Torture - is a violation of the most basic of all human rights. -- Robert Alan SilversteinTorture - the intentional infliction of severe mental or physical pain or suffering - is a violation of the most basic of all human rights. -- Robert Alan Silverstein
Elimination of torture is one of the most essential tasks in working towards reconciliation and democratization. Though Sri Lanka has specific laws to criminalise torture, widespread use of torture remains rampant. However, Sri Lanka has failed in implementing the laws. It is noted that elimination of torture is NOT a priority for the GoSL. It is further observed that there is no enough societal pressure on the government to eradicate torture.
Under the Sri Lankan Constitution, everyone is protected from torture or cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment. Under Chapter III of the Constitution, Article 11 states that “No person shall be subjected to torture or to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment”. Furthermore, Article 15 prohibits any limitation of this right in times of public emergency. In Sri Lanka, torture is criminalized under the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment Act (Act No.
22 of 1994). Further, torture is criminalized under the Sri Lankan Penal Code.
Moreover, Sri Lanka is party to the major United Nations human rights treaties prohibiting torture and ill-treatment: the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR); the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment and Punishment (CAT); the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW); the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination (CERD); and the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC). However, Sri Lanka has not signed the Optional Protocol to the Convention against Torture (CAT-OP) , nor has it recognized the competence of the Committee against Torture to receive communications from other States parties as well as from or on behalf of individuals under the respective articles 21 and 22 of the Convention against Torture.
Though domestic laws enable the victims to seek justice, a strong prosecutorial policy has not been evidenced under these laws. The number of convictions under the Act No. 22 of 1994 has been miniscule. Further, it is impossible for the victims to send individual communications to the Committee Against Torture as Sri Lanka has not signed the CAT-OP.
The Committee Against Torture has made several recommendations to the GoSL to eradicate use of torture. Ratification of CAT-OP, establishment of a national preventive mechanism, development of proper mechanisms for the protection of torture victims and witnesses and strengthen the capacity of the Human Rights Commission of Sri Lanka (HRCSL) and monitor its compliance with the Paris Principles are some of the important recommendations made by the Committee (report of the SR on torture – February 26, 2008 and report of the SR on torture – Addendum - February 26, 2010).
The National Action Plan for the Protection and promotion of Human Rights – 2011-2016 states that the mandate and focus of the HRCSL on torture will be strengthened to institutionalize the prevention, investigation and monitoring mechanisms (http://www.hractionplan.gov.lk/List_of_goal-3-3-64.html). Though the Commonwealth Secretariat has provided technical, financial, monitoring and oversight support to conduct national inquiries in compliance with international human rights standards, the HRCSL, in December 2013 had indefinitely postponed the National Inquiry on Torture stating that the civil society had requested so.
Sri Lanka is obliged to respect international laws, standards and norms.LST strongly urges the GoSL to amend the existing Human Rights Act to give more powers to the HRCSL to take legal action against anyone who fails to implement the HRCSL’s s recommendations within a two week timeframe. LST further urges that the Parliament should enact the draft Protection of Victims of Crime and Witnesses law which has already been approved by the Cabinet.
LST continues to urge the HRSCL to set up the National Inquiry on Torture without further delay to provide meaningful justice for the victims of torture. Further, given that the independence of the national human rights institution remains of paramount importance in presiding over an inquiry of this nature, LST urges the GoSL to ensure an independent mechanism of appointments of HRCSL Commissioners in line with the requirements of the now repealed segments of the 17th Amendment to the Constitution.
Media release: International Day in support of victims of torture, June 26, 2014