Sri Lanka: End Indefinite Detention of Tamil Tiger Suspects

The Sri Lankan government should end its indefinite arbitrary detention of more than 11,000 people held in so-called rehabilitation centers and release those not being prosecuted, Human Rights Watch said in a report released today.

The 30-page report, “Legal Limbo: The Uncertain Fate of Detained LTTE Suspects in Sri Lanka,” is based on interviews with the detainees’ relatives, humanitarian workers, and human rights advocates, among others. The Sri Lankan government has routinely violated the fundamental rights of the detainees, Human Rights Watch found. The government contends that the 11,000 detainees are former fighters or supporters of the defeated Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE).

“The government has been keeping 11,000 people in a legal limbo for months,” said Brad Adams, Asia director at Human Rights Watch. “It’s time to identify who presents a genuine security threat and to release the rest.”

The government has denied detainees the right to be informed of specific reasons for their arrest, to challenge the lawfulness of the detention before an independent judicial authority, and to have access to legal counsel and family members, Human Rights Watch said.  It is unclear whether any have been formally charged with crimes or what acts they are accused of committing that led the government to detain them.

Two Defendants Sentenced to 25 Years in Prison for Conspiring to Provide Material Support to the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam

On 25 January 2010, at the federal courthouse in Brooklyn, defendants Thiruthanikan Thanigasalam and Sahilal Sabaratnam were sentenced to 25 years in prison and five years of supervised release in connection with their efforts to purchase almost $1 million worth of high-powered weaponry for the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), a designated foreign terrorist organization. The sentences were imposed by Chief United States District Judge Raymond J. Dearie. In January 2009, Thanigasalam and Sabaratnam pled guilty to conspiring and attempting to provide material support to the LTTE and conspiring and attempting to acquire guided surface-to-air missiles and missile launchers.
On August 19, 2006, Thanigasalam, Sabaratnam and two co-defendants were arrested on Long Island after engaging in negotiations with an undercover FBI agent to purchase and export 20 SA-18 heat-seeking missiles, ten missile launchers, 500 AK-47s, and other military equipment for the LTTE. The defendants were acting at the direction of senior LTTE leadership in Sri Lanka, including Pottu Amman, the LTTE’s chief of intelligence and procurement and the right-hand man to LTTE leader Velupillai Prabakharan. The LTTE intended to use the SA-18 missiles to shoot down Kfir aircraft used by the Sri Lankan military.

ICJ Releases Report Documenting the History of Impunity for Human Rights Violations in Sri Lanka

Read it here.

UN experts conclude major study into use of secret detention in the fight against terrorism

Despite the fact that international law clearly prohibits secret detention, the practice is widespread and “reinvigorated” by the so-called global war on terror, several independent United Nations experts stated, outlining a series of steps aimed at curbing this human rights violation. In a 222-page study which will be presented to the United Nations Human Rights Council in March, the experts conclude that: “If resorted to in a widespread or systematic manner, secret detention might reach the threshold of a crime against humanity.” Read the unedited advance version here.

The study, which took almost a year to complete, involves responses from 44 States to a detailed questionnaire, as well as interviews with 30 individuals – or their family members or their legal counsel – who were victims of secret detention, and in many cases may also have been subjected to torture.

It provides an historical overview of the use of secret detention, noting that it is not a new phenomenon in the context of counter-terrorism. From the Nazi regime to the former USSR with its Gulag system of forced labour camps, States have often resorted to secret detention to silence opposition, according to the report.

The study goes on to address the use of secret detention in the context of the ‘global war on terror’ following the events of 11 September 2001, describing “the progressive and determined elaboration of a comprehensive and coordinated system of secret detention” of persons suspected of terrorism, involving not only United States authorities, but also other States in almost all regions of the world. The study says, inter alia,

143.Given the prevailing secrecy regarding the CIA’s rendition programme, exact figures regarding the numbers of prisoners transferred to the custody of other governments by the CIA without spending any time in CIA facilities are difficult to ascertain. Equally, little is known about the amount of detainees who have been held at the request of other States such as the United Kingdom and Canada.While several of these allegations cannot be backed up by other sources, the Experts wish to underscore that the consistency of many of the detailed allegations provided separately by the detainees adds weight to the inclusion of Jordan, Egypt, Morocco, the Syrian Arab Republic, Pakistan, Ethiopia and Djibouti as proxy detention facilities where detainees have been held on behalf of the CIA. Serious concerns also exist about the role of Uzbekistan as a proxy detention site.

It also highlights that secret detention in connection with counter-terrorism policies remains a serious problem on a global scale, either through the use of secret detention facilities; through declarations of a state of emergency, which allow prolonged secret detention; or through forms of “administrative detention,” which also allow prolonged secret detention.

The study was issued by the Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of human rights while countering terrorism, Martin Scheinin; Special Rapporteur on torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment, Manfred Nowak; the Working Group on Arbitrary Detention (represented by its Vice-Chairperson, Shaheen Sardar Ali); and the Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances (represented by its Chairperson, Jeremy Sarkin).

