“This bill will be the last one. The first and the last one.” That is how Emmanuel Macron answered the question I had just asked him: “What would happen, Mr. President, if France were hit by another terrorist attack in the coming months? Would you propose yet another bill?”

French police and anti-crime brigade (BAC) members secure a street as they carried out a counter-terrorism swoop at different locations in Argenteuil, a suburb north of Paris, France, July 21, 2016. 

© 2016 Reuters/Charles Platiau

The exchange took place last Friday, in the late afternoon. I was in the Elysée as part of a delegation of leading human rights organizations, lawyers and magistrates to meet President Macron and two of his advisors. We had come to express our concerns and criticisms of two bills drafted by the government and submitted to Parliament: a sixth extension of the state of emergency until November, and a counterterrorism bill directly inspired by the provisions of the state of emergency. This bill would make permanent special powers which were supposed to be temporary, introduced as necessary only for the extraordinary circumstances of a time-limited state of emergency.

For over an hour and a half, we set out methodically the abuses committed against ordinary citizens when those powers were used under the state of emergency. We warned the President that the counterterrorism bill would entrench what were exceptional powers into regular law and pose grave dangers for fundamental rights and the rule of law. We denounced the lack of evaluation of the effectiveness of state of emergency measures and of the existing legal arsenal for counterterrorism. We lamented the choice of an accelerated procedure for the parliamentary review of these two proposed bills, depriving the country of what ought to be a meaningful democratic debate about the concept of liberty, one of France’s founding values.

But despite this discussion, President Macron did not waver.

Far from reinforcing freedoms, as the President claimed this past Monday in his speech to Parliament, the new bill would entrench in regular law abusive powers introduced under the state of emergency. It would normalize the considerable powers awarded by the state of emergency to the Ministry of the Interior and the administrative police. The drastic weakening of judicial safeguards, which are the foundation of the rule of law and an essential defense against abuse, would become permanent. In effect it treats France as if it is always in a state of emergency. By authorizing “assigned residence orders”, whereby individuals’ freedom of movement is severely limited even though they have not been accused of a crime, this new bill also confirms a dangerous shift towards so-called preventive justice. Just this week we’ve learned that since the state of emergency was declared in November 2015, there have been 708 assigned residence orders. More than one a day. This is a trend, not a small set of isolated actions. The “logic of suspicion”, on which these orders are predicated, opens the door to significant abuse.

During the meeting, the President admitted that the state of emergency can foster “arbitrary behaviors” and has led to « excesses ». Emmanuel Macron, then a candidate, had himself expressed in his book, Revolution “that reducing the freedoms of all, and the dignity of each citizen, has never anywhere led to an increase in security.” Despite that, Emmanuel Macron chose to follow in the footsteps of governments that, over the last two decades, have responded to the threat of terrorism with ever harsher laws, turning France into the country with the most expansive counterterrorism laws in Europe. Members of Parliament, a large majority of whom are supportive of the President, will most likely adopt the bill without much opposition. Macron may well say this is his “first and last law” on security; but recent history in France and elsewhere teaches us that once states start down this legislative slope, more repressive laws follow.

If we refer to the past 18 months, France may well be addicted to emergency powers. As a responsible leader, however, the French President’s job is to break that dependency and resist the temptation to react to the fear of another attack with laws that do more harm to rights than they do good to security. As activists, lawyers, and voices of civil society, that is what we will keep telling the President and our elected representatives. End the state of emergency, don’t simply inject a dose of it into ordinary law. 

Author: Human Rights Watch
Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

French soldiers from Operation Barkhane stand outside their armored personnel carrier during a sandstorm in Inat, Mali, May 26, 2016.

© 2016 Reuters
“The jihadists are the law now,” an elder from central Mali told me. “The very day the French-supported operation finished, the Islamists were back in the villages,” confided another villager last week, referring to a military operation near the Mali-Burkina Faso border in April.

The endurance of the jihadist recruitment success and their appeal to many villagers suggests that military operations on their own will not be sufficient to defeat the threat. President Emmanuel Macron should keep this in mind when he visits the country this Friday.

Hailed as a military success, the 2013 French-led military intervention in northern Mali ended the region’s occupation by ethnic Tuareg separatists and armed Islamists linked to Al-Qaeda. But since 2015, attacks against Malian forces and abuses by Al-Qaeda-linked groups have moved southward to Mali’s previously stable central regions and, last year, spread into neighboring Burkina Faso.

Since 2015, I’ve interviewed scores of witnesses and victims to abuses in central Mali. They described how, in recent months, groups of up to 50 Islamist fighters closed down schools, banned women from riding on motorcycles driven by men other than their husbands, and imposed their version of Sharia (Islamic law). “We used to spend days celebrating a marriage or baptism, dancing and singing together,” one man said. “Not anymore.”

Men accused of being informants for the Malian government often turn up dead. Since 2015, Islamists have executed at least 40 men in their custody, including village chiefs and local officials. Some were murdered in front of their families. Several people said they felt pressured to send one of their sons to join the Islamists.

However, an equal number of villagers told me they welcomed the presence of the Islamist groups in central Mali; they saw them as a benevolent alternative to a state they associate with predatory and abusive governance. Many seethed as they described Malian army abuses during counterterrorism operations, including arbitrary arrests, torture, and executions.

Since late 2016, I have documented the alleged extrajudicial killing by soldiers of 12 detainees, the most recent in early May, and the forced disappearance of several others. Villagers described how soldiers detained and executed three family members in January. “We heard gunshots in the distance,” one witness said. “I followed the tracks of the army truck and found our people in a shallow grave.” This week, I received a desperate email from the brother of a man forced into a white pickup by men in uniform on February 3. “We have heard nothing; we have searched everywhere,” he said.

While the behavior of the state security services has improved in recent years, Malian authorities have made no meaningful  effort to investigate those implicated in violations.

The jihadists speak a lot about corruption… how the authorities steal, torture and do bad things to us. Honestly, they don’t need to try very hard to recruit the youth.

Villagers said the Islamists are recruiting by exploiting frustrations over poverty, abusive security services, rampant banditry, local Peuhl clan rivalries, and, especially, corruption.

“The jihadists speak a lot about corruption… how the authorities steal, torture and do bad things to us,” one elder said. “Honestly, they don’t need to try very hard to recruit the youth…”

Villagers also said the Islamists are increasingly filling the governance vacuum. They welcomed Islamist efforts to investigate and punish livestock thieves, including by executions. Others praised Sharia rulings in favor of victims of domestic violence or spousal abandonment. Elders from both the sedentary Bambara and pastoral Peuhl communities credited the Islamists’ efforts in late 2016 to resolve deadly land disputes. This meaningfully reduced communal violence in some regions, they said.

“We are fed up with paying bribes every time you meet a man in uniform or government official,” one villager said. “The Islamists get all this done without asking for taxes, money, or one of our cows.”

It was corruption, poor governance, and abusive security force conduct that significantly contributed  to Mali’s spectacular collapse in 2012. The burden to resolve this situation lies first and foremost with the Malian government. But the French strategy in Mali and the wider Sahel won’t succeed without helping Mali to address the issues underlying decades of insecurity and the growing support for abusive armed Islamist groups. Military operations, including those supported by the French, are not enough to pull Mali from this deepening quagmire.

When President Macron visits Mali on Friday, he should urge the government to professionalize the security forces and hold them accountable, to support the chronically neglected judiciary, and to take concrete action against rampant corruption. Strengthening Mali’s weak rule of law institutions is complicated work, but no counterterrorism strategy can succeed without it.

Author: Human Rights Watch
Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

Like an addict, France does not know how to quit its state of emergency even though it has become clear that maintaining it erodes the rule of law and fosters human rights abuses while not keeping the country safer. The February 22 report by the parliamentary commission tasked with monitoring the state of emergency provided yet another reminder that it no longer serves any meaningful purpose.

French police and anti-crime brigade (BAC) secure a street they carried out a counter-terrorism swoop at different locations in Argenteuil, a suburb north of Paris, France, July 21, 2016.

REUTERS/Charles Platiau

The commission president, Dominique Raimbourg, from the governing Socialist Party, noted that activity under the state of emergency has been “greatly reduced” since the last extension. His fellow commission member, Jean-Frédéric Poisson, from the main opposition party Les Republicains, noted that “time that passes erodes the efficiency and nature of the state of emergency.” A French commission of inquiry into the Paris attacks had already concluded back in July 2016 that  the state of emergency had “limited impact” on improving security and any effect it may have had “quickly dissipated.”

Human Rights Watch’s own research has found repeated abuses against ordinary people during policing operations under emergency powers.

So why is France maintaining the state of emergency despite repeated warnings by its own oversight mechanisms?

It is mainly due to confusion by politicians about the purpose of a state of emergency. Many have said that it is justified by an ongoing terrorist risk. This was clearly displayed in December 2016 when Interior Minister Bruno Le Roux justified his request for a fifth extension by saying that “the terrorist threat was at its highest.” Under this reasoning, a state of emergency is needed as long as there is a high security risk.

This reasoning is dangerous on many levels. By suggesting that regular laws, procedures, and oversight mechanisms are not sufficient to counter threats, it weakens the premise of the rule of law and relegates it to a luxury for “normal” times. But it also sets the stage for the trap in which France finds itself. French leaders have implied that they will only lift the state of emergency when the security risk has subsided but since they can’t predict the risk of future terrorist attacks, they prefer to maintain it rather than pay a political price if a subsequent attack takes place.

So lifting the state of emergency becomes less dependent on security considerations and more on political calculations. This would explain why France’s latest extension was driven by the electoral calendar, punting the issue to the next president and legislature. Call it political procrastination, or perhaps more aptly, political cowardice.

This disconnect between its initial purpose and current raison d’être was captured nicely by Sébastien Pietrasanta, a parliamentarian and rapporteur for the commission investigating the state’s response to the November 2015 attacks, who recently noted that “the effect of the state of emergency is fading and yet we extend it…even though the link with terrorism is quite tenuous.”

I have seen this logic at play in the Middle East. Egypt and Syria, countries I have worked on for years, maintained their states of emergency for 31 and 48 years respectively. Every time the state of emergency was up for renewal, the country’s rulers argued that the risk was still there or that the timing was not right to lift it. France is not a tin-pot autocracy and its rulers are not despots, but there is a cautionary tale in these experiences.

It is time to reframe the debate in France. A continuing state of emergency should not be dependent on the existence of risk – an exogenous measure that cannot be controlled by political calculations. It should be restricted to situations where there is an exceptional need for exceptional measures at an exceptional moment. It may have been justified for a few days immediately after the November 2015 attacks as the country’s security forces were caught unprepared. But it should have been lifted as soon as the institutions resumed their normal functioning – regardless of whether the underlying security threat has been addressed.

It is time to reframe the debate in France. A continuing state of emergency should not be dependent on the existence of risk, it should be restricted to situations where there is an exceptional need for exceptional measures at an exceptional moment.

Nadim Houry

Director, Terrorism and Counterterrorism Program

The French government’s own website on the fight against terrorism noted in August 2016 that the government has “completed its legal arsenal and put in place an unprecedented reinforcement of its means in the police, justice, army and intelligence services.” France already has a raft of laws under the non-emergency regime that permit the authorities to investigate, detain, and prosecute terrorism suspects. Judicial controls in no way impede their effectiveness.

France needs to adopt a clear path out of the state of emergency. The parliamentary commission monitoring the state of emergency suggested in December setting an upper limit on the extension of a state of emergency but parliament ignored it and voted a fifth extension with almost no debate. Candidates in the upcoming presidential election have largely avoided talking about the issue, perpetuating the procrastination strategy by the political class, and journalists have not pushed them on the issue.

It is no longer enough to wait and hope that the security threat will simply vanish or that the future president or legislature will finally decide to tackle the issue. The debate about lifting the state of emergency should become a priority topic in this presidential election. Like any addict hoping to recover, France needs to start by recognizing the problem and begin a serious conversation on how to quit.

Author: Human Rights Watch
Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

As Co-Director of the US Program, Maria McFarland Sánchez-Moreno guides Human Rights Watch’s work on criminal justice, drug policy, immigration, national security, and surveillance in the United States.

Previously, as Deputy Washington Director for Human Rights Watch, McFarland Sánchez-Moreno conducted advocacy before the US government on a wide array of global human rights issues, including matters related to the Middle East and North Africa during the “Arab uprisings” of 2011. Earlier, she held the position of Senior Americas Researcher, covering Colombia's internal armed conflict and working on the extradition and trial of former Peruvian President Alberto Fujimori.

McFarland Sánchez-Moreno is the author of the narrative non-fiction book There Are No Dead Here: A Story of Murder and Denial in Colombia, forthcoming from Nation Books in February 2018. She holds a law degree from New York University School of Law and did most of her undergraduate studies in Lima, Peru, before completing her BA at the University of Texas at Austin. She is a native speaker of both Spanish and English.

Multimedia

"Your Reaction to NSA Curbs," on BBC World Service’s “World Have Your Say” (January 2014)

"Deadly Threats: Successors to the Paramilitaries in Colombia ," (February 2010)

Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

A member of the Syrian Democratic Forces removes an Islamic State flag in the town of Tabqa, west of Raqqa city, Syria, April 30, 2017.

© 2017 Getty Images

(Beirut) – The capture of two British men suspected of involvement in the Islamic State’s (also known as ISIS) torture and execution of Western hostages highlights the need to provide trials for ISIS suspects that respect due process and permit genuine victim participation, Human Rights Watch said today.

The Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) recently detained Alexanda Kotey and El Shafee el-Sheikh, the last two members of a four-person group of UK nationals in ISIS implicated in the torture and beheading of a number of foreigners, including prominent journalists and aid workers. Mohammed Emwazi, another one of the four, was killed in an airstrike in Syria in 2015, according to the Pentagon and ISIS media outlets, and Aine Davis, the fourth member, was imprisoned on terrorism charges in Turkey. Since Kotey and el-Sheikh’s capture, victims’ relatives and former hostages have publicly called for the two to face justice in trials that they can attend.

“The capture of two ISIS suspects should jump-start international discussions on ensuring justice for ISIS’s horrific crimes,” said Nadim Houry, terrorism/counterterrorism program director at Human Rights Watch. “This means trials that respect due process and encourage victim participation in foreign countries with jurisdiction over the suspects.”

The two ISIS suspects should be prosecuted by foreign countries that have jurisdiction and can provide fair trials, Human Rights Watch said. While Human Rights Watch is not in principle opposed to local trials, locally set-up courts in northern Syria are currently not able to ensure basic due process. No country, including the United Kingdom, has said that it would try the two. The future of these men, as well as of the other foreign ISIS members held in northern Syria, is on the agenda of the meeting in Rome of key defense ministers of the International Coalition to Defeat ISIS on February 13, 2018, where US Defense Secretary Jim Mattis is expected to raise the issue, according to multiple media reports.

Britain’s defense secretary said on February 10 that the two men “should never be allowed to return to the UK” and media reports have indicated that the UK may have already stripped them of their citizenship. The foreign minister of France, the home country of at least two journalists who were tortured by the ISIS group, indicated on February 7 that the foreign ISIS members should be tried in northern Syria.

The US government has urged the UK and other members of the coalition fighting ISIS to help address the growing number of foreign fighters being held by the SDF. Kathryn Wheelbarger, the principal deputy assistant defense secretary for international security affairs said, “We're working with the coalition on foreign fighter detainees, and generally expect these detainees to return to their country of origin for disposition.”

A US official, speaking on condition of anonymity, told Reuters that the US was in talks with the UK about ISIS detainees but there were no plans to bring them to the US or the US detention facility at Guantanamo Bay. Should the US take custody of the two alleged ISIS members, they should be prosecuted in US federal court and not sent to Guantanamo, where they would be subject to military commissions that do not meet international due process standards, Human Rights Watch said.

The SDF have detained thousands of ISIS members in northern Syria, including hundreds of foreigners. The Democratic Union Party (PYD)-led autonomous administration in northern Syria has set up local counterterrorism courts, known as the People’s Defense Court, but so far have only tried Syrian and Iraqi nationals.

These courts apply a counterterrorism law that was locally enacted in 2014 and rejects the application of the death penalty. Human Rights Watch visited these local counterterrorism courts in July 2017 and again in January 2018. A number of serious due process concerns prevented trials before the court from meeting basic international standards, Human Rights Watch found.

Key issues include the absence of any role for a defense lawyer and the lack of any formal appeals process. Local critics also noted that the courts are not fully independent from the local authorities and lack adequately trained prosecutors and judges. Some of the judges were not officially trained as lawyers or judges, but local authorities said that they went through a four-month training program.

Local officials in charge of the court system in northern Syria told Human Rights Watch that they had hoped that foreign countries would take back their foreign nationals and reduce the burden on them. If that was not possible, they said, they would consider trying some of them, but recognized that this would require improving their judicial system and laws at a time of mounting challenges for the local administration.

Families of the victims have expressed their interest in fair trials that they can attend for ISIS group members. Diane Foley, the mother of the US journalist James Foley, who was executed by the ISIS group, said she hopes to see Kotey and el-Sheikh given a fair and transparent criminal trial and receive life sentences. She told the media she did not want the men sent to Guantanamo Bay: “It would perpetuate the hatred. They [the victims] were executed in orange jumpsuits, like they have to wear in Guantanamo. We need to be above that. We need to show them what real justice looks like.”

Nicolas Henin, a French journalist who survived brutal detention by the ISIS group, told the media that he wants his former jailers to face a fair trial for their crimes. “What I want is a trial and a trial potentially that I can attend, so rather, a trial in London rather than one in Kobani in northern Syria,” he told the media. “Guantanamo Bay wouldn’t be a satisfying solution either, as it is a denial of justice.” He added:

What I want is an incontestable trial, as fair as possible, where my captors would have all the chances to defend themselves…We must absolutely prevent them reversing the situation by depicting them as victims. We were the victims, not them. If they don’t get justice, they will use it to fuel their propaganda.

“Officials meeting in Rome should find ways to provide fair trials that respect due process and provide the victims and their families – be they Syrian, Iraqis, or foreign – their day in court,” Houry said. “It’s important for the members of the international coalition to agree on these basic principles.”

Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

New evidence suggests that between August 28 and September 3, 2017, the Kurdistan Regional Government’s Asayish security forces from the West of the Tigris branch carried out mass executions of alleged Islamic State (also known as ISIS) fighters in their custody, which constitutes a war crime.

