Dec 09, 2016

UN alarmed to see Sri Lanka Spy Chief at key anti-torture meeting Featured

Sri Lanka came under heavy UN criticism for delegating an official who commanded notorious torture sites to discuss the country’s human rights record with the top global body tasked with preventing torture.

The United Nations Committee Against Torture (UNCAT) said it was alarmed by the presence of the Sri Lanka National Intelligence boss in Geneva as a member of the country's delegation while failing to carry out an institutional reform of the security sector.

A strongly worded statement by UNCAT at the conclusion of a review that found torture as “a common practice” routinely inflicted by the police Criminal Investigation Department  in Sri Lanka.

"The Committee was alarmed by the presence of the Chief of National Intelligence, Sisira Mendis, as part of the Sri Lankan delegation, since he was the Deputy Inspector General of the Criminal Investigations Department (CID) from March 2008 to June 2009."
While calling for a swift institutional reform of the security sector, UNCAT has also requested to remove any military or service personnel or public official "where there are grounds to that they were involved in human rights violations".

Sisira Mendis sat quietly while he was questioned at the two day hearing in Geneva on his involvement in allegations of widespread torture, including sexual violence in sites under his command during the war and its aftermath.

Menik Farm and Fourth Floor

Menik Farm in the northern town of Vavunia where hundreds of thousands of Tamil civilians were held during the last stages of the war and the CID headquarters in the capital Colombo widely known as the fourth floor are two locations referred by name in the UNCAT report.

"In this connection, the Committee deeply regrets that the neither Mr. Mendis nor any other member of the delegation provided information in response to the many specific questions raised by the Committee on this subject during the dialogue with the State party and in its written additional information provided to the Committee," said UNCAT.

Therefore, the Committee has called upon the government once again to "Provide Detailed information on Mr. Mendis' role and responsibilities with regard to allegations of torture while he was Deputy Inspector General of the Criminal Investigation Department."

“What we saw was that the government has not embarked on institutional reform of the security sector,” said UNCAT Vice Chair Felice Gaer who asked most of the questions from Sisira Mendis.

The committee, which found the judiciary and the Attorney General's department not adequately supervising the legal safeguards to prevent torture in custody, came heavily upon judges as well.

"The competent authorities should hold responsible those persons whose duty is to apply the law, including judges who fail to respond appropriately to allegations of torture raised during judicial proceedings," it said.

Abolish 'Rehabilitation'

The Committee has urged the government to abolish the current system of 'rehabilitating' Tamils suspected of any links with the LTTE in detention centres under anti terror legislation, as it allows persons to be confined in centres without due process of safeguards.

Sri Lanka “should account for the 12,169” who have surrendered and subsequently ‘rehabilitated’ and “ensure that they are not subjected to arbitrary detention”.

“The Committee urges the State party to ensure that the allegations of torture and sexual violence in rehabilitation centres are promptly, impartially and effectively investigated by an independent mechanism,” it said.

Echoing the demand for the release of political prisoners, UNCAT has called upon the government to either charge and try them as soon as possible or to release them.

UNCAT has recommended to appoint an independent mechanism to investigate allegations of torture and sexual violence in the “rehabilitation” programme in addition to unlawful detention, torture and sexual violence by Sri Lanka security forces in official and unofficial sites.

(Athula Vithanage -