UN Expert calls for independent investigation into Sri Lanka war crimes

Reports by three independent experts strongly point to the authenticity of a videotape released by Channel 4 in Britain which appears to show the summary execution of bound, blindfolded, and naked Tamils by Sri Lankan soldiers.  This was announced today by the UN Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions, Philip Alston, on the basis of detailed analyses conducted by recognized experts in forensic pathology, forensic video analysis, and firearm evidence.

Alston commissioned the three reports following the publication of four opinions by Sri Lankan experts, all of which concluded that the video was a fake.  The Government of Sri Lanka informed the UN Human Rights Council that it would therefore not be undertaking any investigation of the allegations made.  “Senior Government officials called upon me to apologize and to withdraw the allegations,” said Alston.  “They also criticized me for not having undertaken my own technical analysis.  In response to that criticism and to what seemed to me the patent inadequacies of the reports commissioned by the Government (two of which were prepared by officials of the Sri Lankan army), I requested highly qualified and totally independent experts to undertake evaluations.”

Alston released the full text of the expert opinions in a “Technical Note” made public in New York today.  “Together, the reports by these experts strongly suggest that the video is authentic,” Alston stated.

“Given these conclusions, and in light of the persistent flow of other allegations of extrajudicial executions by both sides during the closing phases of the war against the LTTE, I call for the establishment of an independent inquiry to carry out an impartial investigation into war crimes and other grave violations of international humanitarian and human rights law allegedly committed in Sri Lanka.

Children Among 11,000 Tamil ‘Fighters’ Held in Rehabilitation

Sri Lanka is holding more than 11,000 Tamil prisoners without charge in closely guarded “rehabilitation centres”, despite the Government’s claim that it released all Tamil civilians from detention centres this week. The Times revealed that the group of prisoners, whose exact number has been unknown since the Sri Lankan Government blocked access to them from the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) in July, is allegedly a “combatant category” that includes former Tamil Tiger (LTTE) fighters.

However, the definition of “Tamil Tiger” is unclear. Apart from the hardcore Tiger cadres, many of those in the camps are thought to be youths forcibly conscripted by the Tigers during the final stages of their collapse, as well as their family members and civil administrators. According to media reports, the parents of Velupillai Prabhakaran, the Tamil Tiger leader killed this year, are being held in the notorious “4th Floor” detention complex in Colombo. They are in their seventies and had long been alienated from their son by his terrorist activities.

Sri Lanka announces limited freedom for detained Tamil refugees

Tens of thousands of Tamil refugees are free to leave the region where they have been held since the civil war ended six months ago providing they register with authorities so their movements can be monitored, Sri Lanka said today.There have been two types of released person: one appears to be families who will be allowed to return to their birthplaces and have to make regular reports to the police; the other is a group of people who are expected to return to the camps after a set period of time.

200,000 people remain trapped in Sri Lankan detainee camps

Facing pressure from the Obama administration and the European Union, the Sri Lankan government last month launched a campaign to resettle tens of thousands of the minority Tamil detainees. But interviews in the country’s war-ravaged north reveal that many civilians have merely been shuffled from the large camps to smaller transit ones and are being held against their will. Others have been released, only to be taken from their homes days later with no indication of where they have gone. Tamil leaders worry that if civilians end up languishing in the camps indefinitely, the situation will only breed more resentments and risk spawning another generation of rebels.

The U.S. State Department has called for an investigation into war crimes allegedly committed by both sides during the war’s final days.

Secret detention camps in Sri Lanka

Human Rights Watch said it was concerned about a lack of protection mechanisms in the camps for internally displaced civilians who are being held in internment camps in northern Sri Lanka.  The Sri Lankan government says they can’t be released until they’ve been screened to determine if any are former fighters with the opposition Tamil Tigers . At the same time, the Sri Lankan government has announced that it has detained,  more than 10,000 displaced persons on suspicion of having been involved with the LTTE. The government has separated them from their families and transferred them to separate camps and regular prisons. The ICRC has no access to them.

Human Rights Watch documented several cases in which individuals were taken into custody without regard to the protections provided under Sri Lankan law. In many cases, the authorities have not informed family members about the whereabouts of the detained, leaving them in secret, incommunicado detention or possible enforced disappearance, and, as a result, especially vulnerable to abuse.

Amnesty International reported today that one of those detainees, Sri Chandramorgan, was seriously injured last Tuesday when he tried to escape from the teachers training college where he is being held.  The college is being used as an unofficial detention center to hold suspected former combatants.  It was rumored that Sri Chandramorgan had been killed when he tried to escape; the rumor of his killing sparked a clash between the security forces and the detainees at the college.

Last week, Human Rights Watch sent a letter to European Union states outlining problems and urging governments to intervene forcefully with the Sri Lankan government.

ICJ Condemns Misuse of Anti-Terrorism Laws to Prosecute Sri Lankan Journalist

On 31 August 2009, Mr Tissainayagam, a Tamil journalist who wrote articles criticising the Sri Lankan government’s war against the Tamil Tigers, was convicted under anti-terrorism laws and sentenced by Judge Deepali Wijesundara to 20 years “rigorous imprisonment.” The journalist’s case has attracted international attention, with President Obama saying earlier this year it was “emblematic of the hundreds of journalists who face intimidation, censorship, and arbitrary arrest”.

The ICJ issued a Trial Observation Report on the case here. The Guardian has more coverage.