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Amnesty International Report 1994 - Sri Lanka

Publisher Amnesty International
Publication Date 1 January 1994
Cite as Amnesty International, Amnesty International Report 1994 - Sri Lanka, 1 January 1994, available at: http://www.refworld.org/docid/3ae6a9f444.html [accessed 1 August 2014]
DisclaimerThis is not a UNHCR publication. UNHCR is not responsible for, nor does it necessarily endorse, its content. Any views expressed are solely those of the author or publisher and do not necessarily reflect those of UNHCR, the United Nations or its Member States.
Thousands of suspected government opponents, particularly Tamils, were arbitrarily arrested. They included prisoners of conscience. Some were soon released but others were held for long periods in unacknowledged detention. Hundreds of other political suspects arrested in previous years continued to be detained without charge or trial throughout the year. Torture and ill-treatment in custody continued and over 25 "disappearances" were reported. Extrajudicial killings were reported in both the northeast and the south. The Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) were responsible for numerous human rights abuses, including executions of prisoners.

In May President Ranasinghe Premadasa was assassinated in the capital, Colombo, by a suicide bomber who the authorities claimed was a member of the LTTE. Lalith Athulathmudali, a leader of the opposition Democratic United National Front (DUNF), had been assassinated the week before, during an election rally. Prime Minister Dingiri Banda Wijetunga became President following President Premadasa's assassination. In May Provincial Council elections were held in all but the northeastern areas.

Armed conflict between government forces and the LTTE continued in the northeast. Military operations, particularly in the north, intensified in the second half of the year, with heavy loss of life on both sides as well as among the civilian population. The LTTE retained control of most of the Jaffna peninsula; control of much of the rest of the northeast was disputed between the LTTE and government forces.

In June the Emergency Regulations were revised: secret detention was prohibited and, for the first time, publication of all authorized places of detention was required. However, the authorities remained empowered to detain political suspects indefinitely without charge or trial, and in the northeast long periods of detention in police or military custody were still permitted. The additional safeguards provided under the regulations - such as the requirement that detentions be promptly notified to the Human Rights Task Force - were repeatedly flouted.

The mandate of the Presidential Commission of Inquiry into Involuntary Removals (PCIIR), whose role is to investigate "disappearances" since January 1991, was revised in September and extended for a further two years. The terms of reference were altered to enable the PCIIR to investigate cases more speedily. However, the government had taken no known action on the commission's findings and none of its reports had been published by the end of the year.

In October the government established a unit under a senior police officer to examine "disappearance" cases submitted to the government for clarification by the UN Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances. According to the government, the unit would "initially" examine reported cases between 1983 and January 1991, using an administrative procedure which falls far short of international standards for the investigation of "disappearances".

Thousands of Tamil people, including prisoners of conscience detained solely on account of their ethnic origin, were arrested, especially in Colombo. Some were arrested by plainclothes officers during the night and driven away, blindfolded, in unmarked vehicles. Many were held in unacknowledged detention for days, or longer, before being released, sometimes on payment of a bribe. Some were brought before magistrates and released on bail; others were kept in custody without being charged and were still held at the end of the year.

There were successive waves of such arrests. They began in June, after the Provincial Council elections, and continued to the end of the year. They were apparently connected to investigations into the assassinations of Lalith Athulathmudali and President Premadasa, as well as to reports that LTTE suicide bombers were present in Colombo. Police, military and armed Tamil groups allied with the government were all reported to have participated in these arrests.

Some people were abducted in Colombo and were later found in police custody in Batticaloa in the east. For example, in November, Sinnathambi Meganathan, bodyguard to a Tamil member of parliament, who was seized by a group of plainclothes men while travelling on a bus in Colombo, was traced a week later; he was then released without charge. He had been beaten and had injuries all over his body, including burn marks on his feet. He said he had been given electric shocks to his thumbs. Before his release, he was reportedly forced to sign a statement saying he had not been ill-treated in custody.

The Eelam People's Democratic Party (EPDP), a militant Tamil group which acts in concert with government security forces, also reportedly detained people illegally early in the year. In January Tharmalingam Selvakumar, a former EPDP sympathizer, was abducted in Colombo by the EPDP and held for five days at their Colombo headquarters, where he was beaten. He said that several other Sinhalese and Tamil prisoners were also held there, some of whom had been tortured. Tharmalingam Selvakumar was handed over to police custody, where he remained until released by a court some 12 days later. He was repeatedly threatened with death after he filed a Supreme Court petition alleging violation of his fundamental rights by the EPDP and the police.

There were continued reports of arbitrary arrest in the northeast by the security forces and militant Tamil groups associated with them. In Batticaloa and Trincomalee districts, the security forces reportedly paraded hundreds of people before masked informants in order to identify suspects, with many then being detained for questioning. Most were released within a week. Others were detained solely because they were relatives of alleged LTTE members. Some prisoners were held in unacknowledged detention for several days; others for longer periods.

In the south, scores of members and supporters of opposition parties, particularly the DUNF, were reported to have been arrested and held for short periods in the run-up to the Provincial Council elections. They included possible prisoners of conscience. In Kandy, for example, 28 DUNF supporters were arrested after putting up posters and distributing leaflets in April. They were released on bail. Arrests and detention of Sinhalese people believed to have been connected with the Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna (JVP), People's Liberation Front, in the south from 1987 to 1990, continued to be reported, but their number was not known.

