The government statement in response to the story published in the New York Times acknowledges the gravity of the allegations and the damaging impact of the story on the international community’s confidence in the Sri Lankan democratic and good governance process. Foreign Secretary Prasad Kariyawasam said that in 2017 disciplinary action had been taken against 33 members of the police for assault and torture, while one officer was dismissed. Disciplinary matter pertaining to 100 police officers he said were currently pending. He added that the government “strongly condemns any act of torture, and will ensure that allegations of torture committed in the country will be investigated and prosecuted to the full extent of the law.”
The National Peace Council welcomes the government’s commitment to investigate the highlighted incidents of torture and calls on it to appoint a Commission of Inquiry to investigate the issue of torture, specifically with regard to the AP report, but also with a wider mandate. It is necessary to know the truth before a solution can be designed. It is not only Tamils and LTTE suspects who have been victims of torture. The most recent report of the Human Rights Commission of Sri Lanka shows that most cases of torture that have been reported are outside of the North and East of the country and affect members of all communities. The practice of torture is dehumanising to both the victim and the perpetrator and generates a culture of fear and repression. Eradicating the culture of tolerance and impunity for torture is the responsibility of the government and civil society as a whole. We urge members of religious and civil society organisations to advocate and work against the practice of torture in any form and for any reason.
Sri Lanka’s human rights record including torture and other human rights abuses will face international scrutiny again when UN Human Rights Council’s Universal Periodic Review meets on Sri Lanka. This will be a challenging time for the government delegation led by the Deputy Foreign Minister Dr Harsha de Silva as over a hundred countries have asked for time to ask questions. Denying the allegations as done by previous delegations, or attempting to gloss over them, will not be the way to go forward. The government needs to show in concrete and convincing terms how Sri Lanka can improve its human rights commitment in order not to further stain the country’s international reputation.
The National Peace Council is an independent and non partisan organization that works towards a negotiated political solution to the ethnic conflict in Sri Lanka. It has a vision of a peaceful and prosperous Sri Lanka in which the freedom, human rights and democratic rights of all the communities are respected. The policy of the National Peace Council is determined by its Governing Council of 20 members who are drawn from diverse walks of life and belong to all the main ethnic and religious communities in the country.