 
(Erbil) – New evidence suggests that between August 28 and September 3, 2017, the Kurdistan Regional Government’s Asayish security forces from the West of the Tigris branch carried out mass executions of alleged Islamic State (also known as ISIS) fighters in their custody, which constitutes a war crime, Human Rights Watch said today.
 
The Kurdistan Regional Government’s (KRG) Peshmerga military forces detained the men, both foreign and Iraqi, in a school in Sahil al-Maliha, a village 70 kilometers northwest of Mosul. Asayish forces bused them to a prison in Shilgia, a village 45 kilometers away, according to a now retired security force member, and from there they took them to two sites in the vicinity of the town of Zummar, where they executed them. Human Rights Watch located an apparent mass grave site where Asayish buried at least some of the bodies after the executions, according to the retired security force member and six residents of the neighboring village. KRG criminal justice authorities should investigate the apparent war crimes and prosecute those implicated up to the highest levels of responsibility.
 
 
“The evidence suggests that Asayish security forces conducted mass executions of captured ISIS suspects night after night for a week, perhaps killing scores or even hundreds of male detainees,” said Lama Fakih, deputy Middle East director at Human Rights Watch. “Iraqi and KRG authorities should urgently and transparently investigate the allegations of mass executions and hold those responsible to account.”

Because the mass grave site is located within the flood zone of the Mosul Dam reservoir, it is critically important to urgently allow international forensic experts to conduct a detailed exhumation of the site before seasonal rains fill the reservoir again later this year and submerge the grave site, complicating the identification of bodies, Human Rights Watch said.

Human Rights Watch was not able to speak with witnesses to the executions. But other evidence suggest that Asayish forces executed the ISIS suspects. Human Rights Watch spoke to a now-retired security force member, “Nadim,” who was regularly in contact with the Asayish members who told him they participated in the executions. Researchers also analyzed video and photographic evidence, including geotagged photos of bodies and satellite imagery showing the apparent mass grave was created sometime between July 5 and September 3 by bulldozer, and interviewed residents of a neighboring village.

Nadim went to one of the execution sites on August 29, where he said he saw approximately 30 bodies hours after the first group of men are believed to have been executed. Human Rights Watch visited a mass grave site where Nadim and local villagers said bodies were buried on January 30, 2018, and a second time on February 6.

Nadim said that on August 29, a friend of his in the Asayish said that he and other Asayish members, all part of the West of the Tigris Asayish branch, had taken about 80 detainees suspected of ISIS affiliation from Shilgia prison the night before and had executed about 50 of them outside the village of Tal Ahmed Agha al-Kabir, and the others outside Bardiya village, which researchers visited.

Nadim said that a few hours later he traveled to the site near Bardiya, which he located based on information from locals who told him they discovered bodies there. There, he counted about 30 unburied bodies, all shot in the head, and took three photographs of them and two short videos. Human Rights Watch reviewed the photos and videos and was able to confirm based on their metadata that they were taken on August 29, 460 meters from a mass grave which was later created. In total, the photos and videos show at least 20 bodies of men. The bodies did not have visible injuries consistent with battle wounds or suicide attacks, were dressed in civilian clothing, and did not appear to have their hands bound or eyes blindfolded.

Photo C: Mass grave site near Bardiya village visited by Human Rights Watch on January 30. 

© 2018 Belkis Wille/Human Rights Watch

Nadim said that an Asayish security member also told him that in the evening of August 30, and through the early hours of the following morning, he and a group of other Asayish members loaded between 100 and 150 men into a large refrigerator truck, keeping them there, in freezing temperatures, for seven hours. They transported the men to the site of the previous executions near Bardiya, dumped the bodies of the men who had died in the truck from the cold or asphyxiation in a ditch, and shot and buried alongside them any who were still alive, he said.

Nadim’s statements were partially corroborated by photographic evidence posted on social media and another witness statement. A photo of what appears to be the truck that transported the detainees surfaced on Twitter on September 2 on at least two Twitter accounts, one of which has been suspended. One of the tweets states that Kurdish Peshmerga forces executed 375 ISIS members captured since August 27, northwest of Tal Afar. The other states that between August 27 and September 1, 375 ISIS fugitives from Tal Afar to Zummar and northwest al-A'yadhia were executed.

The photo shows a white truck and a pile of bodies underneath, in a ditch. A Bardiya villager also told Human Rights Watch that on an evening at the end of August, he saw Kurdish forces drive through the area with two large white refrigerator trucks.

The two tweets also included two other photos. One shows a man in what appears to be an Asayish uniform, his face painted over to hide his identity, standing over a pile of bloody bodies. The second shows over 15 bloodied bodies in a pile in an open grave. In both photos, the hands of some of the men appear to be bound.

Local residents and foreign women married to ISIS suspects, who last saw their male relatives in custody at the Sahil al-Maliha school, raised concerns that some of those executed may have been children as young as 13. The family members of one 17-year-old showed Human Rights Watch a video of him surrendering to Peshmerga forces for screening alongside other foreign and Iraqi male suspects. The video was posted on various media outlets on August 30. The relatives said that they have not been able to find him in any Iraqi detention facilities since.

Nadim said that on the days that followed, three Asayish members told him they were executing groups of men from Shilgia prison in the same area, temporarily burying them before later unearthing them and finally burying all of the bodies together in one mass grave using large digging equipment. The Asayish members told him that over seven days, they executed between 80 and 150 people each day.

About 20 days after the last executions, Nadim’s Asayish friends told him that a very senior security officer made a high-level visit to the Asayish office in Zummar, he said. He said that several senior local Asayish officers have not been seen in Zummar since the meeting, and his contacts in the Asayish have told him they have been detained. Human Rights Watch has not been able to verify if any officers were punished, and for what.

Human Rights Watch requested a comment from the KRG on the executions and in an email to Human Rights Watch on February 5, Dr. Dindar Zebari, the KRG coordinator for international advocacy, denied that the executions took place. He stated that according to the chief of the Asayish forces, Peshmerga forces were fighting on a 71-kilometer frontline with ISIS, as the group’s members attempted to escape to Syria. In the process of the battle many ISIS members were killed, along with many Peshmerga forces, “and the corpses of the killed ISIS members in this fighting were probably brought in one place to be buried.”  The stretch of frontline that the response refers to is at its closest 40 kilometers from the site where researchers found the mass grave.

This explanation does not match the state the bodies were found in – shot in the head, in clusters, in a solitary desert area, far from where any fighting had occurred – according to Nadim and three Bardiya villagers.

The photos posted on social media on September 2 also show the hands of some of the men bound. The Zummar and Bardiya areas were occupied by ISIS for less than one month during late 2014, and there was no fighting there after that date, according to numerous security and military officers researchers interviewed.

According to the statement, the individuals at the school were considered internally displaced persons, not detainees, and were all transferred from there to camps for the displaced. International organizations present in the reception centers of the camps that the displaced families were bused to confirmed that no foreign adult men were among the arrivals and there were few Iraqi men.

KRG criminal justice authorities should investigate all alleged crimes, including unlawful killings, committed by any party in the conflict in a prompt, transparent, and effective manner, up to the highest levels of responsibility. Those credibly implicated should be appropriately prosecuted. Extrajudicial executions and torture during an armed conflict are war crimes. Authorities should also investigate the fate and whereabouts of the disappeared, Human Rights Watch said.

“There have been months of silence, but the Kurdistan Regional Government needs to be transparent about these deaths and punish anyone responsible for unlawful killings,” Fakih said.

From Sahil al-Maliha to Shilgia Prison

Human Rights Watch interviewed dozens of Iraqi families and 27 foreign women who said that between August 22 and 29, they and thousands of other Iraqis and foreigners approached Peshmerga forces near Sahil al-Maliha for screening. A video posted on various media outlets on August 30 shows Peshmerga forces lining up men, foreign and local, and gathering women and children to the side in a desert area.

Nadim and the families said that after the people approached, Peshmerga forces moved everyone to a school in Sahil al-Maliha and detained them there. The witnesses said the Peshmerga forces put the women, children, and elderly in one of the 12 rooms in the schoolhouse, and kept the men and boys over age 12 in the yard.

An image posted on social media shows about 150 men sitting in the schoolyard. Nadim confirmed that the image was taken at the Sahil al-Maliha school. In addition, he showed researchers a clip of a video at the school, showing a group of men, several of them wounded, sitting against a wall in a yard and a photo of the same scene that was geotagged, verifying the date, August 29, and location.

Human Rights Watch reviewed the photograph and identified uniquely matching features in satellite imagery recorded on August 30 and 31, 2017, further confirming both the approximate date and precise location of the photograph. Human Rights Watch also found in a time series of satellite imagery recorded between August 23 and September 5, evidence consistent with the temporary detention of potentially hundreds of people within the schoolyard. It included the accumulation of extensive debris on the ground, heavy vehicle movement, and the presence of seven large passenger buses parked immediately outside the school on the morning of August 31.

Nadim said that once at the school, Asayish forces from the nearby town of Zummar carried out daily security checks on the men, and then bused groups of them away in large trucks each day. The families also described the daily security checks and the busing, which they said they observed through the classroom windows. Nadim said he saw Asayish forces bus some of the detainees first to the Asayish center in Zummar, for another round of security checks, and then on to another location. He said his Asayish contacts told him that they were busing the men from Zummar to an Asayish prison in Shilgia. They told him that in some instances they bused the men from the school directly to the Shilgia prison.

Nadim showed Human Rights Watch researchers four photos that he said he received from Asayish members on August 31. Two of the photos show trucks arriving at a destination with the detainees disembarking. Nadim said he recognized the trucks as the same ones he saw the Asayish using at the Sahil al-Maliha school to transport the detainees by the writing on the sides of the trucks. The other two photos show a large group of men being held in the yard of the prison, which Nadim said he recognized based on a previous visit to the prison.

Buses at Sahil al-Maliha school used to transport mostly women and children to a camp for displaced on August 31, 2017. 

© DigitalGlobe 2018

The Shilgia prison is the largest prison facility in the area and it is under the same area of command as the Zummar Asayish branch.

The Mass Grave Site

Several sources, including Nadim, a Federal Police officer, and six Bardiya villagers told Human Rights Watch the location of the mass grave. On January 30, researchers traveled to the site, where they found large piles of dirt in a long row, with marks of excavation equipment on the side of some of the piles. Human Rights Watch interviewed a shepherd next to the site who said he saw Kurdish security forces bury the bodies there in early September.

Satellite images taken on the mornings of September 3 and 29, 2017 showing ongoing digging activity at the Bardiya mass grave site. © CNES 2018 - Airbus DS 2018

Human Rights Watch analyzed a time series of satellite imagery of this site recorded between July 5 and September 29 and identified evidence of the movement of earth with heavy machinery on the dry lake bed consistent with the construction of a large mass grave as alleged by local witnesses.
 
Because the site was fully submerged under the seasonal lake water in early July according to satellite imagery, digging could not have started until the water had receded later in July or August. Satellite imagery recorded on the morning of September 3 shows ongoing digging activity along two linear sections of raised earth, approximately 35 and 40 meters in length. Satellite imagery recorded on the morning of September 29 shows evidence of continued digging activity at the site, including extensive parallel vehicle tracks consistent with the use of a wheeled or tracked bulldozer to pile additional soil onto the two earthen mounds.

A comparison of photographs Human Rights Watch took on January 30, 2018 with satellite imagery recorded on September 29, 2017 suggests the site has been undisturbed since.

Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

A detainee paces around a cell block while being held in Joint Task Force Guantanamo's Camp VI at the U.S. Naval Base in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba March 22, 2016.

© 2017 Reuters

UPDATE: This Q&A was originally published on May 4, 2017. It was updated by adding the final two questions on February 1, 2018 after Trump issued an executive order about Guantanamo. 

On January 11, 2002, the United States brought 20 prisoners to the US Naval Base at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, the beginning of the long-term detention of hundreds of individuals apprehended in Afghanistan, Pakistan, and elsewhere. Then-Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld labeled Guantanamo’s first detainees “unlawful combatants” who “do not have any rights under the Geneva Convention.” By holding detainees outside of the US, the administration of President George W. Bush reportedly hoped to avoid US court jurisdiction, though ultimately the US Supreme Court rejected the administration’s attempts to deny Guantanamo detainees access to US courts.

As part of the detainees’ interrogation, the US military subjected them to torture and other ill-treatment, including placing them in painful stress positions and in extended solitary confinement; threatening them with torture, death, and military dogs; depriving them of sleep; and exposing them for prolonged periods to extreme heat, cold, and noise.

At least 780 people have been held at Guantanamo, the vast majority without charge or trial. Nine detainees have died there, six from suspected suicide. The US has transferred 731 to home or third countries, 533 during the Bush administration and 144 during the administration of President Barack Obama. On his second day in office Obama promised to close Guantanamo, but by the end of his term in office, 41 detainees remained, including five that his administration designated for release.

Donald Trump has said that as president he would keep the Guantanamo Bay detention facility open and add to the inmate population there. On January 30, 2018, Trump signed an executive order about US detention practices at Guantanamo and discussed the facility during his State of the Union address. The two final questions below refer to the January 30 order. 

Human Rights Watch has long called for the US government to charge Guantanamo detainees in US federal courts or release them to safe home or third countries.

The following questions and answers look at current issues regarding detentions at Guantanamo and those that may arise under the Trump administration.

What’s wrong with detaining people at Guantanamo?

Who has been held at Guantanamo?

Who is currently detained at Guantanamo?

What’s wrong with the Guantanamo military commissions?

Have released Guantanamo detainees engaged in terrorism?

Should future detainees be sent to Guantanamo?

How should US forces treat people apprehended in military operations abroad?

Should current Guantanamo detainees be transferred to the US?

What does Trump’s executive order on Guantanamo mean?

How will the executive order affect existing Trump administration practices at Guantanamo?

What’s wrong with detaining people at Guantanamo?

The military detention facilities created at Guantanamo Bay were designed from the outset to be outside the regular US justice system. Nearly all of those detained at Guantanamo since its inception have, for one reason or another, been held in violation of applicable international humanitarian law or international human rights law. Detainees were held without regard for their legal status under the laws of war. Very few were charged with a criminal offense. Many were tortured or otherwise ill-treated, were held based on inaccurate evidence or analysis, or on misinformation, or were cases of mistaken identity, and were not provided with adequate means to challenge their detention. These violations have damaged the US human rights record and undermined the fight against extremist armed groups by feeding into terrorist propaganda and providing them a powerful recruitment tool.

Guantanamo detainees who were charged have faced military commissions – a judicial system created at Guantanamo that does not meet international fair trial standards.

Who has been held at Guantanamo?

Most of the 780 men sent to Guantanamo were turned over by Afghan militias or Pakistani forces to US forces after the US-led invasion of Afghanistan following the September 11, 2001 attacks on the United States. Afghans made up the largest number of those captured, but many came from dozens of other countries, drawn to the region to support various forces fighting in Afghanistan’s civil war at the time, or for other reasons. A large but unknown number were turned over to the US for bounties; as one offer stated, the bounty would provide “enough money to take care of your family, your village, your tribe for the rest of your life.”

A smaller number were apprehended far from Afghanistan, in places like Azerbaijan, Kenya, Thailand, and Turkey, and then transferred to US custody and sent to Guantanamo. According to Jane Mayer’s The Dark Side, a former top military commander at Guantanamo, Maj. Gen. Michael Dunlavey, estimated that at least half of those held at Guantanamo were held by mistake. An academic study by Seton Hall University Law School concludes that according to US documentation, at least 55 percent of the detainees at Guantanamo never engaged in any hostile acts against the US and only 8 percent had any association with the militant group Al-Qaeda.

People held at Guantanamo include:

Mohamedou Ould Slahi at Guantánamo in 2009. 

© 2009 International Committee of the Red Cross

Mohamedeou Ould Slahi, who was held for more than 14 years without charge or trial before his release in October 2016 and return to his native Mauritania. While still detained and after years of battling US government censors, he published a memoir about his time at Guantanamo. In Guantanamo Diary, Slahi details years of torture and abuse. The US intended to press charges against Slahi but a military prosecutor refused to do so after learning that Slahi’s most incriminating statements were obtained through torture.

Omar Khadr, a Canadian, who was 15 when he was apprehended by the US during a firefight in Afghanistan. US forces treated him abusively in Afghanistan and sent him to Guantanamo, where, he said, he was put in stress positions and threatened with rape, among other abuses. The US never treated him in accordance with its international obligations toward children used in armed conflict. Two years after pleading guilty to crimes before the fundamentally flawed US military commissions in 2010, he was transferred to a detention facility in Canada. He was released on bail in 2015, and is currently appealing his US military commission conviction.

Omar Khadr before being imprisoned at Guantanamo in 2002 at the age of 15, left, and photographed in 2009, right.

© 2009 CNS

Mustafa al Shamiri, a Yemeni detainee once deemed “too dangerous to release,” whose detention proved to be a case of mistaken identity. Shamiri, who was 16 or 17 at the time of his detention, spent more than 14 years imprisoned at Guantanamo before a US inter-agency review board found that the original intelligence about him being a trainer at an Al-Qaeda camp was wrong.

Only 16 of those held at Guantanamo were ever charged with criminal offenses. Ten of them remain at Guantanamo, along with 31 others being held without charge. Seven, including five men accused in the September 11, 2001 attacks, currently face charges before the military commissions, and three others were convicted after trial or plea bargain. The US has maintained that it could continue to hold detainees who still pose a security risk even after they finished serving their sentences.

Five of the 16 who were charged, including Khadr, have since been released. One of the 16, Ahmed Ghailani, was transferred to US federal court in New York, where he was convicted of conspiracy in 2010 and later sentenced to life in prison. He is the only Guantanamo detainee transferred to federal court for prosecution. At least three of the military commission convictions were thrown out and others partially overturned after a US appellate court found that material support for terrorism and solicitation were not war crimes and, therefore, could not be charged in the military commissions.

Numerous current and former national security policymakers have called for closing Guantanamo. The UN Committee against Torture and other UN rights officials and many government leaders in other countries have called on the US to end detention at Guantanamo and close the facility.

Who is currently detained at Guantanamo?

Most of the 41 men held in Guantanamo as of May 2, 2017, have been detained by the US for nearly 15 years without charge or trial. They fit within three broad categories:

Five were cleared for release during the Obama administration but were not transferred to home or third countries by the end of Obama’s term. It is not yet clear if the Trump administration will act on Obama’s decision.

