AI 1996 Annual Report - Sri Lanka entry

AI 1996 Annual Report - Sri Lanka entry

FROM: Jim McDonald, AIUSA Sri Lanka Coordinator
RE: Amnesty International 1996 Annual Report - Sri Lanka entry
DATE: June 19, 1996

Amnesty International has released its 1996 Annual Report. It covers the period of January to December 1995 and contains entries on 146 countries and territories. The entry on Sri Lanka follows below. The first paragraph is a summary of the entry. Those wishing to obtain a copy of the entire report should contact the Amnesty International section in their country; in the U.S., please contact: AIUSA, 322 Eighth Avenue, New York, NY 10001; Attention: Publications.


Thousands of Tamil people, including hundreds of prisoners of conscience, were arrested, particularly in the latter part of the year. Hundreds were detained without charge or trial for periods ranging from 24 hours to several months. There were reports of torture and ill-treatment, particularly of prisoners held in military custody. Several people died in custody as a result of torture. At least 55 people were reported to have "disappeared" and more than 40 others to have been extrajudicially executed. An armed opposition group was responsible for numerous human rights abuses, including deliberate and arbitrary killings of Sinhalese civilians.

Meetings between representatives of the government and the armed opposition Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), which had been suspended (see Amnesty International Report 1995), resumed early in the year. A cessation of hostilities agreement came into force on 8 January. On 18 April, however, the LTTE called an end to the truce. In the following months, fighting between the security forces and the LTTE intensified in the east. Between July and November, the security forces undertook large-scale operations in the Jaffna peninsula, the LTTE stronghold in the north. They took control of Jaffna town in December. At the end of the year, the security forces retained control of approximately half of the Jaffna peninsula and towns and main roads in the east while the LTTE controlled Mullaitivu and Killinochchi districts in the north and large parts of the countryside in the east.

The state of emergency remained in force in the northeast of the country, parts of Puttalam, Anuradhapura and Polonnaruwa districts and in the capital, Colombo, and surrounding areas. It was extended to all parts of Gampaha district in June and to parts of Moneragala district in December.

Throughout the second half of the year, access to the Jaffna peninsula was severely restricted. As a result, independent information about alleged human rights abuses was limited. There were a number of reports of killings of civilians during indiscriminate bombing and shelling by the security forces in the Jaffna peninsula, but the reports were difficult to verify owing to restrictions on access.

In mid-June, the government took several initiatives apparently designed to strengthen human rights protection. It issued emergency regulations to re-establish the powers of the Human Rights Task Force (HRTF), a body set up in 1991 to monitor the welfare of detainees. The HRTF's status had become unclear after earlier regulations lapsed in 1994 (see Amnesty International Report 1995). The government also issued directives to the heads of the security forces, aimed at protecting the fundamental rights of people arrested and detained. Security forces were directed to issue "arrest receipts"; to inform relatives of detainees and the HRTF of arrests; to grant the HRTF access to places of detention at any time; to record statements of detainees in a language of their choice; and to take specific protective measures when arresting children and women.

Thousands of Tamil people, including hundreds of prisoners of conscience held solely on account of their ethnic origin, were detained in the northeast and in Colombo. In many cases, the security forces did not adhere to the directives, in particular the requirement to issue "arrest receipts". The large majority of those arrested were released within 48 hours, but others were held for months without charge or trial. At the end of the year an estimated 600 detainees were held under the Emergency Regulations or Prevention of Terrorism Act.

There were reports of torture, including rape, particularly by army personnel in the east. In January, three Tamil women were reportedly raped by soldiers at Coomachcholai and Kayankaddu, Batticaloa district, in reprisal for an attack by the LTTE on the nearby army camp at Thampanamveli. Other reports were received of rape, by the police in Amparai in May and by the army in Trincomalee in August. There were also reports of torture of Tamil political prisoners by the army in the east. Methods of torture included electric shocks, hanging upside-down, applying chilli powder to genitals and keeping prisoners blindfolded with rags soaked in petrol. In Colombo members of the Special Task Force (STF), the Criminal Investigation Department and the army were alleged to be responsible for torturing Tamil prisoners.

Several people died in custody as a result of torture. Ratnaweera Patabendige Dayananda died in January after he was taken into custody by the police in Galle. He had three injuries to the head caused by blunt weapons and multiple injuries all over his body. The magistrate inquiring into his death ruled that the injuries could not have been caused by a fall, as claimed by the police.

