Covering events from January - December 2002

Head of state: Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga
Death penalty: abolitionist in practice
International Criminal Court: not signed

There was a major improvement in the human rights situation in the context of a cease-fire and peace talks between the government and the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE). However, torture in police custody continued to be reported frequently. Lack of accountability for the perpetrators of human rights violations, including "disappearances" and torture, remained a serious concern. Members of the LTTE were responsible for hostage-taking and widespread recruitment of child soldiers. The President reaffirmed the country's long-standing tradition of automatically commuting death sentences.


Unilateral cease-fires declared by both the government and the LTTE in late 2001 were followed by a formal cease-fire agreement (CFA) that came into force on 23 February. Peace negotiations, facilitated by the Norwegian government, started in September in Thailand. A Sri Lanka Monitoring Mission (SLMM) consisting of representatives of Nordic countries was set up to verify the implementation of the agreement through on-site monitoring. By November, about 180,000 of the estimated 800,000 internally displaced people had returned home.

The members of the Constitutional Council set up in September 2001 were appointed in March. After an initial delay, independent commissions to oversee the police force and public services were appointed in November. Similar bodies to oversee elections and the judiciary had not been appointed by the end of 2002.

National Human Rights Commission

The third Annual Report of the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) was published, covering the period from January 2000 to March 2001. It revealed that during 2000 the Commission had received 552 complaints of torture. The report also set out a two-year capacity building plan. In July, a parliamentary committee was set up to review the functioning of the NHRC to make it more effective, reduce duplication of work and to propose amendments to the law under which the NHRC was established.

Prevention of Terrorism Act

Many Tamil political prisoners held for long periods without charge or trial under the Prevention of Terrorism Act (PTA) were released. At the end of 2002, about 65 of them continued to be held. In addition, an estimated 20 people were serving prison sentences under the PTA. As part of the CFA, the government made a commitment not to arrest anyone under the PTA.


Torture, including rape, in police custody continued to be reported frequently. Among the victims were women and children. In late October, the UN Committee against Torture submitted the findings of its visit to Sri Lanka in 2000 to the UN General Assembly. The Committee reported that it found a "disturbing number of cases of torture and ill-treatment", but nevertheless concluded that the practice was "not systematic".

  • Nandini Herat, a young woman, was sexually assaulted by police at Wariyapola police station, Kurunegala district, in March. Six months later, the police officers charged with torturing her reportedly tried to intimidate her, her family, her lawyer and a journalist who had reported her case.
  • Ten-year-old T.K. Hiran Rasika and 12-year-old E.A. Kasun Madusanka were tortured at Hiniduma police station in July while being questioned about a theft. They were beaten with a thick stick on their backs and legs; the younger boy was also hung by his legs from a roof. Both required hospital treatment as a result.

Lack of accountability for human rights violations including "disappearances" and torture remained a serious concern.

However, in some cases the courts held members of the security forces responsible for abuses.
  • In January, the Court of Appeal upheld the sentences of a school principal and six army personnel convicted and sentenced to 10 years' imprisonment in connection with the "disappearance" of a group of young people at Embilipitiya in late 1989 and early 1990.
  • In February, the High Court sentenced two air force officers to nine years' imprisonment for trespassing, criminal intimidation and unlawful entry with weapons, in connection with the attempted abduction of Iqbal Athas, a journalist, in February 1998.
  • The trial of 41 people, including nine police officers, in connection with the killing in October 2000 of 27 young Tamil men and boys detained for "rehabilitation" at Bindunuwewa, started in May.
Lack of progress
There was little progress in many other cases involving members of the security forces suspected of grave human rights violations. For instance, no progress was reported in the case against four army personnel and a police officer arrested on suspicion of involvement in the "disappearance" in 1996 of 15 people whose bodies were recovered from shallow graves in the Chemmani area of Jaffna district in 1999. There were also worrying reports that members of the government were putting pressure on the Attorney General's Department not to proceed with investigations against members of the security forces suspected of involvement in past "disappearances". These investigations arose from recommendations of four presidential commissions of inquiry into "disappearances" which occurred from 1987 to 1994.

Despite the reported filing of some cases under legislation to punish torture and repeated directions from the Supreme Court for further investigations into alleged cases of torture, no convictions for torture were reported.

Death penalty

During a meeting with an AI delegation visiting the country in June, the President promised to continue the practice of automatically commuting all death sentences that come before her. She thereby allayed fears of a resumption of executions which had emerged after she had announced an end to a long-standing policy of automatic commutation in March 1999.

Human rights abuses by the LTTE

Especially in the first part of the year, there were numerous complaints of hostage-taking and recruitment of children by the LTTE. Many Tamil and Muslim civilians taken hostage were released only by paying large sums of money to the LTTE.
  • In April, 82-year-old K.V. Sivasithamparapillai was taken captive by the LTTE in Batticaloa after he refused to pay them a large sum of money.
Several members of the Eelam People's Revolutionary Liberation Front and the Eelam People's Democratic Party (EPDP) were illegally detained by the LTTE. There were also reports of threats to former members of the LTTE who had returned to Sri Lanka and were living in Colombo.
  • Sellathurai Thangarajah, Nagarajah Nesarajah and Kandasamy Gnanajothi, three members of the EPDP, were last seen being driven away on motorcycles ridden by members of the LTTE at Kallady, Batticaloa district, during the evening of 3 December. Their whereabouts remained unknown at the end of the year.
Hundreds of children were recruited to serve in the LTTE, especially in Batticaloa district, some of whom were reported to be as young as 10. At the end of 2002 the SLMM reported that it had ruled that 313 cases out of 603 complaints regarding child recruitment were violations of the CFA. Similarly, 89 cases out of 306 complaints regarding hostage-taking by the LTTE were found to be CFA violations.

Tension in the east

Amid reports of human rights abuses by the LTTE in the east, tension rose between the Muslim and Tamil communities. In June, violence between Muslims and Tamils broke out in Mutur, near Trincomalee, before spreading to other areas in the east. Muslims had called a general strike in protest at alleged extortion by the LTTE. Nine Muslims and two Tamils were reportedly killed at Valaichenai, Batticaloa district.

On 9 October, eight Tamil people were killed by Special Task Force personnel at Kanjirankuda. The eight were shot outside the Special Task Force camp during a demonstration against an alleged attack on LTTE members.

The peace process and human rights

During meetings in June with the Prime Minister, Ranil Wickremasinghe, the President and S.P. Thamilchelvan, political leader of the LTTE, AI delegates called for human rights to be made an integral part of the peace process. The delegates discussed with both sides issues of truth, justice and reconciliation, human rights monitoring, the protection of vulnerable groups and human rights standards for the proposed interim civil administration in the northeast.

In the first phase of its deployment, the SLMM and its six advisory Local Monitoring Committees (LMCs) focused on the implementation of the military aspects of the CFA. They did not investigate complaints of human rights abuses under Article 2.1 of the agreement, under which both sides had to "abstain from hostile acts against the civilian population, including such acts as torture, intimidation, abduction, extortion and harassment". The LMCs were unclear about their powers and how to process complaints from the public. AI urged the Norwegian government to address the urgent need for human rights training for members of the SLMM and LMCs.

During the second round of peace talks in Thailand in November, both parties announced that Ian Martin, former Secretary General of AI, had been invited to provide expert advice on the incorporation of human rights into the peace process.


AI delegates visited the country and held talks with the government and the LTTE in June. This was the first time an AI delegation had met the LTTE in Sri Lanka.

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