The statement by Amnesty International in its annual report for 2004 to the effect that Sri Lanka is experiencing “an improved human rights situation” is deeply disturbing and patently incorrect. Unfortunately, this statement will now be used to silence human rights defenders in the country trying to alert the public to the extreme dangers currently posed to their basic rights. The only persons who will benefit from it are the perpetrators of gross abuses and those above them.
The Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) has in numerous documents over the last year pointed to the fact that the judicial, policing and prosecution systems in Sri Lanka are at least as bad as one year ago, and in some respects worse. Torture not only “continued to be reported” during the last year, but is in fact endemic, and police officers and other government officials continue to abuse citizens with utter impunity. In one recent case a victim contracted tuberculosis due to the actions of a police officer that is still serving at the same station. Meanwhile, that tens of thousands of disappearances go uninvestigated, that the recommendations of several UN agencies continue to be ignored, and that there is a total collapse in the rule of law all over the country can hardly be described as an improved situation. A report released by the Asian Legal Resource Centre in February this year, “Endemic torture and the collapse of policing in Sri Lanka” (article 2, vol. 3, no. 1) discussed these conditions in detail.
The report by Amnesty International is flawed because it is not based upon any actual ground-level research, nor in-depth analysis of the type required for effective work on human rights. It consists of second-hand accounts that uncritically lend credibility to the government position, for instance, that the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) of Sri Lanka would produce guidelines to take action on torture cases. In a comprehensive statement released only two weeks ago (AS-12-2004), AHRC already outlined why the policy adopted by the NHRC is totally inadequate. That statement was based upon AHRCs deep ground-level research and involvement in the human rights situation in Sri Lanka.
The Amnesty report has now been picked up on by local news media, and will be blatantly used to silence criticism from human rights defenders. Amnesty should be aware that its report will have only adverse consequences for these persons and others in Sri Lanka relying upon them for their very lives. From the perspective of AHRC, that this should be the result of the work by a fellow human rights organisation is deeply regrettable, and we strongly object to the position taken by Amnesty International on this occasion.
Asian Human Rights Commission–AHRC