SRILANKA/ASIA: Preliminary observations and recommendations of the Special Rapporteur on torture and other cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment or punishment, Mr. Juan E. Mendez

Preliminary observations and recommendations of the Special Rapporteur on torture and other cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment or punishment, Mr. Juan E. Mendez following his visit to Sri Lanka from 29th April – 7th May 2016 forwarded by the Asian Human Rights Commission

Colombo, 7 May 2016

*This statement should be read in conjunction with the preliminary observations and recommendations of the Special Rapporteur on the independence of judges and lawyers.


At the invitation of the Government, my colleague, Ms. Mónica Pinto – the Special Rapporteur on the independence of judges and lawyers – and I visited Sri Lanka from 29 April to 7 May 2016 to assess the situation and remaining challenges concerning torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment and the independence of judges and lawyers. We would like to express our appreciation to the government for extending an invitation to visit the country, for their full cooperation during our visit, and for the efforts displayed, in particular by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, to facilitate and organize official meetings. In addition, we would like to thank the United Nations Resident Coordinator and the United Nations Office in Sri Lanka for supporting the preparations of the visit.

Sri Lanka is at a crucial moment in its history. While the armed conflict has ended after more than 30 years, much of the structures of a nation at war remain in place as the fabric of Sri Lankan society has been ravaged. Sri Lankan citizens continue to live without minimal guarantees against the power of the State. It is now critical and urgent to replace the legal framework that allowed serious human rights violations to happen and set up sound democratic institutions and legal standards that will give effect to and protect human rights embodied in the constitution of Sri Lanka as well as the international human rights treaties it has voluntarily ratified.

Officials we spoke to identified as the main threats and challenges of the country international terrorism and organized crime, as is the case with most countries in the world today. However, they can never justify the continuation of repressive practices or a normative framework that contributes to violations of fundamental rights and civil liberties.

The elections of January and August 2015 brought an opening in the democratic space and the change in government has led to some promising reforms, such as the re-instatement of the Constitutional Council. Yet, more reforms are expected and necessary before the country can be considered to be on a path to sustainable democratization governed by the rule of law.

There is a need to recover the momentum of reform and accelerate the process of positive change within a comprehensive and inclusive framework.

During my visit I had the opportunity to visit detention facilities and military camps in the Southern Province (Boossa Prison, Boossa TID detention facility, Galle Fort military camp), Western province (Kalutara South Senior Superintendent’s Office, Panadura Police Station), North Western Province (Puttalam and Kalpitiya Police Stations), Northern Province (Joint Operational Security Force Headquarters in Vavuniya (“Joseph camp”), Vavuniya Remand Prison, Vavuniya Police Station, Vavuniya TID office, Poonthotam Rehabilitation Centre in Vavuniya) and Eastern Province (Trincomale Naval Base). In Colombo I visited the Criminal Investigation Department and Terrorism Investigation Division facilities (commonly known as the 4th and 6th floor), the Welikada Prison complex and Borella police station.

I also had the opportunity to exchange views with a number of high ranking officials, including representatives of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the Ministry of Defence, the Ministry of Law and Order, the Ministry of Prison Reforms, Rehabilitation, Resettlement and Hindu Religious Affairs, the Ministry of Woman and Child Affairs, the Ministry of Health, the Attorney General’s Office, the National Police Commission, the National Human Rights Commission, the Governor of the Eastern Province, as well as representatives of the Sri Lankan civil society, international organizations, victims and their families.

The Special Rapporteur on the Independence of Judges and Lawyers, during her visit, had the opportunity to engage with a variety of stakeholders, including judges, lawyers and civil society organizations, the details of which can be found in her statement.

I will now share some of my preliminary observations and recommendations. I will further develop my assessment in a written report, which I will present to the 34th session of the United Nations Human Rights Council in March 2017.