by Ambika Satkunanathan, from Routledge Handbook of Human Rights in Asia, December 11, 2018
This chapter, which is based on interviews with those identified as former LTTE combatants, their families and lawyers representing persons detained under national security laws, aims to map the violations these persons experienced from the point of arrest or surrender to their release from government-run rehabilitation centres and their post-release status. The chapter begins by setting out the national security framework, particularly the laws relating to those categorised as former combatants, to identify the provisions as well as legislative gaps that enabled the violation of rights of persons termed as surrendees by the law. It thereafter focuses on the rehabilitation process, and concludes with a description of the post-release context, including how the context itself led to further violation of the rights of the rehabilitees.
During the three-decades-long armed conflict in Sri Lanka, Emergency Regulations issued under the Public Security Ordinance and the Prevention of Terrorism Act served as a comprehensive and draconian legislative framework to counter terrorism. These laws were used to
target mainly Tamil men who were often arrested largely due to their ethnicity, and region of residence or origin, i.e. the north and east of the country, and arbitrarily detained for months, without charges being filed. The armed conflict between the government of Sri Lanka and the
Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) came to an end in May 2009 with the military victory of the government. When hostilities ended in May 2009 and internally displaced persons (IDPs) began entering government-controlled areas, the government separated those suspected
of being LTTE cadre or of having had links with the group from the IDPs. In the post-war period, national security laws, and the extra-legal practices that had come into being as a result, continued to be applied to deal with the alleged former LTTE combatants.
The aim of this chapter is to trace the violation of the rights of those who were identified by the state as LTTE combatants (termed ‘surrendees’ by the government) from the point of custody to their release from government-run rehabilitation centres and their post-release status. Although child combatants were subjected to the rehabilitation process this chapter will focus only on adults. This chapter, which is based primarily on interviews with alleged former combatants, aims to map the violations these persons experienced to contribute to addressing the paucity of research on the rehabilitation process in Sri Lanka. From December 2009 to December 2013 individual interviews were conducted in the Northern Province (Jaffna, Kilinochchi, Mullaitivu, Vavuniya and Mannar) with 26 women and 17 men who were sent to rehabilitation centres. Six focus groups of 15 participants, each of those whose family members were in detention, rehabilitation or prison,
were held, with each discussion lasting between 90 to 120 minutes. Further, nine lawyers who represent those detained under national security laws were also interviewed. This chapter will use the legal term used by the government, ‘surrendees’, only when discussing the legal framework. In other instances, the term rehabilitees, i.e. those who were sent to rehabilitation centres, will be used in order to avoid categorising even those who did not surrender as surrendees.
This chapter will begin by setting out the national security framework, particularly the laws relating to former combatants, to identify the provisions and lack of protections that enabled the violation of rights of persons termed as surrendees by the law. The following section will focus on the rehabilitation process itself, and conclude with a description of the post-release context, including how this context itself led to further violation of the rights of the surrendees who have been released from rehabilitation centres…
At the end of the armed conflict in Sri Lanka the government separated those suspected of being members of the LTTE and sent them to rehabilitation centres run by the military. Decision making regarding those sent for rehabilitation was entirely within the purview of the secretary for the Ministry of Defence, and was done with no transparency or judicial oversight. Those persons separated were denied the right to challenge their detention and even the right to legal representation. Due to a lack of objective criteria to determine eligibility for rehabilitation, even those who were forcibly recruited and were in the LTTE for only a few days or hours, and those who worked in a civilian capacity in LTTE institutions and did not take direct part in hostilities were also sent to rehabilitation. During the rehabilitation process, which was not monitored by any independent protection agency, the government repeatedly stated that it was providing vocational training to those at the centre. However, particularly during the first couple of years after the conclusion of the armed conflict, most rehabilitees did not receive any vocational training. Further, the available training was gender stereotyped and often not in line with market demands or likely opportunities. The Emergency Regulations and thereafter the Prevention of Terrorism Act enabled the government to keep people under indefinite administrative detention by transferring persons between rehabilitation centres and detention centres. Following release,
most rehabilitees were subject to regular surveillance, interrogation and harassment by the military and intelligence services, which hampered their re-integration. This was further exacerbated by societal perceptions and a level of suspicion and fear that those persons were informants for the military. Further, the socio-economic needs of those released from rehabilitation centres were unmet, with state initiatives falling short of addressing the legitimate needs of those persons. Even throughout 2016 the effective socio-economic re-integration of rehabilitees remained low and the support services provided to the rehabilitees continued to be within the purview of the military. One rehabilitation centre, Poonthottam, remains open and receives persons who have been detained under the Prevention of Terrorism Act including long-term detainees pre-2009 and those arrested at different times after that—sent either because there isn’t adequate evidence
to file charges against them or because they have pleaded guilty to lesser offences under the Prevention of Terrorism Act. Facilities at the Poonthottam centre remain rather basic and rehabilitees are provided only three vocational training options: welding, masonry and carpentry. Hence, there has been little change to the structural and legal framework governing rehabilitation with the ongoing military treatment and social marginalisation experienced by former rehabilitees continuing to hamper their productive reintegration into civil society.
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