There are 26 detainees whom the US asserts it can detain indefinitely for security reasons. The government made these determinations about these men after reviews largely conducted in secret and without adequate process. In 2008, the US Supreme Court ruled that Guantanamo detainees could challenge their detention in federal habeas corpus proceedings. However, not all detainees obtained these hearings and when they did, the courts ultimately sided with the government, ruling that the US can hold them even with very little evidence, weighed in the government’s favor, of connection to terrorist groups until the end of hostilities. The courts have not determined what constitutes the “end of hostilities,” so those held are effectively detained indefinitely.

Seven of the 41 face charges, and three more remain imprisoned after trial or accepting plea agreements with Guantanamo’s military commissions.

Human Rights Watch has said that all Guantanamo detainees should either be charged in a court that meets international fair trial standards – such as US federal courts – or released to safe home or third countries.

What’s wrong with the Guantanamo military commissions?

The military commissions at Guantanamo do not meet international fair trial standards and should be disbanded. The military commissions are, among other things, mired in excessive secrecy, fail to adequately protect attorney-client privileged communications, and permit the introduction of coerced evidence.

Current cases in the commissions are plagued by procedural problems and questions over the applicable law. The case against the five suspects in the September 11, 2001 attacks is headed into its fifth year of pretrial hearings, with a trial date still years away. That is bad for the defendants, for the families of the victims, and for justice generally. The slow progress is the result of government secrecy about the defendants’ torture in CIA custody, the novel nature of the commission’s untested rules and procedures, and logistical difficulties associated with holding hearings on an island several hundred miles from the United States.

During the last hearing, the military judge in the case, Col. James Pohl, refused to set a trial date because the prosecution remains behind in turning over classified evidence to the defense, and court facilities are inadequate. Meanwhile federal courts, though not without their flaws, have, since 9/11, prosecuted several hundred terrorism cases much more effectively and with respect for due process.

Only eight verdicts have been obtained in the military commissions. Three of them have been completely overturned by US court decisions, and others partially. They were overturned on the grounds that the charges did not amount to recognized laws of war violations that Congress authorized to be tried in the Guantanamo Bay military commissions. As a result of these cases, charges of material support for terrorism and solicitation were ruled outside the commissions’ jurisdiction, and charges of conspiracy are in question.

Have released Guantanamo detainees engaged in terrorism?

US government reporting on alleged terrorism by former Guantanamo detainees has been controversial. While some former detainees are reported to have engaged in, or been associated with, violent acts, the vast majority of the more than 731 detainees released from Guantanamo are not reported to have been involved in any such activity.

The US Office of the Director of National Intelligence (DNI) has reported that about 118, or 17 percent, of former detainees have become involved in terrorism since their release. These figures are based on a definition of terrorism that broadly includes “insurgent attack[s]” not necessarily against US forces but rather “coalition or host-nation forces.” Moreover, the DNI uses a preponderance of the evidence standard for “confirmed” acts of terrorism, meaning it believes it is “more likely than not” the individual has engaged in the reported acts, rather than a more reliable standard.

The overwhelming majority of these reported cases of violence predate 2009, when many detainees were released without very effective post-release monitoring and reporting mechanisms in place. Since 2009, when these mechanisms improved, the DNI reports that only seven former detainees are “confirmed” to have engaged in what it defines as terrorism.

The credibility of the DNI figures has been contested based on publicly available information about terrorist attacks. The DNI has released inadequate information about former detainees allegedly involved in attacks, and about the attacks themselves.

The government has used its claims of connections to violence by former Guantanamo detainees to deny release to current detainees, particularly those from the same country. But decisions to release detainees should be based on individualized assessments about whether they can be prosecuted for a criminal offense, not on the actions of former detainees released years before. Detaining someone because of the actions of others amounts to collective punishment and denies detainees due process.

Should future detainees be sent to Guantanamo?

Sending new detainees to Guantanamo would compound the detention facility’s history of injustice, and might repeat past violations of international law. Doing so would also be counterproductive to US counterterrorism efforts by providing fuel to the Islamic State (also known as ISIS), Al-Qaeda, and other Islamist armed groups that are seeking to discredit the US.

Such armed groups have routinely used the situation at Guantanamo in their propaganda materials to recruit fighters globally. For instance, many non-Iraqis who took up arms against the US in Iraq did so because of US abuses at Guantanamo as well as at the US military prison at Abu Ghraib.

Sending future detainees to Guantanamo is also unnecessary – the US has other options for holding those apprehended and accused of alleged crimes committed abroad.

How should US forces treat people apprehended in military operations abroad?

US forces abroad that apprehend people suspected of war crimes and other crimes under US law should promptly transfer the suspects to the United States for prosecution in US federal courts. Otherwise, the US should, wherever possible, transfer captured combatants and civilians posing a serious security threat to national authorities in the country of capture for possible prosecution. In circumstances in which such transfers cannot lawfully be made, such as if the detainee would face likely torture or if the US is acting without the permission of the national authorities, such as in Syria, continued detention must meet basic due process standards.

Anyone being transferred out of a country by US forces, including someone turned over by non-state armed groups, should be able to contest the transfer in that country’s courts. This would not be required during a so-called international armed conflict between governments, such as between the US government and the Syrian government. Every detainee must be treated humanely at all times. Places of detention should not be near combat zones though to the extent possible they should be close to detainees’ homes. Visits from family members must be allowed if practicable. Children being detained must be held separately from adults, unless they are detained with their family.

People taken into custody during an armed conflict are entitled to basic protections. These include being promptly brought before an independent authority, such as a judge. The detainee must be provided specific reasons for their detention and have the ability to contest the detention. Where feasible the detainee should have access to a lawyer or other counsel. Individuals who are not being prosecuted for a criminal offense may only be held for exceptional reasons of security and must be released as soon as the reasons for their deprivation of their liberty cease to exist. Detention under such circumstances should be reviewed at least every six months.

Regular soldiers and civilians captured in fighting between two government forces would be protected under the rules for prisoners-of-war and security detainees under the Third and Fourth Geneva Conventions.

Should current Guantanamo detainees be transferred to the US?

Human Rights Watch supports closing the Guantanamo Bay detention facility, but not by detaining individuals currently held there in US prisons without charge or trial. Moving them to the US would not end the rights violation of detention without trial, just transfer people whose rights are being violated to a new location.

However, those who can be charged with a criminal offense should be, and should be brought to the US and prosecuted in US federal courts. Those who cannot be charged should be released to a safe home country or third country.

Currently, US law bars the transfer of prisoners from Guantanamo to the US for continued detention or trial. Any revision of the law should not permit the transfer to super-maximum security (“supermax”) prisons in the US, which are designed for convicted prisoners deemed extremely dangerous. The use of extremely harsh supermax prisons raises grave human rights concerns generally. They should not be used to hold people who have not been convicted of an offense, such as those being held without trial at Guantanamo.

What does Trump’s executive order on Guantanamo mean?

On January 30, 2018, President Trump signed an executive order to keep the Guantanamo Bay detention facility open. The order revokes former President Barack Obama’s 2009 executive order that mandated the facility’s closure and pledged to do so within one year of signing—a goal Obama did not achieve. While the language of Trump’s order merely continues many of the same policies that were in place during the Obama administration, it rejects the broader policy aim to close Guantanamo and suggests that future detainees may be sent to Guantanamo, which Obama did not do.

The order directs the defense secretary to re-examine US detention policy and provide recommendations for handling detainees captured by the US in connection with an armed conflict, including an option of sending them to Guantanamo. The order also states that newly captured suspects can be prosecuted in federal court. Interagency review boards will continue to examine the cases of Guantanamo detainees, and they could be released if cleared by a review board or a court.

How will the executive order affect existing Trump administration practices at Guantanamo?

Though the executive order largely reaffirms existing US government policies, the Trump administration has thus far not shown a strong commitment to enforcing them. For example, though Guantanamo detainees’ can seek to have interagency boards review their cases, Trump has said there should be no further releases from Guantanamo and detainee lawyers contend that the any review process will not will not be genuine. The order preserves the option to transfer detainees out of Guantanamo, but Trump has not transferred out any detainees since taking office in January 2017.

Some Justice Department attorneys do not want terrorism suspects apprehended abroad sent to Guantanamo because the federal courts have been much more effective at prosecuting terrorism cases than the military commissions at Guantanamo. Moreover, many countries that would normally work with the US on counterterrorism efforts will not extradite suspects to the US if they could be sent to Guantanamo. While Trump himself has recognized that the military commissions have been ineffectual in prosecuting terrorism cases, the executive order raises concerns that under certain circumstances he intends to send future detainees there. 

Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

Summary

In August 2008, Sri Lankan police were searching for Malathi’s son, Kanna, whom they accused of aiding and abetting the insurgent Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE). Malathi, who asked that her real name not be used, believes Kanna escaped abroad, as she has not heard from him since. However, when the police could not find Kanna, they arrested his 37-year-old wife, Durga (also a pseudonym). Malathi says that Durga was detained for nearly a year before being produced before a magistrate. It was a further six years before any charges were filed against her. Durga was eventually acquitted of all charges in 2015.

Durga has received no apologies, compensation, or answers for her seven years in detention. She remains psychologically and physically impaired because of her long incarceration. Her three young children were raised during those years by her mother-in-law. Malathi says it has been difficult:

My youngest grandchild was 18 months old at the time of Durga’s arrest. I am old but I had no choice but to raise the children, so I took menial jobs cleaning people’s homes to support them, to have some money for them. Even now that Durga is out, I don’t know what happened to her in there, but she’s not strong enough to work on the tea estates. So I have to keep working.

* * *

Hundreds of people like Durga have been arbitrarily detained in Sri Lanka under the Prevention of Terrorism Act (PTA), which was enacted in 1979 to counter separatist insurgencies, notably the LTTE. The law allows arrests for unspecified “unlawful activities” without warrant, and permits detention for up to 18 months without the authorities producing the suspect before a court pre-trial.

While other insurgent groups proved short-lived, the LTTE sustained a 26-year-long civil war in Sri Lanka that involved horrific abuses by both LTTE and government forces. The LTTE carried out targeted killings, suicide bombings, and torture, among other abuses. Military abuses included arbitrary arrests, summary executions, and forced disappearances, as well as indiscriminate attacks in the war’s final months. Government forces defeated the LTTE in May 2009.

Nearly nine years since the end of the fighting, the PTA has remained in effect, and has been used to arrest and hold people without charge or trial for months, even years. Many PTA detainees have been tortured in custody, and others have been among those forcibly disappeared. Those released have suffered psychologically as well as physically.

The Sri Lankan government has failed to fulfill its pledges to abolish the abusive Prevention of Terrorism Act (PTA). For decades, the PTA has been used to arbitrarily detain suspects for months and often years without charge or trial, facilitating torture, and other abuse.

In October 2015, following elections in August, the Sri Lankan government under President Maithripala Sirisena agreed to a consensus resolution at the United Nations Human Rights Council under increasing diplomatic pressure. The resolution committed the government to ensure accountability for conflict-related abuses by enacting several transitional justice mechanisms. Along with other human rights related reforms, the government also pledged to repeal the PTA, but has not yet done so.

This report, based on interviews with 34 former detainees or their relatives, documents serious human rights violations under the PTA including severe torture and sexual abuse, as well as systematic denials of due process. While the cases detailed here address the experiences of only a tiny fraction of the hundreds of people who suffered under the PTA, the accounts underscore the need to ensure that any new counterterrorism legislation is rights-respecting and does not replicate past abuses.

Protests calling for the release of PTA detainees have increased in recent years. In October 2017, students at Jaffna University began a protest against the PTA that led to a brief shutdown of the campus. A hunger strike by PTA detainees has reportedly led to one prisoner being released and a second hospitalized.

The PTA has been used to arbitrarily detain an unknown number of people without access to legal recourse. One former detainee, held without trial from 2007 to 2010 at the Welikada prison in the capital, Colombo, told Human Rights Watch that there were at least 800 PTA prisoners detained with him, many of them held without any credible basis.

“A few years after the war ended, some were charged, some were sent for rehabilitation, some signed confessions and were given short sentences,” he said. “In my experience, they just use the PTA to keep you locked up with no evidence.”

The PTA has also been used for politically motivated arrests of peaceful activists. In March 2014, prominent human rights campaigners Ruki Fernando and Father Praveen Mahesan were arrested while attempting to assist a 12-year-old girl whose mother, Jeyakumari Balendran, had been arrested under the PTA. An international outcry quickly led to Fernando and Father Praveen’s release on bail. The charges have yet to be dropped, and they continue to occasionally face harassment by immigration authorities when they are leaving the country for travels abroad.

Human Rights Watch and other organizations have long documented widespread torture of individuals in custody, particularly of ethnic Tamils detained under the PTA for suspected involvement with the LTTE. Ben Emmerson, then the UN special rapporteur on the promotion and protection of human rights and fundamental freedoms while countering terrorism, said after his July 2017 visit to the country: “The use of torture has been, and remains today, endemic and routine, for those arrested and detained on national security grounds.” He noted that the PTA was used “disproportionately against members of the Tamil community,” and that the community “has borne the brunt of the state’s well-oiled torture apparatus.”

After a two-week country visit in December 2017, the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention called for the immediate repeal of the PTA, referring to it as “one of the key enablers of arbitrary detention for over four decades.”

In a positive step, the Sri Lankan government announced it would adopt the UN Optional Protocol to the Convention against Torture during its Universal Periodic Review in November 2017.

Many of those detained under the PTA said that they were tortured to extract confessions or intelligence. Of the 17 individuals whose cases are detailed in this report, 11 reported beatings and torture. A senior judge responsible for handling PTA cases said in July 2017 that he was forced to exclude confession evidence in over 90 percent of the cases he had heard in 2017 because it had been obtained through the use or threat of force.

Sahan Kirthi, then 21, was arrested under the PTA in February 2007. He remained in detention without charge for five years. He ultimately confessed to a criminal offense, he said, because security forces threatened to rape his sister. In 2012, he was finally charged with conspiring against the government. Security forces did not have evidence to convict him, and the courts acquitted him two years later, in 2014. Kirthi had by then spent nearly a decade in prison, and still has injuries, including loss of hearing, from the torture that he endured.

As noted above, other former PTA detainees who spoke to Human Rights Watch described severe torture including sexual abuse. Several, including those interviewed for the 2013 Human Rights Watch report “We Will Teach You a Lesson,” said that security forces raped them, burned their genitals or breasts with cigarettes, and caused other injuries through beatings and electric shocks. Noting an “open door policy” for routine use of torture by security forces, Juan Méndez, then the UN special rapporteur on torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment, described the use of sexual abuse after his 2016 visit to Sri Lanka:

Torture and ill-treatment, including of a sexual nature, still occur, in particular in the early stages of arrest and interrogation, often for the purpose of eliciting confessions. The gravity of the mistreatment inflicted increases for those who are perceived to be involved in terrorism or offences against national security. The police resort to forceful extraction of information or coerced confessions rather than carrying out thorough investigations using scientific methods.

Former detainees and their family members said that despite coerced confessions, they agreed to plead guilty simply to end the indefinite detention.

Vivodhani Givoshan described the case of his brother, Soriyamoorthy Givoshan, who became trapped in the war zone and eventually surrendered to the army in Mullaitivu in 2009, during the final days of the war. Soriyamoorthy was initially detained in a military-run displacement camp in Vavuniya with others who had fled or surrendered to the government. In August 2009, members of the Sri Lankan police’s Terrorist Investigation Division (TID)—notorious for torture in custody—arrested him and took him from the camp. He was secretly detained for a year until he was finally produced before the Kandy Magistrate Court in August 2010. Vivodhani said his brother faced a range of charges and decided to plead guilty to end the indefinite detention:

We decided that it would be easier for him to plead guilty, so there was actually no trial. Although we know the prosecution had no evidence, or at least none that my brother’s lawyers could see.… My brother was young when he was arrested. So many of those arrested were young, many of them arrested on flimsy evidence of buying a SIM card, renting a bike.

Proposed Counterterrorism Legislation

After the end of the armed conflict with the LTTE in May 2009, the government relaxed some of its emergency regulations, which had given the security forces wide-ranging search, detention, and arrest powers, and in 2011 it allowed most of the measures to expire. Government directives issued in June 2016 require security forces to ensure that the fundamental rights of persons arrested or detained are respected, but the PTA remains in force, although it has not been used in 2017.

There is still no clarity on the number of people held under the PTA. In August 2017, the government released a list of 84 people in custody under the PTA and facing trial, and 12 others who had not been charged. A month earlier, the government had told Special Rapporteur Ben Emmerson that of the prisoners “currently in the judicial phase of their pre-trial detention, 70 had been in detention without trial for over five years and 12 had been in detention without trial for over 10 years.”

While the government has taken some steps to charge or release PTA detainees, lawyers working on these cases believe that the numbers are not accurate given the discrepancies in official numbers. This is not the first time the government’s information on the number of PTA detainees has shown discrepancies. In a meeting with Human Rights Watch in October 2015, Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe admitted that getting an accurate count of PTA detainees was difficult because the various security agencies all had different numbers.

Since the 2015 Human Rights Council resolution, the government has made little progress on security sector reform, and in 2016 continued to use the PTA to arrest and detain supposed counterterrorism suspects. One significant act of compliance with its security sector reform pledge was the government’s establishment of a separate Ministry of Law and Order, removing the police and related agencies from the purview of the Ministry of Defence. However, other reforms within the security sector have yet to be enacted or implemented.

In June 2016, the government adopted directives recommended by the Human Rights Commission of Sri Lanka to protect detainees from abuses, particularly at the time of arrest and ensuing detention. These include guarantees of medical and legal assistance, registration of arrest, the right to be addressed in the language of the detainee’s choice, security from torture and other ill-treatment, and special protection for women and children. The directives also reassert the commission’s mandate to be promptly informed of all PTA arrests, to access any person arrested or detained under the PTA, and to access any place of detention at any time. These directives are meant to be an interim measure until the PTA is repealed and replaced with rights-respecting legislation.

Although several drafts of a new counterterrorism law have been floated, none have complied with international human rights standards. The government has not discussed these draft laws with human rights or affected victim groups. In March 2017, Ravinatha Aryasinha, Sri Lanka’s permanent representative in Geneva, told the Human Rights Council that the government was drafting a law that “seeks to effectively and comprehensively respond to contemporary manifestations and threats of terrorism, consistent with principles of democracy, good governance and the rule of law.”

