Colombo: Sri Lanka has failed to fulfil its pledge to abolish its draconian anti-terrorism law that gives police sweeping powers to arrest suspects without trial, Human Rights Watch said on Monday, demanding repeal of the law that was widely used during the civil war against the LTTE.
“The Sri Lankan government has been all talk and no action on repealing the reviled Prevention of Terrorism Act (PTA),” said HRW Asia director Brad Adams.
The HRW report ‘Locked Up Without Evidence: Abuses under Sri Lanka’s Prevention of Terrorism Act’ documents previous and ongoing abuses allegedly committed under the PTA, including torture and sexual abuse, forced confessions and systematic denials of due process.
The government of President Maithripala Sirisena promised to abolish the act after it was elected in 2015, but has so far failed to do so.
Drawing on interviews with former detainees, family members and lawyers working on PTA cases, the US-based rights group alleged that the PTA is a “significant contributing factor toward the persistence of torture in Sri Lanka”.
It said that the 17 accounts documented in the report represent only a tiny fraction of PTA cases overall, but they “underscore the laws draconian nature and abusive implementation.”
The PTA allows arrests without warrant for unspecified unlawful activities, and permits detention for up to 18 months without producing the suspect before a court.
The report said that HRW has received several reports of people detained for a decade or more without access to legal recourse, who were subsequently acquitted or released without charge, yet received no compensation, reparations, or apologies from the government.
Government figures released in July 2017 indicate that 70 prisoners have been held in pretrial detention under the PTA for more than five years, and 12 for over 10 years, the report said. “Many of those detained under the PTA described being tortured to extract confessions. Of the 17 individuals whose cases are detailed in the report, 11 reported beatings and torture,” it said.
The PTA provides immunity for government officials responsible for abuses if deemed to have been acting in good faith or fulfilling an order under the act, which gives broad cover to security force personnel to engage in torture and other abuses, it said.
The UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention called for an immediate repeal of the PTA, referring to it as a key enabler of abuse.
The European Union also reiterated its call for the PTA to be repealed at an EU-Sri Lanka Joint Commission meeting in January 2018.
“Replacing this draconian counterterrorism law with one that meets international standards should be an urgent priority if the government is serious about protecting human rights,” HRW said.