Current profile status: February 2009
Table of Content
- 65,610 sq km
- Total Population
- 19,299,000 (UN 2007)
- Prison Rate
- 121 (per 100.000 of national population)
- Capital Punishment
- ratified, individual complaints procedure not accepted
- not signed/ratified
The country, formerly known as Ceylon, gained independence from British rule in 1948. Sri Lanka is a constitutional, multiparty republic, whose head of State simultaneously leads the Government and is in charge of the defence and finance ministries, thereby concentrating considerable powers in one person. The country’s population is comprised of approximately 80% Sinhalese with a minority of 17% Tamils, mainly living in the Eastern and Northern provinces.
The overall situation in Sri Lanka is dominated by an internal armed conflict between the Government and the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), which has lasted for the last 25 years with varying degrees of intensity. Until 2009, the conflict had claimed the lives of over 70,000 people, and all parties to the conflict have been accused of severe and widespread human rights violations as well as numerous breaches of humanitarian law.
After independence, the Tamil minority became increasingly alienated when successive governments rejected their calls for decentralisation and self-governance. Radicalised Tamil groups started to form, demanding an independent Tamil State. By 1987, the LTTE emerged as the leading Tamil militant group, taking control over large parts of the North and East of Sri Lanka. In 2002, a Norwegian-brokered ceasefire agreement was signed by the Government and the LTTE. Following general elections in late 2005, however, renewed hostilities broke out between the parties. While the Government put greater military pressure on LTTE controlled areas, the LTTE retaliated by increasing its attacks. In August 2007, governmental forces, with the help of an LTTE splinter group, the paramilitary “Karuna group”, regained control of the Eastern provinces of the country. The Government formally withdrew from the ceasefire agreement in January 2008. In the course of 2008, governmental forces have engaged in intensified fighting with the LTTE, and by January 2009 had regained control of most of the territory.
The conflict has triggered widespread severe human rights violations by all parties: unlawful killings and disappearances, particularly in the Northern Jaffna Peninsula and the embattled areas in the North and East, placing the country among the states with the highest number of disappearances in the world; recruitment of child soldiers by the LTTE and the Karuna group; arbitrary arrests and the detention of Tamils by means of wide ranging emergency laws; poor prison conditions and torture; and threats and lethal attacks against human rights defenders, humanitarian workers and journalists, making Sri Lanka one of the most dangerous places in the world for journalists. Perpetrators of serious human rights violations are rarely brought to justice. Furthermore, all parties are accused of breaching humanitarian law by targeting civilians and civil sites such as hospitals; by restricting humanitarian access to persons trapped between the front lines; and by holding civilian populations hostage as “human shields”.
In addition to the atrocities of a long-lasting civil war, a Tsunami in December 2004 took 31,000 lives and left 443,000 people displaced. Although the economy has been consistently rising in recent years, poverty is widespread in the country, especially in rural areas. An estimated 800,000 Sri Lankans work abroad, 90% of them in the Middle East.
Sources: Report of the Representative of the Secretary-General on the Human Rights of Internally Displaced Persons, Walter Kälin, UN Doc. A/HRC/8/6/Add.4 (21 May 2008); Report of the Special Rapporteur on Extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions, Philip Alston, UN Doc. E/CN.4/2006/53/Add.5 (27 March 2006); Economist Intelligence Unit; BBC News Country Profile: OCHA Sri Lanka Situation Report; Amnesty International Report 2008; Human Rights Watch World Report 2009; Human Rights Watch (2008), Recurring Nightmare: State Responsibility for “Disappearances” and Abductions in Sri Lanka; CIA – The World Factbook; U.S. Department of State Country Reports on Human Rights Practices 2007; IRIN (30 Jan 2009), Sri Lanka: Civilians remain at high risk in heavy fighting; IRIN (19 Jan 2009), Sri Lanka: Rising concerns over thousands trapped in conflict areas; Amnesty International (2009), Sri Lanka: Government and Tamil Tigers Violating Laws of War.
Situation of Torture and Ill-Treatment
Sri Lanka is a State Party to the major United Nations human rights treaties prohibiting torture and
ill-treatment: the ICCPR and the CAT. It has however not ratified the Optional Protocol to the Convention against Torture (OPCAT) and does not recognise the competence of the CAT-Committee to receive individual complaints.
Sri Lanka has implemented the criminal law provisions of CAT by Act No. 22 of 1994. Torture is defined in conformity with the definition of article 1 CAT. Acts of torture, as well as participation, complicity, aiding and abetting, incitement and the attempt to torture are punishable under the Anti-Torture Act. Penalties range from a mandatory 7 to 10 years’ imprisonment and a fine of 10,000 to 50,000 rupees (US$ 100-500).
The Sri Lankan Criminal Procedure Code lacks fundamental safeguards such as the right to inform a family member of the arrest and the right to access to a lawyer and doctor of the detainee’s choice. It does not provide for the presence of a lawyer and an interpreter during interrogation. In addition, emergency laws, such as the Prevention of Terrorism Act and the Emergency Miscellaneous Provisions and Powers Regulations foresee preventive detention without charge for up to one year and abandon most safeguards.
Practice of Torture and Ill-Treatment
Sri Lanka was the subject of a confidential inquiry by the Committee against Torture under article 20 of the CAT from April 1999 to May 2002. On the basis of a visit to Sri Lanka in August 2000, the Committee concluded that, although torture was frequently resorted to by the police, the army and paramilitaries, the practice of torture in Sri Lanka was not of a systematic nature.
The UN Special Rapporteur on Torture visited the country in October 2007 on the invitation of the Government. Prevented by the Government from going to then LTTE-held areas, the Special Rapporteur could only draw his conclusions with regard to the government-controlled areas. He found that torture was widely practised in Sri Lanka, and that, in the context of counter-terrorism operations against suspected LTTE members, torture had become a routine practice. Intimidation of victims of torture was common to prevent them from filing a complaint. In addition, the practice of corporal punishments in prisons, as well as poor conditions of detention were criticised by the Rapporteur. The Special Rapporteur was shocked by the brutality of some of the torture methods used, and voiced particular concern over alleged collaboration between the Government and the Karuna group, which had been accused of severe torture. Reports suggest that the Government has not taken up any of the Rapporteur’s recommendations, and it is likely that the escalation of the armed conflict has worsened the situation with regard to torture and ill-treatment.
Source: Report of the Special Rapporteur on torture on his mission to Mission to Sri Lanka, UN Doc. A/HRC/7/3/Add.6 (26 Feb 2008); Report of the Committee against Torture, A/57/44.