Reporters Without Borders (RSF) and Journalists for Democracy in Sri Lanka (JDS) are dismayed to learn that Sri Lanka’s national intelligence chief, Sisira Mendis, who is accused of serious crimes against journalists during the final stages of its civil war, is on the Sri Lankan delegation that is meeting with the United Nations Committee against Torture (UNCAT) in Geneva today and tomorrow.
Then Deputy Inspector General Mendis oversaw two police units, the Criminal Investigation Department (CID) and the Terrorism Investigation Division (TID), during the final phase of the Sri Lankan civil war from March 2008 until June 2009. A UN investigation accused both units of torture and sexual violence during the period that Mendis was in charge.
Under Mendis, the CID and TID abducted, arrested, detained and tortured many journalists along with hundreds of other civilians. After release, many of these journalists fled the country fearing reprisals.
The well-known journalist J. S. Tissainayagam, the writer and publisher V. Jasikaran and his wife V. Valarmathy, and the journalist K. Wijesinghe are among the prominent media figures who experienced cruel treatment at the hands of the TID.
Dr. Thurairajah Varatharajah, who was detained by the CID in 2009 along with four other Tamil doctors, was subjected to inhuman treatment for being the main source of information from the war zone for international media outlets during the final stages of Sri Lanka’s bloody war, when no independent journalists were allowed to cover the fighting.
“RSF and JDS ask UNCAT to question National Intelligence Chief Sisira Mendis on the conduct of these police units under his command and to determine who was responsible for the crimes against journalists and violations of press freedom,” said Benjamin Ismail, the head of RSF’s Asia-Pacific desk.
“Mendis cannot deny being aware of what happened to these journalists and their sources while they were held on his watch. We have credible evidence that they were subjected to inhuman treatment while in detention and were intimidated following their release.”
The highly questionable conduct of the CID and the TID under the leadership of Mendis was detailed in a lengthy submission to UNCAT by the International Truth and Justice Project (ITJP), a Sri Lankan initiative that combats impunity for crimes against civilians and is funded by the Johannesburg-based Human Rights Foundation.
Sri Lanka is one of the 159 states that are party to the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment. As such, it is required to undergo regular review by the UN on how it is implementing the Convention and previous UNCAT recommendations.