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The National Action Plan for the Protection and Promotion of Human Rights 2011 – 2016 as well as the full series of  Sri Lanka Rights Watch are available at the Peace & Reconciliation Website.

The Task Force held another consultation last week with regard to safeguards against Torture. We had gone into this at some length at a meeting of all Ministries particularly concerned with Rights Protection, and this had been followed by a discussion chaired by the Inspector General of Police, which had however also dealt with other matters such as the dissemination of information regarding police duties and responsibilities.

.. to make sure that there was provision for observation with regard to anyone the police took in ..

It was thought best, following that meeting, to have a smaller consultation as to particular issues, and we were helped immensely by the presence of those in the Attorney General’s Department who had been dealing with torture problems for a long period, extending back to well before I became Secretary to the Ministry of Human Rights and began to study the problem, following the extremely helpful visit of Manfred Nowak, the UN Special Rapporteur on Torture.

Unfortunately the former Attorney General, Mohan Pieris, could not attend the latter consultation though we had actually shifted the date to accommodate him. This was a pity because he had been full of good ideas at the meeting chaired by the Inspector General of Police, and agreement had been reached in a number of areas which he agreed to pursue to ensure quick action.

Amongst his innovative ideas was the concept of Duty Attorneys to be available at all police stations to which anyone was brought for questioning. At present there are State Counsel assigned to I believe every High Court area, but their duties are not clear, and they certainly do not perform the watchdog role that is required as a protection against possible abuse while people are being questioned.

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The National Action Plan for the Protection and Promotion of Human Rights 2011 – 2016 as well as the full series of  Sri Lanka Rights Watch are available at the Peace & Reconciliation Website.

Those in authority in Sri Lanka have long known that torture is a problem that needs addressing. This is not unique to Sri Lanka, and indeed our record is comparatively good as compared with what is done in countries that are critical about us. Some of those countries engage in contortions to convince themselves that they are not really evil, as with the American efforts to justify waterboarding – which is not perhaps the worst excess they indulge in. Others simply farm out their dirty work, as we have seen in the blind eyes turned to the programme of secret renditions on which the nastier aspects of the Western War on Terror relied so heavily.

Reading Craig Murray’s ‘Murder in Samarkand’, and his description of the hypocrisy of his colleagues in the British Foreign Office, as well as the then Home Secretary Charles Clarke, who fought to subvert a principle of British justice and allow material obtained under torture to be used in prosecutions, was extremely illuminating. But the fact that others engage in mischief is no excuse whatsoever, and it is important that Sri Lanka address the question and ensure remedial action to prevent any repetitions of aberrations – whilst also dealing through a transparent judicial process with such aberrations.

Both the government consultation, and the informal one I had conducted some weeks earlier, approached the problem in a positive spirit, looking at the difficulties police faced as well as the need to institutionalize safeguards. One problem brought to our attention is the inability to use statements made to the police in evidence. It seems – and I am subject to correction, for the whole area seems obscure – that this was a provision made by the British, but it does not in fact obtain in most jurisdictions. I should have thought this needs to be changed, so that material obtained through skillful interrogation is admissible – while of course there should be provisions for lawyers to be present during such interrogations.

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Craig Murray

After Craig Murray had sent his written objections to what he saw as British condoning of torture, which he thought was in contravention of the International Convention against Torture, his objections were addressed at a meeting in London over which Linda Duffield presided. He was told then that using material ‘obtained under torture and subsequently passed on to us… would be inadmissible in a court of law, but that is the only restriction on the use of such material arising from the convention.’ It seemed that the official British government position was that it saw ‘no legal obstacle to our continuing to receive such information from the Uzbek security services.’

I can understand of course that a country in serious danger from powerful terrorist movements might sometimes feel it had to bend the rules.

I am quoting Murray, but obviously what he puts in direct speech in his book can only represent his recollections of what occurred. Still I feel this makes it clear that the British were condoning and endorsing, indeed even supporting, the use of torture. I can understand of course that a country in serious danger from powerful terrorist movements might sometimes feel it had to bend the rules. But such behavior should be carefully controlled, and should certainly not give carte blanche for the type of appalling cruelties Murray thought he had evidence of. Unfortunately once one gets on the slippery slope of tolerating such excesses, it is far too easy to ignore unpleasant evidence. This can lead too to shooting of the messenger as happened to poor Craig Murray.

I can do no better here than cite other passages from his book which underline the appalling hypocrisy of the New Labour government. I can only hope therefore, as I have mentioned in an Adjournment Motion I have proposed for our Parliament, that the current government makes clear its abhorrence of such practices, and that the current leadership of the Labour Opposition makes sure that such practices are not repeated. Read the rest of this entry »

Daily News 30 June 2011 –

David Miliband with President Mahinda Rajapaksa, Apr 29th 2009 in Colombo

I found reading Craig Murray’s ‘Murder in Samarkand’ extremely disturbing. I had of course known before that to expect international relations to be conducted on the basis of morality was absurd. However I was not prepared for what seemed the total lack of principle that seems to have governed New Labour in its relations with the world.

I must confess to some prejudice in this regard, for I had realized that the British government was totally amoral in its approach to Sri Lanka. I do not mean the government as a whole, for I have the highest regard for most British officials, and I believe the Security establishment worked positively with us to eliminate terrorism. Yet even the police, when dealing with demonstrations in Britain that contributed to rousing public opinion against us, behaved with an indulgence that suggested a lack of concern about how terrorism gains strength.

This could not have arisen from their own judgments, for I felt the senior police officials whom I met once with our High Commissioner knew very well the implications of their failure to deal firmly with the demonstrations outside the House of Commons. But it was clear that they would be allowing the organizers a free hand, and I have no doubt that the decision in this regard was a political one.

David Miliband

It was obviously meant to send a conciliatory message to Tiger sympathizers. We realized why this was being done, and we must be grateful to Wikileaks, and to the more clearsighted Americans, for making clear David Miliband’s desire for votes, that led him to behave so callously towards us. Had he succeeded in his efforts, there is no doubt that we in Sri Lanka would still be living under the shadow of terrorism. He would have cared nothing, not for the obvious victims of bombs, not for the poor youngsters forced into brutality and death on a battlefield they did not understand by a ruthless Tiger leadership.

Joint Forward Interrogation Team (JFIT) which operated in Iraq – used illegal "coercive techniques" and was not answerable to military commanders in Iraq.

But that he should have done this, and dared to preach to us about human rights, while part of a government that had knowingly connived at torture, seemed to me to have pushed cynicism beyond acceptable limits. I should note that my comments here are based on Murray’s book, and it is possible that he has exaggerated. I have tried to get the views of the Foreign Office on this, as I was advised to do by Linda Duffield, a former British High Commissioner here, but I have not as yet received a response. This is not surprising, given that their information desk must be occupied with disseminating information, and possibly disinformation, about Libya, but meanwhile I can only proceed on what seems plausible in Murray’s account.

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Rajiva Wijesinha

July 2020
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