Structures of a nation at war still in place, say UN Rapporteurs

May 09, 2016 (LBO) – Sri Lanka needs to remove many of its war time practices that are still in place that limit freedoms and rights of the populace, a United Nations special rapporteur said in Colombo.

“Sri Lanka is at a crucial moment in its history. While the armed conflict has ended after more than 30 years, much of the structures of a nation at war remain in place,” Monica Pinto, the special rapporteur for independence of judges and lawyers, said speaking to media on Saturday.

In particular, the Prevention of Terrorism Act (PTA) of 1978 remains on the books and is being used, Pinto said after visiting detention and military facilities. She was accompanied by Juan E Mendez, the special rapporteur on torture.

The government has said that it will repeal the PTA and replace it with other legislation needed to tackle international terrorism and organized crime in coming months.

Under Sri Lanka’s PTA, a person can be detained for periods up to 18 months on suspicion of unlawful activity, and provides those who question suspects with wider powers.

Torture is still carried out in regular criminal investigations as well as in cases involving the Terrorism Investigation Division, Mendez pointed out.

Some promising reforms have taken place, such as the reinstatement of the constitutional council, but the important work of improving judicial practices that delay justice remain.

The diversity of the population is not reflected in the composition of the judiciary, the Attorney General’s office, the police, or in the languages in which proceedings are conducted, Pinto said.

Disciplinary proceedings conducted by the National Police Commission, the Public Service Commission for State counsels, the Judicial Services Commission in the case of judges, and proceedings for judges from the Supreme Court or Court of Appeal should comply with the rights to a fair trial.

In terms of police practices, police investigations are not supervised by the AG’s department, while the police builds a case, Mendez added.

Several arrests have taken place recently on suspicion of terrorist activity, and the National Human Rights Commission is being kept informed of arrests and detentions under the PTA, which is a good step, Mendez said.

Commenting on the government response to the visit of the UN Rapporteurs, Mendez said, “they have been very open and accepted all our requests for meetings.”