Human Rights Watch says Sri Lanka is ‘all talk no action’ on repealing draconian PTA

The international human right organization, Human rights Watch (HRW) says the Sri Lankan government has been “all talk but no action” on repealing the draconian Prevention of Terrorism Act (PTA).

The HRW in a report released on Sunday, said the Sri Lankan government has failed to fulfill its pledge to abolish the abusive PTA. For decades, the PTA has been used to arbitrarily detain suspects for months and often years without charge or trial, facilitating torture, and other abuse, it said.

“The Sri Lankan government has been all talk and no action on repealing the reviled PTA,” said Brad Adams, Asia director. “Replacing this draconian counterterrorism law with one that meets international standards should be an urgent priority if the government is serious about protecting human rights.”

The 46-page report, “Locked Up Without Evidence: Abuses under Sri Lanka’s Prevention of Terrorism Act,” documents previous and ongoing abuses committed under the PTA, including torture and sexual abuse, forced confessions, and systematic denials of due process.

Drawing on interviews with former detainees, family members, and lawyers working on PTA cases, Human Rights Watch has found that the PTA is a significant contributing factor toward the persistence of torture in Sri Lanka. The 17 accounts documented in the report represent only a tiny fraction of PTA cases overall, but they underscore the law’s draconian nature and abusive implementation.

The PTA was enacted in 1979 to counter separatist insurgencies, notably the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), and the law was widely used to detain hundreds of people during the country’s 26-year-long civil war. Yet while other emergency regulations have lapsed since the conflict ended in May 2009, the PTA remains in effect, the HRW says.

The PTA allows arrests without warrant for unspecified “unlawful activities,” and permits detention for up to 18 months without producing the suspect before a court.

Many of those detained under the PTA described being tortured to extract confessions. Of the 17 individuals whose cases are detailed in the report, 11 reported beatings and torture. Human Rights Watch has previously documented cases where security forces raped detainees, burned their genitals or breasts with cigarettes, and caused other injuries through beatings and electric shock.

The PTA provides immunity for government officials responsible for abuses if deemed to have been acting in good faith or fulfilling an order under the act, which gives broad cover to security force personnel to engage in torture and other abuses.

The HRW says although the government has floated several drafts of a new counterterrorism law, none have complied with international human rights standards.

The rights organization suggests that rather than enacting a law that will perpetuate the wrongs committed for decades under the PTA, the government should consult with Sri Lankan victim groups, human rights organizations, and international experts to draft a law that protects both national security and human rights. This should be undertaken as one component of broader security sector reforms, including accountability for abuses carried out under the PTA., the HRW said.

“The 2015 Human Rights Council resolution did not mean an end to international scrutiny of Sri Lanka,” Adams said. “Rather, it offered tangible benchmarks that UN member countries should draw on to highlight Sri Lanka’s lack of progress and press for needed reform.”

The HRW’s report “Locked Up Without Evidence Abuses under Sri Lanka�s Prevention of Terrorism Act” can be downloaded from here.

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