The official body of the UN that reviews allegations of torture, the Committee Against Torture (CAT) met this week to discuss Sri Lanka and the Government did not have an easy ride.
It was always going to be tough for Sri Lanka after twelve different organisations submitted detailed reports as to how torture is endemic throughout the island. Most damning of all was Freedom from Torture (formerly the Medical foundation)’s report which detailed irrefutable forensic evidence of torture in nearly 200 cases a year – and that is just from those who made it out to the UK. Channel 4 also released a report on Monday backing up the allegations and further ramping up the pressure.
Things did not get any easier once the session started. Committee Expert, Ms. Felice Gaer not only drew attention to the 5,000 disappearances staining Sri Lanka’s human rights record but also exposed a number of secret detention facilities under military control throughout Sri Lanka. The Sri Lankan delegation denied the existence of such facilities yet did not suggest any process to substantiate this refutation. Furthermore no charges or investigations were brought against soldiers who faced allegations of rape and sexual violence against women in the aftermath of the civil war, or in Haiti (where Sri Lankan soldiers working as UN peacekeepers ran amok). Committee Expert Mr. Alessio Bruni also discussed how the “rehabilitation camps” were actually detention camps under military rule, while other witnesses before the committee detailed the harassment of journalists and human rights lawyers.
Despite such detailed allegations levelled at the Government of Sri Lanka, the Sri Lankan representative and advisor to the Cabinet Mr. Mohan Peiris responded with empty and generalist statements such as the notion that Sri Lanka agreed “110%” with the commitment against torture. Peiris also drew attention to the “Human Rights Action Plan,” a cabinet document which, as this blog has detailed, does not live up to its billing.
Once again, Sri Lanka has evaded explicit and credible allegations of torture with
generalisation and inaction. Yet once again it has been demonstrated to the international community that rights violations are commonplace in Sri Lanka. This would make the returning of asylum seekers to Sri Lanka becomes a violation of international commitments to protect refugees from further abuse. But if, once again, the international community chooses to turn a blind eye to this inconvenient fact then they are going to look increasingly hypocritical and ridiculous as the truth continues to surface.