Human Rights Watch released a 46-page report, “Locked Up Without Evidence: Abuses under Sri Lanka’s Prevention of Terrorism Act,” on 28 January 2018.
HRW said that Government has failed to fulfill its pledge to abolish the abusive PTA and that . the PTA has been used to arbitrarily for decades, to detain suspects for months and often years without charge or trial, facilitating torture, and other abuse.
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.
Asia director Brad Adams said, “Replacing this draconian counter terrorism law with one that meets international standards should be an urgent priority if the government is serious about protecting human rights.”
The Sri Lankan government has arrested at least 11 people under the PTA in 2016 for alleged terrorist activities. Government figures released in July 2017 indicate that 70 prisoners have been held in pretrial detention under the PTA for more than five years, and 12 for over 10 years.
While the government of President Maithripala Sirisena has taken some steps to charge or release PTA detainees, it has not put forward a plan to provide redress for those unjustly detained, or addressed the issue of detainees charged and prosecuted solely on the basis of coerced confessions obtained during detention.
Although the government has floated several drafts of a new counterterrorism law, none have complied with international human rights standards. In May 2017, the cabinet approved with little public consultation a draft Counter Terrorism Act (CTA) to replace the PTA. Although the bill improves upon the PTA in some ways, it still allows prolonged arbitrary detention, enabling rights abuses such as torture. It also includes broad and vague definitions of terrorist acts, which could be used to criminalize peaceful political activity or protest.
Reports from United Nations special procedures have documented the grave impact of the PTA. The then-special rapporteur on counter-terrorism, Ben Emmerson, said after his July 2017 visit that “the use of torture has been, and remains today, endemic and routine, for those arrested and detained on national security grounds.”
After a two-week country visit in December, the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention called for an immediate repeal of the PTA, referring to it as a “key enabler” of abuse. The European Union also reiterated its call for the PTA to be repealed at an EU-Sri Lanka Joint Commission meeting in January 2018.