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A/HRC/40/52/Add.3: Visit to Sri Lanka - Report of the Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of human rights and fundamental freedoms while countering terrorism


14 December 2018

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Sri Lanka


In his former capacity as Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of human rights while countering terrorism, Ben Emmerson conducted a visit to Sri Lanka from 10 to 14 July 2017, to assess the progress Sri Lanka has achieved in its policies, laws and practices in the fight against terrorism since the end of its internal armed conflict. Progress in these areas is key to ensuring accountability, an end to the rule of impunity, and reconciliation, and thus to paving the way for lasting peace in Sri Lanka. In his report, the Special Rapporteur shares several key observations and human rights concerns with regard to the continued use of the Prevention of Terrorism Act of 1979, despite the long-overdue commitment of the Government to review and repeal it. The Act, inter alia, provides for an overly broad and vague definition of terrorism, lengthy administrative detention and ineffective judicial review, and extremely broad rules concerning the admission of confessions. He also expresses his concerns about the routine and systemic use of torture and ill-treatment under the Act and the conditions of detention. In particular, he found the conditions in the high-security wing of the prison in Anuradhapura that he visited to be inhumane.

Furthermore, the Special Rapporteur assesses that the progress of the new counterterrorism legislation, together with the management of past cases under the Act, has been painfully slow, and this has, in turn, delayed the wider package of transitional justice measures that Sri Lanka committed to deliver in 2015. Furthermore, the Special Rapporteur observed a pervasive and insidious form of stigmatization of the Tamil community. Tamils are severely underrepresented in all institutions, particularly in the security sector and the judiciary, despite the importance of ensuring that all institutions adequately reflect the ethnic, linguistic and religious make-up of the State.

The Special Rapporteur makes several concrete recommendations and stresses that Sri Lanka must urgently implement its commitments made in line with Human Rights Council resolution 30/1 to address the legacy of widespread and serious human rights violations that occurred in the context of the internal armed conflict in the country. The pervasive climate of impunity and the lack of accountability for serious human rights violations that occurred both during the conflict and in the aftermath requires immediate redress. The security sector is in need of urgent reform. The counter-terrorism legislation requires a complete overhaul to bring it into line with international human rights law. Failure to address these issues promptly and effectively will provide fertile ground for those intent on resorting to political violence, as real and perceived grievances are exploited by militants to garner support among vulnerable and alienated sections of the population. The price that future generations in Sri Lanka will have to pay for the continuation of this legal repression may prove as costly, or even costlier, than that which has so far confronted the present generation.

Issued By:

Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of human rights and fundamental freedoms while countering terrorism

Delivered To:

the Human Rights Council at its 40th session