In May 2017, the cabinet approved with little public consultation a draft Counter Terrorism Act (CTA), intended to replace the PTA. In the face of severe public criticism, the government has not, as it was expected to do, moved forward with outlining its plans for the new law. The bill falls far short of the government’s pledges to the Human Rights Council to end abusive detention without charge, and it remains unclear whether the government has taken on board recommendations from the UN Counter-Terrorism Committee Executive Directorate and other UN agencies.

The bill would in some ways improve upon the previous law, but it would still allow arbitrary and abusive detention. Some provisions provide potential safeguards against abuses, but as long as prolonged detention without charge is permitted, the likelihood of abuse remains high. Ultimately, the proposed law does not comply with security sector reforms sought by the Human Rights Council and required by Sri Lanka’s international obligations, and suggests that the government does not intend to fully relinquish the broad and too easily abused powers available to it under the PTA.

Among his concerns with the draft law, Special Rapporteur Emmerson noted that the broad definition of torture in the law “poses a real risk that the legislation could be used in circumstances very far removed from acts of real terrorism, or against minorities or human rights defenders in a discriminatory and sectarian manner.”

The Sri Lankan government should not enact any law that will perpetuate the wrongs committed for decades under the PTA or provide room for other abuses. The government should consult with Sri Lankan victim groups, human rights organizations, the Human Rights Commission of Sri Lanka, and international experts to draft a law that protects both national security and human rights. It should also seek technical assistance from the UN Counter-Terrorism Committee Executive Directorate and the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights.

Key Recommendations

  • Repeal the Prevention of Terrorism Act (PTA) and replace it with rights-respecting counterterrorism legislation that meets international standards for due process.
  • Undertake a consultative process with victim rights groups, civil society, human rights lawyers, and relevant experts to assist in drafting the new legislation.
  • Implement the recommendations of the UN special rapporteur on counter-terrorism and human rights following his July 2017 country visit, including a prohibition on the use of confessions made to the police, unfettered access for the Human Rights Commission of Sri Lanka to all places of detention, and abolishing the attorney general’s right of veto over the granting of bail.
  • Implement the recommendations of the UN special rapporteur on torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment following his 2016 country visit, including ensuring that any new counterterrorism law provides protections against arbitrary arrests and detentions, strong judicial overview of law enforcement and security agencies, and safeguards to ensure legal counsel from the moment of arrest.
  • Accept and implement the recommendations of the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights investigation on Sri Lanka, including reviewing all cases of detainees held under the PTA, and investigating and prosecuting all allegations of torture committed by law enforcement and security agencies.
  • Implement all recommendations made by the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention in its December 2017 preliminary findings report.
  • Fully comply with the Human Rights Commission’s guidelines on arrest and detention procedures in all cases, especially PTA cases.

Methodology

Human Rights Watch conducted research for this report between April and May 2017. We interviewed 27 former PTA detainees and family members of seven current detainees, and spoke with lawyers and human rights defenders working on these cases.

The individuals whose cases we investigated were initially detained in locations across Sri Lanka. Although we spoke with victims from both Sinhala and Tamil speaking communities, the majority were ethnic Tamil. Due to security concerns, a few interviews were conducted over Skype. Most former detainees interviewed agreed to have their names made public, but we have withheld names where there was a legal case pending or concern for the security of the detainee. In some cases pseudonyms have been used to conceal the identity of interview subjects.

The findings of this research are consistent with what we found in previous research, including in our interviews with Sri Lankan victims of torture and sexual violence in custody in 2011 and 2012 in Sri Lanka, Australia, the United Kingdom, Germany, India, Malaysia, and Indonesia.[1] In research we conducted in 2015, moreover, we found torture to be common in police stations across Sri Lanka, involving regular criminal suspects as well as terrorism-related cases.[2] Many of the former detainees we interviewed for this report recounted torture practices similar to those previously reported, suggesting little has changed in the methods of Sri Lanka’s law enforcement forces.

Many former detainees remain fearful of government surveillance and re-arrest, and are thus reluctant to draw attention to themselves. We worked with local nongovernmental organizations and defense lawyers to meet PTA detainees who were willing to provide accounts of their treatment. Sometimes we spoke only with lawyers or family members of current or former detainees, but with the consent of the detainees.

Human Rights Watch provided no remuneration or other inducement to the interviewees. In some cases, funds were provided to cover immediate food and travel expenses incurred for the interviews. Interviews were conducted in Sinhala or Tamil through independent interpreters.

I. Armed Conflict and the Prevention of Terrorism Act

In May 2009, Sri Lanka emerged from three decades of civil war that left several hundred thousand people dead or forcibly disappeared, destroyed property and livelihoods, and displaced whole communities.[3] For much of the duration of the armed conflict, even during lulls for peace talks and ceasefires, Sri Lankan security forces and opposition armed groups were responsible for widespread human rights abuses and violations of the laws of war.

Despite repeated government claims that it would address those abuses, including public pledges from successive Sri Lankan governments to the United Nations, impunity for serious abuses has been nearly complete.[4]

History of Conflict

An uprising by the Sinhalese Marxist Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna (People’s Liberation Front, or JVP) between 1987 and 1989 in the south of the country involved political assassinations, blockades, and mass strikes that crippled the economy. The government responded by first deploying the police and then the military in joint operations. The security forces were implicated in thousands of deaths of JVP suspects and tens of thousands of enforced disappearances, many of which have never been resolved. As an armed insurrection, the JVP was defeated in 1990 after security forces captured and killed its leader, Rohana Wijeweera, and his deputy in November 1989.[5]

The armed conflict with the Tamil secessionist Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), which lasted from 1983 to 2009, included numerous violations of the laws of war and egregious human rights abuses by both sides. The LTTE committed a range of atrocities including suicide bombings and other indiscriminate killings of civilians, torture, the use of child soldiers, forced displacement of ethnic populations, targeted killings and summary executions, and the use of human shields. Abuses by government forces included arbitrary arrests and detention, extrajudicial killings, rape and other sexual violence, enforced disappearance, torture and other ill-treatment, and indiscriminate attacks on civilians. Thousands remain disappeared. The conflict ended in May 2009 with the government forces’ decisive defeat of the LTTE, and the death of its leader, Velupillai Prabhakaran, along with many other senior LTTE leaders.[6]

Calls for accountability for war crimes by both sides to the conflict were made during the conflict and since its conclusion. At least nine commissions of inquiry have been established, but successive governments showed little interest in providing accountability.[7] As a result, the commissions yielded no justice or answers for victims or their families.

The government of President Maithripala Sirisena, which replaced the Mahinda Rajapaksa administration in January 2015, has used its parliamentary mandate to bring some positive developments on human rights. Most important among them, Sri Lanka joined a consensus resolution of the UN Human Rights Council in October 2015 to promote transitional justice in the country.[8]

As part of its commitment under Human Rights Council resolution 30/1, the government agreed to a comprehensive nationwide consultation with victims and affected communities about what they want and need from transitional justice mechanisms. The Consultation Task Force held hearings throughout the country—largely through zonal task forces with members drawn from regional civil society leadership—and submitted a report with comprehensive recommendations on how to best implement the specific recommendations of the Human Rights Council.[9] The government accepted the report reluctantly, and thereafter largely ignored it.[10]

The government’s failure to act on the task force’s recommendations raised concerns about its willingness to comply with all aspects of its commitments in Geneva. After an official visit to Sri Lanka in July 2017, the UN special rapporteur on counter-terrorism and human rights, Ben Emmerson, highlighted that “the continuing influence of certain vested interests in the security sector, who are resistant to change, and above all, to accountability.” He said that progress in achieving the key goals set out in the commission resolution had “ground to a virtual halt.”[11]

Prevention of Terrorism Act

The Prevention of Terrorism Act (PTA) was enacted by the Sri Lankan government as a temporary measure in 1979 and made permanent in 1982.[12] Many of the most serious human rights violations by government security forces were committed when emergency regulations were in force during the armed conflict and, in particular, under the PTA.

The PTA allows arrests without warrant for unspecified “unlawful activities,” and permits detention for up to 18 months without producing the suspect before a court. People detained under the PTA have been held without charge for years. The law also provides immunity for government officials responsible for abuses if deemed to have been acting in good faith or fulfilling an order under the act, giving broad cover to security forces to engage in torture and other abuses.[13] The law was used mainly to target those suspected of involvement with the LTTE or other militant groups, and thus was used primarily against members of the country’s minority Tamil community.

While most of the emergency regulations have since lapsed, the PTA continues to be in effect and used to detain, question, and arrest people. In 2016, the government arrested at least 11 people under the PTA for alleged terrorist activities, rather than using appropriate provisions of the criminal code.[14]

In May 2016, the Human Rights Commission of Sri Lanka issued new directives to security forces on using the PTA.[15] The directives are intended to protect detainees against the security forces’ broad powers under the PTA, particularly at the time of arrest and ensuing detention. These include guarantees of medical and legal assistance, registration of arrest, the right to language of the detainee’s choice, security from torture and other ill-treatment, and special protection for women and children. The directives also reassert the commission’s mandate to be promptly informed of all PTA arrests, to access any person arrested or detained under the PTA, and to access any place of detention at any time.[16]

Repealing the PTA

Under pressure from victims’ families and human rights groups, the government has made substantial progress on many cases of earlier PTA detainees. The authorities have released some PTA detainees on bail, “rehabilitated” others, and promised to charge and prosecute the remainder.[17] However, the government has yet to put forward a plan to provide redress for those unjustly detained under the PTA, or address the issue of detainees charged and prosecuted solely on the basis of coerced confessions obtained during detention.

In August 2017, the government released a list of 84 PTA detainees still in custody and facing trial, and 12 others who are yet to face charges.[18] Some lawyers and activists working on PTA cases dispute these figures, claiming that the government is downplaying the number. In July, Special Rapporteur Ben Emmerson said that at least 108 individuals were still “held under the PTA both pre- and post-indictment.”[19]

Despite repeated promises, the government has not repealed the PTA or ensured accountability.[20] Nongovernmental organizations in Sri Lanka have long called for the law to be repealed. In May 2013, the Centre for Policy Alternatives said that the PTA should be repealed because it is a law that is “wholly inconsistent with contemporary human rights standards and which not merely permits, but also encourages the pervasive violation of fundamental rights otherwise protected by the Constitution of Sri Lanka. Compounded by Sri Lanka’s endemic law’s delays, it has been deployed to deprive the basic civil liberties and inflict physical harm and mental distress on thousands of Sri Lankan citizens of all communities.”[21]

Protests calling for the release of PTA detainees have increased in recent years. In October 2017, students at Jaffna University began a protest against the PTA that led to a brief shutdown of the campus.[22] A hunger strike by PTA detainees has reportedly led to one prisoner being released and a second hospitalized.[23]

The call for accountability has not only been domestic. Successive UN high commissioners for human rights have expressed alarm at the scale and level of impunity in Sri Lanka.[24] Following a scathing report by the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) in September 2015, the government agreed to a resolution at the Human Rights Council in which it made many pledges toward accountability and justice.[25] Paragraph 12 of the resolution committed the government to review and repeal the PTA and enact a law in line with international best practices.

The UN Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances has called for a repeal of the PTA since 1999, a call that was reiterated in July 2016 following a 2015 country visit by working group members.[26] A December 2016 report by the UN special rapporteur on torture, Juan Méndez, emphasized the need for a complete overhaul of the PTA and to ensure that any replacement of the law be done in compliance with international law and practices. Méndez noted: “Sri Lanka needs urgent and comprehensive measures to ensure structural reform in these institutions to eliminate torture and ensure that all authorities comply with international standards.”[27] Two separate reports by the UN have called for urgent replacement of the PTA.[28]

A summary report by Special Rapporteur Ben Emmerson after his July 2017 country visit found that 80 percent of those arrested under the PTA in late 2016 complained of torture and other ill-treatment following their arrest. He added that the most senior judge responsible for PTA cases in Colombo informed him that in over 90 percent of his cases so far in 2017, he had been forced to exclude essential confession evidence because it had been obtained through the use or threat of force.[29]

The UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention conducted a two-week visit to Sri Lanka in December 2017. They visited more than 30 detention facilities around the country and interviewed over 100 detainees held under various charges, in addition to speaking with government officials, judges, lawyers, and civil society organizations. They reported no impediments to access. The group’s preliminary report following the visit found that many detainees were deprived of the most fundamental guarantees of due process, such as immediate access to legal counsel, and made several strong recommendations to the Sri Lankan government for detention system reform.[30]

The group also found that authorities relied on the use of confessions, often extracted under torture or duress. In particular, they called for the immediate repeal of the PTA, referring to it as “one of the key enablers of arbitrary detention for over four decades.”[31] While the group’s full report will only be presented in September 2018, the initial findings and recommendations echo the findings in this report.

The government announced that it would adopt the UN Optional Protocol to the Convention against Torture during its Universal Periodic Review in November 2017, but the practical effects of that undertaking have yet to be seen.

Proposed Counterterrorism Legislation

While the Sri Lankan government has not publicly acted on its pledge to repeal and replace the PTA, there have been some leaked drafts of proposed counterterrorism laws. The lack of government transparency about the process and unwillingness to engage in serious consultations with domestic human rights groups has left much to conjecture.

Responding to the report of the UN special rapporteur on torture following his country visit, Sri Lanka’s permanent representative to Geneva, Ravinatha Aryasinha, told the Human Rights Council in March 2017 that the legislative framework for a new law had been approved and “seeks to effectively and comprehensively respond to contemporary manifestations and threats of terrorism, consistent with principles of democracy, good governance and the rule of law.”[32] He acknowledged contributions from UN agencies dealing with counterterrorism, including the OHCHR.

Several provisions of the leaked draft counterterrorism law are genuine improvements, such as those that would provide greater detainee access to counsel, allow entry of magistrates and Human Rights Commission officers to detention facilities, and require regular reporting to help prevent enforced disappearances.[33]

However, key provisions in the new draft seem likely to facilitate human rights abuses. Of particular concern are the bill’s overbroad and unclear definitions of terrorist acts, which include a wide array of illegal conduct. The suspect needs to have acted with a terrorist purpose, but this term vaguely and broadly includes “intimidat[ing] a population” and threatening “the unity, territorial integrity, sovereignty of Sri Lanka, or the national security or defence of Sri Lanka”—which could be found to include peaceful political activity or protest. While the draft law enumerates procedural safeguards, it is weak on demonstrating how they can be effectively implemented.

As with the PTA, under the proposed law police and military officers may make arrests without a warrant. Suspects may be detained without charge for 12 months, a reduction from the 18 months permitted under the PTA. Bail is only to be granted for exceptional reasons.

The bill also prohibits a range of interactions with “Proscribed Terrorist Organizations” that could violate the right to freedom of association. If enacted, the law would prohibit ordinary dealings with many ethnic Tamil organizations, including those based abroad, that were declared illegal during the armed conflict and remain so, even if during or since the war they never engaged in terrorist activity.[34]

Special Rapporteur Ben Emmerson found “central flaws” in the draft framework that, if enacted, “would guarantee the continued violation of the human rights of terrorism suspects.”[35]

International Standards

Acts of terrorism pose a threat to every country in the world. Sri Lanka, after decades of civil war, has a responsibility to take preventive measures to protect its populace from future attacks. However, the government also needs to ensure that its counterterrorism laws do not imperil human rights and that they include necessary safeguards to prevent repetition of past abuses.

Recent cases indicate that abuses under the PTA or related criminal law provisions, if not as frequent, continue as they did in the past. Human Rights Watch research found that torture in custody, in some cases resulting in death, is widespread through much of the country.[36]

Sri Lanka is a party to core international human rights conventions that prohibit torture and other ill-treatment and ensure due process rights of criminal suspects. These include the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment.[37]

Sri Lankan authorities are empowered to prevent and deter serious abuses. These protections include the right to legal representation of choice, to have access to family members, to be promptly produced before a court of law, and to be informed of any criminal charges.

Recent strengthening of the Human Rights Commission of Sri Lanka has led to many improvements in ensuring access to PTA detainees. President Sirisena has issued directives to end torture, including during arrests under the PTA.[38] However, serious shortcomings in the enforcement of the law have meant that few detainees harmed by police have received justice or meaningful redress. Unless the law, policies, and practices are changed, most PTA detainees, including those still awaiting trial, are unlikely to see meaningful redress for sustained unlawful detentions, let alone for torture and other abuses.

Beyond Sri Lanka’s obligations under the human rights treaties, UN General Assembly resolution 60/147 of December 2005 recognizes the rights of victims of serious human rights violations, such as those under the PTA, to “adequate, effective and prompt reparation for harm suffered.”[39]

II. Abuses under the PTA

The government has detained people under the PTA with a range of backgrounds and histories. Although the law is specifically intended to prevent terrorism, many people with no connection to terrorism or to groups such as the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam have been arrested under its provisions.

Among those who have been arbitrarily arrested under the PTA are prominent human rights campaigners Ruki Fernando and Father Praveen Mahesan. Although Fernando and Father Praveen were released on bail following an international outcry after their 2014 arrest, they continue at times to face harassment from security forces and immigration authorities when traveling abroad.

But most of those held without charge under the PTA are unknown to the outside world, generate no international outcry, and may languish in prison for years. Human Rights Watch is aware of several cases of people detained for a decade or more, who were subsequently acquitted or released without charge, and who received no compensation, reparations, or apologies from the government.

Listed below are cases of abuses under the PTA in which we were able to interview the detainee or their relatives. These cases are only a tiny fraction of the cases brought under the PTA in the past three decades, but they highlight the draconian nature of the law and the injustices under it that any new counterterrorism legislation should eliminate. The cases include arbitrary detention, torture and custodial abuse, forced confessions, denial of legal and medical assistance, and other forms of abuse. Frequently detainees suffer from multiple forms of such abuse. As Ben Emmerson, UN special rapporteur on counter-terrorism and human rights, noted in July 2017: “Through a combination of extended executive detention, and grossly protracted criminal proceedings, suspects arrested under the PTA have commonly been held in detention, in conditions that amount to inhuman and degrading treatment, for many years without ever having been found guilty of anything, and without any effective judicial review of their detention.”[40]

Most of the cases we documented reflect practices that have been previously documented by domestic rights groups and lawyers. Countless cases of torture, sexual violence, and other ill-treatment have occurred in various official and unofficial places of detention, including but not limited to the Criminal Investigation Department (CID) and Terrorist Investigation Division (TID) offices in Colombo.[41] Detainees have had limited recourse to lawyers or medical assistance, with many complaining that even when produced before a judicial medical officer, they received no assistance or proper examination for injuries.

