The British Home Office this week published an updated policy guidance and information note on Sri Lanka aimed at decision makers handling the granting of protection and human rights claims for Tamils.
The updated policy guidance, which follows the country guidance of GJ & Others in 2013, stated that there had been “positive developments” since the new government led by President Sirisena came to office and “an improved environment for civil society and human rights defenders has also been reported”.
Commenting on the new guidance, Jan Jananayagam of Together Against Genocide (TAG) said, “this home office policy flies in the face of recent events in Sri lanka, including overt surveillance and intimidation of protestors by the navy, police and other security services, the government of Sri Lanka’s willingness to promote those responsible for mass atrocities against Tamil civilians and those responsible for systemic torture of Tamils to senior positions.”
“It is internationally recognised that there is a disjoint between GOSL’s English language rhetoric and symbolic acts, and its Sinhala language rhetoric and actions in the country. The Home office has failed to base its guidance on actual actions,” she added.
“As recent arrests of European Tamils returning on holiday to Sri Lanka show, all those who participate in any form of political activity, be they protests or advocacy, in the diaspora remain at risk on return.”
See full policy guidance here. Extracts reproduced below:
“Unlike in the past, returnees who have a previous connection with the LTTE are able to return to their communities without suffering ill-treatment. Civil society groups on the ground did not report recent issues of ill-treatment. The police interest, if any, is not in any previous involvement with the LTTE, but on whether the person has committed any criminal act. This is because many had left the country using forged identities and the police were therefore seeking to establish the true identity of the returning person and whether they are wanted for any criminal acts in addition to leaving the country with false documents.”
“There are reports of arrest and detentions. However, the scale and extent is difficult to quantify. Reliable information is not available due to a lack of published data, vagaries and/or exaggeration in numbers cited and the potential lack of neutrality in pro-Tamil reportage.”
“Since GJ & Others was handed down, the new government under President Sirisena has de-proscribed a number of Tamil groups/diaspora organisations, which indicates that involvement with such organisations is not of itself seen as a threat to the integrity of the state (see De-proscription of Tamil groups). However, the situation is not sufficiently different in principle to justify a departure from the Tribunal’s findings in GJ & Others. Decision makers must consider each case on its facts and consider whether any diaspora activities in which the person has engaged are, or are likely to be, perceived as a ‘significant role’ such to make them of ongoing interest to the Sri Lankan authorities and/or that their activities will be, or will be perceived as being, a threat to the integrity of the state.”
“Unlike its predecessor, the current government – which was formed since GJ & Others was heard and promulgated – has shown willingness for allegations of war crimes during the final phase of the conflict to be fully investigated, and has established its own truth, justice, and reconciliation commission to investigate potential war crimes.”
“Since the new government came to office in 2015, ‘white van’ abductions are now seldom reported. The number of torture complaints has greatly reduced. However, new cases of Tamil victims continue to emerge and police reportedly often continue to resort to violence and excessive force, particularly when extracting confessions. Such treatment is reported to be common in relation to criminal investigations, regardless of the nature of the suspected offence. Decision makers should also note that many human rights reports on Sri Lanka use the term ‘torture’ to cover a very wide range of treatment ranging from forceful questioning or threats, through to the most severe forms of ill-treatment.”