By Brian Senewiratne –
Continued from Wednesday
Chapter 11 – Aftermath
“Family members in Sri Lanka remain under surveillance and intelligence services ask them where the victim has gone. This seems to be more about keeping the family silent and tracking the victim abroad, rather than investigating an escape which the security services themselves facilitated”
“The levels of trauma amongst recent torture victims from Sri Lanka, many of whom have attempted suicide, are alarming. Most of those we interviewed describe having contemplated suicide at some point. Typically the trigger is reprisals against relatives or being rejected for asylum……many victims describe themselves as suicidal and/or self harming. They must cope with the physical pain after torture as well as mental trauma and, on top of this, often find themselves in a foreign country.
Two of the 2016/17 torture cases tried to kill themselves almost immediately on arrival in the UK, one had to be hospitalised from the airport. It is worth noting that this is hardly the action of economic migrants desperate to reach Europe to secure a better life.
Immigration detention centres
“Being placed in immigration detention on arrival in the UK also exacerbated the suicidal feelings.”
I might add that asylum seekers arriving in Australia can remain in detention centres for years. I have described these detention centres, some in mainland Australia and some off shore in Christmas Island, Papua New Guinea (Manus Island), and in Nauru as ‘manufacturing centres for mental disease’. It is a gross violation of the UN Refugee Convention, signed and ratified by Australia (and the UK).
“The asylum application process is slow, leaving the victim in limbo, unable to work, unable to access support services effectively or reunite with loved ones”.
Australia’s asylum-seeker policy is an international disgrace, probably the worst in the world. There is an excellent book by Jane McAdam and Fiona Chong: “Refugees. Why seeking asylum is legal and Australia’s policies are not”. I strongly recommend this book.
The next two Chapters are very important. I will quote from them extensively.
Chapter 12 – Conclusion
“The UN Investigation into Sri Lanka described the modus operandi of “white van” abductions and established that incidents of sexual violence were not isolated acts but part of a deliberate policy to inflict torture by the security forces. Nothing has been done by the new Government to break this culture of impunity, even when a torture site has been identified by the ITJP and corroborated by visiting International teams.
After two and a half years in office, the Government’s failure to investigate past allegations makes it complicit in the continuation of the violations.
There has also been no attempt to vet public officials despite the commitment in UN HRC Resolution 30/1 to do this. Instead, the Government has rewarded alleged torturers and officials allegedly implicated in war crimes. As the ITJP reports show, alleged perpetrators have been sent abroad as diplomats and members of delegations to UN committees.
The ITJP evidence base s built on hundreds of detailed witness statements, through which the ITJP has now identified several alleged perpetrators (direct and in positions of command responsibility) and torture sites, but there are regrettably no witness protection mechanism for witnesses and victims inside or outside to testify, be it to a truth commission or court. The evidence base has been amplified by insider witnesses who confirm the modus operandi and methodology as well as identity of many of the torturers.
The Government has excused its failure to investigate saying it is waiting for a special court to be set up. However, it is now clear that the Prime Minister and President have no intention of establishing a hybrid court as the (former) Foreign Minister promised in Geneva in 2015. The President reassured the security forces in person and in public that not one of them will be charged with human rights violations, which reinforces the culture of impunity. The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights has made it clear that another domestic mechanism will not have the trust of victims after so many have failed to deliver justice. Furthermore, the limitations in the current criminal justice system render it incapable of delivering justice for serious crimes.
Chapter 13 – Recommendations
Immediately establish an independent credible body staffed by international investigators, using best comparative experience including CICIG (Comisión Internacional contra la Impunidad en Guatemala- International Commission against Impunity in Guatemala) in Guatemala, to assist the Hybrid Court and the Sri Lankan Governments in investigations of past and current human rights violations and abuses as well as serious international crimes. The body should in the course if their investigations identify alleged perpetrators and share such names with the vetting and screening authority to be established.
Vetting and Screening Authority
Establish an independent credible civilian body to carry out vetting and screening of public employees and security officials identified as alleged perpetrators of human rights violations and abuses as well as serious international crimes in order to promote justice and accountability, and set out in HRC Resolution 30/1 in October 2015.
Strengthen the witness protection legislation, as agreed to in Resolution 30/1 to align with international standards and immediately suspend members of the witness protection National Authority against whom there are allegations of wrongdoing or interference pending an inquiry, and replace them with independent figures who have been properly vetted and screened for their involvement in human rights violations and abuses as well as serious international crimes, and who have demonstrated their commitment to human rights.
Prevention of Terrorism
The current policy framework for the Prevention of Terrorism published by the Government of Sri Lanka does not conform with human rights standards and norms and perpetuates the discriminatory and abusive application of counter-terrorism laws that have been used in the past to target mainly the Tamil population. If Sri Lanka is to replace the Prevention of Terrorism Act with a human rights compliant framework (as committed to by President Sirisena) for countering terrorism, Parliament must ensure that substantial revisions are made to the “Policy and Legal Framework Relating to the Proposed Counter Terrorism Act of Sri Lanka” during the drafting process and to ensure that the process is open and participatory, taking account of civil society voices and input.
Testifying from abroad
Amend the rules for witnesses who would like to testify from abroad, either through video or other means such as letters rogatory, in order to ensure that key witnesses abroad do not have to enter a Sri Lankan embassy to give evidence and can instead testify to courts and commissions through the aforesaid mechanisms, that do not expose them and their families in Sri Lanka to reprisals
Government of Sri Lanka
1 Open Joseph Camp to regular Human Rights Commission of Sri Lanka (HRCSL) and ICRC spot inspection.
2. Government to share TID detention records for 2016 in the Edward Julian Case with the HRCSL which should account for the whereabouts and current status of all detained, ascertaining if suspects have been tortured with their remit including victims now abroad.
3. Military and police to provide a list of locations to HRCSL of all biometric fingerprinting machines used by security forces.
4. Investigate the EPDP’s role in extortion of money from families of detainees.
5. Investigate corruption at Colombo Airport immigration by installing live surveillance cameras.
United Nations Bodies
1 UNCAT (UN Convention against Torture) to initiate an Article 20 investigation into Joseph Camp; Government to grant access. Victims abroad also to be interviewed.
2.WGEID (Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances) to interview all recent victims of abduction and enforces disappearance in Sri Lanka who survived.
3. UN Special Rapporteur on Torture, Nils Melzer, to review all case files from ITJP (where witnesses have given written consent) on the Sirisena-era and issue a statement or report.
4. OHCHR (Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights) to examine witnesses (where witnesses provide written consent) from the ITJP and report to the UNHRC in March 2018.
5. Donors to rethink the SSR (Security Sector Reform) process in Sri Lanka, ensuring a torture prevention, mental health component and anti police force corruption element is included.