Amnesty International Report 1997 - Sri Lanka Entry

Thousands of Tamil people were arrested, including scores of possible prisoners of conscience. Around 1,600 people were detained without charge or trial, 600 of them for more than a year. Torture and ill-treatment were widespread, particularly in military custody. Several people died in custody, some as a result of torture. At least 220 Tamil civilians were reported to have "disappeared" and an estimated 50 others were extrajudicially executed. The Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), an armed opposition group, was responsible for numerous human rights abuses, including deliberate and arbitrary killings of Sinhalese and Muslim civilians.

Armed conflict between the LTTE and the government continued. Large- scale military operations, particularly in the north, resulted in heavy loss of life on both sides. Tens of thousands of civilians were displaced. In May, the security forces took control of most of the Jaffna peninsula; control of much of the countryside in the east was disputed.

Access to the north was severely restricted throughout the year. As a result, independent information about alleged human rights violations in the area was limited.

The state of emergency, which had been in force in the north and east and other designated areas, was extended to the whole of the country in April. At the same time, censorship was imposed prohibiting publication of news relating to operations carried out by the security forces, procurement of arms, deployment of troops or military equipment and the official conduct or performance of members of the security forces. The censorship order was lifted in October.

In July, legislation was passed to set up a National Human Rights Commission (NHRC), but its members had not been appointed by the end of the year.

In September, the government announced that Sri Lanka would ratify the (First) Optional Protocol to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.

One of the three commissions of inquiry established in late 1994 to look into human rights violations, in particular the thousands of "disappearances" that had occurred after 1 January 1988 (see Amnesty International Reports 1995 and 1996), finished hearing evidence at the end of the year. The report of the Presidential Commission of Inquiry into Involuntary Removal of Persons (see Amnesty International Report 1995) was not made public.

Thousands of Tamil people, including scores of possible prisoners of conscience, were arrested during security operations in all parts of the country. Around 1,600 people were detained without charge or trial under the Prevention of Terrorism Act or Emergency Regulations, 600 of them for over a year. Safeguards to protect the welfare of detainees introduced in 1995 (see Amnesty International Report 1996) were not fully adhered to. Some prisoners were held in unauthorized places of detention for several weeks. In one such case reported in July, a young man was held incommunicado for more than a month at Plantain Point army camp, Trincomalee. He claimed he was held blindfolded and with his arms and legs tied. His relatives and the Human Rights Task Force (HRTF) were not informed of his arrest nor was he allowed to communicate with his relatives (see Amnesty International Reports 1995 and 1996).

Torture and ill-treatment were widespread, particularly in military custody in the north and east. The methods used included applying electric shocks to sensitive parts of the body; hanging prisoners upside down or by their thumbs; beatings on the soles of the feet; pulling a bag filled with petrol or chillies over the prisoner's head; and repeatedly submerging the prisoner in water.

Several people were killed in custody, some as a result of torture. Kandiah Vairamuthu was reportedly killed in detention shortly after his arrest and buried within the compound of the People's Liberation Organization of Tamil Eelam (PLOTE), an armed group working with the security forces, in Chenkalady. In late July, two badly burned bodies were found in Galgamuwa, Nikaweratiya. Although neither was officially identified, one was believed to be Selliah Subramaniam, a businessman, who had been rearrested by members of the Counter-Subversive Unit of the Vavuniya police when he went to collect his possessions on his release by the order of the Supreme Court. He had been detained for nearly four months without charge or trial. The identity of the other person was not known.

At least 220 people "disappeared" after being arrested by members of the security forces in the north and east. After April, "disappearances" were increasingly reported in the Jaffna peninsula. Among the victims was 18-year-old Krishanthy Kumarasamy from Kaithady who was taken into custody at an army check-point between Chundikkuli and Kaithady on 7 September, while returning home after sitting an examination paper. Her mother, Rasammah Kumarasamy, her 16-year-old brother Pranaban Kumarasamy, and a friend, Kirupakaran Sithamparam, also "disappeared" after they were taken into custody at the army check-point when making inquiries about Krishanthy Kumarasamy. Their bodies were found in shallow graves in mid-October. Nine members of the security forces were arrested on suspicion of being responsible for the killings and of an attempted cover-up.

Tamil armed groups working with the security forces were also responsible for human rights violations, including "disappearances". Nagalingam Rishikeshamoorthy was seen being arrested by an armed member of the Tamil Eelam Liberation Organization in Chenkalady in January. His whereabouts remained unknown at the end of the year.

An estimated 50 civilians were extrajudicially executed. Twenty-four of them, including 13 women and seven children below the age of 12, were killed on 11 February in Kumarapuram, Trincomalee district, by soldiers from the 58th Mile Post and Dehiwatte army camps, accompanied by Home Guards from Dehiwatte. The killings were apparently in reprisal for the killing of two soldiers by the LTTE earlier that day.

In late January, the trial began of eight army personnel and a school principal charged in connection with the "disappearance" of a group of young people in Embilipitiya between late 1989 and early 1990 (see Amnesty International Reports 1995 and 1996). It had not concluded by the end of the year. There was little progress in inquiries into other past human rights violations, including the inquiries into the deaths of people whose bodies were found during exhumations of a dozen clandestine graves in 1994.

Although investigations were initiated into several recent incidents of human rights violations, including the "disappearance", torture and killing of at least 31 people in Colombo, the capital, in mid-1995 (see Amnesty International Report 1996), and the extrajudicial executions in Kumarapuram (see above), the alleged perpetrators had not been brought to trial.

The LTTE was responsible for grave human rights abuses, including deliberate and arbitrary killings of Sinhalese and Muslim civilians, summary executions of Tamil people considered to be "traitors", and torture and ill-treatment of prisoners and of children who were sometimes forced to join the armed group. In late January, more than 90 civilians were killed when a lorry containing explosives was driven into the entrance of the Central Bank in central Colombo. Two Muslim and nine Sinhalese civilians were killed in mid-September when LTTE members attacked a bus in Arantalawa, Amparai district. In Jaffna district, several people were executed by members of the LTTE on suspicion of collaborating with the security forces. In early July, Thambu Ramalingam, a local administrator, was executed in the street in Ariyalai. It was widely believed that the reason for his execution was that he had raised the Jaffna district council flag during a ceremony held by the security forces when they took control of Jaffna town in December 1995. The fate of several prisoners of conscience and Tamil and Muslim prisoners held for several years remained unclarified.

In August, Amnesty International published a report, "Sri Lanka: Wavering commitment to human rights". While acknowledging several steps taken by the government for the protection of human rights, the organization expressed concern at continuing grave human rights violations and at the government's failure, despite its stated commitment, to bring perpetrators of human rights violations to justice. Throughout the year, Amnesty International called for full and impartial investigations into reports of "disappearances" and extrajudicial executions. The organization also submitted recommendations to strengthen the law establishing the NHRC, some of which were incorporated into the final legislation.

Amnesty International appealed to the LTTE to call an immediate halt to the deliberate killing of civilians and other grave abuses by its members and to make a clear public commitment to upholding human rights. In June, a memorandum was handed over to representatives of the LTTE abroad, appealing for the release of 24 prisoners of conscience, for information about 42 prisoners whose fate or whereabouts were unaccounted for, and for investigations to establish those responsible for 13 incidents since May 1990 in which a total of 674 civilians had been deliberately and arbitrarily killed. No response from the LTTE had been received by the end of the year.

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