Still No Human Rights Accountability in Sri Lanka

Still no end to serious human rights violations

Amnesty No Accountability Aug 28 2013

Amnesty’s Live Wire blog film on “Sri Lanka’s Authorities Must Tell the Trut”

29th August 2013
Index Number: ASA 37/021/2013
UN Human Rights Council
Twenty-Fourth Session
9th-27th September
Item 4

Still no human rights accountability in Sri Lanka: still no end to serious
human rights violations

Sri Lanka has still not taken genuine, substantial measures to meet
important human rights obligations. It has done little to end impunity;
serious human rights violations remain ubiquitous. Since the Human Rights
Council (HRC)’s adoption in March 2013 of Resolution 22/1 on ‘Promoting
reconciliation and accountability in Sri Lanka,’ the government, has made
some new promises to investigate alleged violations and to implement more
of the recommendations made by its own Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation
Commission, but it has made little progress implementing the reforms it
had already promised.

There is a growing body of evidence of serious violations of human rights
and humanitarian law during the armed conflict, some amounting to war
crimes or crimes against humanity. These include enforced disappearances,
extrajudicial executions and the intentional shelling of civilians and
protected areas such as hospitals. The Sri Lankan government continues to
deny these violations outright without adequate investigation. It denies
credible allegations of crimes under international law committed by its
forces during Sri Lanka’s armed conflict and resists calls to investigate
senior officers allegedly responsible for violations.

Authorities continue to threaten and harass critics, particularly media
activists, students and even artists. Torture in police custody persists with
impunity. They claim to seek reconciliation between communities, but
appear to tolerate escalating attacks on minorities.. There have been more
than 20 reported attacks on Muslim places of worship, as well as businesses
in the past year. There was no known investigation into a July attack on
Arafa Jumma mosque in Mahiyangama; a government Minister simply
ordered the mosque closed.

In the run-up to the first ever provincial council elections to be held in the
Tamil majority Northern Province, opposition candidates, activists and
journalists engaged in public debates over key political issues– such as
military control of land — have come under attack. Unidentified assailants
have attacked the staff of Jaffna based Uthayan newspaper three times in
the past six months. In July its journalist Kunalan Dileep, who was covering
election issues, was assaulted. None of these incidents have been
effectively investigated.

On 1 August three people were killed and scores injured when soldiers fired
automatic weapons to disperse unarmed villagers protesting against
industrial pollution of their water supply.iii One victim was allegedly beaten
to death by security forces while sheltering from the violence in a church.
The authorities continue to rely on the Prevention of Terrorism Act (PTA) in
lieu of ordinary criminal law for routine policing. The PTA restricts freedom
of expression and association and has been used to detain critics. It permits
extended administrative detention, and reverses the burden of proof where
torture or other ill-treatment of detainees is alleged. The PTA should be
substantially amended to conform with international standards or repealed.iv
Human rights and political activists, lawyers and journalists have been
interrogated, threatened and assaulted as a result of their work. None of the
incidents known to Amnesty International have been effectively investigated,
and no prosecutions have been initiated. People calling for accountability
for past and ongoing human rights violations, including human rights
defenders attempting to communicate concerns to the UN, have been
harassed and threatened. In some instances, individuals suspected of
‘internationalizing’ these issues through associations with foreign colleagueshave been detained and tortured.

Producers of a film ‘Flying Fish’ that
officials deem to have depicted Sri Lanka’s armed forces in a negative light,
were threatened with legal action; its director was called a “traitor” by statecontrolled media.

In July, Sri Lanka announced the arrest of security force personnel alleged
to have been involved in the January 2006 extrajudicial execution of 5
students in Trincomalee. These suspects were once arrested in 2006, and
released, supposedly for lack of evidence. The commanding officer, named
by several witnesses as having been present during or ordering the attack,
was not arrested. The government also announced that it had directed the
police to compile a list of witnesses to the August 2006 massacre of 17 aid
workers with Action Contre la Faim (ACF) in Muttur – something that should
have happened years ago. These apparent efforts to investigate these cases,
albeit seven years late, are encouraging, but it is too early to determine if
they are genuine. In both cases, witnesses have reported threats by security
forces to prevent them from revealing what they know about the killings, and
several have fled the country. Given Sri Lanka’s climate of impunity,
relatives of victims have told Amnesty International they fear these
investigations will stall. Renewed investigations in these cases must be
followed by effective prosecution and punishment of the perpetrators,
including all persons in positions of command responsibility who knew or
should have known about the killings and did not take measures to prevent
them or punish those responsible.

