The National Action Plan for the Protection and Promotion of Human Rights 2011 – 2016 ( sinhala & tamil) as well as the full series of Sri Lanka Rights Watch are available at the Peace & Reconciliation Website.
A week ago, in writing about former combatants who have undergone rehabilitation, I referred too to the decision of government to send several of those remanded before the conclusion of the conflict for rehabilitation instead of seeking to punish them. These had been taken in under the PTA or Emergency Regulations, on suspicion of terrorist activity or of aiding and abetting terrorism.
I noted then that, from what I had been told last year, there were 4195 of these, a figure which fitted with the 4000 I remembered from my days as Secretary of the Ministry of Disaster Management and Human Rights, which had monitored their fate. We would get regular reports about them from the ICRC, which visited them regularly, and they were also amongst those visited by Manfred Nowak, UN Special Rapporteur on Torture, who produced a very helpful report that we should have acted on more expeditiously.
Our Ministry indeed advocated that these remandees should be charged soon or else released. However we understood that at least some of them were extremely dangerous, given the long and terrifying reach of the LTTE in those days. We understood therefore the need for special care, as provided for by the special measures in force, but after the war we suggested that those measures needed to be reviewed, and that decisions as to the remandees should be made swiftly.
The President was also evidently of this opinion, for he asked us to set up a Committee to go into the cases. I chaired that Committee, and found all agencies involved, the TID and the Prisons and the Attorney General’s Department, extremely helpful. The only problem was that the TID sent more cases than they could easily deal with for decision as to whether to prosecute to the AG’s Department, but even so, in the three months during which the Committee sat, we reduced the number remanded by I think close on a thousand.
Unfortunately, when the silly season of elections that we are so often subject to began, the process came to a halt. I suppose I am in some sense responsible for two valuable months having been lost, since I resigned as Secretary to the Ministry when nominations were called, and no one else took the matter up.
That however would not have mattered too much, but then, after the election, the government decided to abolish Human Rights as a specific element of any Ministry. I was told this would be handled by the Mnistry of External Affairs, and some of our staff were moved there, but that Ministry, a bit like Gerald Ford, cannot walk straight and chew gum at the same time, so Human Rights was forgotten, only its upright Secretary having the self-confidence to say quite clearly that they were not equipped to handle Human Rights.
It was left then to the Attorney General to do what he could about Human Rights, in the midst of a 1001 other things, ranging from dealing with the hedging disaster to overseeing the work of the Inter-Ministerial Committee to implement the interim recommendations of the LLRC to doing the work of the Ministry of External Affairs in dealing with the UN Secretary General over the Darusman Report. I used to be irritated that little happened, but I now realize that it was a miracle that he did manage to achieve results in some areas.
In particular, with regard to the detained, he and his fellow workers in the field did a great deal. When I finally managed to pin him down, he gave me a string of figures which indicated that the figure of 4195 had dropped to about a fifth. If I am reading aright the notes I made then, 1676 had been released, some of them after formal remanding. 990 had been sent to rehabilitation and then released. 203 had been bailed, 207 formally remanded, 22 prosecuted in the Magistrate’s Courts and 276 indicted in the High Court. Two had died and two had escaped. This totaled 3378 altogether, which meant that only 817 were still held under the PTA – I believe that Emergency Regulations had been abolished by then.
That number has reduced still further since, as I have noted previously, the 990 who had been sent for rehabilitation has now increased to 1257 (of whom only 34 are still in rehab, the others having been released. Unfortunately we did not ask the police to the last meeting the Task Force for implementation of the National Human Rights Action Plan held on the subject, so I do not have precise figures to hand. The official from the Prisons who attended could not tell me offhand how many of these were under the Prisons Department, since some are with them, while others with the TID.
While the ICRC still has access to those held by the TID, they no longer meet with those under the Prisons Department. This is a recent phenomenon, and arose in March from some sort of misunderstanding, which will I hope be set right as soon as possible. As it is, the simple fact that the ICRC had full access to all those held under the PTA or Emergency Regulations was something we should have highlighted more, given the false claims that are regularly heard about LTTE suspects being held incommunicado.
Equally importantly, we should highlight the fact that government decided not to prosecute even those suspected of terrorism. It was not entirely surprising that government adopted a very positive approach to former combatants, since we could assume that the majority of them had been forcibly conscripted – and even if some had taken up arms under conviction, it was best to give them the benefit of the doubt. But that government should have given such benefit of doubt to those who had been suspected of clandestine activity is indeed remarkable, and testimony to its commitment to forgiveness and reconciliation.