According to official figures, 2,348 people were in detention under the Emergency Regulations or the Prevention of Terrorism Act in August: 338 in detention camps, 518 in rehabilitation centres, 1,092 in prisons and 400 in police stations. Of these, the majority in police custody were Tamil, while most of those in detention camps and rehabilitation centres were Sinhalese. Of those in prisons, 889 were Tamil and 203 Sinhalese. No figures were given for those detained in military custody.

At Kalutara prison alone, 464 Tamil prisoners had been held for over 32 months without trial, and many of the Sinhalese in prisons and detention camps had also been held for well over two years without trial. M.G. Palitha, a Sinhalese arrested in November 1989 in Polonnaruwa, had been held without charge or trial for 35 months. In May the Supreme Court reportedly awarded him financial compensation for unjustified detention. Tamil detainees held in connection with the conflict in the northeast began to be referred for "rehabilitation" - a form of untried detention in a rehabilitation camp - and at least 40 had been subsequently released by August.

Over 25 "disappearances" were reported from the northeast. Sixteen people reportedly "disappeared" after being arrested by the army at Vannathi Aru, Batticaloa District, in February. The army announced an internal investigation into these "disappearances" but its findings were not known by the end of the year. In Mannar District, three men reportedly "disappeared" in July after police took them from a bus.

The discovery of a body burned on a tyre at Modera, Colombo, in August raised fears of a resumption of "death squad" killings (see Amnesty International Report 1990) by forces linked to the government. A notice by the body suggested that the victim was an LTTE member who had been sought by the police for alleged involvement in the assassination of the President and whose identity had been publicized. Two other bodies were found in August in Colombo. They had been blindfolded, assaulted and shot in the head. No outcome of investigations into these deaths was known by the end of the year.

In the north, hundreds of civilians were reportedly killed by the security forces as they attempted to cross the Kilali lagoon from the Jaffna peninsula to the mainland. Some appeared to be victims of extrajudicial executions. The lagoon, which provided the only remaining passage from the peninsula to the mainland, was a prohibited zone under the Emergency Regulations and all craft crossing the lagoon were vulnerable to attack. In some cases, navy personnel reportedly boarded boats and deliberately killed civilian passengers even if they offered no resistance.

There were also reports that security forces summarily executed LTTE members who offered no resistance and could have been arrested. For example, in January, after villagers in Kaluwankerny had been screened by the Tamil Eelam Liberation Organization - a militant group which works alongside the army - soldiers summarily shot dead two men who they alleged had been collecting "taxes" for the LTTE.

Five remand prisoners, all apparently former JVP members, were killed by prison guards in suspicious circumstances at Mahara prison in September. The authorities said they were shot while trying to escape. However, post-mortem examinations were alleged to have revealed injuries caused by beatings with blunt weapons after the victims had been shot in the legs.

There were continued reports of harassment and death threats, including the delivery of wreaths, issued by the military to journalists in the south. Iqbal Attas, defence correspondent of The Sunday Times (Colombo), received repeated death threats after he criticized the number of casualties sustained and weaponry lost during military operations in the north in October.

Impunity remained a major obstacle to the long-term improvement of human rights: no perpetrators of "disappearances" were known to have been prosecuted and the few trials of alleged human rights violators that did take place had failed to reach any conclusion by the end of the year. In one case, the authorities transferred the initial hearings into the murder of 39 Tamil men, women and children at Mailanthanai, Batticaloa District, in August 1992 (see Amnesty International Report 1993) from Batticaloa to Polonnaruwa, making it more difficult for witnesses to attend. The defendants, 23 soldiers, faced a total of 83 charges. In August warrants for the arrest of 10 witnesses were issued after they had failed to attend the court.

The LTTE was responsible for grave human rights abuses in the northeast. They held an unknown number of political opponents in unacknowledged detention and were responsible for numerous abductions of people who were held for ransom. They obtained money from the local populace under threat of violence and were reported to have executed people alleged to have betrayed the LTTE or to have committed criminal offences, as well as members of rival Tamil groups. In August it was reported that the former deputy leader of the LTTE, Mahattaya, and several of his supporters had been detained by the LTTE. At least one of Mahattaya's aides was later said to have been executed in November but the situation of Mahattaya himself and others remained unknown.

Some prisoners were released by the LTTE through the International Committee of the Red Cross, including seven civilians captured in an LTTE attack on an army camp at Janakapura in July and several policemen held captive since 1990.

Amnesty International continued to urge the government to implement key human rights safeguards which the organization had proposed in 1991 (see Amnesty International Report 1992). In February Amnesty International made public its assessment that many essential safeguards had still to be implemented and called on the government to move forward quickly on these. Amnesty International also continued to press for full investigation of all "disappearances", including those which took place before 1991, for all political prisoners to receive prompt and fair trials, and for a halt to arbitrary arrests. It called for information on official investigations into reported human rights violations to be made known, and continued to call for perpetrators of violations to be brought to justice.

Amnesty International condemned executions of prisoners and other grave abuses by the LTTE and called on the LTTE to cease such practices immediately and to account for the whereabouts of those detained by LTTE forces. Amnesty International also urged the LTTE to respect human rights and international humanitarian standards.

In an oral statement to the UN Commission on Human Rights in March, Amnesty International included reference to its concerns about extrajudicial executions and "disappearances" in Sri Lanka.

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