U.N. rights watchdog calls on Sri Lanka to investigate torture

United Nations Human Rights

A U.N. rights watchdog called on Sri Lanka on Wednesday to investigate documented allegations of torture and rape of detainees by security forces and to rein in broad police powers.

The United Nations Committee against Torture described continuing reports of abductions, deaths in custody, poor conditions of detention and the use of forced confessions in court.

There was no immediate response from the Sri Lankan authorities. But the committee’s report said the island’s attorney general, Jayantha Jayasuriya, had told its investigators that his government had a zero tolerance policy when it came to torture.

The report included recommendations by the panel of 10 independent rights experts citing “consistent reports” from national and U.N. sources that torture remains common in regular criminal investigations in Sri Lanka.

“The Committee is concerned that the broad police powers to arrest suspects without a court warrant has led to the practice of detaining persons while conducting the investigations as a means to obtain information under duress,” it said.

It cited allegations that “police investigators often fail to register detainees during the initial hours of deprivation of liberty or to bring them before a magistrate, within the time-limit prescribed by law, during which time torture is particularly likely to occur.”
The panel urged Sri Lanka to identify and prosecute perpetrators of “emblematic cases” from a 26-year-civil war that ended in 2009, including the murder of the “Trincomalee Five” students on the beach and 17 aid workers of Action Contre la Faim, both in 2006.

The separatist Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelan was crushed in 2009. The United Nations and rights groups have accused the military of killing thousands of civilians, mostly Tamils, during the final weeks of the conflict.
The Tamil Tigers were also accused of widespread abuses during the war, such as using child soldiers and targeting civilians with suicide bombers.

(Reuters – by Stephanie Nebehay)