Vijayakumar Ketheeswaran

Vijayakumar Ketheeswaran, a student in auto mechanics in Colombo at the time, was visiting his family in the northern town of Kilinochchi, the unofficial LTTE capital during the war, when he was detained under the PTA in June 2014. TID police came to his family’s home and said they needed to question him about a surrendered LTTE fighter who had been through the “rehabilitation” program and had since gone abroad. Ketheeswaran said that although he was no longer in touch with the person, the TID officials insisted that he had recently received a call. He alleged that after he was taken into custody, the authorities tortured him:

They took me to a house close to the army camp. I am unsure what the house was for or who owned it. When I got there, I saw that there was another man there, another detainee. I recognized him as someone from my village. The TID officers then showed me photos of the LTTE rehabilitated person and told me that they suspected he was reorganizing the LTTE. They accused me of being in touch with him. When I denied any contact, they beat me on the soles of my feet with pipes. I was beaten for about three hours that night. I recall there were roughly about 10 TID officers present. I was given no food or water or medical treatment that night.[42]

The next morning, he was taken to the TID office in nearby Vavuniya. He said that one day later, he was questioned and beaten by a unit in civilian clothes who said that they belonged to the Colombo office:

This unit beat me on my back with sticks and poles. They stripped me naked and beat the soles of my feet with pipes. At one point, they rubbed chili paste on my genitals. I fainted at that point. When I woke up, I was in the hospital, with TID officials with me. There were also two police officers in uniform in the room. I was handcuffed to the bed. The next day, I was taken from the hospital to the CID headquarters fourth floor in Colombo. I was treated fine while I was there. I got food, water, and there was no torture.[43]

After one month, in July 2014, Ketheeswaran was transferred to Boosa near Galle, a maximum security prison in southern Sri Lanka where many PTA detainees have been held. He said he was produced before a magistrate only in March 2015, after 10 months in custody:

I remember that before going to the magistrate, the TID wanted me to sign a confession, and they burned me with cigarettes. But they had to produce me before a JMO [judicial medical officer] before taking me to the magistrate. The JMO asked me about the burn marks. I told him that the authorities had done that. The JMO told me not to mention it to them, and that he would put it in my report without their knowing.[44]

Ketheeswaran was released on bail in November 2015, but he still has to report to the magistrate every month. The attorney general has yet to decide whether to file charges, and so Ketheeswaran said he lives “in this limbo of not knowing whether I am free or not.”

In April 2016, the authorities arrested him again under the PTA, this time because the TID was looking for his brother in connection with a motorcycle incident. He was released only on September 17, 2016. Ketheeswaran said:

When they couldn’t find [my brother], they arrested me instead. I was taken to Boosa and tortured all over again. They asked me to admit that my brother had been in the LTTE. I was hanged and beaten so badly that I admitted to it even though I don’t know if it’s true or not. When I was finally produced before a judge in September, the judge ordered me to be released, saying there was no connection. I was 13 years old when the war ended. I didn’t even know what the LTTE was. But I’m still being harassed. They are harassing Tamils.[45]

Jeyakumari Balendran

Jeyakumari Balendran said that she was detained under the PTA on March 12, 2014, because authorities were suspicious of Appan, a friend of her late husband, who had been living in Kilinochchi with her and her 12-year-old daughter. Balendran, who lost her husband and three sons during the conflict, is a prominent campaigner against enforced disappearances. The Sri Lankan authorities said they had identified an LTTE conspiracy that included Appan and two other men, Gobi and Thevihan, who were all later killed in an April 2014 army operation.[46] Balendran said:

Appan used to drive a truck, and it broke down that day. He told me he was going to go and get it repaired. Around midday, I saw a man jump the gate into the house. He ran inside, grabbed my daughter, and covered her mouth to stop her from screaming. I shouted at him to let my daughter go. Just then, I heard a loud group of voices calling my name—but not quite my name, they were calling “Jayegowri.” I came out, opened the door, and told them my name was Jeyakumari. At about the same time, I heard a loud explosion. And then there were a large number of police and army who came in, plus a lot of local villagers. It was confusing and sudden.

The police and army searched my house. They took all documents, and all of Appan’s belongings. He didn’t have much, just some petrol for his truck really. Then the police and army took me and my daughter to their van. They tried to take only me but I refused to be separated from my daughter. They took us to the CID station near Kandaswamy temple in Kilinochchi.

At the station, I was accused of giving food to the LTTE. They threatened to pull out my fingernails and brought pliers to show me how they would do it. I wasn’t tortured except for some blows on my hand. But the mental torture was terrible. My daughter was there the entire time.[47]

Balendran said that several male officers questioned her, although they later brought in two female CID officers. She and her daughter were later taken to Vavuniya hospital and examined. Her daughter was then taken to Kilinochchi hospital, and lawyers helped get her into child protection services. Balendran said she was repeatedly questioned about Appan and a man she didn’t know:

I was kept in Vavuniya police station for three days and then sent to Boosa prison. I was kept in the women’s ward. They said I was harboring the LTTE, and I was questioned regularly about my knowledge of Appan and Gopi. I didn’t know Gopi at all.[48]

Balendran was first produced before a magistrate in December 2014. She was repeatedly questioned about the same issues. While she received bail on March 10, 2015, her case has yet to be resolved.

Ruki Fernando and Father Praveen Mahesan

Two prominent human rights activists, Ruki Fernando and Father Praveen Mahesan, were detained under the PTA in Kilinochchi on March 16, 2014, while inquiring into the circumstances surrounding the arrest of Jeyakumari Balendran and the welfare of her 12-year-old daughter. During the day, the authorities had followed and questioned them, and the two were eventually arrested and taken to the Kilinochchi police station about 10 p.m. that night. They were questioned intensively until early morning the following day.

Fernando, who is known internationally for his human rights work, managed to send out a text message before his cell phone and other electronics were taken from him. This message proved critical in alerting domestic and international human rights groups, who quickly mobilized to denounce the arrests and call for Fernando and Father Praveen’s unconditional release.[49]

Both men were held for nearly 48 hours before they were released. A travel restriction issued on March 20 was later rescinded, but Fernando continues to occasionally face harassment and questioning when leaving the country. His electronic equipment, which contained sensitive information and contact details, has never been returned to him.[50]

Vivodhani Givoshan

Vivodhani Givoshan was arrested on October 1, 2010, by the Kandy TID under the PTA. He was detained for ten months and was eventually produced before a magistrate in August 2011. He said he was never told of the allegations against him:

I don’t know what the charges were against me. I was given conditional bail, so I had to appear every Sunday before police, which was then reduced to once a month. The case against me was dropped in 2014. I was not tortured in custody but I was threatened quite a lot. The ICRC [International Committee of the Red Cross] visited the station, so I feel that might have given me some protection.[51]

Soriyamoorthy Givoshan

Vivodhani said his brother, Soriyamoorthy Givoshan, surrendered to the army in Mullaitivu in 2009, near the end of the war. Soriyamoorthy had been trapped in the combat zone along with other civilians in the area. He was detained with others who surrendered at Rambaikulam in Vavuniya camp. In August 2009, the TID came and arrested him, taking him from the camp. He was secretly detained for a year until he was finally produced before the Kandy Magistrate Court in August 2010 and formally arrested under the PTA. Vivodhani said that when he finally managed to speak with his brother, Soriyamoorthy said he had been transferred numerous times during his detention and that he had been tortured. Vivodhani said:

He was taken to the Kandy police station and kept there for three months. He was questioned there continually about any involvement with or knowledge about the LTTE. He was taken to other police stations—we don’t know exactly where—for another six months, where he was also questioned. I know he has been tortured a lot, he has told me this since, but I don’t know exactly what happened to him. He told me he was forced to sign a confession, a blank piece of paper on which nothing had been written. The authorities told him that he would be released if he signed it.[52]

After he was produced before a magistrate, Soriyamoorthy was remanded to Pallekele prison. He faces a range of charges in Matale, Dambulla, Alawathugoda, and Kandy, all for involvement with the LTTE. Vivodhani said that his brother just decided to plead guilty to end the indefinite detention:

In six out of his eight cases, the ones which actually went to court, we decided that it would be easier for him to plead guilty, so there was actually no trial. Although we know the prosecution had no evidence, or at least none that my brother’s lawyers could see.[53]

In three of the cases where he pled guilty, Soriyamoorthy was given a year of “rehabilitation” and a year of rigorous imprisonment, running concurrently. He received a seven-year sentence for another case and is still waiting for trial on the remaining cases. Vivodhani said his brother has suffered in prison:

My brother is better now, because he sees that there might be some hope, some sense of definite time when he will be released. Prison conditions are difficult—it’s hot, there are water shortages—but we can take him food and he gets medical care. My brother was young when he was arrested. So many of those arrested were young, many of them arrested on flimsy evidence of buying a SIM card, renting a bike.[54]

Suranjiv Krishantha Fernando

K. Rajeshwari said that in August 2008, when her son Suranjiv Krishantha Fernando was 19 years old and had just taken his A-level exams, the authorities arrested him under the PTA in Matale. She said that the family is unclear about the evidence against him:

Kandy TID came to our home that evening. Krishantha had come home from helping out my brother at his shop and he was watching TV. As soon as he stepped out to see what the officials wanted, he was immediately handcuffed. They said they had suspicions that he was involved with the LTTE. I asked them for their IDs. They showed me their identification and told me they were with Kandy TID. They took him away.[55]

Krishantha was kept at the Kandy police TID for six months, and was then transferred to Hanguranketha station for another six months. After one year, he was finally produced before a magistrate and sent for detention at Kandy prison. Rajeshwari said:

We were allowed to take him food and see him. I don’t know if he has been mistreated in prison but he has lost so many years of his youth. I know that he gave a confession; I don’t know if it was under torture or voluntary.[56]

The authorities eventually filed three cases against Krishantha. He decided to plead guilty to end the indefinite detention. In two cases, he was sentenced to two years of imprisonment and “rehabilitation.” The trial is proceeding in the third case. He has so far spent eight years in prison.

Murali Rajalechchami

Rajalechchami said that her son, Murali Rajalechchami, was 18 years old at the time he was arrested under the PTA. Two police officers from the station in Teldeniya, near Kandy, came to their house on June 25, 2008, and said they needed a statement from Murali. Murali was not at home so she agreed to bring him to the police station. She said that when they arrived, the police tricked Murali to construct a false case against him:

While we were there waiting outside the station, a man in civilian clothes came up to us and said to Murali, “You haven’t eaten, let me take you for some food.” The two of them then moved to a nearby shop and I saw the man buy Murali some yogurt. I’m not certain exactly what happened next, but Murali told me later that the man in civilian clothes told him to run away. We saw Murali run away, and immediately about 25 police officers chased after him. About half an hour later, they brought Murali back. I was there, and saw that he was bloody and beaten up. His hands were tied behind his back. They threw him into the police station and started thrashing him badly with their feet and the rifle butts of their guns. I fainted when I saw that. I can’t remember if they questioned him or anything else, I just blacked out.[57]

Rajalechchami said that Murali was kept at the police station for three days:

When I tried to visit him, the police would not let me in and would say, “Oh, the Tigers are coming, the Tigers are coming.” Murali told me later that he had been tortured and beaten while in the station.[58]

Murali was taken to the Menikhinna police station to record his statement. Three months later he was brought before a magistrate. He was then transferred to Bogambara prison where he was held for five years without charge. He was finally charged in the Jaffna High Court in 2013 with spying for the LTTE.

Murali was acquitted in 2013 after the judge ruled that there was no evidence against him. His mother said the long detention has traumatized her son: “He had done well in school, both O and A levels. But now he can’t do anything because of this trauma.”[59]

Guruparan Gurudharan

Guruparan Gurudharan said that on the morning of June 30, 2008, he was arrested under the PTA by a group consisting of uniformed members of the Special Task Force (STF), an arm of the police specializing in counterterrorism, and some members of the People’s Liberation Organisation of Tamil Eelam (PLOTE), a Tamil armed group that was opposed to the LTTE.[60] He said he recognized the PLOTE members. Gurudharan said that he was initially detained at a PLOTE camp in Vavuniya, near Kovil Kulam. While it was the STF that had arrested him, it was PLOTE members who questioned and tortured him:

When we got to the PLOTE camp, they removed my shirt and blindfolded me. They put me in a room that smelled like a toilet to me. I was completely naked, and they chained my legs to an iron bar. They then beat me with wires and poles. They put kerosene into plastic bags and made me breathe through it. They hung me and beat me many times. They kept asking me questions about the LTTE. I told them I had no LTTE involvement, that I had tried to escape forced recruitment by the LTTE by using the sea route through Mannar to escape their control. But they wouldn’t believe me and kept questioning me.[61]

After a couple of nights, the STF took him to Joseph Camp, long notorious as a Sri Lankan navy torture site.[62] He said:

I remember that night, an STF member put a book on my head, made me kneel down, and thrashed me with his baton on my head. I don’t remember anything after that because I fainted. Afterward, they tied my thumbs together and hung me from my hands. I fainted regularly from this torture—they simply poured water on me to revive me and started all over again. I got no medical attention. I wasn’t even given any water to drink. Occasionally they would fill the cap of a water bottle with water and give it to me. They kept promising me water if I confessed. I was so desperate I checked the toilet to see if I could drink out of the commode, but they had made sure there was no water even in there. I had no food for three days.[63]

On July 3, 2008, Gurudharan was brought to the CID headquarters in Colombo. He got his first meal on his way to Colombo. He remained there until October when he was finally produced before a magistrate and then transferred to the prison in Boosa:

At first the CID wanted to turn me. They kept saying, “The war is going to end and we can help you.” They tortured me, hitting me with wires, making me kneel on sharp things. They had banana branches, which they used to hit me with because those don’t leave deep scars. I was in complete despair. My mother was in the war zone, and I didn’t know anything about how she was doing. It was such a dark place. I felt hopeless. No one knew where I was or whether I was alive.[64]

He said that medical staff and judicial authorities failed to ensure his protection:

I was finally produced before a magistrate in October 2008. Five days before that, I was taken to a JMO [judicial medical officer], who spoke only Sinhala. The CID had warned me against speaking to the JMO. I don’t know what the JMO wrote in her report, she didn’t do any proper physical exam, just wrote down some notes and that was it. In Boosa, the ICRC would visit, but in between their visits, the CID from Colombo would come and torture me. Magistrates would come to Boosa to extend our detention orders. I was never asked once by any magistrate if I was being treated okay.[65]

Gurudharan remained at Boosa for seven months. On May 25, 2009, he was produced before a magistrate in Vavuniya and shifted to the Anuradhapura prison. He was moved several times after that. The authorities eventually filed six cases against him. He was acquitted and released in February 2017, but said he remains under surveillance:

I have no faith in the courts, or the transitional justice mechanisms. They promised us a hybrid tribunal but they’re backtracking already. This will continue for generations. The only hope for people like me is to leave the country. My health has deteriorated as a result of all this. I can’t stay in the sunlight. I have no strength in my right arm. I also didn’t know there were so many rules about getting signed confessions. I didn’t know anything about the law when I was arrested so I just kept signing papers. I don’t know what I signed.[66]

Angela Croos

Angela Croos, who taught English at a school in Kandy, lost her mobile phone in 2007, and a year later the police said her phone had been found in the hands of the LTTE. Angela’s mother, Selvarama Croos, told Human Rights Watch that in May 2008 her brother had been arrested for alleged connections to the LTTE. So when the police came to them in August 2008 about Angela’s phone, the family went to the Kandy police station because they knew that the police already viewed the family with suspicion. The police then detained Angela under the PTA. Selvarama said:

My daughter was put in a cell. I spent the night at the police station outside the cell. We managed to get a lawyer the next day, and thankfully she was produced before the magistrate quickly. She was remanded to Kandy prison for 14 days, and every 14 days would get produced and remanded again. This continued for one year and eight months. I hired a lawyer—first locally, which cost me 15,000 rupees [US$135] each court appearance, and then a lawyer from Colombo which cost me 30,000 rupees [$270] each time. Meanwhile, my daughter’s health was deteriorating. We filed for bail in the high court, but they only agreed to release her into medical care. I had to pay 600,000 rupees [$5,400] for this.[67]

Eventually, the family sought assistance from their church, and the local priest intervened to help file a fundamental rights case. Angela was released in April 2010, nearly two years after her arrest, and was fully acquitted.

Angela married immediately after her release from detention and gave birth to a stillborn child in September 2010. Her health having worsened, she was hospitalized on October 5 and died on October 24.

Sachinda Ananda Sudaharan

Sumanthy Arasalingkam said that after her sister died, she started caring for her nephew, Sachinda Ananda Sudaharan. But she soon realized that he had started working in Kilinochchi as a driver for the LTTE. Later, he was asked by the LTTE if he wanted to work for their intelligence services. When he refused, the LTTE jailed him. He managed to escape from their custody and cross into government-held territory. Arasalingkam said that Sudaharan decided to try and go abroad to escape from the conflict:

At that time, the LTTE only allowed men over 32 years to cross over [into government territory], so he used a friend’s pass to cross over. The logic was that if you’re older, that means you’re married and you’ll have incentive to come back. They didn’t like younger persons to cross over. Ananda decided to go abroad, and went to some agent in Colombo to register. He was living with some other men who had registered with the agent to go abroad as well, as migrant workers.[68]

Arasalingkam said that while her nephew was waiting for his work permit, militants set off a bomb on a bus in the suburbs of Colombo in April 2008.[69] Security forces immediately started rounding up Tamil men there under the PTA. Sudaharan was among them. Arasalingkam said:

Ananda was arrested during this roundup. All 12 men in his house were arrested. All were Tamil youth from the north. They were first taken to Mount Lavinia station, and then taken to the CID headquarters on the fourth floor. My nephew told me he was severely tortured there. His nails were removed, and he was severely beaten. They tied his hands behind his back and hung him upside down. He didn’t understand Sinhala, so had no idea what they were asking him. He ended up signing a confession he didn’t understand. He said they eventually produced an interpreter but he was so afraid that he just went along with everything they asked him to do.[70]

Charges were filed against Sudaharan after three years of detention. One of the 12 men arrested with him died from alleged torture. Sudaharan remains on trial, although his aunt said there is no evidence against him:

I have seen the evidence they produced to support the charges. It was nothing. A flowerpot, an ID, a toy remote control. I’m not a lawyer but even I knew it meant little. Even the CID have told us privately that that they have no clear evidence against him. My nephew needs heart surgery. Hopefully they can make sure he gets that soon.[71]

Kanna and Durga

According to Durga (pseudonym), her husband, Kanna, was was possibly involved with the LTTE. Kanna was arrested by the Matale police in 2008 on suspicion of being involved with the LTTE. He was released after a week in custody, and vanished soon after. Durga and her mother-in-law, Malathi (pseudonym), think he may have escaped abroad, as they have had no news of him since. Shortly after Kanna was released and went missing, TID officials came searching for him at his home in Kandy. Malathi and Durga told the officials they did not know his whereabouts. Malathi said the officials arbitrarily decided to detain Durga instead:

When they couldn’t find Kanna, the TID arrested his wife, Durga, simply because Kanna wasn’t there. Durga and Kanna had three small children ages 18 months, 3 years, and 7 years at the time. The TID took Durga to the local police station in Kandy. They questioned her about Kanna’s involvement in LTTE cases. Apparently, they had eight separate allegations against him, but no evidence against Durga. Durga was kept at the police station for six months. She was finally produced before a magistrate after six months, and was sent to prison custody. She remained in prison for six years before a case was even filed in court against her.[72]

Charges were finally brought against Durga only in 2014, and she was eventually acquitted in 2015.

