Film premiere casts spotlight on Sri Lanka’s human rights record as island becomes Freedom from Torture’s top country of origin for referrals
As Sri Lanka’s human rights record is put in the spotlight again tonight with the UK premiere of Callum Macrae’s new feature documentary No Fire Zone, Freedom from Torture can reveal the south Asian island has become the number one country of origin for referrals to us for clinical services.
The Sri Lankan government was also criticised this week when the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay issued a hard-hitting statement accusing the regime of heading towards authoritarianism following her fact-finding mission there.
Freedom from Torture’s recently published 2012/13 Annual Review shows that Sri Lanka surged ahead to become the top country of origin for those referred to the organisation for clinical services in 2012.
Of 1,301 people referred to us for torture rehabilitation and forensic documentation services in 2012, 228 were of Sri Lankan nationality. The vast majority of these were ethnic Tamils and most were referred to us by concerned GPs or solicitors representing them in their asylum applications.
Our Medico Legal Report Service, which documents physical and psychological evidence of torture, produced more expert reports for Sri Lankans than for any other nationality during 2012 and the first quarter of 2013. We produced 79 Medico-Legal Reports for Sri Lankan survivors of torture during this 15-month period, compared with a total of 110 reports prepared for Sri Lankans for the two year period of 2010-2011.
These alarming statistics mean that for the first time in years, Sri Lanka has replaced Iran at the top of the shameful table that tallies the country of origin for the thousands referred to us each year for clinical services here in the UK.
The figures bear testimony to Sri Lanka’s disturbing record of torture, which remains dire despite the end of the civil war in May 2009, and on Saturday UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay said that “although the fighting is over, the suffering is not”. She added that she was “deeply concerned that Sri Lanka, despite the opportunity provided by the end of the war to construct a new vibrant all-embracing state, is showing signs of heading in an increasingly authoritarian direction.”
Ms Pillay also lamented the “profound trauma” among survivors of the conflict and the relatives of the missing and the dead. She noted the “desperate need for counselling and psychosocial support” in northern Sri Lanka and condemned restrictions on NGOs working in this sector.
Keith Best, Chief Executive of Freedom from Torture, said: “We welcome the High Commissioner’s recognition that peace in Sri Lanka has been undermined by an increasingly authoritarian government and that grieving communities continue to suffer on the island.
“Large numbers of Sri Lankan torture victims, most of them Tamil, are still coming to Freedom from Torture for rehabilitation and other clinical services and our doctors attest that many were tortured long after the government declared victory in the civil war. In 2012 alone, 228 Sri Lankans were referred to us, more than any other nationality. Sri Lanka was also the top country of origin for torture survivors whose injuries were documented by our world-renowned medico-legal report service. The UN Human Rights Council must stand ready to take tougher action when it meets to discuss the situation next March.”
No Fire Zone premieres tonight at the Curzon Cinema in Soho. Detailing the shelling of up to 400,000 Tamil civilians by Sri Lankan authorities in the final months of the civil war, the film is a timely reminder for British Prime Minister David Cameron as he readies himself to shake the hands with the men who ordered this massacre at the next meeting of the Commonwealth Heads of Government, due to be held in Colombo in November.
The screening will be followed by a question and answer session with director Callum Mcrae and journalist and broadcaster Jon Snow.
*Freedom from Torture press release