The government of Sri Lanka’s “rehabilitation” process has proven to be a significant obstacle to lasting peace. So concludes our recent statement submitted to the Human Rights Council for its 28th regular session. This statement was jointly written by the Sri Lanka Campaign and the International Bar Association based upon work done by the Human Rights Clinic at Essex University. This in turn was based on 50 interviews conducted by Sri Lankan human rights defenders over the course of 2014.

The official stated purpose of the rehabilitation process has been to re-integrate ex-LTTE cadres into Sri Lankan society. On paper, rehabilitees receive education, vocational training, and a range of other restorative measures designed to aid that process. In reality however, few of those services are provided and those held in rehabilitation camps. And those held – in what we conclude amounts to a form of arbitrary detention – frequently experience torture and other forms of inhumane and degrading treatment.

Such facts do not merely constitute serious rights violations. They also pose serious barriers to meaningful and sustainable rehabilitation. The continuing intimidation and harassment of ex-cadres after they are released further aggravates that possibility, with the tracking and monitoring by police and armed forces reinforcing patterns of discrimination and helping to sustain societal grievances.

To read the full submission, please click here and look for submission number 100.

A summary of the statement:

Under the guise of rehabilitating ex-LTTE cadres, the former government has arbitrarily detained thousands of Tamils. Often those detained only have remote links to the LTTE, or deny having any links.

Rehabilitees find themselves incarcerated without charge, trial, access to legal representation, or means to challenge their detention. Rehabilitative measures are scarce. In fact, around one quarter of interviewees reported experiencing torture, and other cruel, inhumane or degrading treatment. Beatings, for example, were a common form of violence.

The rehabilitation process continues upon leaving the camps, serving as a means to control former detainees. Our witness testimonies indicate that rehabilitees are constantly monitored and the police and armed forces make regular unannounced visits to their homes.

“I have not counted – but sometimes I note this down in my diary – they would have come at least 50 times in that one year” – Interviewee

Widespread surveillance, intimidation and harassment dominate the victims’ lives after they have left the camps.

“When they come and inquire from us often it is difficult for us. They ask us to forget the past. But even when we have forgotten they come and remind us and get the information.” – Interiewee

The rehabilitation process not only affects the victims and their families, but also has a serious impact on Sri Lankan society. This proves to be an obstacle to lasting peace and reconciliation. The climate of fear and intimidation created by the rehabilitation process leaves the Tamil population with a feeling of oppression and discrimination. Tamils’ freedom of movement and political participation are also severely restricted.

“They will write down all the details as to what I am doing, where I went recently and where I am working. They will take a photograph. […] my family members are also scared the next day […]. Sometimes I think it would be better to take some poison.” – interviewee

Furthermore, impunity has become institutionalised, victims are denied any means of redress and the illegality of the camps receives no acknowledgement. This results in a lack of faith in the political and legal system. Consequently, ethnic divisions have become further entrenched. How can there be social cohesion when the rehabilitative process has done nothing but create further tensions in society?