Sam Zarifi - Amnesty International

Response requested by the BBC

Thanks for your query about the recent Amnesty report, and also the press release. The latter shows Sam Zarifi, one of the new sensationalistic breed of Amnesty officials, exaggerating as usual. The report does raise issues that also concern government and, while I was Secretary of the Ministry of Human Rights, we worked on an Action Plan that tries to address these. This is near adoption now, and meanwhile we are also trying to address long standing problems such as too ready use of remand mechanisms by magistrates under archaic laws (such as the Vagrants Ordinance) which have lasted from British times.

The Prevention of Terrorism Act and the Emergency (though obviously overused by the Government that, without elections, ruled from 1977 to 1988, which perhaps led to an increase in terrorist activity) was essential in dealing with the type of terrorism from which we suffered appallingly for decades. As Western governments appreciate, though sometimes we feel you need to be less brutal about things like secret renditions, prophylactic regulations are essential in any society under threat from terror. We managed over the last five years first to ensure a reduction in terrorist attacks, and finally got rid of the Tiger leadership in Sri Lanka. Unfortunately we know there are efforts to revive the movement, and we need to be careful.

Bearing that in mind however, we have managed to release many of those taken into custody, including about half the former cadres who confessed, after basic rehabilitation. The number of those taken earlier into detention is much less now – not the thousands Zarifi claims, as indeed the release itself makes clear – but the numbers are reducing rapidly, as investigations are concluded.

It is kind of Mr Zarifi to recognise the right and duty of the Sri Lankan government to protect its citizens from violence by armed groups, but frankly those of us who are accountable to our people understand about all this better than hired hands. I am sorry that, as I pointed out recently, Amnesty seems to have changed from the days when Human Rights were not so fashionable and lucrative an exercise. I should end by saying the last resident head of the officer Amnesty Office in Sri Lanka rang me up yesterday to congratulate me on recent statements, and I wish Amnesty still had people like that instead of people with political agendas. Some of what they saw chimes in with what we have also been saying in Sri Lanka, and I wish they would stick to values rather than drama.