U.S. Department of State Country Report on Human Rights Practices 1997 - Sri Lanka
|Publisher||United States Department of State|
|Publication Date||30 January 1998|
|Cite as||United States Department of State, U.S. Department of State Country Report on Human Rights Practices 1997 - Sri Lanka, 30 January 1998, available at: http://www.refworld.org/docid/3ae6aa6510.html [accessed 28 July 2015]|
Released by the Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor, January 30, 1998.
SRI LANKASri Lanka is a longstanding democratic republic with an active multiparty system. Constitutional power is shared between the popularly elected President and the 225-member Parliament. President Chandrika Kumaratunga leads the governing People's Alliance(PA), a coalition of parties. Both the Parliament and the President were elected in free and fair elections in 1994. The Government respects constitutional provisions for an independent judiciary. For the past 14 years the Government has fought the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), an insurgent organization fighting for a separate state for the country's Tamil minority. During the year, the fighting intensified. In May the Government launched a major offensive aimed at opening a land route to the Jaffna Peninsula through LTTE-controlled territory in the north. The offensive resulted in hundreds killed on both sides and created tens of thousands of newly displaced persons. The Government controls all security forces. The 50,000-member police force is responsible for internal security in most areas of the country and has also been used in military operations against the LTTE. The 118,000 member army (which includes the Army Volunteer Force), and the 12,500-member navy and 10,000-member air force, bear principal responsibility for conducting the war against the LTTE insurgents. The police paramilitary Special Task Force (STF) also battles the LTTE. The 5,000 strong home guards, an armed force drawn from local communities, provides security for Muslim and Sinhalese village communities in or near the war zone. The Government also arms and directs various Tamil militias opposed to the LTTE, though at times these groups act independently of government authority. During the year, some members of the security forces committed serious human rights abuses. Sri Lanka is a low-income country with a market economy that is based on the export of textiles, garments, tea, rubber, coconuts, and gems, and on earnings from tourism and repatriated earnings of citizens employed abroad. The gross domestic product per capita is about $780. The economy grew in excess of 5 percent per year during 1990-1995 but growth slowed to 3.8 percent in 1996 due to the ongoing war and a severe drought. Renewed investor confidence, an upswing in tourism, and easier credit helped the economy rebound to a growth rate of almost 6 percent in 1997. During the year, the Government made significant steps toward economic reform, including trimming subsidies, privatizing government enterprises, and promoting foreign investment and trade. The Government generally respected the human rights of its citizens in areas not affected by the conflict. However, the ongoing war with the LTTE continued to be accompanied by serious human rights abuses by the security forces. Security forces committed as many as 100 extrajudicial killings. In addition, at least 100 individuals disappeared from security force custody on and near the Jaffna Peninsula in the north during the course of the year and 25 such disappearances occurred in the eastern part of the island. Torture remained a serious problem, and prison conditions remained poor. Arbitrary arrests--including short-term mass arrests and detentions--continued, often accompanied by failure of the security forces to comply with some of the protective provisions of the Emergency Regulations (ER). Impunity for those responsible for human rights abuses remained a serious problem. No arrests were made in connection with the disappearance and presumed killing of at least 300 LTTE suspects in Jaffna in 1996. Progress was made in a few longstanding, high-profile cases of extrajudicial killing and disappearance. In most cases, however, no progress was made, or there was no investigation or prosecution at all, giving the appearance of impunity for those responsible for human rights violations. Both the Government and the LTTE apparently killed prisoners taken on the battlefield. The Government infringed on citizens' privacy rights and engaged in direct censorship of domestic newspaper reporting and foreign television broadcasts from January to May. Discrimination and violence against women, child prostitution, and child labor continued to be problems. In positive developments, the Government took steps to control the abuses. A permanent Human Rights Commission was constituted and began operations. A human rights office opened officially on January 8, 1998 in Jaffna. Prosecutions of security force personnel alleged to have engaged in human rights abuse continued in a few cases. In the Krishanthi Kumaraswamy murder and rape case in which a young woman and three other individuals were killed in September 1996 in Jaffna, the Government ordered an expedited trial for the nine accused. The case came to trial in September and was ongoing at year's end. There was no attempt, as in the past, to use the ER to cover up security force misdeeds. Through its rulings, the judiciary continued to exhibit its independence and uphold individual civil rights. Government security forces continued to take effective measures to limit civilian casualties during military operations. The Government also continued to provide relief to those displaced by the conflict even though many were still under the control of the LTTE. However, government restriction on medical supplies contributed to poor health conditions for civilians in the Vanni. Three regional commissions established to investigate disappearances completed their investigations although the results of these investigations were not made public. Progovernment Tamil militants committed extrajudicial killings and were responsible for disappearances, torture, detentions, and forced conscription. The LTTE attacked civilians during the course of the year. The LTTE regularly committed extrajudicial killings, and was also responsible for disappearances, torture arbitrary arrests, and detentions. The LTTE killed two parliamentarians and nine other civilians in two separate incidents in Trincomalee in July. LTTE attacks on international shipping resulted in the death of several crewmen and considerable damage to property. The LTTE continued to take civilians hostage and, in July, abducted 32 Muslim villagers, demanding the release of 5 LTTE prisoners held by the security forces. All of these hostages had been released by November. The LTTE attacked a number of economic targets, including the October bombing of the World Trade Center and nearby hotels and the July attack on a Panamanian-flag merchant vessel. The LTTE continued to control large sections of the north and east of the country through authoritarian military rule, denying the people under its authority the right to change their government, infringing on their privacy rights, routinely violating their civil liberties, operating an unfair court system, and severely discriminating against ethnic and religious minorities.