An international Human Rights watchdog censured Sri Lanka for sending a police official in charge of a torture site at the end of the civil war to defend the country, “as an absolute affront” to the victims and the international community as a whole.
The Committee Against Torture (UNCAT) is reviewing Sri Lanka’s human rights record, especially in relation to torture, abduction and sexual violence at its 59th Session in Geneva on 15 and 16 November 2016.
Sri Lanka faced questioning by the UN for its inaction against ongoing torture, secret torture sites and sexual violence in detention. It said that the torture remains a common practice in the island nation in relation to the regular criminal investigation.
Sri Lanka has sent a top 11-member delegation led by Attorney General Jayantha Jayasuriya to respond to the allegations. This delegation includes Deputy Inspector General of police (DIG) of Police Legal Division, Ajith Rohana and Chief of National Intelligence of the Ministry of Defence Sisira Mendis, who has headed the CID during the height of the war.
The Johannesburg based International Trust and Justice Project (ITJP) in a statement said the DIG Mendis was the DIG of the CID from March 2008 to June 2009 at the height of the war in Sri Lanka, when he was also responsible for the Terrorism Investigation Division (TID), which has been widely accused to running secret torture sites even to-date.
The ITJP, which also submitted a report to the UNCAT on Sri Lanka’s ongoing torture, said DIG Mendis ran what’s widely referred to as “the fourth floor” – a term which Sri Lankans use as a shorthand for describing torture.
ITJP has documented 36 cases of ongoing abduction and torture by police, army and military intelligence officers under the Sirisena government. The Sri Lankan Human Rights Commission also says it has received 628 complaints of torture by the security forces under the new government.
A UN report last year named Mr Mendis and described interrogation rooms used for torture in CID headquarters as being equipped with “metal bars and poles used for beatings, barrels of water used for waterboarding, pulleys and apparatus” all used as torture instruments.
“That the Government of Sri Lanka could send an official who is responsible for torture perpetrated by units accountable to him, as its representative to a UN meeting on torture is an absolute affront to the victims and also to the international community,” said ITJP’s executive director, Yasmin Sooka.
The 2015 UN report concluded that torture and sexual violence by Government security forces at the end of the war was widespread and part of a “deliberate policy” and found reasonable grounds to believe this could amount to war crimes and / or crimes against humanity.
The ITJP report said, as the commander in charge of two police units at the climax of the war, Mr Mendis must have known that “torture was being widely practiced by his officers – in several cases actually in the police headquarters building where he sat – and yet he failed to do anything to prevent, investigate or punish those responsible”.
“Mr Mendis can only dare to show his face in Switzerland because he is afforded immunity from prosecution by virtue of attending a UN meeting – in this case ironically a meeting on torture,” said Ms. Sooka.
Noting that Mendis has been functioning the director of the Centre for National Intelligence in Sri Lanka’s Ministry of Defence after the regime change for the past 17 months, it said “there is no indication that he has done anything in this role to address either the past policy of torture and sexual violence or stop the continued practice of torture and sexual violence”