Concerns of UN Rapporteurs

criminalThe United Nations Special Rapporteurs Monica Pinto and Juan E. Mendez have expressed their concerns over the existing legal system in the island and emphasized the need of bringing structural reforms to the key institutions such as the Attorney General’s Department, Armed Forces, Police and the Judiciary.
The two UN Special Rapporteurs held a press conference in Colombo last Saturday (7) on their Sri Lankan assignment and briefed on the measures to be taken into consideration by the Sri Lanka Government towards stabilizing its legal system and improving the human rights situation in the island.
UN’s Special Rapporteur on Human Rights and on the Independence of Judges and Lawyers Monica Pinto and the Special Rapporteur on Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment, Juan E.Mendez had not only met the government officials, they had also visited the detention camps in the North.
Speaking to the media in Colombo the two UN Special Rapporteurs also said that the Sri Lanka Government has pledged to repeal the Prevention of Terrorism Act (PTA) which came into effect in 1979.
A couple of weeks ago even Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe had mentioned about the need of repealing the PTA and introducing alternative new laws similar to the Anti-Terrorism Law in the United Kingdom.
The PTA which was introduced in 1979 to curb the terrorist activities in the island had paved way for the arrest and detention of anyone suspected of anti-government activities in the past thirty seven years. Scores of young men and women were taken into custody and a majority of them still remain detained without any legal action. Several human rights organizations including the United Nations Human Rights Council have expressed their concerns over the PTA and on the release of those who have been detained under the Act.
According to the two Special UN Rapporteurs they have also been briefed by the government officials on the framing of three new laws, namely: the National Security Act, Law on Organized Crimes and a Law on Surveillance and National Intelligence to replace the existing PTA.
However, the Special Rapporteurs told the press that they didn’t see the drafts of the proposed legislation of the government.
The two UN officials have visited the island when the arrests of former LTTE cadres were being carried out in the North and East in recent weeks.
By visiting the detention camp at Poonthottam and the remand prison in Vavuniya, the two UN officials had questioned the necessity of the detention camps after several years since the civil war came to an end in 2009. They also pointed out the government’s failure in expediting legal measures in dealing with the detainees.
Citing some of the information gathered by them, the two UN Rapporteurs had expressed their deep concerns about the recent arrests of the former LTTE cadres in the North and the East and the two UN officials have also warned the government to avoid secret arrests and pointed out that the lack of transparency in arrests which has been the pattern that has haunted the citizens of this island for several years.
The present government should realize that the previous government became unpopular with the international community due to its poor human rights record and its shortcomings in fulfilling the pledges made towards improving the human rights conditions in the island.
The eradication of terrorism seven years ago in 2009 with the annihilation of the LTTE cannot be taken as granted in ensuring the security of the country. So the intended new measures which were briefed to the visiting UN officials towards tackling Organized Crimes and on strengthening National Security with enhancing the Surveillance and National Intelligence to replace the PTA sound constructive.
However, the new measures should not be the ‘Old wine in new bottles’ ridiculing the much anticipated efforts initiated towards stabilizing the human rights situation and a reconciled nation.