UN Rapporteurs urged to hold Colombo to its international commitments

Stressing that torture is still ongoing in Sri Lanka, a top UK-based human rights organisation on Wednesday urged visiting UN Special Rapporteurs to hold Colombo government to its international commitments to end rights abuses and probe war-time abuses.

UN Special Rapporteur on the independence of judges and lawyers, Mónica Pinto, and the Special Rapporteur on torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment, Juan E. Méndez, are making a joint visit to Sri Lanka from April 29 to May 7, at the invitation of Sri Lanka.

Hailing the visit as “a positive sign” that the current government is willing to take action to address the legacy of torture in Sri Lanka after years of obstruction and denial, Freedom From Torture said that the Special Rapporteurs “have a crucial role to play in holding the government to its international commitments”.

“This must include meaningful survivor consultation on an internationalised justice process as well as other measures in order to build trust across communities and deliver long-term peace and reconciliation,” its International Advocate and Researcher, Ann Hannah said in a statement.

The visit comes ahead of June Human Rights Council review of Sri Lanka’s progress in addressing pre-2009 torture and human rights abuses.

The UN Rapporteurs during their stay in Sri Lanka, will meet with governmental authorities, members of the judiciary and prosecution services, lawyers, civil society, the National Human Rights Commission, and victims and their families.

“However, we cannot ignore that this visit takes place against a backdrop of ongoing torture. Freedom from Torture has received 248 cases of torture since 2009 including 17 referrals for torture in 2015 under the current government. This undermines the government’s work to secure a stable and prosperous Sri Lanka,” Ann Hannah said.

“We want to see greater commitment by the government to dismantle the extensive and brutal police and security torture machinery. The Special Rapporteur on Torture, himself a survivor and eminent jurist, is uniquely placed to push the government for greater action in this area,” she said.

Issuing a statement ahead of their visit the UN Special Rapporteurs said that they “are encouraged by the recent steps taken by the Government to advance respect for human rights, including their support to Human Rights Council resolution 30/1 on ‘promoting reconciliation, accountability and human rights in Sri Lanka”.

“We look forward to engaging with the authorities and key actors on the challenges faced by the country to ensure the independence of the judiciary and the legal profession, due process and fair trial guarantees, and access to justice, and to eradicate torture and other ill-treatment, while promoting accountability and fulfilling victims’ right to reparations,” they have been quoted as saying in the statement issued by the Office of the UN Human Rights High Commissioner

“Sri Lanka is at a crucial moment in its history and we hope that our recommendations will contribute to setting out a path for the future that will be fully aligned with the international human rights obligations of the country,” the Special Rapporteurs said, adding that accessing places where persons “are detained will also be a key component of the visit”.