The Sri Lankan government has failed to fulfill its pledge to abolish the abusive Prevention of Terrorism Act (PTA), Human Rights Watch said in a report released today. For decades, the PTA has been used to arbitrarily detain suspects for months and often years without charge or trial, facilitating torture, and other abuse.
“The Sri Lankan government has been all talk and no action on repealing the reviled PTA,” said Brad Adams, Asia director. “Replacing this draconian counterterrorism law with one that meets international standards should be an urgent priority if the government is serious about protecting human rights.”
The 46-page report, “Locked Up Without Evidence: Abuses under Sri Lanka’s Prevention of Terrorism Act,” documents previous and ongoing abuses committed under the PTA, including torture and sexual abuse, forced confessions, and systematic denials of due process. Drawing on interviews with former detainees, family members, and lawyers working on PTA cases, Human Rights Watch found that the PTA is a significant contributing factor toward the persistence of torture in Sri Lanka. The 17 accounts documented in the report represent only a tiny fraction of PTA cases overall, but they underscore the law’s draconian nature and abusive implementation.
The PTA was enacted in 1979 to counter separatist insurgencies, notably the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), and the law was widely used to detain hundreds of people during the country’s 26-year-long civil war. Yet while other emergency regulations have lapsed since the conflict ended in May 2009, the PTA remains in effect.
The Sri Lankan government arrested at least 11 people under the PTA in 2016 for alleged terrorist activities.
The PTA allows arrests without warrant for unspecified “unlawful activities,” and permits detention for up to 18 months without producing the suspect before a court. Human Rights Watch has received several reports of people detained for a decade or more without access to legal recourse, who were subsequently acquitted or released without charge, yet received no compensation, reparations, or apologies from the government. Government figures released in July 2017 indicate that 70 prisoners have been held in pretrial detention under the PTA for more than five years, and 12 for over 10 years.
Many of those detained under the PTA described being tortured to extract confessions. Of the 17 individuals whose cases are detailed in the report, 11 reported beatings and torture. Human Rights Watch has previously documented cases where security forces raped detainees, burned their genitals or breasts with cigarettes, and caused other injuries through beatings and electric shock.
A senior judge responsible for handling PTA cases said he was forced to exclude confession evidence in more than 90 percent of cases he had heard in 2017 because it was obtained through the use or threat of force. Former detainees frequently suffer from psychological and physical trauma as a result of their incarceration and ill-treatment in custody.
The PTA provides immunity for government officials responsible for abuses if deemed to have been acting in good faith or fulfilling an order under the act, which gives broad cover to security force personnel to engage in torture and other abuses.
Numerous reports from United Nations special procedures have documented similar findings on the grave impact of the PTA. The then-special rapporteur on counterterrorism, Ben Emmerson, said after his July 2017 visit that “the use of torture has been, and remains today, endemic and routine, for those arrested and detained on national security grounds.” His post-mission report found that 80 percent of those arrested under the PTA in 2016 reported being subject to torture and other ill-treatment following their arrest. In October 2017, the special rapporteur on transitional justice, Pablo de Greiff, called for all PTA convictions that were based solely on the accused’s confession to be reviewed.
After a two-week country visit in December, the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention called for an immediate repeal of the PTA, referring to it as a “key enabler” of abuse. The European Union also reiterated its call for the PTA to be repealed at an EU-Sri Lanka Joint Commission meeting in January 2018.
The Sri Lankan government agreed to a resolution at the UN Human Rights Council in October 2015 outlining a series of commitments on accountability and justice. Yet more than two years on, it has largely failed to implement key pledges on security sector reform, including repealing the PTA. The UN high commissioner for human rights, Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein, highlighted Sri Lanka’s lack of progress in his opening remarks at the 36th session of the Human Rights Council in September 2017, calling on the government to realize that its obligations are not a mere “box-ticking exercise.” At Sri Lanka’s Universal Periodic Review (UPR) in Geneva in November, several UN member countries pressed the government to implement safeguards against torture and repeal the PTA.
While the government of President Maithripala Sirisena has taken some steps to charge or release PTA detainees, it has not put forward a plan to provide redress for those unjustly detained, or addressed the issue of detainees charged and prosecuted solely on the basis of coerced confessions obtained during detention.
