Freedom from Torture - UK removal flight to Sri Lanka despite recent UN concerns over torture allegations

UK removal flight to Sri Lanka despite recent UN concerns over torture allegations

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A petition by Freedom from Torture is calling on the UK government to ensure it is not returning refused asylum seekers to a risk of torture in Sri Lanka and to use its influence within the international community to bring an end to torture and impunity. Please add your voice here.

A charter flight which is due to remove refused Sri Lankan asylum seekers from the UK next week has brought with it new fears for the safety of individuals who stand to be forcibly returned to the country.

Freedom from Torture recently launched a public action calling on the UK government to take urgent steps to ensure they are not returning anyone to a serious risk of torture in Sri Lanka following its publication of forensically-documented evidence of ongoing torture in the country.

The removal flight, planned for Thursday 15 December, will go ahead despite the fact the UK government has offered no commitment to monitor the safety of returnees – even in the face of the UN Committee Against Torture's serious concerns regarding 'continued and consistent allegations of widespread use of torture' in Sri Lanka.

In the concluding observations published by the Committee Against Torture's following its scrutiny of Sri Lanka last month, specific concerns were raised over reports that suggest 'torture and ill-treatment perpetrated by state actors, both the military and the police, have continued in many parts of the country after the conflict ended in May 2009 and is still occurring in 2011'. Despite categorical denials from the government of Sri Lanka, the Committee also highlighted disturbing reports of 'secret detention centres run by the Sri Lankan military intelligence and paramilitary groups where enforced disappearances, torture and extrajudicial killings have allegedly been perpetrated'.

The Committee asked for follow-up information from the government of Sri Lanka in relation to its recommendations to:

  1. put in place and strengthen legal safeguards for individuals in detention
  2. conduct prompt, impartial and effective investigations
  3. prosecute suspects and sanction perpetrators of torture or ill-treatment

Clear role for the UK

The UK's role in pursuing an end to impunity and protecting those at risk of torture in Sri Lanka – including refused asylum seekers – was also the focus of a recent public event hosted by Freedom from Torture.

The event – held at the Loading Bay Gallery in East London – attracted a wide audience included members of the Sri Lankan community living in the UK, lawyers, NGOs and students – some of whom had travelled from across the country to take part in the lively debate. Responding to questions and comments from the floor – and offering their own insights – was a panel which included local MP and Shadow Minister for International Development, Rushanara Ali, the Director of Channel 4's 'Sri Lanka's Killing Fields', Callum Macrae, Amnesty International's, Yolanda Foster and Jan Jananayagam from Tamils Against Genocide.

[]Thanks to Rhys James for the video footage

Where now after Sri Lanka’s Killing Fields?
Full coverage of the panel discussion focusing on Sri Lanka

While welcoming the encouraging comments from the UK's Foreign and Commonwealth Office about the need for independent investigations into widespread allegations of war crimes committed by both sides of the conflict during the final phase of Sri Lanka's civil war in 2009, the panellists agreed that now is the time for the UK government to use its influence on the international stage to ensure that meaningful steps towards justice become a reality. Those responsible for torture and other serious human rights violations in Sri Lanka – ongoing now and in the past – must be held to account.