Photograph: Frank Augstein/AP
(Washington, DC; June 26, 2018): Today, on International Day in Support of Victims of Torture, PEARL expresses our grave concern about the prevalence of ongoing physical and sexual torture of Tamils by Sri Lanka’s security forces. In order to eradicate torture, members of the international community must demand that Sri Lanka immediately establish the promised special judicial mechanism with robust foreign involvement as well as remove known torturers from the security forces.
Although Sri Lanka ratified the Convention Against Torture in 1994 and more recently committed to prevent and punish torture in UN Human Rights Council Resolution 30/1 in 2015, security forces continue to detain and torture Tamils. Over the last two years, UN experts reported that torture of Tamils by Sri Lankan security forces is commonplace and systemic. The disproportionate application of the Prevention of Terrorism Act against Tamils, as well as the extraordinary rates of militarization in the North-East, facilitates the security sector’s access to victims. As recently as November 2017, the Associated Press reported on the abduction and consequent physical and sexual torture of over 50 Tamil men at the hands of security forces. Instead of taking steps to address these and other serious allegations, the government of Sri Lanka continually denies the occurrence of these crimes.
Moreover, the government’s backtracking on commitments made in Resolution 30/1 to prosecute atrocity crimes or involve foreign judges—at least 28 statements in the last year—further illustrate the lack of political will to pursue justice for torture and other international crimes. PEARL’s latest report found that Tamil victims and survivors have no faith in the government, causing them to turn to the international community for recourse. Their frustration with the unacceptable status quo prompted numerous continuous protests since last year. July 1st will mark the 500th day of protests by families of the disappeared demanding information about their loved ones, many of whom were forcibly disappeared when they surrendered or were taken by the government. Such enforced disappearances, which place victims outside the albeit limited protection of the law, render them extremely vulnerable to torture in an institution that has normalized brutality against Tamils for years.
In solidarity with the Tamil men and women who have been tortured—even disappeared first—by Sri Lanka, PEARL calls for justice and security sector reform in Sri Lanka. We urge states to demand Sri Lanka promptly establish a special judicial mechanism with foreign judges, prosecutors, and lawyers to investigate and prosecute atrocity crimes, including ongoing torture and sexual violence, in accordance with its commitments made in Resolution 30/1. We also encourage states to exercise universal jurisdiction to ensure the delivery of fair and effective justice in the absence of domestic action. We further call on states to exert pressure on Sri Lanka to implement strict vetting processes to keep known torturers out of the security forces. Torture is always inexcusable, and members of the international community should take the aforementioned steps to demonstrate that they stand with victims—not violators.