Although the government has floated several drafts of a new counterterrorism law, none have complied with international human rights standards. In May 2017, the cabinet approved with little public consultation a draft Counter Terrorism Act (CTA) to replace the PTA. Although the bill improves upon the PTA in some ways, it still allows prolonged arbitrary detention, enabling rights abuses such as torture. It also includes broad and vague definitions of terrorist acts, which could be used to criminalize peaceful political activity or protest. Ultimately, the proposed law falls far short of the government’s commitments to the Human Rights Council, and suggests it does not intend to fully relinquish the broad and too easily abused powers available to it under the PTA.
Rather than enacting a law that will perpetuate the wrongs committed for decades under the PTA, the government should consult with Sri Lankan victim groups, human rights organizations, and international experts to draft a law that protects both national security and human rights. This should be undertaken as one component of broader security sector reforms, including accountability for abuses carried out under the PTA.
“The 2015 Human Rights Council resolution did not mean an end to international scrutiny of Sri Lanka,” Adams said. “Rather, it offered tangible benchmarks that UN member countries should draw on to highlight Sri Lanka’s lack of progress and press for needed reform.”
Cases from the Report
Vijaykumar Keetheswaran, a student in Colombo, was visiting his family in Kilinochchi when he was arrested under the PTA in June 2014. He alleges that he was tortured in custody by Terrorist Investigation Division (TID) officials during questioning about his contact with a Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) fighter:
This unit beat me on my back with sticks and poles. They stripped me naked, and beat the soles of my feet with pipes. At one point, they rubbed a chili paste on my genitals. I fainted at that point.
In July 2014, Keetheswaran was transferred to Boosa, a maximum-security prison in southern Sri Lanka where many PTA detainees have been held. He was produced before a magistrate in March 2015, after nine months in custody. “Before going to the magistrate, the TID wanted me to sign a confession, and they burned me with cigarettes,” he said.
Keetheswaran was released on bail in November 2015, but arrested again under the PTA in April 2016 and detained for five months, when the TID was searching for his brother:
When they couldn’t find [my brother], they arrested me instead. I was taken to Boosa and tortured all over again. They asked me to admit that my brother had been in the LTTE. I was hanged and beaten so badly that I admitted to it even though I don’t know if it’s true or not.… I was 13-years-old when the war ended. I didn’t even know what the LTTE was. But I’m still being harassed.
Sahan Kirthi, then 21, was arrested under the PTA in February 2007. He was at first detained for six months, during which he said he endured weeks of torture by TID officials. He told Human Rights Watch:
There was a pattern to the torture. They would take a plastic shopping bag, pour some petrol into it, and then cover my head with the plastic bag. It forced me to breathe the petrol simply to try and get some air. I was beaten on the soles of my feet. The pain was unbearable. I could feel my heart beat and I would get terrible headaches. There was also water torture, where they would put a handkerchief over my face, and put my face under a running tap with high pressure. If you breathe, the water goes into your nose and you feel like you are drowning. At the same time, you can’t really breathe because the water pressure is so high.
TID officials tried to force Kirthi to confess, even threatening to rape his sister. When he was produced before a magistrate after six months, he attempted to report the torture to judicial and medical representatives:
When I was produced before the magistrate, I started telling my story. She called us into her chambers instead and scolded me for saying that the TID had tortured me. I showed her my wounds and scars and she said, “You must have hit yourself.” … I was produced before a JMO [Judicial Medical Officer] after agreeing to sign a confession.… They would not let me read what was written down, so I have no idea what I supposedly confessed to. The JMO didn’t listen to me – there is a network between the JMO, magistrate, and TID, I am certain of that. They protect each other.
Kirthi was transferred to Welikada Prison in Colombo in June 2007 but was not formally charged until 2012. He was eventually acquitted in October 2014 after seven years in prison. Kirthi still has injuries, including loss of hearing, from the torture he endured in custody.
DurgaMalathi’s son, Kanna, was arrested by police in Matale in 2008 on suspicion of involvement with the LTTE. He was released after a week in custody and went into hiding. Malathi (a pseudonym) has not heard from him since. Shortly after Kanna’s release, TID officials returned to his house to search for him. When they learned he was missing, they arrested his wife, Durga (a pseudonym), instead. She was held in custody for six months before being produced before a magistrate, and then detained in prison for a further six years before any charges were filed. In 2015, she was acquitted of all charges and released, after seven years in detention.