At least 55 people "disappeared" after being arrested by members of the security forces in the east and in Colombo. The bodies of 31 people abducted in Colombo between late April and late August were later found in lakes and rivers in the vicinity. Among them was Vijendra Naresh Rajadurai who had been forced into a white van at Wellawatte, Colombo, on his way home after work on 26 June. His body and those of four others were found in Alawwa, some 60 kilometres to the northeast of Colombo, on 29 June. An official investigation found evidence that the victims had been held prisoner, tortured and then killed by strangulation or drowning.

An estimated 40 Tamil civilians were extrajudicially executed in the east, particularly during May, June, July and November. Some of the killings apparently took place in reprisal for attacks by the LTTE on members of the security forces. Others occurred during cordon-and-search operations. Members of the police, army, STF and Muslim home guards, a civil defence force, were reported to be responsible for the killings.

Three commissions of inquiry established in late 1994 to look into human rights violations, in particular "disappearances" that had occurred after 1 January 1988 (see Amnesty International Report 1995), began their work in January and within two months had received information about 30,000 cases of "disappearance". The Presidential Commission of Inquiry into Involuntary Removal of Persons (PCIIRP), established in 1991 to investigate "disappearances" reported after 11 January 1991, concluded its investigations. Its final report, reportedly submitted to the President in November, had not been made public by the end of the year. A number of internal army and police inquiries were held into reports of extrajudicial executions and "disappearances", often resulting in the transfer of the alleged perpetrators. In few cases was prosecution initiated. In late August, 18 members of the security forces and seven civilians were arrested on suspicion of being responsible for the "disappearance", torture and killing of at least 21 people in Colombo in the preceding months.

Little progress was reported in the inquiries into the deaths of people whose bodies were found during exhumations of a dozen clandestine graves in 1994. In October the trial resumed of five police officers charged with murdering 12 prisoners in Nittambuwa, Gampaha district, in February 1990 (see Amnesty International Reports 1991 and 1992). The trial of eight army personnel and a school principal charged in connection with the "disappearance" of a group of young people at Embilipitiya between late 1989 and early 1990 was postponed (see Amnesty International Report 1995). In October the investigations into their "disappearance" were reopened.

The LTTE was responsible for gross human rights abuses, including attacks on Sinhalese civilians living in or near the northeast. In May, for example, 42 villagers were deliberately shot dead by LTTE forces at Kallarawa, north of Trincomalee, in the east. Among those killed were at least 12 women and six children. In a further eight attacks in October and November, more than 120 Sinhalese civilians were similarly killed. The LTTE also detained scores of people suspected of providing information to government forces, at least 30 of whom were "executed". Mahattaya, the former deputy leader of the LTTE detained in 1993 (see Amnesty International Report 1994), was reportedly "executed" in November. There were reports of torture of prisoners, in at least two cases resulting in death.

An Amnesty International delegation visited the country in February and met President Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga, several members of the government, members of the commissions of inquiry into past human rights violations and members of the PCIIRP and HRTF. Amnesty International submitted a memorandum to the government setting out measures to prevent grave human rights violations. These included a review of security legislation and the strengthening of constitutional and legal protection. Amnesty International sought clarification of the mandate and working methods of the commissions.

In April Amnesty International published a report, "Sri Lanka: Time for truth and justice", setting out observations and recommendations relating to the work of the commissions of inquiry. After the resumption of the armed conflict, Amnesty International expressed concern at reports of arbitrary arrests, "disappearances" and extrajudicial executions. It called for the introduction of human right safeguards, including the restoration of the HRTF's powers to monitor the welfare of detainees. It also called for full and impartial investigations into all reports of "disappearances" and extrajudicial executions. In early June the President responded giving assurances that several incidents of extrajudicial executions reported in May were being investigated by the security forces and that "if the circumstances warrant it further action will be taken against those responsible". No response had been received by the end of the year to a request for information on the outcome of the investigations and any subsequent action.

Amnesty International appealed to the LTTE for an immediate halt to deliberate and arbitrary killings of civilians. It also called for the release of prisoners of conscience and for the LTTE to publish information on the whereabouts of those held by its forces.

In September, amid reports of an escalation of the conflict in the Jaffna peninsula, Amnesty International appealed to the government and the LTTE to take all necessary measures to protect civilians and those taking no active part in the fighting.