding the specifics of any investigation or of any proceedings against security forces personnel; In reply to press queries on 4 December, Lieutenant General Cyril Ranatunga stated that two charges against two army personnel were being investigated but no details of the incidents under investigation or the charges were given.

Government representatives were reported to have dismissed torture reports on 4 December 1985 after Amnesty International published a "File on Torture" one of a series which has included evidence of torture in various countries, including Afghanistan, Iran, Namibia and Uganda. Like the others in the series, it was prepared and issued by the movement's International Secretariat in London, which collects, checks and evaluates Amnesty International's information. Neither the Sri Lankan section of the movement nor the South Asia Publication Service had any part in its preparation, production or distribution.

Amnesty International amassed and checked the evidence of torture in Sri Lanka in line with its usual practice, using sworn affidavits, interviewing torture victims, and examining evidence from a range of sources. Medical experts experienced in examining torture victims found evidence consistent with torture allegations in three Sri Lankan witnesses they examined outside the country.

Amnesty International has had to protect the anonymity of many victims while giving extracts from sworn affidavits. It did not send the Sri Lankan Government copies of these documents because former detainees and their relatives have repeatedly expressed fear of the consequences if their identities were revealed. Released detainees have said they were threatened with and more torture if they told of their treatment. However, Amnesty International is willing, after obtaining permission of the individuals concerned, to submit the affidavits to an impartial and independent body mandated to investigate allegations of torture, should the government establish such a body.

Amnesty International welcomed information from the Sri Lankan Defence Ministry about an inquest into the deaths of 32 Tamil detainees on 2 December 1984 in Gurunagar Army Camp, at which the government said that a police official and state counsel were present. The government has acknowledged that no independent witnesses or relatives of the victims were present at the inquest, however, and Amnesty International is concerned that according to press reports government representatives had said no post mortem had been held as this was not necessary under present Sri Lanka law.

Amnesty International has repeated its appeal to the government to make available a full record of the inquest proceedings. The government has refused to let reporters see the records of the inquest.

Government representatives have also stated that Amnesty International was not concerned with "terrorist activities.. Amnesty International pointed out in its "File on Torture" that opposition groups demanding a separate Tamil state had used violence and that Amnesty International condemns torture or killing of prisoners by anyone, including opposition groups. In bringing those responsible to justice, governments must conform to international human rights standards , it said. The organisation stressed that it addresses governments because they have committed themselves to protect human rights including the right not to be subjected to torture, which is a right that should not be violated, even when an emergency is proclaimed. The Sri Lanka government has reinforced this commitment by depositing with the United Nations a Unilateral Declaration against Torture.

Amnesty International again called for steps to stop torture, including prompt and subsequent regular access by lawyers and relatives to all detainees, establishment of an independent and impartial body to investigate reports of torture and deaths in custody, and publication of its findings. It said inquests and post mortem examinations should be held in all cases of death in custody under ordinary procedures of the criminal code, with lawyers and relatives being granted access to these proceedings, the records and findings of which should be made publicly available. Appropriate proceedings should be instituted against security personnel found responsible for torture, it said. (Amnesty International Press Release - 30 December 1985 - ASA 37/20/85