Durga remains psychologically and physically impaired because of her long incarceration. Her three young children, who were 18 months, 3 years, and 7 years old at the time of her arrest, were raised by her mother-in-law. Malathi said things have been difficult for Durga:
Durga is out of prison now, but is broken. She is not strong enough to take a job on the tea estates, so does menial chores in the bungalows. We have not received any apologies or compensation for our suffering.
Published on HRW on January 29, 2018
Sudan’s security forces have arrested scores of people in connection with protests against austerity measures imposed under the January 2018 budget, four Sudanese and international organizations, Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International, the Al Khatim Adlan Centre for Enlightenment and Human Development, and the African Centre for Justice and Peace Studies, said today. Sudanese authorities should immediately release or charge them and grant them full due process.
Anyone held incommunicado should be granted immediate access to their lawyers and family members, and all detainees should be released in the absence of valid legal charges consistent with international standards. Authorities also have an obligation to guarantee the physical and psychological wellbeing of all detainees, the groups said.
“Sudanese security forces are using violence to disperse demonstrators, and have arrested dozens of people, violating the right to freedom of assembly and expression,” said Sarah Jackson, Amnesty International’s Deputy Regional Director for East Africa, the Horn and the Great Lakes. “The Government of Sudan must uphold the right to freedom of expression, association, and assembly and initiate an impartial and independent investigation into the excessive use of force against peaceful demonstrators.”
Demonstrations across Sudan began on January 6, set off by the announcement of Sudan’s 2018 budget and the lifting of subsidies and other measures, effectively tripling Sudan’s US dollar exchange rate and increasing the price of basic commodities.
On several occasions since then, Sudanese authorities have used excessive force to disperse demonstrators, including beating peaceful demonstrators with sticks and batons, and firing tear gas into crowds.
In addition to the crackdown on protests, authorities have detained hundreds of protesters. Human rights groups documented arrests of at least 79 people at demonstrations in the first three weeks of January. Most are being held by Sudan’s national security agency, the National Intelligence and Security Services (NISS), without access to their families and lawyers.
Dozens of opposition party leaders were detained prior to demonstrations in Khartoum, presumably to prevent them from further mobilizing their supporters. On January 7 and 8, the authorities detained four leaders from the political opposition Sudanese Congress Party (SCP).
On January 15, a local security committee empowered to implement the current state of emergency in El Obeid, North Kordofan, ordered six months in detention under the emergency law for Osman Salih, a member of the Sudanese Communist Party, and Ali Abulgasim, a member of the National Umma Party. The authorities denied a request to allow the families to visit them.
The majority of arrests were carried out on January 16 and 17, during marches organized by the Sudanese Communist Party and the National Umma Party, with a number of political opposition parties also supporting the demonstrations and mobilizing their supporters. On January 17, NISS detained Mohamed Mukhtar al Khatib, secretary general of the Sudanese Communist Party, and Mohamed Aldoma, a National Umma Party deputy chairperson.
All NISS detainees are at risk of abuse. There have been credible reports that several detainees were beaten in detention, subjected to harsh conditions and verbally abused. The organizations sending the news release have documented trends of torture and ill-treatment of detainees by authorities in the past, raising serious concerns about the physical and psychological conditions for detainees.
Authorities have also cracked down on the media. At least three newspapers were confiscated by NISS multiple times between January 15 and 18 for publishing articles that were critical of the government’s response to the demonstrations. Security officials arrested at least 15 journalists. Six journalists were arrested in Khartoum on January16 and 17, and released on January 21. There are credible reports that Amel Habani, a woman journalist and human rights activist, was subjected to ill-treatment amounting to torture during her arrest.
“Reporting on the demonstrations has been deemed a ’red-line’ issue by the Sudanese government,” said Albaqir Alafif Mukhtar, Executive Director of the Al Khatim Adlan Centre for Enlightenment and Human Development (KACE). “Confiscating newspapers severely circumscribes the availability of information in the public sphere and hinders freedom of expression and access to information.”
All concerned actors should press the Sudanese government to halt its ongoing campaign of arbitrary arrest and detention, and excessive use of force to silence dissenting voices, the organizations said.
The government of Sudan has a long history of excessive use of force. In September 2013, government forces used live ammunition to break up peaceful protests, killing at least 170 protesters. The authorities also detained at least 800 protesters without charge during the crackdown in late September and early October, and subjected many to ill-treatment in detention. There has been little or no accountability for the deaths, injuries, and other abuses by Sudanese authorities against protesters. A patchwork of legal immunities effectively shields government forces from criminal prosecution and accountability.