Durga could keep her youngest child with her in prison while nursing, but all three children were raised by Malathi. Malathi said she found it very difficult, and had to take cleaning jobs to raise the children. Even after her release, Durga is traumatized by her years of detention. Malathi said:

Durga is out of prison now, but is broken. She is not strong enough to take a job on the tea estates, so she does menial chores in the bungalows. We have not received any apologies or compensation for our suffering.[73]

Said Durga:

I was in remand for seven years for a mistake I did not do. My children also suffered. If I try to get justice now, the difficulties which my children faced will not be answered.… But it will be a great help if they assure that such a situation does not come to others.[74]

Ramesh and Nanda Kumar

Ramesh Kumar was arrested in 2008 under the PTA on suspicion of being involved with the LTTE. Local police arrested him and held him at the Kandy police station under a detention order. A magistrate then transferred him into custody, where he was held for five years without charge. His mother, M. Parameswary, said:

After five years, we decided it was better for him to plead guilty because we could see him staying in prison for many more years. I paid a fine of 15,000 rupees [US$115], but he was still kept in remand for one more year. He doesn’t talk to me in detail about what he went through but I know that he was tortured in custody. He was burned with cigarettes and tortured in other ways.[75]

Parameswary said she also filed a fundamental rights case in the Supreme Court, seeking relief. In 2014, the court ordered Kumar’s release without any charges. She said: “We have received no compensation and no justice for his clearly wrongful arrest and detention. He lost much of his youth unjustly in prison.”[76]

Ramesh Kumar’s brother, Nanda, was also arrested in 2008. He was kept in police custody under a detention order for three months before being sent to remand custody in prison for five years. Nanda Kumar was released without charge after five years of detention. Parameswary said:

There were no charges against him, they just said he was being held under the PTA. I know he was severely tortured at the police station. He was beaten and burned with cigarettes. He is so mentally unstable now that he cannot leave the house and cannot work. He has terrible mental health issues.[77]

Solomon Caspus Paul

Solomon Caspus Paul was arrested in connection with an August 2006 bombing in Digana, near Kandy.[78] Several people from his village were arrested soon after the bombing, but Paul was arrested under the PTA only in June 2007. He said the police tortured him and forced him to sign blank papers that were eventually used as a confession:

They came to my home around three in the morning. As soon as I opened the door, they asked for my ID. Once I produced it, they handcuffed me, one hand over my shoulder, the other hand round behind my back stretching up to meet the arm over my shoulder. They also shoved a ball into my mouth, I suppose to stop me from speaking or shouting. Because I had been sleeping, I was only wearing a sarong, and it fell off. They took me completely naked, without any clothes, to the police station in Nawalapitiya. I was kept in that position, with my arms handcuffed in that way, all night, until the TID came in the morning.

He said the next morning the TID put him in handcuffs the normal way:

I was taken to a room somewhere in the station. They put me on the ground, they punched me, trampled on me, used poles to beat me. They were asking questions about if I knew so and so, all I suppose in relation to the blast. That same day, I was taken from the Nawalapitiya station to the Teldeniya police station by the TID. I was kept there for six months. For the first few days there, they would come get me in the morning, force me into a crouching position. They put cricket poles into my anus, put petrol onto a sponge and shoved it on my mouth and nose so I was forced to breathe it in.[79]

Paul said that the torture stopped after a few days, probably because a human rights activist intervened. But he still had to sign some blank papers. “I don’t know what I confessed to,” he said. “The papers they made me sign were blank.”[80]

He was produced before a magistrate after six months in detention, and was transferred to custody in Kandy prison. After 18 months, he was charged with aiding and abetting a terrorist organization. During the trial he was transferred to the Anuradhapura prison. He was eventually acquitted of all charges in February 2012. He said he still suffers because of his unlawful detention and torture:

I have a lot of psychological problems as a result of all of this. My baby was born when I was arrested. I couldn’t see her for years until after my acquittal. I have severe physical problems from the torture; I never received medical treatment or was produced before a JMO. Even after my release, the STF and police regularly threatened me against speaking or seeking help.[81]

Wellage Sudesh Nandimal Silva

Wellage Sudesh Nandimal Silva, secretary of the railway service’s trade labor union and an ethnic Sinhalese, said that he was arrested on April 30, 2007, near Colombo. He said he was engaged in left-wing politics and working on protecting Tamil rights, but did not support the LTTE.

In February 2007, the police began cracking down on a group that they suspected to be “Sinhala Tigers,” supporters of the LTTE among the country’s majority Sinhalese population. Silva said that he became a suspect after he reached out to the police in search of his colleague, Sisira, who had gone missing. The railway authorities claimed they had found ammunition in Silva’s possession, and suspended him. He said he went into hiding until April, when he came home for his son’s first birthday. He said:

On April 30, I went with my family to the bank. That is when they arrested me. I saw three men coming toward me, in civilian clothes, and another two walking up to the bank. They asked for my ID, asking, “Are you Nandimal?” Then they blindfolded and handcuffed me, and threw me into a van. They put me on the floor of the van and stepped on me. When they removed the blindfold shortly after, I saw there were seven of them in the van. I was beaten and threatened. They slapped me, knee-kicked me on my stomach, hit me with their rifle butts on my neck. They kept asking questions: “Who are the others? Where are they?” They threatened to kill me unless I told them.[82]

Silva was put in a dark cell at the Gampaha police station. He said he was repeatedly questioned and tortured:

I was taken away again, I think to a police barracks. They put me on a flat surface and beat me on the soles of my feet, questioning me again on the same issues. The next day I was taken there again, where they put petrol in a polyethylene bag and tied it around my neck and face. The petrol burned, I couldn’t breathe. My feet were swollen from the previous day’s beatings. The next day was more torture. They put high-pressure water into my mouth. The water goes all over your nose, your mouth, your face. They did this three or four times. Then I was beaten again and questioned by different units. I don’t know who they were.

Because his family had seen him arrested, they persisted in searching police stations:

Thankfully, my family and colleagues had been searching for me and were allowed to visit me after five days. That led to a doctor examination after two weeks. The doctor examined me at the police station, and he shouted at the OIC [officer in charge] about my maltreatment. That led to the police producing me before a magistrate, who then remanded me to Boosa. This was around the end of May. I had no lawyer during the appearance before the magistrate.[83]

Silva was transferred to Welikada prison in June 2007 and held without charge for 18 months under the PTA. He was eventually charged with working with a terrorist organization. But there was never a trial; while dates were set for hearings, he said, they were always postponed. After nearly seven years, in 2014, he was finally released, after the prosecutors amended the charges to fall under the Firearms Act, instead of the PTA. He was ordered to pay a fine of 30,000 rupees (US$230).

Sahan Kirthi

Sahan Kirthi, an ethnic Sinhalese, was 21 years old when he was arrested under the PTA on February 12, 2007. He said that soon after three of his colleagues at the Marxist trade union newspaper where he worked were arrested, TID police officers arrived at his home and said they needed a statement from him. When he appeared at the TID office to give his statement, he was arrested. He was produced before a magistrate, who ordered him detained for six months. He said that as soon as his lawyer departed, the TID officials beat him. He said he endured weeks of torture and has lost hearing in his left ear because of the beatings:

There were four or five officers beating me and questioning me. I felt like I was floating above the earth, it was so unreal. They were questioning me about other people’s activities and locations. They tried three times to force me to confess to being a “Sinhala Tiger.”

He said that he was eventually transferred to Boosa prison, but was then brought back to TID headquarters in Colombo where he was tortured again:

There was a pattern to the torture. They would take a plastic shopping bag, pour some petrol into it, and then cover my head with the plastic bag. It forced me to breathe the petrol simply to try and get some air. I was beaten on the soles of my feet. The pain was unbearable. I could feel my heart beat and I would get terrible headaches. There was also water torture, where they would put a handkerchief over my face, and put my face under a running tap with high pressure. If you breathe, the water goes into your nose and you feel like you are drowning. At the same time, you can’t really breathe because the water pressure is so high.[84]

Kirthi said that the TID officers wanted to force a confession, even threatening to rape his sister: “My sister was graduating from college, and they had questioned her or at least told me they had questioned her. They threatened to rape her unless I confessed.”[85]

After his six-month court-ordered detention was over, police officials had to produce him before a magistrate. To cover up their abuses, the police told him to clean up and not complain about the torture. However, Kirthi said that the judicial and medical systems also failed to protect his rights:

They told me after the beatings to wash and get ready. I refused and said I would go before the magistrate with my blood and wounds and that I would tell the magistrate about their treatment. The TID officers threatened me and ordered me against saying anything to the magistrate. When I was produced before the magistrate, I started telling my story. She called us into her chambers instead and scolded me for saying that the TID had tortured me. I showed her my wounds and scars and she said, “You must have hit yourself.”

Thankfully, because I had been shouting loudly while in the courtroom, some lawyers turned up to assist me and pleaded for a JMO [judicial medical officer] exam. I was produced before a JMO after agreeing to sign a confession. I signed some papers. They would not let me read what was written down, so I have no idea what I supposedly confessed to.

The JMO didn’t listen to me—there is a network between the JMO, magistrate, and TID, I am certain of that. They protect each other.[86]

Kirthi was transferred to Welikada prison in June 2007, but was only formally charged in 2012, for conspiracy against the state. He was eventually acquitted in October 2014 after seven years in prison.

III. Recommendations

To the Government of Sri Lanka

  • Repeal the Prevention of Terrorism Act (PTA) and replace it with rights-respecting counterterrorism legislation that meets international standards for due process.
  • Undertake a consultative process with victim rights groups, civil society, human rights lawyers, and relevant experts to assist in drafting the new legislation.
  • Implement the recommendations of the UN special rapporteur on counter-terrorism and human rights following his July 2017 country visit, including a prohibition on the use of confessions made to the police, unfettered access for the Human Rights Commission of Sri Lanka to all places of detention, and abolishing the attorney general’s right of veto over the granting of bail.
  • Implement the recommendations made by the UN special rapporteur on torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment following his 2016 country visit, including ensuring any new counterterrorism law provides protections against arbitrary arrests and detentions, strong judicial overview of law enforcement and security agencies, and safeguards to ensure legal counsel from the moment of arrest.
  • Incorporate the comments from the UN special rapporteur on counter-terrorism and human rights and the Counter-Terrorism Committee Executive Directorateinto new legislation.
  • Accept and implement the recommendations of the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights investigation on Sri Lanka, including reviewing all cases of detainees held under the PTA, and investigating and prosecuting all allegations of torture committed by law enforcement and security agencies.
  • Implement all recommendations made by the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention in its December 2017 preliminary findings report.
  • Continue to allow the Human Rights Commission unimpeded access to all official and unofficial places of detention, and ensure that the commission is notified within 24 hours of all PTA arrests.
  • Fully comply with the Human Rights Commission’s guidelines on arrest and detention procedures in all cases, especially PTA cases.
  • Prosecute all cases of torture alleged under the PTA through a prosecutorial office operating with financial and investigative independence.
  • Ensure that all PTA detainees who were acquitted or released without charge are compensated under the government’s transitional justice reparations and non-recurrence mechanisms.
  • Implement comprehensive security sector reform to ensure a zero-tolerance policy toward abuse and torture throughout the security services, in line with pledges undertaken under Human Rights Council resolution 30/1.
  • Seek ratification of the Optional Protocol to the Convention against Torture and other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment.

To the Attorney General’s Department

  • Investigate and set aside all confessions obtained under torture or other coercive measures or without the presence of a legal counsel.
  • Ensure that all PTA detainees still in detention have free and unimpeded access to legal counsel.
  • Set up an independent oversight council to investigate all allegations of abuses under the PTA, including past and recent cases.
  • Ensure that all transitional justice mechanisms as pledged under Human Rights Council resolution 30/1 include detainees under the PTA.
  • Ensure the non-recurrence of torture, and make sure all laws are in compliance with the recommendations made by the UN special rapporteur on torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.

To the Ministry of Justice

  • Incorporate the recommendations made by the UN special rapporteur on the independence of judges and lawyers following her 2016 country visit to ensure that all detainees are appropriately charged and receive fair trials, or are released.
  • Implement speedier processes for justice, reparations, and compensation within the criminal justice system, such as timely access to judicial medical officers and legal counsel, and regular production before magistrates.

To the Ministry of Law and Order

  • Ensure prompt implementation of pledges made under Human Rights Council resolution 30/1 for security sector reform, including but not limited to accountability for abuses under the PTA.
  • Issue an authoritative list of all individuals who were or are currently detained under the PTA and the status of their cases. Ensure that family members and lawyers have access to the information.

To the United Nations and UN Member Countries

  • Call for time-bound compliance with Human Rights Council resolution 30/1, particularly security sector reforms, including but not limited to a repeal of the PTA.
  • Ensure that the UN and related institutions assist in the drafting of any new counterterrorism legislation, as pledged by the government in Human Rights Council resolution 30/1.
  • Offer technical and other assistance to the relevant government agencies in security sector reform, particularly related to PTA reform.
  • Press the Sri Lankan government to implement the recommendations from the UN special rapporteur on counter-terrorism and human rights, and to consult closely with all UN agencies that have raised concerns about the PTA before passing any new legislation replacing it.
  • Implement strict vetting standards to ensure that no members of abusive security forces are sent on UN peacekeeping assignments.
  • Urge ratification of the Optional Protocol to the Convention against Torture and other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment.

Acknowledgments

This report was researched and written by Tejshree Thapa, senior South Asia researcher at Human Rights Watch. It was edited by Meenakshi Ganguly, South Asia director. James Ross, legal and policy director, and Joseph Saunders, deputy program director, provided legal and program review. Production assistance was provided by Shayna Bauchner, Asia coordinator; Madeline Cottingham, photo and publications coordinator; Fitzroy Hepkins, administrative manager; and Jose Martinez, senior coordinator. The multimedia division produced the video component.

Human Rights Watch gratefully acknowledges the valuable assistance of several Sri Lankan colleagues without whom this report would not have been possible, including Father Nandana Manatunga and his team at Human Rights Office Kandy, the team of lawyers at the Centre for Human Rights and Development, and several independent lawyers working on PTA cases. For security reasons, some of those who helped with the report have chosen to remain unnamed; Human Rights Watch acknowledges their important assistance.

Above all, we thank the victims of abuses and their families who shared their stories with us.

[1] Human Rights Watch, “We Will Teach You a Lesson”: Sexual Violence against Tamils by Sri Lankan Security Forces, February 2013, https://www.hrw.org/report/2013/02/26/we-will-teach-you-lesson/sexual-vi....

[2] Human Rights Watch, “We Live in Constant Fear”: Lack of Accountability for Police Abuse in Sri Lanka, October 2015, https://www.hrw.org/report/2015/10/23/we-live-constant-fear/lack-account....

[3] “Sri Lanka ‘War Crimes’: Main Allegations,” BBC News, June 17, 2011, http://www.bbc.com/news/world-south-asia-13158916 (accessed September 19, 2017).

[4] “Joint Statement by United Nations Secretary-General, Government of Sri Lanka,” UN press release, SG/2151, May 26, 2009, https://www.un.org/press/en/2009/sg2151.doc.htm (accessed August 4, 2017).

[5] Charles Haviland, “Rohan Wiijeweera: The Killing of Sri Lanka’s Stalinist Icon,” BBC News, November 13, 2014, http://www.bbc.com/news/world-asia-30017905 (accessed September 20, 2017).

[6] Matthew Weaver and Gethin Chamberlin, “Sri Lanka Declares End to War with Tamil Tigers,” Guardian, May 19, 2009, https://www.theguardian.com/world/2009/may/18/tamil-tigers-killed-sri-lanka (accessed June 25, 2017).

[7] Amnesty International, Sri Lanka: Twenty Years of Make Believe, June 11, 2009, https://www.amnesty.org /en/documents/ASA37/005/2009/en (accessed August 4, 2017).

[8] UN Human Rights Council, “Promoting Reconciliation, Accountability and Human Rights in Sri Lanka,” A/HRC/RES/30/1, October 14, 2015, http://www.refworld.org/docid/56b1bdb64.html (accessed August 19, 2017).

[9] Secretariat for Coordinating Reconciliation Mechanisms, “Final Report of the Consultation Task Force on Reconciliation Mechanisms,” November 2016, https://drive.google.com/drive/folders/0ByOKvXw6zYVpQ3NhMU5oODJON00 (accessed July 27, 2017).

[10] Tejshree Thapa, “Sri Lanka’s Difficulty with Truth,” Daily Financial Times, July 13, 2017, http://www.ft.lk/article/627947 /Sri-Lanka-s-difficulty-with-truth (accessed August 8, 2017).

[11] “Full Statement by Ben Emmerson, UN Special Rapporteur on Human Rights and Counter-Terrorism, at the Conclusion of His Official Visit,” Colombo, July 14, 2017, https://lk.one.un.org/news/full-statement-by-ben-emmerson-un-special-rap... (accessed August 19, 2017).

[12] Prevention of Terrorism (Temporary Provision) Act, No. 48 of 1979, http://www.satp.org/satporgtp/countries/shrilanka/ document/actsandordinance/prevention_of_terrorism.htm (accessed June 25, 2017).

[13] Ibid.

[14] Marisa de Silva, Swasthika Arulingam, and Ruki Fernando, “Continuing Abuse under the PTA: Abductions, Arbitrary Arrests, Unlawful Detentions and Torture,” Groundviews, June 28, 2016, http://groundviews.org/2016/06/28/continuing-abuse-under-pta-abductions-... (accessed August 4, 2017).

