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Serving Sri Lanka

This web log is a news and views blog. The primary aim is to provide an avenue for the expression and collection of ideas on sustainable, fair, and just, grassroot level development. Some of the topics that the blog will specifically address are: poverty reduction, rural development, educational issues, social empowerment, post-Tsunami relief and reconstruction, livelihood development, environmental conservation and bio-diversity. 

Monday, November 21, 2005

Committee against Torture hears response of Sri Lanka

ReliefWeb - Document Preview: Source: United Nations Committee against Torture
Date: 11 Nov 2005
Committee against Torture
AFTERNOON
11 novembre 2005

The Committee against Torture this afternoon heard the response of Sri Lanka to questions raised by Committee Experts on the second periodic report of that country on how it is implementing the provisions of the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment.

Responding to a series of questions raised by the Committee members on Thursday, 10 November, the delegation, which was led by Sarala Fernando, Ambassador and Permanent Representative of Sri Lanka to the United Nations Office at Geneva, said human rights cells were set up in the police force to deal with internal allegations of human rights violations in the force, and for the dissemination of information in relation to human rights. A confession made by any person to a police officer as a result of torture or any confession made by any person whilst in police custody to another under duress was inadmissible under normal law. On a question on the interpretation in case law on what was considered bodily harm, humiliation and others, this area of law had received legislative expression in 1995, and there had only been a few cases, and as a result the jurisprudential aspect was yet to be developed by the courts.

In conclusion, the delegation said that Sri Lanka had always been mindful of its obligations, and respected, secured, and advanced human rights to its society. The Constitution of Sri Lanka confirmed to its people that fundamental rights would be recognised as an intangible heritage that guaranteed the dignity and well-being of mankind.

The Committee will submit its conclusions and recommendations on the report of Sri Lanka towards the end of the session on 25 November 2005.

As one of the 140 States parties to the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment, Sri Lanka is obliged to provide the Committee with periodic reports on the measures it has undertaken to fight torture.

When the Committee reconvenes at 10 a.m. on Monday, 14 November, it is scheduled to hear the response of Ecuador to questions posed this morning.

Response of Sri Lanka

Responding to a series of questions raised by the Committee Experts on 10 November, the delegation of Sri Lanka said concerning non-extradition or refoulement, there was no express provision on the non-extradition of persons on the grounds of the person being subjected to torture. However, extradition required a court process, and in their interpretation of extradition law, they would necessarily give expression to any international agreement to which Sri Lanka was party, including the Convention. In agreeing on the extradition, the State would necessarily be guided by its international obligations, in particular article 3 of the Convention.

Since signing the Peace Agreement, there had been a number of instances when LTTE leaders had flown in and out of Colombo airport. On the right to try non-Sri Lankans who had committed crimes outside the country but were in the country and who had not been extradited, there was no such provision to deal with this aspect in domestic legislation. Statistics showed, the delegation said, that there was a vast reduction in the number of cases relating to torture that had been filed in the courts. The procedure for visits of places of detention had been agreed upon in consultation with the Human Rights Commission of Sri Lanka, whose officers could visit, at any time, without notice, any police station. However, if they were to visit any place within the police station where the public had no access, the police had been directed to provide the assistance of a senior police officer to escort the members of the Commission for reasons of security.

The National Police Commission had been established and could not in any way be abolished by executive action. On law delays, the delegation said, the Government and the Chief Justice were presently considering legislative steps as well as administrative procedures to accelerate the process of the criminal justice aystem. On language in which statements were recorded, it was conceded that statements of accused persons as well as witnesses had been in certain instances recorded in a language other than in the language in which the oral statement was made. This problem had been recognised and every endeavour was being made to ensure that the problem was addressed.

Human rights cells were set up in the police force to deal with internal allegations of human rights violations in the forces, and for the dissemination of information in relation to human rights. However, the administrative structure of the police did not require human rights cells to investigate human rights violations within the police, and the Human Rights Directorate of police ensured the dissemination of information on human rights to all police stations. All military personnel and police officers had been fully apprised of the fact that they were not obliged to follow any illegal orders of a superior officer, and that such an order made by a superior officer would not be a defence in any court proceeding or disciplinary inquiry. On how findings of reports of inspection visits to prisons were communicated to the relevant authorities for implementation, NGOs would always inform the relevant authorities of their findings, conclusions and recommendations, if they were of the view that remedial action was required.

As to why police officers against whom allegations of torture were made were not immediately interdicted, in practice, it had been found that very often persons accused of offences made false allegations for purposes of stifling the investigations that were being conducted against them, the delegation said. In the circumstances, it would be unfair to interdict a police officer on a mere allegation; however an officer against whom a prima facie case had been established would be interdicted by the National Police Commission. On the issue of the offending party paying compensation in lieu of a prosecution, there was an earlier practice in the Human Rights Commission in this regard. However, the Attorney General's Department had taken up the position that such settlements did not bind the Attorney General from forwarding indictments against perpetrators of torture. The present Commission had now discontinued this practice.

A confession made by any person to a police officer as a result of torture or any confession made by any person whilst in police custody to another under duress was inadmissible under normal law, the delegation said.