“Sudan should immediately put an end to persistent human rights violations by its police and security services, reform laws that give them broad powers of arrests and detention, and repeal immunity that protects officials from prosecution,” said Jehanne Henry, senior Africa researcher at Human Rights Watch. “The authorities also need to guarantee all detainees access to medical assistance required to ensure their physical and psychological well-being.”
Published on HRW on January 29, 2018
By ELI MEIXLER
Myanmar sought charges Wednesday against two Reuters journalists who stand accused of breaching the state secrets act, in a case that has renewed fears about press freedom in the country.
Reporters Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo were arrested on Dec. 12 for allegedly “illegally obtaining and possessing…important and secret government documents,” Myanmar’s Ministry of Information quoted police as saying. The reporters had met two police officers for dinner on the outskirts of Yangon, the country’s largest city, where they were handed documents believed to pertain to military operations against the Muslim Rohingya minority in Rakhine state.
Prosecutors filed charges against the two journalists under Myanmar’s Official Secrets Act, an obscure law dating from 1923, under which they face up to 14 years in prison. Wednesday’s hearing was their second court appearance since being arrested almost one month ago. The reporters had been held incommunicado at an undisclosed location by police for several weeks following their arrest, raising concerns that they had become victims of enforced disappearance. The court extended their custody at an initial hearing on Dec. 27 while their charges were investigated.
The reporters later told relatives that they were detained almost immediately after receiving the documents, Reuters reported. Senior representatives of Myanmar’s ruling National League for Democracy Party (NLD), whose government does not control the country’s police or military, have suggested that the reporters were set up.
“They arrested us and took action against us because we were trying to reveal the truth,” Wa Lone said following the hearing, which lasted about 30-minutes, according to Reuters.
Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo’s arrest and prosecution has been met with wide-ranging condemnation from rights groups and political figures. Human Rights Watch’s Asia Deputy Director Phil Robertson said the charges were a “travesty of justice” and called on Aung San Suu Kyi, Myanmar’s state counselor and de facto head of state, to “quickly reform this antiquated colonial law.”
“The prosecution of these two journalist shows both the government’s contempt for freedom of the press and a fundamental failure to understand what journalists’ jobs are all about,” he told TIME. “These two men should be released immediately and unconditionally.”
In November, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson demanded the journalists’ “immediate release or information as to the circumstances around their disappearance,” while E.U. representative to Myanmar Kristian Schmidt warned that their prosecution“amounts to a series intimidation against journalists” in Myanmar. “Journalists should … be able to work in a free and enabling environment without fear of intimidation or undue arrest or prosecution,” he said on Monday.
Former President Bill Clinton also commented on the case in a Twitter post on Tuesday, saying “the detention of journalists anywhere is unacceptable.”
Reuters president and Editor-in-Chief Stephen J. Adler said in a statement that he was “extremely disappointed” by the ruling. “We view this as a wholly unwarranted, blatant attack on press freedom. Our colleagues should be allowed to return to their jobs reporting on events in Myanmar,” he said.
The case has also renewed concerns about the state of press freedom in Myanmar under Aung San Suu Kyi, whose government has employed colonial-era legislation, previously wielded by the country’s notorious military junta, to silence critics and intimidate journalists. Last month, Myanmar released two foreign journalists and their two local staffers, who had served two months in prison under the 1934 Aircraft Act for filming with a drone in Naypyitaw, the country’s capital.
Published on TIME on January 10, 2018
By ADAM LIPTAK
Saying that a capital trial in Georgia may have been marred by a juror’s racism, the Supreme Court on Monday gave a death row inmate there a fresh chance to argue that he should receive a new trial.
The court’s opinion was brief and unsigned. Justice Clarence Thomas, joined by Justices Samuel A. Alito Jr. and Neil M. Gorsuch, filed a lengthy dissent accusing the majority of “ceremonial hand-wringing.”
The inmate, Keith Tharpe, was convicted of killing his estranged wife’s sister, Jaquelin Freeman, in the process of ambushing, kidnapping and raping his wife. He was convicted and sentenced to death in 1991.
Seven years later, a white juror, Barney Gattie, signed an affidavit explaining his reasoning. He said he had drawn a distinction between Mr. Tharpe and his victim, both of whom were black.
“The Freemans are what I would call a nice Black family,” Mr. Gattie wrote. “In my experience I have observed that there are two types of black people. 1. Black folks and 2. Niggers.”
