GENEVA – A human rights group said on Monday that Sri Lanka has not complied with its commitment to abolish a controversial anti-terror law that allows for the detention of suspects that have not been charged with a crime.
Human Rights Watch, one of the world’s most prominent non-profits dedicated to monitoring human rights abuses, denounced that for years, Sri Lanka’s Prevention of Terrorism Act has permitted the arbitrary detention of individuals without formal charges, which in some instances has led to torture.
“The Sri Lankan government has been all talk and no action on repealing the reviled PTA,” said HRW’s Asia director, Brad Adams, adding that replacing this law with another that meets international standards should be an urgent priority.
The PTA was promulgated in 1979 to tackle separatist insurgents, and it was used to detain hundreds of people during the 26 years of civil war in the country, said HRW.
However, despite other emergency regulations having lapsed with the end of the conflict in 2009, the PTA continued to remain in effect.
According to HRW, the Sri Lankan government detained at least 11 people in 2016 under this law for alleged terrorist activities.
The PTA allows arrests without warrant for unspecified “unlawful activities,” and permits the detention for up to 18 months without producing the suspect before a court, said HRW.
According to official data from last year, 70 detainees were held in pre-trial detention under the PTA for more than five years, and 12 for over 10 years.
In a report, HRW detailed the testimonies of 17 individuals, 11 of whom reported beatings and torture.
The human rights organization had earlier documented cases in which the country’s security forces raped detainees, burned their genitals or breasts with cigarettes, and caused other injuries through beatings and electric shock.
In May 2017, Sri Lanka approved a draft of an anti-terrorism law to replace the PTA. However, according to HRW, it still allows the prolonged arbitrary detention of suspects and abuses such as torture, besides including a vague definition of terrorist acts.
HRW said the proposed law does not comply with the government’s commitments to the United Nations Human Rights Council and asked the country to consult with victims’ groups, human rights organizations and international experts to draft a law that protects “both national security and human rights.”