SRI LANKA: 'In reality there may be torture but our law against torture is fine'
The second day of the 47th Session on Sri Lanka at the CAT took place yesterday (November 9, 2011). For our comments on the first day please see here.
At this session the Sri Lankan delegation was required to reply to the long list of questions posed by the committee members the previous day. However, Mr. Mohan Peiris, who spoke on behalf of the government of Sri Lanka (GOSL) preferred to give a long tedious lecture on the law in Sri Lanka instead of answering questions which were about factual situations and actual violations. He was trying to turn the CAT session into a theatre of evasion. It was a performance more suited to Mr. Bean, not a person representing a sovereign government before an august body of the United Nations.
Even on the law the impression that Mr. Peiris tried to create about Sri Lanka having a good system of law is altogether false. The 1978 Constitution has caused a complete collapse of the rule of law system in Sri Lanka by placing the executive president above the law and outside the jurisdiction of the courts. This has virtually diminished the importance of the judicial branch in Sri Lanka. Besides this fast track procedures established to amend even the Constitution and to pass other legislation is totally contrary to the process of making laws under a rule of law system.
Some of the statements of Mr. Peiris were blatantly false. For example the statement that the habeas corpus have fallen out of fashion due to the provisions of the Fundamental Rights under the 1978 Constitution. Hundreds of habeas corpus applications have been filed since 1978, and as a recent study has clearly established, most of these applications have failed due to trivial reasons. Besides this the habeas corpus procedure which should be speedy, as it is in most countries, takes many years in Sri Lanka totally defeating the whole purpose of the application. Thus, the people's unwillingness to file habeas corpus applications is due to the popular realisation of the futility of pursuing this remedy. This sense of futility of pursuing redress for violations of rights is a result of a judicial system that is being neglected and which has failed.
In the same manner he refused to answer questions posed on the attacks on journalists and human rights defenders. When asked about the publication in Ministry of Defence website naming several lawyers as traitors his reply was that the publication, in fact, did no harm. He was unwilling to consider the liability of the Ministry of Defence in making such inflammatory claims against these lawyers. When asked as to what action was taken against the persons responsible in the Ministry for making such publications or what measures in place to ensure that this would not recur, it did not occur to Mr. Peiris to address such questions of accountability.
Without any sense of ethics and responsibility Mr. Peiris made some remarks, like for example on the issue of the forced disappearance of Prageeth Eknaligoda. He said, that according to reliable information that he could vouch for, Mr. Eknaligoda has taken refuge in a foreign country and that the campaign against his disappearance is a hoax. Mr. Peiris failed to provide detailed information on the alleged whereabouts of Mr. Eknaligoda despite claiming that he had "reliable information". The making of such statements as a representative of the GOSL is mean and totally unbecoming. Similar conduct displayed by anyone representing a state would lead to the taking of disciplinary action against him if, in fact, Sri Lanka was observing the rules of accountability as expected of any civilised country.
The committee questioned the willingness of the GOSL to ratify the Optional Protocol to the Convention against Torture, the Convention against Forced Disappearances and the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court. Despite of repeating the questions for the second time, there was no answer forthcoming from Mr. Peiris.
On answering a question relating to the throwing of a grenade at the house of a lawyer Mr. Peiris replied that as the lawyer, Mr. Weliamuna himself could not tell the government who threw the grenade it was not possible to identify the culprit of this act. If this principle is followed in all cases of crimes the burden will be squarely laid on the victim to discover the perpetrator, thus exonerating the state from conducting investigations into the crime and discovering the culprits through competent investigations. Considering that Mr. Mohan Peiris once held the post of Attorney General this answer demonstrates that he may not have had the basic knowledge of criminal law and procedure to qualify for such a position.
Mr. Peiris also went on to say that the reason for not allowing the presence of lawyers during police interrogations is because confessions made to the police or other authorities are inadmissible in a court of law. What he was trying to evade was the responsibility of the state to ensure that a person in custody is not subjected to torture for whatever reason. The presence of a lawyer is a safeguard to ensure the absence of such ill-treatment at the police stations.
When Mr. Peiris talked about Sri Lanka's zero tolerance of torture one of the committee members pointed out that given the overwhelming evidence received from many sources about widespread torture practiced in the country he cannot accept that there is zero tolerance of torture in Sri Lanka. He reminded the Sri Lankan representative that what really matters is what happens in reality and that is what the committee was trying to clarify. These repeated requests to reveal information on the basis of questions asked on the real situation were blatantly dodged.
When questioned about the allegations of sexual misconduct of Sri Lankan police officers sent to Haiti Mr. Peiris objected on the basis of not having prior intimation about the question. However, when pressed he was unable to inform the committee about what actions had been taken against these police officers regarding such serious violations relating to sexual abuse.
No process of accountability of human rights can succeed if the government faced the United Nations human rights bodies with the intention of dodging all the pertinent questions posed. However, the Sri Lanka government adopting this position is no surprise as in so many public statements the GOSL treats the human rights bodies in the United Nations as hostile elements who are engaged in trying discredit the government. That the west is engaged in a propaganda war on human rights against Sri Lanka is a common propaganda line pursued by the highest officers including the president himself. Mr. Peiris' dodging and evasion was surely in terms of the instructions he had received.