British Court finds refugee at torture risk in Sri Lanka

[TamilNet, Wednesday, 08 August 2007, 13:31 GMT]
A British Asylum and Immigration Tribunal, in a case filed by a Sri Lankan refugee against the refusal to grant him asylum in the UK, found that the said refugee would be at real risk of torture by the Sri Lankan authorities if returned there. The Tribunal rejected Home Office arguement that only high profile members of the LTTE are at risk of detention and torture in Sri Lanka and persons involved in low level activities for the LTTE, he would not be targeted by the authorities.

Full text of the press release issued by the Law firm representing the refugee follows:

Court finds refugee at risk of tortured if returned to Sri Lanka

In a judgement issued on Monday 6th August 2007 the Asylum and Immigration Tribunal allowed a Country Guidance appeal brought by Mr LP, a Sri Lankan refugee, against the refusal to grant him asylum in the UK, finding that he would be at real risk of torture by the Sri Lankan authorities if returned there. The case is a Country Guidance (CG) case which is intended to give guidance to Immigration Judges in assessing asylum claims by people fearing persecution by the Sri Lankan government.

Mr. LP is a Tamil from the North of Sri Lanka who, like everyone else from his village, assisted the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) by digging bunkers and looking after injured LTTE members. In November 1999 he was arrested and detained for about 5 days in Vavuniya by the Sri Lankan forces who tortured him, accusing him of being an LTTE member. The authorities suffocated Mr. LP with a petrol soaked polythene bag, hung him up side down and beat him with canes, sticks and plastic pipes filled with sand. They then transferred him to Kalutara prison where he was detained for about 2 weeks, then taken to a Court which released him on bail with reporting conditions. Whilst reporting to the Police, he was questioned again and released after agreeing to demands to work as an informer. He feared further torture at the hands of the Sri Lankan authorities and left the country in December 1999.

He arrived in the UK in January 2000 and claimed asylum the same day. His asylum claim was refused by the Home Office in 2005 and his appeal was dismissed later that year by an Immigration Judge. This was overturned by the Asylum and Immigration Tribunal who allowed his reconsideration appeal on Monday.

The Home Office argued that the UNHCR Position on the International Protection Needs of asylum seekers from Sri Lanka of December 2006 should not be used as the basis for providing Mr LP protection in the UK. The UNHCR Position states ;

“In addition to the situation of widespread insecurity and the impact of the armed conflict in the North and the East, Tamils in and from these regions are at risk of targeted violations of their human rights from all parties to the armed conflict. Harassment, intimidation, arrest, detention, torture, abduction and killing at the hands of government forces, the LTTE and paramilitary or armed groups are frequently reported to be inflicted on Tamils from the North and East. Individuals suspected of having LTTE affiliations are at risk of human rights abuses by the authorities or allegedly government sponsored paramilitary groups. In the same manner, those who refuse to support the LTTE and those who are perceived as supporters or sympathisers of the Government, risk serious violations of human rights from the LTTE.”

The Court rejected the Home Office’s argument and held:

“these reports (UNHCR Reports) are prepared by persons with direct experience of the core issues involved and thus we accord them substantive weight in this case”

The Home Office argued that only high profile members of the LTTE are at risk of detention and torture in Sri Lanka and as Mr LP was only involved in low level activities for the LTTE, he would not be targeted by the authorities. The Court found otherwise.

The Tribunal agreed the below list as principal risk factors in Sri Lankan asylum claims:
  1. Tamil ethnicity
  2. Previous record as a suspected or actual LTTE member or supporter
  3. Previous criminal record and/or outstanding arrest warrant
  4. Bail jumping and/or escaping from custody
  5. Having signed a confession or similar document
  6. Having been asked by the security forces to become an informer
  7. Presence of scarring
  8. Return from London or other centre of LTTE activity or fundraising
  9. Illegal departure from Sri Lanka
  10. Lack of ID card or other documentation
  11. Having made an asylum claim abroad
  12. Having relatives in the LTTE
The Tribunal’s judgment recognises the dangerous state of human rights situation in Sri Lanka, as has the Dutch Government who recently suspended removal of Sri Lankan Tamils asylum seekers. Moreover, on 25th June 2007 the European Court of Human Rights in a case of NA v the United Kingdom ordered that NA not be expelled by the UK Government to Sri Lanka until further notice.

As the hearing of the appeal by LP (Sri Lanka) took place in November 2006 and April 2007, the Tribunal could not consider any evidence relating to the expulsion of Tamils from Colombo in June 2007, as documented by Human Rights Watch in its report "Return to War: Human Rights Under Siege.”, published on Monday. The expulsion of Tamils from Colombo, where the UK government removes all Sri Lankan “failed” asylum seekers to, will be considered in the next Country Guidance case called AN/SS (Sri Lanka), due to be heard in September 2007.

Notes:

The case of Mr LP;
Appeal number : AA/07356/2005
Heard : 27/28th November 2006 and 12th April 2007
Counsel instructed by Birnberg Peirce & Partners : Mr Alasdair MacKenzie, Doughty Street Chambers


External Links:
BBC: UK in landmark Sri Lanka ruling

 

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