Arrests & torture of Tamils - continuing impunity

Place: Sri Lanka | Courtesy: British Refugee Council
| Date: 19970700

"...Over 50 Tamils were taken into custody in the Pettah commercial district on 3 June. A British Tamil couple were arrested near the President’s “Temple Trees” residence on 11 June. ...

A fundamental rights application filed in the Supreme Court in June reveals that a whole family which fled the northern war zone is in detention. Seevaratnam Rajanimala from Kilinochchi was arrested in Colombo on 28 November and for two days assaulted with a plastic pipe filled with concrete. Two of her four children are detained with her at the Welikada women prison. Her other two children are held at a Salvation Army hostel in Borella and her husband is detained at the Kalutara prison. She has so far not been informed of the reasons for her arrest...

A government decision in June to scrap the Human Rights Task Force (HRTF) set up to monitor detainees, and replace it with a Human Rights Commission has outraged local NGOs. They were widely critical over HRTF’s inaction and conciliatory pose but see the new entity as even more pro-government and less effective. HRTF’s mandate has been extended until August but the new Commission still has no office and no operational arm and detainees will remain at real risk.

A large number of Tamils are still held in prisons for several years without trial. A detainee in Kalutara prison says that despite assurances of a number of politicians, no action has been taken to look into their plight. Many detainees allege torture in custody.

Jaffna trader A Sureshkumar, who came to Colombo to go abroad was arrested on 11 January and held by the CDB until 27 May when he was produced before a court. He alleges that he was hung by the feet and tortured. Sureshkumar is currently at the Kalutara prison. The Supreme Court has ordered a medical examination.

Jaffna student R Pragalathan says in a fundamental rights application that after his arrest at Bambalapitiya suburb on 7 January pins were inserted under his nails and when he refused to sign a confession was brutally assaulted. Another Jaffna student G Balakumar, currently in Colombo Magazine prison, also suffered torture at the Joseph camp in Vavuniya after his arrest in June 1996. (British Refugee Council Publication, Sri Lanka Monitor, June 1997)

"POLICE searched 15 lodges in the Colombo suburb of Bambalapitiya at 4 am on 14 July and took into custody over 500 Tamil men and women. After interrogation they were paraded before masked informers and 13 were detained. According to lodge owners the Tamils were taken away even after proof of police registration was shown.

Reports say after Justice minister GL Peiris gave assuarances to Tamil political parties over Tamil harassment in Colombo in early July, over 50 Tamils, including university students and government officers, were arrested from lodges in Pettah and Wellawatte. A Pettah lodge was closed by the police.

TULF leader M Sivasithamparam says agreements with Mr Peiris - that at police stations a senior police officer will be in charge of arrests, police stations will have Tamil-speaking officers and a detention monitoring committee composed of Tamil representatives will be appointed - have not been implemented....

In early July the Supreme Court ordered the release of 54 year-old S Kanmani. She had been arrested at a lodge in Vavuniya on 12 March and detained at Kirillapone police station in Colombo. Theiventhira Shobana, 21, was arrested on 18 June at the Colombo airport on the way to Singapore for her wedding. Fundamental rights applications have been filed in the Supreme Court in respect a number of Tamils arrested at the airport in June.

Batticaloa Grama Sevaka (Village Headman) V Linganathan, his wife Angaladevi and assistant A Mangalarani were detained in Colombo on 25 June. Mr Linganathan accompanied his wife who came to the capital for medical treatment. Mrs Mangalarani was later released but others remain in detention.

In mid-July the Supreme Court also ordered the release of five Tamils arrested in Jaffna in late 1996 and early 1997, including 14 year-old student A Ashok, who had all suffered severe torture in custody. Another detainee Davis Aloysius arrested in Trincomalee on 17 March says he was hung by his legs and beaten with batons. His head was covered with a plastic bag dipped in petrol.

Reports say that in the last 30 months, 860 complaints were made against the police for breach of fundamental rights and the Police Department has paid Rs 6.6 million ($132,000) as compensation following court orders. In 158 cases against the police, the Attorney General’s Department failed to appear in court. Meanwhile Justice minister GL Peiris says human rights violations will be brought to an end in the next two years." (British Refugee Council Publication, Sri Lanka Monitor, July 1997)