|Sri Lanka: Presentation of the Attorney General of Sri Lanka Hon. C.R. De Silva, PC|
|Tuesday, 13 May 2008|
UNIVERAL PERIODIC REVIEW - SRI LANKAMr. President, distinguished delegates, ladies and gentlemen,
I wish to deal with the issues of abductions, disappearances, extra-judicial killings, torture and the allegation of impunity with regard to violations of Human Rights violations at some length because of the importance of the issue and the nature of the concern expressed by colleagues in the international community.
Let me at the outset state that, given the prevailing conflict, certain individuals have been abducted, some have disappeared, a number have been subjected to torture, and indeed deaths have occurred under very peculiar and suspicious circumstances. Mr. President, notwithstanding the serious nature of the security situation prevailing in Sri Lanka resulting from a reign of terror unleashed by the most ruthless terrorist organization in the world – the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), it is not the policy of the State to adopt and enforce extra-ordinary measures that are outside the framework of the law. The government has steadfastly insisted that all agents of the state should necessarily carryout arrests, detentions, and investigations including interrogations, in accordance with the due process of the law and in a manner that would not infringe human rights. In addition to the written law, the President has also issued directives on the manner in which arrests and detentions have to be carried out.
It has been expressly provided, that no transgression of the law will be tolerated and that all persons found to have violated the law would be dealt with and held accountable for their conduct. As regards the issue of disappearances, I do not wish to cite figures because of the unique character of the problem and because statistics given by various sources have been found to be at variance and unreliable. For example, in a list of 355 alleged disappearances submitted to the government by a diplomatic representative of one country, initial investigations alone revealed that 12 persons in the list had left Sri Lanka through the international airport for other countries under their own name and using their own regular Passports. If that be the case, we do not know how many of this list had left the country using false documentation and other illegal means. Upon investigations it transpired that 17 persons were found by the police to be living with their own families in their normal habitat. In other words, they had not disappeared at all. Investigations also revealed that another 11 young persons had eloped with their partners.
We are unable to verify how many may have entered the un-cleared areas in which the LTTE operates. Therefore, it is difficult to ascertain the veracity of these figures and the genuineness of the complaints. It is also important to note, that investigations revealed that in some instances, the LTTE has influenced some people to lodge false complaints of disappearances with the view to discrediting the government. Therefore, it is not safe to consider the nature and the magnitude of the problem on the basis of unsubstantiated statistics. However, it remains a fact that certain individuals have disappeared and as a responsible government, we are concerned about this problem. We are therefore studying credible reports and information, so as to identify the nature of the problem, its magnitude, possible reasons and identities of those who are responsible. As said before, it is not the policy of the State to illegally and surreptitiously arrest persons and detain them in undisclosed locations or to extra-judicially eliminate arrested and detained suspects. Mr. President, a Presidential Commission of Inquiry has been specially established to inquire into allegations of disappearances. The work of this commission supplements the inquiries being conducted by the National Human Rights Commission. We hope that material collected by these two commissions will enable the government to form reliable conclusions as to the nature and magnitude of the problem.
Recommendations made by these Commissions would also enable the State to pay compensation to the victims and provide other relief. Furthermore, material collected by these Commissions would facilitate the conduct of criminal investigations against alleged perpetrators and their prosecution. A special agency of the Police Department named the Disappearances Investigation Unit (DIU), has been investigating complaints into alleged disappearances. We are determined to ensure that all complaints are comprehensively and impartially investigated into, perpetrators identified, and evidence against them collected, so that such persons can be prosecuted. I might in this regard mention that, during the past decade, I as well as my predecessors as Attorneys General have instituted criminal proceedings against 599 members of the security forces and the police with regard to their alleged involvement in abducting persons, detaining them unlawfully and extra-judicially eliminating persons in custody. The latest of these prosecutions is against a former member of the Sri Lanka Air Force, two police officers and two civilians, with regard to their alleged involvement in causing the abduction and disappearance of a person in 2006. The process of investigation and prosecution may not be as expeditious as one would like it to be. This is associated with general resource constraints faced by the enforcement agencies and the judicial system of Sri Lanka. However, what is important is that, the due process of the law and justice has been set in motion and is moving in the correct direction.
The allegation of torture is also one that concerns our government. Both the UN Committee Against Torture (CAT) which conducted a confidential inquiry in terms of Article 20 of the Torture Convention and the UN Special Rapportuer on Torture Prof. Manfred Nowak who visited Sri Lanka in 2007 and examined the situation with regards to torture, concluded that the practice of torture was not systematic in Sri Lanka. It is our government’s view that unfortunately torture may be possibly occasionally used by certain overzealous investigators on certain occasions as an investigative tool to extract the truth from persons under interrogation. Possibly this problem is not one that is unique to Sri Lanka. However much the purpose for using torture may be in the best interests of investigations, our government does not condone torture under any circumstances. It is a violation of an important fundamental right enshrined in the Constitution and an offence under the criminal law of Sri Lanka attracting very serious penal sanctions. All persons who allege a violation of the Fundamental Rights against being subjected to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment have the constitutional right to complain to the Supreme Court and obtain redress. Where the Petitioner establishes a prima-facie case, the Attorney General does not appear in court on behalf of the alleged perpetrators who may be officers of the police or the security forces. The Special Investigations Unit (SIU) of the Police has been specially mandated to cause criminal investigations into all complaints of torture. At the Attorney General’s Department a special team of officers has been entrusted the task of expeditiously considering the investigational material, with the view to instituting criminal proceedings against those found to have been responsible for perpetrating torture.
During the last 12 months alone, criminal proceedings have been instituted against 61 police officers with regard to their alleged torture in the course of criminal investigations. Let me reiterate that, it is certainly not the policy of our government to protect persons who may conduct themselves in a manner that infringes fundamental and other human rights of our citizens. To the contrary, all allegations of the violation of human rights are and will be fully and impartially investigated and where there exists reliable and sufficient material to launch prosecutions, all alleged perpetrators of human rights violations would be prosecuted. Measures necessary to expedite the process of investigation, launch of prosecutions and conduct of trials would be adopted. It is indeed our intention to ensure that, notwithstanding the identity of the person, his designation and the role supposedly performed by such persons, all those who commit human rights violations which are also recognised as criminal offences are dealt with under the due process of law, prosecuted and appropriately punished. Such action by the State would not only provide relief to the relevant victims, it will also serve as deterrence and thereby dissuade others to commit such crimes. I might also mention that, during the last year, I as the Attorney General has sanctioned the forwarding of Indictments against several key persons in authority including Ministers, Members of Parliament and several other senior officers of the government in respect of their participation in various criminal activities.In view of the foregoing facts and circumstances, I submit Mr. President that the government of Sri Lanka refutes the allegation of impunity.
|Last Updated ( Tuesday, 24 June 2008 )|
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