Committee to investigate detainees' conditions
[TamilNet, Sunday, 12 July 1998, 23:59 GMT]
The Sri Lanka Government (SLG) has appointed a committee of Ministers and senior Parliamentarians to investigate allegations of mistreatment of detainees, said Radio Sri Lanka in its broadcast yesterday.
The Committee, consisting among others, of Ministers Lakshman Jayakody (Minister of Cultural and Religious Affairs), Lakshman Kadirgamar (Minister of Foreign Affairs), Prof. G.L. Peiris (Minister of Justice and Constitutional Affairs), S. B. Dissanayake (Minister of Samurdhi, Youth Affairs and Sports), and senior members of parliament R. Sampanthan (Tamil United Liberation Front) and Douglas Devananda (Eelam People's Democratic Party), is empowered to go into cases of mistreatment of persons who are arrested, detained or are prisoners, the radio said.
According to the radio, the Committee could issue orders to the detaining authorities to redress shortcomings of their obligations.
A monitoring unit, connectable by telephone, is to be kept open at the Ministry of Justice to entertain complaints of mistreatment of detainees and this unit will process complaints and issue appropriate instructions, including referring cases to the Committee, the radio said further.
Though the President, as Commander-in-Chief of the security forces, has issued instructions that detainees should be humanely treated, there are several reports of Tamale detainees being mistreated by Sri Lankan military and police authorities.
However, Radio Sri Lanka said that these acts were being committed by those who had affiliations with political forces which wished to embarrass the Government.
According to local human rights campaigners, the appointment of this Committee is an indirect indictment on the Human Rights Commission (HRC) which was appointed by the present Government to look also into the treatment of prisoners and detainees by military, police and prison authorities.
There has been widespread criticism that the HRC, though consisting of well known Sri Lankans, is ineffective. Human rights workers say that it didn't have sufficient authority to pursue its investigations.
The efficacy of such an organisation is seen by how well it is able to compel prison, military or police authorities to comply with its orders, they said.
The campaigners point out that despite the creation of the HRC, Tamil detainees suffer harrowing conditions when they are arrested under the Prevention of Terrorism Act (PTA) or Emergency Regulations.
The HRC itself took over from Human Rights Task Force (HRTF) which was appointed by President Premadasa in 1990 to look into the welfare of prisoners, most of whom were Sinhalese, detained as Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna (JVP) activists involved in an uprising against the State between 1987 and 1990.
The effectiveness of the HRTF too, which functioned well under its first chairman, began to wane later. This was also attributed to the military and police authorities simply not complying with the instructions of the HRTF.
What needs to be seen, however, is what steps will be taken by the SLG to punish officials if they do not abide by the instructions of the new Committee, said the campaigners.
The impunity Sri Lankan military and police authorities enjoy despite allegations of abusing the human rights of detainees has raised widespread condemnation from both local and international NGOs.