New steps to fight torture

Government envoys from Sri Lanka told the U.N.’s top human rights body Wednesday that their country is taking new steps to battle torture, a move that an advocacy group attributed to an Associated Press report documenting allegations from men who said they were brutalized, raped and branded.

The Human Rights Council held a long-planned review of Sri Lanka’s record a week after the AP investigation relayed the accounts of more than 50 men who said they were tortured under the current government, some as recently as July.

The government envoys took some at the council meeting in Geneva by surprise by announcing that Sri Lanka’s Cabinet had a day earlier agreed to accede to the Optional Protocol on the Convention Against Torture. The 15-year-old accord allows for greater international scrutiny of countries’ detention facilities.

Harsha de Silva, a deputy minister for national policies and economic affairs, acknowledged that the government’s commitment to human rights has been questioned.

“No nation is perfect,” de Silva told the rights council. “It’s natural to feel a sense of frustration.”

Speaking later to the AP, he said Sri Lanka has “zero tolerance” for torture.

“It is an abhorrent practice, and we are completely and absolutely against that,” de Silva said. “That is why the Cabinet, you know, gave its decision to accede to … the optional protocol.”

Critics scoffed that the treaty pledge was another empty promise on human rights from a country still recovering from a devastating 26-year civil war that ended in 2009. Men interview