“Because I knew the victim and her husband’s family and knew them all to be good black folks, I felt Tharpe, who wasn’t in the ‘good’ black folks category in my book, should get the electric chair for what he did,” Mr. Gattie wrote.
“After studying the Bible,” he added, “I have wondered if black people even have souls.”
Mr. Tharpe sought to reopen his case based on the affidavit, but state and federal courts ruled against him. The United States Court of Appeals of the 11th Circuit, in Atlanta, stated that “Tharpe failed to demonstrate that Barney Gattie’s behavior ‘had substantial and injurious effect or influence in determining the jury’s verdict,’ ” quoting a Supreme Court decision.
The majority opinion on Monday said the appeals court should reconsider its decision not to hear Mr. Tharpe’s appeal. “Gattie’s remarkable affidavit — which he never retracted — presents a strong factual basis for the argument that Tharpe’s race affected Gattie’s vote for a death verdict,” the opinion said.
In a similar case decided in March, Peña Rodriguez v. Colorado, the Supreme Court ruled that courts must make an exception to the usual rule that jury deliberations are secret when evidence emerges that those discussions were marred by racial or ethnic bias.
The majority opinion on Monday noted that Mr. Tharpe faces several additional legal hurdles. But it said the appeals court had erred in concluding that there was no question of prejudice in the case.
In a 13-page dissent in the case, Tharpe v. Sellers, No. 17-6075, Justice Thomas wrote that “the opinions in the affidavit are certainly odious.” But he said the majority had ignored controlling legal principles in order to make a statement.
“In bending the rules here to show its concern for a black capital inmate, the court must think it is showing its concern for racial justice,” Justice Thomas wrote. “It is not.”
Mr. Tharpe was bound to lose in the long run given the difficulty of challenging state capital convictions in federal court, Justice Thomas wrote. He added that Mr. Gattie had been drinking when he signed the affidavit and later submitted a second one saying he had not voted for the death penalty based on Mr. Tharpe’s race.
“The court must be disturbed by the racist rhetoric” in the first affidavit, Justice Thomas wrote, “and must want to do something about it. But the court’s decision is no profile in moral courage.”
“By remanding this case to the court of appeals for a useless do-over, the court is not doing Tharpe any favors,” he added. “And its unusual disposition of his case callously delays justice for Jaquelin Freeman, the black woman who was brutally murdered by Tharpe 27 years ago. Because this court should not be in the business of ceremonial hand-wringing, I respectfully dissent.”
Published on The NY Times on January 8, 2018
The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein on Wednesday urged the Iranian authorities “to handle the wave of protests that have taken place around the country with great care so as not to further inflame violence and unrest,” and to investigate all deaths and serious injuries that have occurred so far.
“I am deeply disturbed by reports that more than 20 people, including an 11-year-old boy, have died and hundreds have been arrested during the recent wave of protests in Iran,” Zeid said. “The Iranian authorities must respect the rights of all demonstrators and detainees, including their right to life, and guarantee their safety and security. There must be thorough, independent and impartial investigations of all acts of violence that have taken place – and a concerted effort by the authorities to ensure that all security forces respond in a manner that is proportionate and strictly necessary, and fully in line with international law.”
The UN human rights chief stressed that Iranian citizens who take to the streets to express their discontent have a right to be heard, and that the issues they raise should be resolved through dialogue, with full respect for freedom of expression and the right to peaceful assembly.
“It is incumbent on the authorities that their actions do not provoke a downward spiral of violence, as occurred in 2009,” he warned. “The authorities must take all steps to ensure that this does not happen again.”
The High Commissioner urged the authorities to release from detention any protestors who have been arbitrarily deprived of their liberty, or penalised in any way, for expressing their views and protesting in a peaceful manner. “Peaceful protests must not be criminalised,” he said. “They are a legitimate part of the democratic process.”
Published on OHCHR on January 3, 2018
A civil right is an enforceable right or privilege, which if interfered with by another gives rise to an action for injury. Examples of civil rights are freedom of speech, press, and assembly; the right to vote; freedom from involuntary servitude; and the right to equality in public places. Discrimination occurs when the civil rights of an individual are denied or interfered with because of their membership in a particular group or class. Various jurisdictions have enacted statutes to prevent discrimination based on a person's race, sex, religion, age, previous condition of servitude, physical limitation, national origin, and in some instances sexual orientation.
Source: Cornell University Law School