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ACHR Press Release
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ACHR Index: PR/SLA/01/12/03
30 December 2003
Sri Lanka urged to end the regime of impunity

In its 139 pages report, The State of Civil and Political Rights in Sri Lanka, Asian Centre for Human Rights (ACHR) today highlighted the massive violations of civil and political rights in Sri Lanka and urged the Sri Lankan government to implement the recommendations made by the United Nations Human Rights Committee on 6 November 2003.

The report documents arbitrary arrest, detention, torture, custodial rape, extrajudicial executions, disappearances, violations of press freedom and the lack of independence of judiciary.

"Although torture has been recognised as a criminal offence since 1994, Sri Lankan government has so far filed indictments against only 43 police and security personnel and instituted disciplinary actions against only 12 officers for failing to stop torture. No one has been prosecuted until today. Impunity has turned the Sri Lankan Police into the country's most feared and organised criminal gang" - stated Suhas Chakma, Director of ACHR. Torture is so widespread that victims also include police personnel themselves, added Chakma.

Disappearances have been accepted as a part of the war strategies against the LTTE and have reached genocidal proportion. According to government estimates, 27,200 persons disappeared in 1988-90 alone, while about 700 persons disappeared in 1996-97 in the north and eastern provinces. But, Disappearance Investigation Unit of the government of Sri Lanka has so far filed only 432 cases. Out of 178 cases concluded as of November 2003, only 12 cases i.e. a mere 6.4% resulted in conviction, while 130 cases i.e. 73% resulted in acquittal.

Although the Attorney General released about 300 detainees under the Prevention of Terrorism Act (PTA), 1979 as a confident building measure with the LTTE, ACHR's report expressed concerns that since September 2003, the Attorney General ordered not to withdraw indictments filed under the PTA. As the judiciary functions under the caprice of the Defence Minister and Attorney General under the PTA, thousands of ethnic Tamils continue to be detained for years without fair trial and access to judiciary. President Chandrika Kumaratunga's grant of general amnesty of 3,670 prisoners in 2002-2003 did not include any PTA detainee. The government also prematurely disbanded the Presidential Committee on Unlawful Arrests and Harassment in 2001.

"The most concrete demonstration of the Sri Lankan government's commitment to the peace process with the LTTE would be the immediate examination of all the PTA cases by an independent judicial commission within a specified time frame," said Chakma.

The flaws of the Constitution and weak mandate of other national human rights institutions have negatively impacted the enjoyment of civil and political rights. The Sri Lanka's National Human Rights Commission does not only have restrictive mandate but serious financial crunch has virtually crippled its functioning. Although, the Commission requested Rs 40 million for 2003, the government only allocated Rs 1.6 million.

"Article 126 of Constitution of Sri Lanka makes perversion of delivery of justice against infringement of fundamental rights as petitions against violations of fundamental rights can only be filed with the Supreme Court based in Colombo, within one month time limit and only by the victim or his attorney. There is no chance to pursue justice for violations of fundamental rights of the dead and the missing." - stated Chakma.

The biased judiciary is one of the root causes of the problems in Sri Lanka including the ongoing political crisis between President Kumaratunga and Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe. Present Supreme Court Chief Justice Sarath Nanda Silva, who served as the Attorney - General as well as the President Chandrika Kumaratunga's counsel in 1996, has repeatedly acted in favour of the President in cases directly or indirectly affecting the President. Justice Silva twice became his own judge by restraining an opposition impeachment motion against him in June 2001 and by hearing a case filed against him by trade unionist, Michael Anthony Fernando. Justice Silva sentenced Fernando to jail for one year on 6 February 2003, a sentence universally condemned.

ACHR urged Sri Lankan government to implement the recommendations of the UN Human Rights Committee of 6 November 2003 by bringing an end to the regime of impunity through prosecution of the human rights violators and to rectify the systemic flaws by repealing Article 126 of Constitution, Human Rights Commission Act of 1996, Prevention of Terrorism Act of 1979 and the Convention against Torture Act No. 22 of 1994 and extend invitation to the UN Special Rapporteur on Independence of Judiciary to visit Sri Lanka..[END]


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