COLOMBO: The UN Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances (UNWGEID), which has just concluded its visit to Sri Lanka, had discovered a “secret underground detention cum torture center” located in the Lankan naval base at Trincomalee in the Eastern Province.
Giving details of the “successful discovery” at a press conference here on Wednesday, Ariel Dulitzky, a member of the UNWGEID, said that the center might have been used officially or unofficially from 2010, going by the date scribbled on the wall. The walls had blood stains, he revealed. And the structure of the complex suggested that “systematic torture” was conducted there, the UN official said.
Although there were only 11 or 12 cells in the complex, the number of those who were detained or tortured there could have been “many more”, he added.
The three members of the UNWGEID, Argentine Dulitzky, Canadian Bernard Duhaime (leader), and South Korean Tae-Un-Baik, called for further investigations and action in regard to the detention center and asked the government to reveal the existence of other such secret centers, if there are any.
They pointed out that many of the victim’s families, who now number more than 20,000, are still clueless about the number and location of detention centers in the country, who are detained and where.
Government Had Denied
The Ranil Wickremesinghe government had denied the existence of such a secret detention center in the Trincomallee naval base when the matter was raised by Suresh Premachandran, a Tamil National Alliance (TNA) MP in the last parliament early this year.
“Both Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe and the then Law and Order Minister John Amaratunga denied its existence. But according to the information I had then, the center was in operation till about two months before I raised the issue in parliament,” Premachandran told Express.
Need For Action
While acknowledging the change in the attitude of the Lankan government since the January 8 Presidential election, the UNWGEID said that it is time government started taking speedy action to address the issue of enforced disappearances.
Although enforced disappearances do not occur any more, there is a backlog of more than 20,000 complaints. But action had been initiated in only 150 cases, the UN group pointed out.
The UNWGEID pointed out that the families of the victims complained that CID officials are intimidating them. The group asked government to order its agencies not to do this.
The UN group visited two sites of mass graves, one at Mannar in the Northern Province, and the other at Matale in the Central Province. It found lack of local expertise and resources in exhumation and DNA testing and suggested the use of foreign experts.
Noting that the “culture of impunity” continues in Lanka, the group called for the repeal of the draconian Prevention of Terrorism Act (PTA) and accession to the Rome Statute. The Rome Statute will put Lanka under the jurisdiction of the International Criminal Court and will enjoin it to prevent enforced disappearances and torture.
International Judicial Mechanism Sought
The UNWGEID reflected the victim families’ lack of faith in the Lankan judicial system and sought a Judicial Mechanism which will have foreign prosecutors and investigators as per the last UN Human Rights Council resolution on Lanka. It also called for the establishment of a Truth Commission to bring facts out.