In late July, President Rajapaksa ordered the creation of another
commission of inquiry into enforced disappearances during the conflict, the
10th disappearance commission since the early 1990s. Amnesty
International has previously questioned the efficacy of such ad hoc bodies,
which have lacked independence and effective witness protection, made
recommendations that are rarely implemented, and have undermined law
enforcement and criminal justice processes.

Amnesty International is
concerned that this new commission may exclude important cases,
particularly of persons who were taken from sites other than their places
residence – the focus of inquiry identified in its mandate.

Meanwhile police have failed to comply with court orders to submit remains
for analysis and take witness statements regarding a mass grave recently
discovered in Matale, thought to hold victims of enforced disappearances
between 1989 and1990. In 1989, Defence Secretary Gotabhaya Rajapaksa
commanded an army unit in Matale.

The government’s most recent promises of action on particularly egregious
human rights cases precede the August visit of the High Commissioner for
Human Rights (HCHR); the HRC’s 24th session, and Sri Lanka’s hosting of
the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting in November. This last is
an event of questionable legitimacy due to Sri Lanka’s extremely poor
human rights performance. The timing of the government’s recent
announcements shows that the Government of Sri Lanka responds to
international attention. Sri Lanka’s recent actions leading up to this Council
session are evidence of the importance of the HRC continuing to encourage
Sri Lanka to meet its international human rights obligations. But the
encouragement must be sustained to ensure these latest human rights
commitments are fulfilled. The HRC cannot afford to be satisfied by half
measures; it should demand proof that Sri Lanka is willing to hold
accountable all those responsible for human rights violations.

Even then, there are limits to what change can reasonably be expected from
domestic mechanisms, given the enormous backlog in unresolved cases and
demonstrated lack of political will to address command responsibility for the
most egregious violations.

HRC Resolution 19/2 of 2012 called on Sri Lanka to ensure accountability
for alleged violations of international law; Resolution 22/1 of 2013
expressed concern over reports of continuing violations of human rights,
reiterated the demand for accountability and noted the call of the HCHR for
an “independent and credible international investigation into alleged
violations of international human rights law and international humanitarian
law” in Sri Lanka. The government’s increasing intolerance of dissent and
continued failure to ensure justice in even the most publicized cases make
it clear that there is insufficient action to end impunity and promote human
rights. An independent international investigation remains essential to
ensure accountability in Sri Lanka.

Amnesty International urges the HRC to:

• Continue to monitor closely the human rights situation in Sri Lanka,
including of the effectiveness of any domestic accountability
• Strengthen UN measures to prevent intimidation or reprisals by or
tolerated by the Sri Lankan government against individuals who seek
to cooperate or have cooperated with the UN, its representatives and
mechanisms in the field of human rights;
• Establish a credible and independent international investigation into
allegations of crimes under international law committed by Sri Lankan
government forces and allied armed groups as well as the LTTE. The
investigation should be conducted in accordance with international
standards and, where sufficient admissible evidence is found, lead to
the criminal prosecution of individuals found responsible in full
conformity with international standards for fair trial;
Amnesty International urges the Government of Sri Lanka to:
• Ensure that all suspected perpetrators of crimes under international
law are prosecuted in proceedings that comply with international
standards for fair trial.
• Ensure the protection of the rights to freedom of expression, freedom
of peaceful assembly and freedom of association, and demonstrate
unequivocally that harassment, intimidation and attacks against
individuals or groups of individuals exercising those rights will not be
tolerated, regardless of the opinions such individuals hold and
express, and regardless of the position or political affiliation of the
suspected perpetrator;
• Take all measures necessary to end attacks on businesses owned by
Muslims and Christians and on Muslim and Christian places of
worship;• Substantially amend to bring into conformance with international
standards or repeal the PTA and end the abusive use of other
legislation to violate the rights to freedom of expression, freedom of
peaceful assembly, and freedom of association;
• Cooperate fully with the UN special procedures including by
responding positively to outstanding their requests for invitations to
visit Sri Lanka and by providing them with full access.

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