Annual Report: Sri Lanka 2013

May 23, 2013

Annual Report: Sri Lanka 2013

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Democratic Socialist Republic of Sri Lanka

Head of state and government Mahinda Rajapaksa

Unlawful detentions, torture and enforced disappearances remained rife and went unpunished. Government officials and supporters harassed and threatened human rights defenders, journalists and members of the judiciary who spoke out about abuses of power or advocated human rights accountability. More than three years after the armed conflict between the Sri Lankan government and the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) ended, impunity persisted for alleged war crimes and crimes against humanity. The government failed to implement recommendations aimed at accountability made by Sri Lanka's Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission (LLRC) and the UN Human Rights Council. The authorities continued to rely on the Prevention of Terrorism Act to arrest and detain suspects for lengthy periods without charge or trial. Despite government claims, many people displaced by the armed conflict were not fully settled, including some whose land remained occupied by the Sri Lankan military.

Enforced disappearances

More than 20 alleged enforced disappearances were reported. Victims included political activists, business people and suspected criminals. Prominent cases from past years remained unresolved.

  • Armed men abducted Tamil businessman Ramasamy Prabaharan on 11 February, just two days before the Supreme Court was scheduled to hear his complaints against arbitrary arrest, detention and torture by police and seizure of his business in May 2009.
  • In April, Frontline Socialist Party activists Premakumar Gunaratnam and Dimuthu Attigala were abducted shortly before the launch of the new party; both were interrogated and eventually released. Premakumar Gunaratnam, an Australian citizen, said he was tortured by his abductors, who he believed were linked to the government.
  • Investigations failed to progress into the cases of political activists Lalith Kumar Weeraraj and Kugan Muruganathan – both allegedly victims of enforced disappearance by the army in Jaffna in December 2011. The two had been planning a peaceful protest by families of the disappeared. The Court of Appeal repeatedly postponed the habeas corpus case filed by relatives of the missing men.
  • In June, former Attorney General Mohan Peiris was ordered to appear at a habeas corpus hearing into the disappearance of political cartoonist Prageeth Eknaligoda after he told the UN Committee against Torture in 2011 that Eknaligoda was living in a foreign country. At the hearing, Mohan Peiris admitted that he did not know Prageeth Eknaligoda's whereabouts and claimed he could not remember who said he was in exile.

Arbitrary arrests and detentions

The authorities continued to arrest people without warrants and detain them for extended periods without charge or trial. As of October, the authorities acknowledged holding almost 500 alleged former LTTE members without charge for what they termed “rehabilitation”. Hundreds of other Tamil prisoners remained in administrative detention pending investigation into their suspected links with the LTTE; many had been detained for years. Surveillance and re-arrest of people released from rehabilitation continued.

Excessive use of force

  • In February Antony Warnakulasuriya was killed and three others were wounded when the Special Task Force (STF), a commando unit, fired live ammunition into a crowd of people from the fishing community who were protesting against fuel price increases outside the west coast town of Chilaw. Police reportedly blocked protesters from taking the injured to hospital by land, forcing them to go by boat.

Torture and other ill-treatment

Torture in police custody persisted. In at least five cases, victims died in custody after beatings or other ill-treatment by the police.