There have been positive developments

The British Home Office Country Policy and Information Note March 2017 in its  updated policy guidance  to Home Office decision makers on handling particular types of protection and human rights claims, in its  updated policy guidance said:

Since the country guidance case of GJ & Others in 2013, a new government, led by President Sirisena came to office in January 2015, and there have been positive developments including: curtailing of executive power; the reestablishment of independent commissions (and in particular the restoration of the legitimacy and independence of Sri Lanka’s Human Rights Commission); de-proscription of a number of international diaspora organisations; review of cases  held under the Prevention of Terrorism Act and release of some detainees. Measures such as the passing of the Right to Information Bill,  have also seen positive  improvements towards more transparent and accountable government and an improved environment for civil society and human rights defenders has also been reported.

Since the new government came to office in 2015, ‘white van’ abductions are now seldom reported. The number of torture complaints has greatly reduced. However, new cases of Tamil victims continue to emerge and police reportedly often continue to resort to violence and excessive force, particularly when extracting confessions. Such treatment is reported to be common in relation to criminal investigations, regardless of the nature of the suspected offence. Decision makers should also note that many human rights reports on Sri Lanka use the term ‘torture’ to cover a very wide range of treatment ranging from forceful questioning or threats, through to the most severe forms of ill-treatment.

Unlike its predecessor, the current government –which was formed since GJ & Others was heard and promulgated – has shown willingness for allegations of war crimes during the final phase of the conflict to be fully investigated, and has established its own truth, justice, and reconciliation commission to investigate potential war crimes.

The Guidelines states that in considering scarring and allegations of torture generally, decision makers should take full account of any medical evidence produced. Expert medical evidence which potentially corroborates an account of torture must be given considerable weight – but it must still be considered within the sum of evidence to be taken into account. A medical report in support of an account of torture does not necessarily determine its credibility if other evidence provides good reason to reject the person ’s account of when and how scars (for example) were caused.

The UK Home Office undertook a fact finding mission (FFM) to Sri Lanka from 11–23 July 2016 and visited the Rehabilitation centre in Vavuniya, Northern Province. The team were able to speak to the Rehabilitees (beneficiaries) freely and individually and unlike in the past, returnees who have a previous connection with the LTTE are able to return to their communities without suffering ill-treatment.

The document says the Tribunal in GJ & Others also found that the Sri Lankan authorities’ approach is based on sophisticated intelligence, both as to activities within Sri Lanka and in the diaspora. The Sri Lankan authorities know that many Sri Lankan Tamils travelled abroad as economic migrants and also that everyone in the Northern Province had some level of involvement with the LTTE during the civil war. In post – conflict Sri Lanka, an individual’s past history will be relevant only to the extent that it is perceived by the Sri Lankan authorities as indicating a present risk to the unitary Sri Lankan state or the Sri Lankan Government (para graph 356 (8)).

‘The government’s present objective is to identify Tamil activists in the Diaspora who are working for Tamil separatism and to destabilise the unitary Sri Lankan state enshrined in Amendment 6(1) to the Sri Lankan Constitution in 1983, which prohibits the ‘violation of territorial integrity’ of Sri Lanka. Its focus is on preventing both (a) the resurgence of the LTTE or any similar Tamil separatist organisation and (b) the revival of the civil war within Sri Lanka.’   (Gov.UK)

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