[15] Human Rights Commission of Sri Lanka, “Directives on Arrest and Detention Under the Prevention of Terrorism Act,” May 18, 2016, http://hrcsl.lk/english/wp-content/uploads/2016/05/Directives-on-Arrest-... (accessed August 2, 2017).

[16] Ibid.

[17] Melanie Santiago, “Justice Minister Speaks of Factors Surrounding Release of Inmates Detained under PTA,” News First, November 26, 2015, http://newsfirst.lk/english/2015/11/justice-minister-speaks-of-factors-s... (accessed October 11, 2017).

[18] Sulochana Ramiah Mohan, “Official List of Detainees under PTA,” Ceylon Today, July 30, 2017, http://www.ceylontoday.lk /print20170401CT20170630.php?id=26590 (accessed August 19, 2017).

[19] “Full Statement by Ben Emmerson, UN Special Rapporteur on Human Rights and Counter-Terrorism, at the Conclusion of His Official Visit,” https://lk.one.un.org/news/full-statement-by-ben-emmerson-un-special-rap....

[20] T. Ramakrishnan, “We’ll Repeal PTA, Says Sri Lankan Government,” The Hindu, March 9, 2016, http://www.thehindu.com /news/international/We%E2%80%99ll-repeal-PTA-says-Sri-Lankan-government/article14144036.ece (accessed August 24, 2017).

[21] Centre for Policy Alternatives, “The Need to Repeal and Replace the Prevention of Terrorism Act,” May 9, 2013, http://www.cpalanka.org/the-need-to-repeal-and-replace-the-prevention-of... (accessed August 24, 2017).

[22] “Jaffna Uni Closes Today in Protest at Detention of Tamil Political Prisoners,” Tamil Guardian, October 30, 2017, http://tamil guardian.com/content/jaffna-uni-closes-today-protest-detention-tamil-political-prisoners (accessed November 2, 2017).

[23] “Colombo High Court Acquits Tamil Political Prisoner Detained for 10 Years under PTA,” Tamil Guardian, October 26, 2017, http://tamilguardian.com/content/colombo-high-court-acquits-tamil-politi... (accessed November 2, 2017).

[24] “Opening Remarks by Human Rights Commissioner Navi Pillay,” Colombo, August 31, 2013, http://www.ohchr.org /EN/NewsEvents/Pages/DisplayNews.aspx?NewsID=13673 (accessed November 2, 2017); “Statement by UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein,” Colombo, February 9, 2016, http://lk.one.un.org/wp-content/uploads/2017/04/2016-02-09-HC-Sri-LankaF... (accessed November 2, 2017).

[25] UN Human Rights Council, Report of the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights on Sri Lanka, A/HRC/30/61, September 28, 2015, https://documents-dds-ny.un.org/doc/UNDOC/GEN/G15/219/90/pdf/G1521990.pdf (accessed November 2, 2017); UN Human Rights Council, “Promoting Reconciliation, Accountability and Human Rights in Sri Lanka,” October 14, 2015.

[26] UN Human Rights Council, Report of the Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances on Its Mission to Sri Lanka, A/HRC/33/51/Add.2, July 8, 2106, https://documents-dds-ny.un.org/doc/UNDOC/GEN/G16/146/63/PDF /G1614663.pdf (accessed July 28, 2017).

[27] UN Human Rights Council, Report of the Special Rapporteur on Torture and Other Inhuman, Cruel or Degrading Treatment or Punishment on His Trip to Sri Lanka, A/HRC/34/54/Add.2, December 22, 2016, https://documents-dds-ny.un.org/doc/ UNDOC/GEN/G16/440/12/PDF/G1644012.pdf (accessed July 28, 2017).

[28] UN Secretary-General, Report of the Secretary-General’s Panel of Experts on Accountability in Sri Lanka, March 31, 2011, http://www.un.org/News/dh/infocus/Sri_Lanka/POE_Report_Full.pdf (accessed August 8, 2017); UN Human Rights Council, Report of the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights on Sri Lanka, September 28, 2015.

[29] See “Full Statement by Ben Emmerson, UN Special Rapporteur on Human Rights and Counter-Terrorism, at the Conclusion of His Official Visit,” https://lk.one.un.org/news/full-statement-by-ben-emmerson-un-special-rap.... It states: “During his interviews with current and former PTA detainees, the Special Rapporteur himself heard distressing stories of extremely brutal methods of torture, including beatings with sticks, the use of stress positions, asphyxiation using plastic bags drenched in kerosene, the pulling out of fingernails, the insertion of needles beneath the fingernails, the use of various forms of water torture, the suspension of individuals for several hours by their thumbs, and the mutilation of genitals. In a number of instances brought to the attention of the Special Rapporteur, these allegations had either been supported by independent medical evidence, or accepted by the judiciary as the basis for excluding a confession at trial.”

[30] UN Human Rights Council, Working Group on Arbitrary Detention: Preliminary Findings on its Visit to Sri Lanka, December 15, 2017, http://www.ohchr.org/EN/NewsEvents/Pages/DisplayNews.aspx?NewsID=22541&L... (accessed January 4, 2018).

[31] “Sri Lanka Must Urgently Implement Reforms to End Arbitrary Detention, UN Rights Experts Say,” UN press release, December 15, 2017, http://www.ohchr.org/EN/NewsEvents/Pages/DisplayNews.aspx?NewsID=22543&L... (accessed January 4, 2018).

[32] Ravinatha P. Aryasinha, Permanent Representative of Sri Lanka, “Statement at the Clustered Interactive Dialogue with the Special Rapporteur on Torture and the Special Rapporteur on Human Rights Defenders,” Geneva, March 2, 2017, http://www.lankaweb.com/news/items/2017/03/02/report-of-the-special-rapp... (accessed August 21, 2017).

[33] “Sri Lanka: Anti-Terror Bill Revives Fears of Abuse,” Human Rights Watch news release, May 18, 2017, https://www.hrw.org /news/2017/05/18/sri-lanka-anti-terror-bill-revives-concerns-abuse.

[34] Ibid.

[35] “Full Statement by Ben Emmerson, UN Special Rapporteur on Human Rights and Counter-Terrorism, at the Conclusion of His Official Visit,” https://lk.one.un.org/news/full-statement-by-ben-emmerson-un-special-rap....

[36] Human Rights Watch, “We Live in Constant Fear.”

[37] International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), adopted December 16, 1966, G.A. Res. 2200A (XXI), 21 U.N. GAOR Supp. (No. 16) at 52, U.N. Doc. A/6316 (1966), 999 U.N.T.S. 171, entered into force March 23, 1976, acceded to by Sri Lanka on June 11, 1980; Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment, adopted December 10, 1984, G.A. res. 39/46, annex, 39 U.N. GAOR Supp. (No. 51) at 197, U.N. Doc. A/39/51 (1984), entered into force June 26, 1987, acceded to by Sri Lanka on January 3, 1994.

[38] “No Torture or Humiliation of Terror Suspects,” Sunday Times, June 19, 2016, http://www.sundaytimes.lk/160619/ news/no-torture-or-humiliation-of-terror-suspects-197897.html (accessed August 24, 2017).

[39] ICCPR, arts. 2(3) and 9(1); see also Basic Principles and Guidelines on the Right to a Remedy and Reparation for Victims of Gross Violations of International Human Rights Law and Serious Violations of International Humanitarian Law, adopted December 16, 2005, G.A. res. 60/147, U.N. Doc. A/RES/60/147 (2005).

[40] “Full Statement by Ben Emmerson, UN Special Rapporteur on Human Rights and Counter-Terrorism, at the Conclusion of His Official Visit,” https://lk.one.un.org/news/full-statement-by-ben-emmerson-un-special-rap....

[41] See Human Rights Watch, We Will Teach You a Lesson.” The report documents numerous violations of the rights of individuals in the custody of the Criminal Investigation Department and Terrorist Investigation Division.

[42] Human Rights Watch interview with Vijayakumar Ketheeswaran, Colombo, April 24, 2017.

[43] Ibid.

[44] Ibid.

[45] Ibid.

[46] The Sri Lankan government alleged that Appan, Thevihan, and Gobi had been trying to arm and revive the LTTE. See Charles Haviland, “Suspected Tamil Rebels Shot Dead in Sri Lanka,” BBC News, April 11, 2014, http://www.bbc.com/news/ world-asia-26984716 (accessed August 24, 2017).

[47] Human Rights Watch interview with Jeyakumari Balendran and Vibooshika Balendran, Colombo, April 24, 2017.

[48] Ibid.

[49] “Sri Lanka: Free Prominent Human Rights Defenders,” Human Rights Watch news release, March 17, 2014, https://www.hrw.org/news/2014/03/17/sri-lanka-free-prominent-rights-defe... Letter from Human Rights Watch to President Sirisena, February 26, 2015, https://www.hrw.org/news/2015/02/26/letter-president-sirisena-re-human-r....

[50] Ruki Fernando, “Arrest: Timeline of Events,” https://rukiiiii.wordpress.com/march-2014/timeline-of-events/ (accessed August 4, 2017).

[51] Human Rights Watch interview with Vivodhani Givoshan, Kandy, April 22, 2017.

[52] Ibid.

[53] Ibid.

[54] Ibid.

[55] Human Rights Watch interview with K. Rajeshwari, Kandy, April 22, 2017.

[56] Ibid.

[57] Human Rights Watch interview with Rajalechchami, Kandy, April 22, 2017.

[58] Ibid.

[59] Ibid.

[60] There were many reports during the war of rival Tamil groups participating with authorities in the torture of suspected LTTE members.

[61] Human Rights Watch interview with Guruparan Gurudharan, Colombo, April 24, 2017.

[62] Allegations of torture at Joseph Camp have been rife for many years. See, for example, International Truth and Justice Project, “Joseph Camp,” March 16, 2017, http://www.itjpsl.com/reports/joseph-camp#english (accessed August 8, 2017).

[63] Human Rights Watch interview with Guruparan Gurudharan, April 24, 2017.

[64] Ibid.

[65] Ibid.

[66] Ibid.

[67] Human Rights Watch interview with Selvarama Croos, Kandy, April 22, 2017.

[68] Human Rights Watch interview with Sumanthy Arasalingkam, Colombo, April 24, 2017.

[69] “Sri Lanka Bus Blast Kills 24,” Guardian, April 25, 2008, https://www.theguardian.com/world/2008/apr/25/srilanka.terrorism (accessed August 8, 2017).

[70] Human Rights Watch interview with Sumanthy Arasalingkam, April 24, 2017.

[71] Ibid.

[72] Human Rights Watch interview with Malathi (pseudonym), Kandy, April 22, 2017.

[73] Ibid.

[74]Human Rights Watch interview with Durga (pseudonym), Kandy, November 11, 2017.

[75] Human Rights Watch interview with M. Parameswary, Kandy, April 22, 2017.

[76] Ibid.

[77] Ibid.

[78] “Bomb Kills Senior Police Officer in Central Sri Lanka,” Zee News, August 7, 2006, http://zeenews.india.com/news/south-asia/bomb-kills-senior-police-office... (accessed September 19, 2017).

[79] Human Rights Watch interview with Solomon Caspus Paul, Kandy, April 22, 2017.

[80] Ibid.

[81] Ibid.

[82] Human Rights Watch interview with Wellage Sudesh Nandimal Silva, Colombo, April 21, 2017.

[83] Ibid.

[84] Human Rights Watch interview with Sahan Kirthi, Colombo, April 19, 2017.

[85] Ibid.

[86] Ibid.

Author: Human Rights Watch
Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

The Sri Lankan government has failed to fulfill its pledges to abolish the abusive Prevention of Terrorism Act (PTA). For decades, the PTA has been used to arbitrarily detain suspects for months and often years without charge or trial, facilitating torture, and other abuse.

(Geneva) – The Sri Lankan government has failed to fulfill its pledge to abolish the abusive Prevention of Terrorism Act (PTA), Human Rights Watch said in a report released today. For decades, the PTA has been used to arbitrarily detain suspects for months and often years without charge or trial, facilitating torture, and other abuse.

“The Sri Lankan government has been all talk and no action on repealing the reviled PTA,” said Brad Adams, Asia director. “Replacing this draconian counterterrorism law with one that meets international standards should be an urgent priority if the government is serious about protecting human rights.”

The 46-page report, “Locked Up Without Evidence: Abuses under Sri Lanka’s Prevention of Terrorism Act,” documents previous and ongoing abuses committed under the PTA, including torture and sexual abuse, forced confessions, and systematic denials of due process. Drawing on interviews with former detainees, family members, and lawyers working on PTA cases, Human Rights Watch found that the PTA is a significant contributing factor toward the persistence of torture in Sri Lanka. The 17 accounts documented in the report represent only a tiny fraction of PTA cases overall, but they underscore the law’s draconian nature and abusive implementation.

The PTA was enacted in 1979 to counter separatist insurgencies, notably the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), and the law was widely used to detain hundreds of people during the country’s 26-year-long civil war. Yet while other emergency regulations have lapsed since the conflict ended in May 2009, the PTA remains in effect.

The Sri Lankan government arrested at least 11 people under the PTA in 2016 for alleged terrorist activities.

The PTA allows arrests without warrant for unspecified “unlawful activities,” and permits detention for up to 18 months without producing the suspect before a court. Human Rights Watch has received several reports of people detained for a decade or more without access to legal recourse, who were subsequently acquitted or released without charge, yet received no compensation, reparations, or apologies from the government. Government figures released in July 2017 indicate that 70 prisoners have been held in pretrial detention under the PTA for more than five years, and 12 for over 10 years.

Many of those detained under the PTA described being tortured to extract confessions. Of the 17 individuals whose cases are detailed in the report, 11 reported beatings and torture. Human Rights Watch has previously documented cases where security forces raped detainees, burned their genitals or breasts with cigarettes, and caused other injuries through beatings and electric shock.

A senior judge responsible for handling PTA cases said he was forced to exclude confession evidence in more than 90 percent of cases he had heard in 2017 because it was obtained through the use or threat of force. Former detainees frequently suffer from psychological and physical trauma as a result of their incarceration and ill-treatment in custody.

The PTA provides immunity for government officials responsible for abuses if deemed to have been acting in good faith or fulfilling an order under the act, which gives broad cover to security force personnel to engage in torture and other abuses.

The Sri Lankan government has been all talk and no action on repealing the reviled PTA.

Brad Adams

Asia Director

Numerous reports from United Nations special procedures have documented similar findings on the grave impact of the PTA. The then-special rapporteur on counterterrorism, Ben Emmerson, said after his July 2017 visit that “the use of torture has been, and remains today, endemic and routine, for those arrested and detained on national security grounds.” His post-mission report found that 80 percent of those arrested under the PTA in 2016 reported being subject to torture and other ill-treatment following their arrest. In October 2017, the special rapporteur on transitional justice, Pablo de Greiff, called for all PTA convictions that were based solely on the accused’s confession to be reviewed.

After a two-week country visit in December, the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention called for an immediate repeal of the PTA, referring to it as a “key enabler” of abuse. The European Union also reiterated its call for the PTA to be repealed at an EU-Sri Lanka Joint Commission meeting in January 2018.

The Sri Lankan government agreed to a resolution at the UN Human Rights Council in October 2015 outlining a series of commitments on accountability and justice. Yet more than two years on, it has largely failed to implement key pledges on security sector reform, including repealing the PTA. The UN high commissioner for human rights, Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein, highlighted Sri Lanka’s lack of progress in his opening remarks at the 36th session of the Human Rights Council in September 2017, calling on the government to realize that its obligations are not a mere “box-ticking exercise.” At Sri Lanka’s Universal Periodic Review (UPR) in Geneva in November, several UN member countries pressed the government to implement safeguards against torture and repeal the PTA.

While the government of President Maithripala Sirisena has taken some steps to charge or release PTA detainees, it has not put forward a plan to provide redress for those unjustly detained, or addressed the issue of detainees charged and prosecuted solely on the basis of coerced confessions obtained during detention.

Although the government has floated several drafts of a new counterterrorism law, none have complied with international human rights standards. In May 2017, the cabinet approved with little public consultation a draft Counter Terrorism Act (CTA) to replace the PTA. Although the bill improves upon the PTA in some ways, it still allows prolonged arbitrary detention, enabling rights abuses such as torture. It also includes broad and vague definitions of terrorist acts, which could be used to criminalize peaceful political activity or protest. Ultimately, the proposed law falls far short of the government’s commitments to the Human Rights Council, and suggests it does not intend to fully relinquish the broad and too easily abused powers available to it under the PTA.

Rather than enacting a law that will perpetuate the wrongs committed for decades under the PTA, the government should consult with Sri Lankan victim groups, human rights organizations, and international experts to draft a law that protects both national security and human rights. This should be undertaken as one component of broader security sector reforms, including accountability for abuses carried out under the PTA.

“The 2015 Human Rights Council resolution did not mean an end to international scrutiny of Sri Lanka,” Adams said. “Rather, it offered tangible benchmarks that UN member countries should draw on to highlight Sri Lanka’s lack of progress and press for needed reform.”

Cases from the Report
 

Vijaykumar Keetheswaran

Vijaykumar Keetheswaran, a student in Colombo, was visiting his family in Kilinochchi when he was arrested under the PTA in June 2014. He alleges that he was tortured in custody by Terrorist Investigation Division (TID) officials during questioning about his contact with a Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) fighter:

This unit beat me on my back with sticks and poles. They stripped me naked, and beat the soles of my feet with pipes. At one point, they rubbed a chili paste on my genitals. I fainted at that point.

In July 2014, Keetheswaran was transferred to Boosa, a maximum-security prison in southern Sri Lanka where many PTA detainees have been held. He was produced before a magistrate in March 2015, after nine months in custody. “Before going to the magistrate, the TID wanted me to sign a confession, and they burned me with cigarettes,” he said.

Keetheswaran was released on bail in November 2015, but arrested again under the PTA in April 2016 and detained for five months, when the TID was searching for his brother:

When they couldn’t find [my brother], they arrested me instead. I was taken to Boosa and tortured all over again. They asked me to admit that my brother had been in the LTTE. I was hanged and beaten so badly that I admitted to it even though I don’t know if it’s true or not.… I was 13-years-old when the war ended. I didn’t even know what the LTTE was. But I’m still being harassed.

