Locked Away: Sri Lanka’s Security Detainees

Full Document

Source: http://amnesty.org


The Sri Lankan government won its long war with the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) in 2009, but the legacy of unlawful detention practices established during the conflict continues. Constitutional provisions and other legal and procedural guarantees meant to protect individuals from wrongful incarceration and ensure fair prosecution of suspects have been supplanted in Sri Lanka by provisions of antiterrorism laws and emergency measures geared to serve perceived military expediency rather than protect human rights and the rule of law.

For the past three decades, Sri Lankan authorities have circumvented or ignored protections built into the ordinary criminal justice system, sometimes acting outside the law, but often taking advantage of security legislation that allowed them to arrest suspects without evidence or warrants and to hold them without charge or trial for extended periods. This security regime has been a way of life for a generation of policymakers, law enforcement and military personnel, civil servants and ordinary Sri Lankans. It has warped public concepts of justice and due process, and eroded faith in law enforcement. It has disabled healthy checks on executive power, expediting arrests and detentions at the expense of human rights, obstructing legal challenges to detention, and restricting the free flow of information.

Hopes that the end of the armed conflict would end (or at least decrease) these practices have been frustrated. Sri Lankan authorities continue to arrest and detain suspects without minimal safeguards. Sri Lankan law permits police to remove prisoners from their cells and transport them from place to place for the purpose of investigation – a practice that has contributed to torture and custodial killings. Detainees have been held incommunicado and tortured in unofficial places of detention which have included private homes, repurposed schools, administrative buildings and warehouses. Torture, enforced disappearances and extrajudicial executions continue in Sri Lanka in part because of these arbitrary detention practices. The culture of impunity that was established in Sri Lanka during the course of the armed conflict continues to pervert the rule of law and hamper the provision of justice.

This report exposes ongoing unlawful detention practices in Sri Lanka as part of a pattern of human rights violations that has persisted after the end of the armed conflict. Sri Lankan authorities must stop these practices, investigate and prosecute reported human rights violations against detainees, and repeal or amend laws that do not conform to international human rights standards.