In March 2012, the UN Human Rights Council urged Sri Lanka to take decisive steps to ensure accountability for international crimes committed during the final phase of the civil war, which ended in May 2009. Read the full text of the resolution which was adopted here. While the US-backed resolution stopped short of calling for the launch of an international investigation into war crimes, it was seen as real step forward in the struggle for justice and an end to impunity in Sri Lanka. A big THANK YOU to Freedom from Torture supporters who urged UK parliamentarians to raise the issue with the government. Many MPs spoke strongly in favour of decisive international action at a debate in parliament on 22nd February.
Another key issue highlighted in detail during the parliamentary debate was the continuing concern regarding the forcible removal of refused Tamil asylum seekers to Sri Lanka, in spite of forensic evidence documented by Freedom from Torture that suggests individuals with a perceived or actual association with the Liberation Tamil Tigers of Eelan (LTTE) remain at great risk of torture and persecution on return to Sri Lanka – long after the end of the civil war. Read more about the parliamentary debate here, including the admission from Foreign Office Minister Alistair Burt that refused Tamil asylum seekers returned by the UK on scheduled flights (as opposed to mass charter flights) are not even afforded the basic safeguards of being met at the airport by British High Commission officials and given a small assistance package to pay for onward travel within Sri Lanka.
Following damning new information published by Human Rights Watch regarding individuals who have been tortured following their forcible return by the UK government, Freedom from Torture has said "enough is enough". The UK must suspend all removals of Tamils to the country until these new credible allegations can be fully investigated; otherwise the UK is at serious risk of delivering vulnerable people into the hands of their torturers.
If you have not already signed the petition, add your voice to Freedom from Torture's call now.
Freedom from Torture (formerly the Medical Foundation for the Care of Victims of Torture) has forensically documented evidence of ongoing torture in Sri Lanka – long after the end to the civil war - in stark contrast to the Sri Lankan government's recent claims of "zero tolerance of torture".
The UK government has a clear role to play in helping to protect people at risk of torture and to end impunity (read more below).
Sign the petition calling the UK government to:-
1. Ensure that the UK does not return individuals to a risk of torture in Sri Lanka, including by:
- Ensuring that UK Border Agency decision-making on Sri Lanka asylum claims is adequately informed by relevant evidence of torture and other human rights abuses;
- Instigate effective monitoring of individuals forcibly removed while serious concerns of ongoing torture remain;
2. Declare its support for an international investigation of alleged war crimes and other serious human rights violations committed during the end of conflict period, and;
3. Play a leadership role within the international community to pursue accountability for and prevention of further torture in Sri Lanka.
Many of us bear the marks of torture on our minds and bodies, but in Sri Lanka you can't express that you've been tortured. If you show your scars to a doctor you risk them telling the authorities and you would likely be detained again."
~ Saarheerthan, Sri Lankan torture survivor
Freedom from Torture's report, Out of the Silence, demonstrates that torture perpetrated by state actors, both the military and police, continues with impunity – a finding which the UN Committee Against Torture has highlighted with concern in its concluding observations on Sri Lanka recently.
The evidence documented within medico-legal reports (MLRs) for Sri Lankan asylum seekers shows that individuals are still at risk of torture, in particular Tamils with an actual or perceived association with the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE). The torture inflicted with a wide range of methods has had devastating psychological and physical consequences, including visible scarring in many cases, which suggests impunity for perpetrators and further risks on return.
Despite these ongoing risks, the UK government continues to return people to Sri Lanka whose asylum applications have been refused. Freedom from Torture is hugely concerned that no monitoring is in place to ensure their safety and that decision-making on asylum claims by the UK Border Agency is not fully informed by the current situation in the country.
Meanwhile, accountability for alleged war crimes committed by both sides in the final phase of the conflict remains elusive, despite growing calls for an independent, international investigation, including by the UN Secretary General's Panel of Experts on Sri Lanka. No senior civilian or military officials have faced criminal investigation or prosecution in Sri Lanka.
The Sri Lankan government's Lessons Learned and Reconciliation Commission shows little hope of delivering justice. The UK government has stated that an independent, thorough and credible investigation is required: now is the time for the UK to step up and use its influence within the international community to make sure that impunity is broken once and for all.
This February, it is more important than ever to demand that the UK government takes action to bring an end to impunity for torture in Sri Lanka and help protect those in the UK who could be at risk of torture if they are forcibly removed to the country.
The 19th Session of the United Nations Human Rights Council will commence on 27th February. Join us in calling for the UK government to play a leading role in securing a resolution on accountability for international crimes committed during the Sri Lankan civil war and for torture and other serious human rights violations that have continued to occur in the period since the war ended.
The following day, on 28th February, a number of Sri Lankans, including refused asylum seekers, are due to be forcibly removed from the UK. Based on the evidence we have documented, Freedom from Torture is hugely concerned that individuals could be risk of torture on return. The UK government has a duty to ensure that it is not returning people to torture. Remind them of their responsibility by signing the petition below. If you have signed already, please ask your friends and family to get involved.
A debate on 'Human Rights in Sri Lanka' will take place in the UK parliament on Wednesday 22nd February – perfect timing for parliamentarians to send a clear signal to the government ahead of the Human Rights Council and removal flight. Send this briefing to your MP and ask them to participate in the debate.
The recently published the report by Sri Lanka's Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission (LLRC) has ignored torture entirely and completely failed to deliver on accountability for Sri Lankan survivors. Instead it has declared itself satisfied with the protection that civilians were given despite the reported widespread atrocities. Read more here and if you've not already, sign the petition to demand accountability and an end to torture. (Update: 20 December 11)
The UK Border Agency (UKBA) has issued a Bulletin updating their country of origin information on Sri Lanka, used as part of the information to determine an asylum application, based on recent submissions made by organisations including Freedom from Torture to the United Nations Committee against Torture. The fact that the information has been updated at this stage, rather than at the review point in January, is a positive development and indicates that the UKBA has taken seriously the new evidence available and its importance for deciding asylum claims. (Update: 9 December 11)