Amnesty protests illegal detentions

[TamilNet, Thursday, 03 September 1998, 23:10 GMT]
Amnesty International, the human rights watchdog, has appealed for an immediate halt to use of unauthorized places of detention in Sri Lanka. In a press release issued on 3 September, Amnesty has condemned the PLOTE, TELO and EPRLF for rights abuses.

Amnesty International said that it was "high time that the government of Sri Lanka took decisive action to bring a halt to the persistent use of unauthorized places of detention, particularly by armed Tamil groups opposed to the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE)".

Amnesty said its appeal comes after recent reports of the spectacular escape of a prisoner who had been held in the custody of members of the People's Liberation Organization of Tamil Eelam (PLOTE) in Vavuniya.

Pararajasingham Kugathasan who had been held at the 'Lucky House' PLOTE camp in Rambaikulam, Vavuniya since 13 June 1998, escaped around 7am on 31 August 1998 and ran into the nearby Saint Anthony's church. According to eye-witnesses, there were signs of torture all over his body, including bleeding wounds on his legs and arms.

Three armed members of the PLOTE followed him into the church, cocked their weapons and threatened the priest, demanding that Pararajasingham Kugathasan be handed over. The Sri Lankan police from a nearby checkpoint intervened, taking Kugathasan into custody.

Amnesty said that in the last few years, it "has repeatedly raised concern about the persistent practice on the part of the army and the police in the north and east to allow (if not encourage) members of armed Tamil groups opposed to the LTTE to carry out search operations or screen civilians."

"Such operations have often lead to human rights violations, including illegal arrest, prolonged detention and torture, 'disappearances' and extrajudicial executions", said Amnesty.

The Sri Lanka Army brigadier in Vavuniya had told Amnesty International in March 1996 that members of PLOTE have the task of "identifying LTTE infiltrators" and "keeping the security forces informed", maintaining that armed members of PLOTE did not come directly under his control and that instead he liaised with PLOTE's political leadership.

Amnesty International subsequently recommended that existing command and control structures in the security forces be reviewed to ensure strict control over home guards and armed cadre of anti-LTTE militant Tamil groups.

Since then, Amnesty says that in the Batticaloa, members of the Eelam People's Revolutionary Liberation Front (EPRLF) have apparently been brought under direct control of the Sri Lankan military commander. The Razeek group, formed by EPRLF cadres, operates as a full time unit of the Sri Lankan Army in Batticaloa.

However, Amnesty says that "there remains serious concern about the situation in Vavuniya and about human rights violations by EPRLF members and members of other armed Tamil groups working with the security forces in the north and east of the country."

Amnesty says that according to reliable sources, the PLOTE and the Tamil Eelam Liberation Organization (TELO) run more than 20 camps.

Amnesty International says it knows of at least three camps where people have been held prisoner for long periods of time by PLOTE cadres, including at Kovilkulam and at Rambaikulam (the 'Lucky House' camp).

Members of TELO are known to hold prisoners at camps in Koomankulam, Pandarikulam and Vairavapuliyankulam, said Amnesty, adding that according to its information, as many as 16 prisoners are currently held at 'Lucky House' camp and a similar number at Kovilkulam.

"Throughout the last few years, human rights activists and relatives of people taken into custody by members of PLOTE in Vavuniya have repeatedly expressed fear for their lives or the lives of the prisoners, should they divulge information about individual cases to Amnesty International, journalists or the authorities," said Amnesty.

Amnesty International has on several occasions welcomed the introduction by the government of measures to safeguard the welfare of detainees. These include the requirement that detainees only be held in officially gazetted places of detention and that keeping a detainee in an unauthorized place of detention was made a specific offense under the Emergency Regulations.

However, Amnesty says that "to date no decisive action appears to have been taken to enforce these safeguards, particularly not in relation to the activities of armed cadres of anti-LTTE militant groups."

In a letter sent today to President Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga, Amnesty International has recommended that the following steps are taken:

1. A prompt and impartial investigation into the use of unauthorized places of detention should be conducted;

2. All unauthorized places of detention should be closed and all prisoners held at these places should be released;

3. Those responsible for keeping prisoners at these unauthorized places should be brought to justice;

4. Ex-prisoners of armed groups found to have kept prisoners in unauthorized places of detention, the prisoners' relatives and any other witnesses should be provided with adequate protection when giving evidence to the independent investigators;

5. Ex-prisoners should be adequately compensated;

6. Ex-prisoners should be provided with adequate medical treatment, if required.


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