In terms of the Prisons Ordinance, serious offences such as mutiny, escape from prison, or causing grievous harm to a prison officer were inquired into by a prison tribunal chaired by a judicial officer. These tribunals were empowered to impose punishments of imprisonment in addition to the sentence the offender was serving. With regard to minor offences arising as a result of violation of prison rules, the Superintendent of Prisons was empowered to impose punishments such as solitary confinement and closed confinement, as well as a punishment diet. All serious offences committed by a prisoner against a fellow prisoner were tried under normal law, the delegation said.

The outcome of police disciplinary inquiries was not made public, the delegation said. However, if such disciplinary procedure was based on a complaint made by any person, the complainant had the right to know the outcome of the disciplinary inquiry. There were no statistics on compensation awarded to victims at this time. On a question on the interpretation in case law on what was considered bodily harm, humiliation and others, this area of law had received legislative expression in 1995, and there had only been a few cases, and as a result the jurisprudential aspect was yet to be developed by the courts. In all reported cases of custodial rape that had been committed before 2002, the Attorney General had examined the available material, and initiated criminal proceedings in all cases where there was sufficient evidence.

With regards to a question on whether there was any mechanism within the LTTE to deal with human rights violations, considering the flagrant violations of human rights by the LTTE, it was inconceivable that there were any mechanisms within the LTTE to deal with these, the delegation said. On whether there were statistics of discontinued cases against police officers, the delegation noted that there had been such cases on applications made by the victims, although no statistics could be provided. In all cases where the State had been ordered to pay compensation, this had been paid on the due date. However, in cases where public officers were directed by the Court to pay compensation personally, the Court could grant sufficient time to make such payments.

In conclusion, the delegation said that Sri Lanka had always been mindful of its obligations, and respected, secured, and advanced human rights to its society. The Constitution of Sri Lanka confirmed to its people that fundamental rights would be recognised as an intangible heritage that guaranteed the dignity and well-being of mankind.

ANDREAS MAVROMMATIS, Committee Expert serving as Rapporteur for the report of Sri Lanka, said most of his questions were either partly or fully answered. However, three cases had been mentioned. Sri Lanka had done a lot of work to comply with recommendations made the previous time, and had done many other things in compliance with the recommendations of other United Nations bodies, and yet the number of credible complaints of torture or cruel and inhuman treatment whilst in police custody showed no decline. It was clear that something therefore remained to be done to reduce the incidents of torture. The Human Rights Commission appeared to have identified something that was of concern in this regard, and that was the pervading culture of impunity. The Government had to look into the causes for the continuing situation in greater detail, and to ensure that this was the case from the highest levels of the police force, right down to the most local of police officers in each little village. On the question of the National Human Rights Commission and the National Police Commission, which were statutory bodies, when these were not appointed, there was a need to clarify who took over their tasks.

OLE VEDEL RASMUSSEN, Committee Expert serving as co-Rapporteur, said that all questions had been answered, but he had a few comments, in particular with regard to the argument against the suspension of police officers in the case of allegations of torture, and Mr. Rasmussen suggested that this be reconsidered. It was up to the police force to conduct an investigation and get rid of rotten apples within its ranks. Further information was required on the maximum length of solitary confinement, and the suppression of the punishment diet was also suggested. Further information on convictions and those still on remand was also required, as this would help to clarify problems related to the numbers of those convicted.

Other Committee Experts then made further comments and raised questions. An Expert noted that a question on monitoring and follow-up measures that prevented sexual violence had not been answered. Sexual violence was also not exclusively carried out by men against women, an Expert reminded the delegation, and that persons in custody were often subject to abuse, including from other detainees, and asked whether there were any laws or provisions to prosecute such crimes.

Responding briefly, the delegation said the Attorney-General's office had a public complaints section, to which the public were entitled to write and complain about any offence or mistreatment that they had received at the hands of any public servant. If these matters were brought to the attention of the Attorney-General and he was informed that the police were trying to sweep such a matter under the carpet, then he would investigate them thoroughly. With regards to close confinement, this was for three days, and normal confinement was for a maximum of 14 days. As far as the prisons were concerned, there were both convicted and remanded persons in their walls, but they were confined to separate sections. Remand was the exception, generally speaking. On laws on sexual harassment that took place in prisons, there was a law on sexual abuse as well as harassment. With regards to rape, it only applied to women. The Constitutional Council had not been disbanded, and could not be disbanded, but there had been a delay in its constitution. The Human Rights Commission had no right to order compensation, as it was involved in the monitoring of human rights, and compensation was a matter for the courts.

In concluding remarks, Sarala Fernando, Permanent Representative of Sri Lanka to the United Nations Office at Geneva, said that Sri Lanka had made great progress since the signing of the Ceasefire Agreement in 2002, and there was broad international recognition that a better human rights situation prevailed in the country. There had been no allegations of disappearances, extra-judicial killings or torture against the security forces. The police was also in the process of transition from a force that had to combat a brutal insurgency into a community-oriented civilian police force operating under normal law. Sri Lanka welcomed all international assistance provided for human rights education, civilian police training and national capacity building. It was only through strengthening national capacities that Sri Lanka would achieve the final goal of safeguarding all human rights for its people. There was no impunity for torture or any other human rights violation in Sri Lanka, and it was in this spirit that the country welcomed the dialogue with the Committee.


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