The concluding observations of the Committee Against Torture (CAT) have officially been released to the public by the UN Human Rights division – and they do not make for comfortable reading for the Rajapaska regime.
Committee Experts, Ms. Felice Gaer and Mr. Alessio Bruni, drew attention to numerous reports of torture and ill-treatment in Sri Lanka throughout the numerous sessions; most notably the unaccounted disappearance of 5,000 people, the discovery of torture-detention centres throughout the island and the pending cases of Sri Lankan soldiers who faced allegations of rape and sexual violence against women during the aftermath of the Civil War.
Throughout the concluding report, which did acknowledge the ‘new circumstances’ that prevailed after the end of a Civil War that had consumed the country for nearly thirty years, the Committee emphasised that there must be no tolerance of torture. And while it noted the Sri Lankan Government’s reformation of a handful of protocols, they remained seriously concerned about continued and consistent allegations of widespread use of torture and ill-treatment.
They also expressed further concern at reports that suggested torture and ill-treatment still remains to be used as a tool by both the Sri Lankan military and police today, especially to extract confessions or information to be used in criminal proceedings, including acts that took place after the Military Conflict ended in May 2009.
They also had a damning judgement of Sri Lanka’s domestic accountability mechanisms, stating that the CAT “remains concerned about the prevailing climate of impunity in the State party and the apparent failure to investigate promptly and impartially whenever there is reasonable ground to believe that an act of torture has been committed” and that it “regrets the apparent limited mandate of the [government run accountability process] LLRC and its alleged lack of independence”.
We have long drawn the link between the current human rights abuses prevalent in Sri Lanka and the failure to establish proper accountability mechanisms following the events in the last few weeks of the war. CAT is not the first UN mandated body to confirm this link – the Panel of Experts report discussed it at length – but in light of Ban Ki Moon and the Human Rights Council’s continued failure to implement the findings of that report, such a strong statement from a UN body is significant.
It also begs the question, if even UN institutions doubt the credibility of the LLRC, then why are Governments around the world still hoping its much delayed publication will bring substantive process; and why are they continuing to delay action until it is published?
The concluding observations of the Committee Against Torture are damning. They show how little faith one should have in domestic accountability mechanisms in Sri Lanka and how, sadly, Sri Lanka needs independent international help if it is to return to the straight and narrow.