Repeal PTA , Review anti-terror law

A UN Special Rapporteur, in a report submitted to the UN Human Rights Council (UNHRC), has recommended that Sri Lanka immediately repeal the Prevention of Terrorism Act (PTA), review the draft legislation to replace the PTA and immediately withdraw the proposed amendment to the Code of Criminal Procedure Act that would deprive a suspect of access to a lawyer until his or her statement has been recorded.

He has also recommended the establishment of an office to investigate and prosecute allegations of torture independent of the Office of the Attorney-General to ensure a break from the past culture of impunity, and make operational an effective and safe witness protection program that excludes authorities who were part of the national security forces.

These recommendations have come from the Special Rapporteur on Torture and other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment Juan E. Méndez who conducted a visit to Sri Lanka from 29 April to 7 May 2016, at the invitation of the Government.

His report released last week will be taken up for discussion during the 34th session of the HRC which will be held from 27 February to 24 March 2017.

The UN official has also called on Sri Lanka to sign and ratify the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court.

The Special Rapporteur said the issue of torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment is part of the legacy of the country’s armed conflict, and one of the reasons why the citizens of Sri Lanka continue to live without minimal guarantees of protection against the power of the State, in particular its security forces.

He added that the current legal framework and the lack of reform within the structures of the armed forces, the police, the Office of the Attorney-General and the judiciary, perpetuate the risk of torture.

“Sri Lanka needs urgent and comprehensive measures to ensure structural reform in these institutions to eliminate torture and ensure that all authorities comply with international standards. A piecemeal approach is incompatible with the soon-to-be-launched transitional justice process and could undermine it before it really begins.”

He also noted that the conditions of detention amount to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment

owing to severe overcrowding, insufficient ventilation, excessive heat and humidity, and the denial of adequate access to health care, education, vocational training and recreational activities.

Other recommendations include the abolishing of capital punishment , amendments to the Police Act to make the police more accountable, effective and trustworthy and repeal of all relevant legislation so that corporal punishment is explicitly prohibited in all settings.

He has also said that an urgent repair and upgrade or closure of old prisons is needed to address the unsafe and inhumane conditions of detention. (FT)

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