Sahan Kirthi

Sahan Kirthi, then 21, was arrested under the PTA in February 2007. He was at first detained for six months, during which he said he endured weeks of torture by TID officials. He told Human Rights Watch:

There was a pattern to the torture. They would take a plastic shopping bag, pour some petrol into it, and then cover my head with the plastic bag. It forced me to breathe the petrol simply to try and get some air. I was beaten on the soles of my feet. The pain was unbearable. I could feel my heart beat and I would get terrible headaches. There was also water torture, where they would put a handkerchief over my face, and put my face under a running tap with high pressure. If you breathe, the water goes into your nose and you feel like you are drowning. At the same time, you can’t really breathe because the water pressure is so high.

TID officials tried to force Kirthi to confess, even threatening to rape his sister. When he was produced before a magistrate after six months, he attempted to report the torture to judicial and medical representatives:

When I was produced before the magistrate, I started telling my story. She called us into her chambers instead and scolded me for saying that the TID had tortured me. I showed her my wounds and scars and she said, “You must have hit yourself.” … I was produced before a JMO [Judicial Medical Officer] after agreeing to sign a confession.… They would not let me read what was written down, so I have no idea what I supposedly confessed to. The JMO didn’t listen to me – there is a network between the JMO, magistrate, and TID, I am certain of that. They protect each other.

Kirthi was transferred to Welikada Prison in Colombo in June 2007 but was not formally charged until 2012. He was eventually acquitted in October 2014 after seven years in prison. Kirthi still has injuries, including loss of hearing, from the torture he endured in custody.

Durga

Malathi’s son, Kanna, was arrested by police in Matale in 2008 on suspicion of involvement with the LTTE. He was released after a week in custody and went into hiding. Malathi (a pseudonym) has not heard from him since. Shortly after Kanna’s release, TID officials returned to his house to search for him. When they learned he was missing, they arrested his wife, Durga (a pseudonym), instead. She was held in custody for six months before being produced before a magistrate, and then detained in prison for a further six years before any charges were filed. In 2015, she was acquitted of all charges and released, after seven years in detention.

Durga remains psychologically and physically impaired because of her long incarceration. Her three young children, who were 18 months, 3 years, and 7 years old at the time of her arrest, were raised by her mother-in-law. Malathi said things have been difficult for Durga:

Durga is out of prison now, but is broken. She is not strong enough to take a job on the tea estates, so does menial chores in the bungalows. We have not received any apologies or compensation for our suffering.

Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

H.E. Mr. Vladimir Ivanovich Voronkov
Under-Secretary-General
United Nations
New York, NY

24 January 2018

Re: Civil Society Engagement with the UN Office of Counter-Terrorism

Your Excellency,

We write to you as representatives of civil society organizations (CSOs) dedicated to measures aimed at preventing violent extremism and countering terrorism, both at the United Nations and at regional, national and local levels. As indicated in a letter [1] that many of us sent to the Secretary-General last April, we hope the creation of the UN Office of Counter-Terrorism (OCT) will enhance collaboration and cooperation among the many UN entities working on preventing violent extremism (PVE) and counter-terrorism (CT) issues, and help enable the full implementation of the UN Global Counter-Terrorism Strategy (GCTS) across all four pillars in countries worldwide.

We welcome you to your new position as the first Under-Secretary-General for Counter-Terrorism. We are also encouraged to see the priority Secretary-General Guterres continues to place on reforming the United Nations system to play a leading role in the prevention of conflict and promotion of sustainable, inclusive peace.

As we enter 2018, we respectfully offer the following points and suggestions for your consideration as you identify your office’s priorities for the coming period, underscoring our commitment to working closely with the OCT as it seeks to improve the UN’s efforts to reduce terrorist and violent extremist threats worldwide.

We urge your office to continue to champion a “whole-of-society” approach that works with local leaders and civil society to address terrorism and the conditions conducive to it. The GCTS and the UN PVE Plan of Action underscore the critical role that civil society, including women and youth-led organizations, can play in addressing these challenges. While national governments continue to bear the primary responsibility for their nation’s security, the threats from terrorism and violent extremism are more localized than ever and, in certain contexts, municipal authorities, local practitioners, and community-based groups may be better placed to address these threats. It is imperative therefore to include these stakeholders as strong allies in the design, development, and implementation of PVE efforts, including national action plans, strategies, and programs.

For example, because they are closer to local populations, local actors may better understand the grievances that can make communities vulnerable to terrorist recruitment, as well as the measures needed to ameliorate these conditions.

As highlighted by a growing body of research, [2] CSOs, including local women and youth organizations, are powerful counterweights to rising violent extremist movements, because like many of them, CSOs are locally rooted, yet globally connected. CSOs are often working tirelessly and at great risk to prevent violent extremism from taking root in their communities. The existence of a vibrant independent civil society is itself a critical pillar for effective prevention of violent extremism.

CSOs’ comparative advantages lie in their a) knowledge of local drivers of violent extremism and evolving local trends; b) credibility and access within communities susceptible to violent extremist recruitment that national and multilateral institutions sometimes do not have; c) deep expertise and experience in addressing relevant drivers and designing tailored and effective solutions; d) the ability and willingness to be innovative and flexible in identifying and tackling emerging issues; e) legitimacy as effective interlocutors between governments and local communities; f) their unique position to contribute to multi-stakeholder efforts help steer individuals towards positive alternatives to violent extremism; and g) being ideally placed to work with the community to prepare them, where appropriate, to support the reintegration of “foreign terrorist fighters” (“FTFs”) – and other former violent extremists – as well as their families and others who served in non-combat roles, so they do not pose a security threat. Perhaps most important of all, they have a commitment to preventing violent extremism and improving the conditions in their communities, because, along with victims of violent extremist attacks, their children, families, and communities also suffer.

Yet, despite the critical role of these allies in preventing and countering violent extremism, overly broad definitions of terrorism and violent extremism are threatening the space for CSOs, including human rights defenders, to operate safely and effectively. Given the UN’s recognition of the critical role of CSOs, particularly women and youth as noted in Security Council Resolutions 2242 and 2250, it is critical that the United Nations, including through your role as Under-Secretary-General and your new office, lead by example in engaging civil society as partners in the design, development, implementation, and evaluation of human rights-compliant PVE and CT strategies, policies, and programs.

We offer the following recommendations for you and your office to consider to better engage civil society and other local actors.

First, as you interact with Member States and other stakeholders on these issues, we encourage you to draw their attention to two documents, which were released during the September 2017 high-level opening of the UN General Assembly and reflect the views of dozens of CSOs around the globe: one [3] provides ten practical reasons why governments should consider CSOs allies rather than adversaries when it comes to PVE and countering terrorism, and the other [4] offers ten practical steps governments should take to empower and support CSOs in this context.

Second, we encourage you and OCT to emphasize the centrality of protecting human rights when addressing the threats of violent extremism and terrorism. Evidence shows that support for terrorism and violent extremism is strongly correlated with violence perpetrated by states against their own populations, in certain cases as part of or in the name of CT operations. Excessive and routine police brutality and disproportionate security measures that are perceived to target particular communities are among the key sources of grievance that violent extremist propaganda exploits. This was underscored in the United Nations Development Programme’s 2017 report, “Journey to Extremism in Africa.” [5] The 2017 Global Terrorism Index’s examination of the drivers of terrorism “also demonstrates the risks of political crackdowns and counterterrorism actions that can exacerbate existing grievances and the drivers of extremism and terrorism.” [6] This is consistent with the GCTS, which calls countering terrorism and protecting human rights “complementary and mutually reinforcing” goals. The GCTS lists violations of human rights, lack of rule of law, ethnic, national and religious discrimination, political exclusion, and socio-economic marginalization as “conditions conducive to the spread of terrorism,” while emphasizing that these causes can never be an excuse to justify terrorist acts. [7]

To help ensure the sustained credibility of the UN among communities around the globe, we encourage you and your office to exert moral leadership in this area and speak out against violations of human rights committed in the name of countering terrorism. This includes reminding Member States that countering terrorism through policies that safeguard the fundamental rights and freedoms of their citizens is the most effective security strategy and promoting a space for collaboration between human rights organizations and Member State governments. The United Nations should continue to prioritize the provision of technical support and guidance to Member States to ensure their PVE and CT laws and strategies are fully compliant with international human rights law. UN agencies should also facilitate or deliver assistance focused on building trust and otherwise facilitating effective engagement between the security sector, including the police, and communities, particularly those where feelings of marginalization or exclusion persist.

As a demonstration of your office’s commitment to both promoting a coordinated and collaborative UN response to the threats of terrorism and violent extremism and the protection of human rights, we encourage you to organize with the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights a high-level event focused on the intersection between the protection of freedoms of expression, religion, and other fundamental freedoms and rights and effectively preventing violent extremism and countering terrorism. We believe it would be the first event of its kind organized jointly by the senior-most human rights and CT officials in the UN system.

Third, we request that you prioritize meaningful engagement between your new office and civil society, including women- and youth-led organizations and human rights defenders. This ensures that the views of relevant local, grassroots CSOs are heard in New York and at the regional and national levels.

We encourage you and your office to a) meet with independent CSOs during your country visits, b) provide funding and other support through the UN Center on Counter-Terrorism to the growing number of civil society organizations and networks with PVE and CT expertise, c) urge Member States to include CSOs working across the spectrum of PVE and CT issues in the development, implementation, and evaluation of PVE national action plans, strategies, and programs; and d) meet regularly with the wide range of CSOs active on these issues.

The United Nations should also lead by example and make cooperation with a wide range of existing civil society platforms a standard operating procedure. The Global Solutions Exchange (GSX),[8] a network that brings together a richly diverse cross-section of independent CSOs from all countries affected by violent extremism for exchange of analysis and effective solutions is one such platform. The GSX receives support from a number of UN Member States as well as the European Union and is already engaged with UNDP, UN Women, the World Bank, and other UN entities.

As co-leaders of the GSX Steering Group, the Prevention Project and the International Civil Society Action Network (ICAN) are able to initiate and coordinate any engagement with your office.

The signatories to this letter are committed to constructive collaboration with you and your office, and the wider UN system on the PVE and CT agendas. We look forward to realizing such collaboration in 2018, in anticipation of the sixth biennial review of the UNGCTS this summer, and beyond.

Signed,

  • Abdoulaye Harouna, President, COPAVE, Niger
  • Addu Women’s Organisation (AWA), The Maldives
  • Advocacy for Women in Peace and Security - Africa (AWAPSA), Kenya
  • Afghan Women Skills Development Center, Afghanistan
  • Allamin Foundation for Peace & Development, Nigeria
  • Alliance for Peacebuilding, USA
  • Amina Rasul, President, Philippine Center for Islam and Democracy (PCID), The Philippines
  • Arifur Rahman, Chief Executive, Young Power in Social Action (YPSA), Bangladesh
  • Association of War Affected Women (AWAW), Sri Lanka
  • Cabinet d’Analyses et d’Actions pour la Sécurité et la Paix (CASPA), Niger
  • Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies, Egypt
  • Chadi Nachabe, UTOPIA Foundation, Lebanon
  • Coalition for Action on 1325 (COACT), Uganda
  • Commonwealth Youth Peace Ambassador Network
  • Cure Violence, USA
  • CVE and Reintegration Initiative, USA
  • Daisy Khan, Founder and Executive Director, Women’s Islamic Initiative in Spirituality and Equality, USA
  • Daniel Koehler, Director, German Institute on Radicalization and De-Radicalization Studies (GIRDS), Germany
  • Dean Piedmont, The CVE and Reintegration Initiative, USA
  • Dr. Emna Jeblaoui, Founder of the Citizen 4Peace Project, Tunisia
  • Dr. Mohamed Elsanousi, Director of the Secretariat of the Network for Religious and Traditional Peacemakers, Washington Office, USA
  • Farooq Sobhan, President, Bangladesh Enterprise Institute, Bangladesh
  • Fatima Akilu, Executive Director of the Neem foundation, Nigeria
  • Fatima Zahra Ritab Ambassador of International Peace and Civil Society Actor, Morocco
  • Federation of Muslim Women’s Association in Nigeria (FOMWAN), Nigeria
  • Feriha Peracha, Director and Supervising Psychologist of the Sabaoon Project, Pakistan
  • Gizem Kilinç, United Network of Young Peacebuilders, Netherlands
  • Global Center on Cooperative Security, USA
  • Global Strategy Network, UK
  • HAKI Africa, Kenya
  • Hamed el Said, Professor of International Business and Political Economy, Manchester Metropolitan University Business School, UK
  • Herwa Community Development Initiative(Mohammed N Hassan), Nigeria
  • Hope and Homes for Children, Bosnia Herzegovina
  • Human Rights Watch
  • Human Security Collective, The Netherlands
  • Inclusive Security, USA
  • Institute for Security Studies, South Africa
  • International Civil Society Action Network (ICAN), USA
  • International Institute for Human Development (IDH), Women and Youth 4Peace, Tunisia
  • Julien Bahati Mukengerwa, Action des jeunes pour le Développement Communautaire et la Paix, ADECOP, Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC)
  • Khedija Arfaoui, Independent researcher, Tunisia
  • Lamia Al Saket, Co-Founder Musa Al Saket Development Organization, Jordan
  • Libyan Women’s Forum, Libya
  • Local Youth Corner, Cameroon
  • Marouane Bakit, Makers of Hope for Human Rights, Libya/Morocco
  • Neba Dereck Fuh, Positive Peace Group, Cameroon
  • Neil Hicks, Director Human Rights Promotion, Human Rights First, USA
  • North Observatory for Human Rights, Morocco
  • Omar T. Mattar, Organization for Community Empowerment, Zanzibar, Tanzania
  • PAIMAN Alumni Trust, Pakistan
  • Peace Track Initiative, Yemen
  • Prevention Project: Organizing Against Violent Extremism, USA
  • Qamar-ul Huda, Director, Security & Violent Extremism Program, The Center for Global Policy, USA
  • Richard Barrett, former Coordinator of the UN Security Council Al-Qaida/Taliban Sanctions Committee Monitoring Team, UK
  • Richard Ponzio, Director, Just Security 2020 Program, The Stimson Center, USA
  • Rodolfo Dominguez, Coordinator General, Justice, Human Rights and Gender Civil Association, Mexico
  • Dr. Sarah Sewall, former U.S. Under-Secretary of State for Civilian Security, Democracy, and Human Rights, USA
  • Search for Common Ground, USA
  • Spaces for Youth Development and Social Change, Nigeria
  • To Be Foundation for Human Rights, Yemen
  • "Women for Development" NGO, Armenia
  • Zarrina Alimshoeva, researcher, International Alert, Tajikistan

[1] 21 April 2017 letter to Secretary-General Guterres, available at http://www.organizingagainstve.org/letter-secretary-general-capability-un-system-assist-member-states-implementing-united-nations-global-counter-terrorism-strategy/.

[2] See, e.g., “Uncomfortable Truths, Unconventional Wisdoms: Women’s Perspectives on Violent Extremism and Security Interventions,” International Civil Society Action Network/Women’s Alliance for Security Leadership, March 2016, available at: http://www.icanpeacework.org/2016/03/03/3702/ (also available in Arabic).

[3] “Ten Reasons Why Civil Society Is an Ally and Not an Adversary in the Struggle against Violent Extremism,” Global Solutions Exchange, 21 September 2017, available at http://www.gsxpve.org/wp-content/uploads/2017/09/10-Reasons.pdf (also available in Arabic and French).

[4] “Ten Steps Governments Can Take to Support the Critical Role of Civil Society in Preventing Violent Extremism,” Global Solutions Exchange, 21 September 2017, available at http://www.gsxpve.org/wp-content/uploads/2017/09/10-Steps.pdf (also available in Arabic and French).

[5] “Journey to Extremism in Africa: Drivers, Incentives, and the Tipping Point for Recruitment,” September 2017, available at http://journey-to-extremism.undp.org/content/downloads/UNDP-JourneyToExtremism-report-2017-english.pdf.

[6] “2017 Global Terrorism Index,” p.3, Institute for Economics and Peace, November 2017, available at https://reliefweb.int/sites/reliefweb.int/files/resources/Global%20Terrorism%20Index%202017%20%284%29.pdf.

[7] “United Nations Global Counter-Terrorism Strategy,” pillar I, United Nations General Assembly, A/RES/60/288, 20 September 2006, available at https://www.un.org/counterterrorism/ctitf/en/un-global-counter-terrorism-strategy#plan.

[8] See www.gsxpve.org for more information on the GSX.

Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

People walk near a puddle of water mixed with blood at the site of twin car bombs near a mosque in the Salmani neighborhood of Benghazi that resulted in scores of deaths and injuries, Libya, January 24, 2018. 

© 2018 Reuters

(Beirut) – Unidentified armed groups detonated two car bombs in front of a mosque in the eastern Libyan city of Benghazi on January 23, 2018, killing at least 34 people and wounding over 90, Human Rights Watch said. According to spokespersons for the two main hospitals for emergency and trauma services in Benghazi, the majority of victims were civilians, with at least three young children among the dead.

“Planting bombs outside a civilian mosque, in particular when the timing is likely to inflict maximum casualties among civilians, is a war crime,” said Hanan Salah, senior Libya researcher at Human Rights Watch. “Civilians in Benghazi are unacceptably bearing the brunt of this conflict.”

The car bombs exploded within 15 to 30 minutes of each other after 8 p.m. on January 23, in front of the Baya’at al-Radwan mosque in the Salmani neighborhood of Benghazi, local hospital sources said. The first attack occurred just as worshippers were leaving after evening prayers known as “al-Isha,” killing three people and injuring six.

The second blast occurred as civilians and responders from the security forces arrived at the scene to evacuate the wounded and dead, hospital sources and news reports said. The second bomb apparently caused the majority of deaths and injuries. All dead and injured were male and included children as young as 9. No group has taken responsibility for the attacks.

Serious violations of the laws of war can amount to war crimes. These include deliberately targeting civilians or civilian objects, including mosques, or carrying out attacks in the knowledge that they are likely to result in indiscriminate or disproportionate death or injury to civilians.

Fadia al-Barghathi, spokesperson at the al-Jalaa Hospital in Benghazi, one of the city’s main hospitals for emergency and trauma services, told Human Rights Watch in a telephone call on January 24 that al-Jalaa was the first to receive the injured and dead in the immediate aftermath of both bombings, given the proximity of the hospital to the mosque. Al-Barghathi said that the hospital soon reached its capacity and had to transfer wounded patients to the Benghazi Medical Center, also known as Hospital 1,200, and other private hospitals. She said that among the dead and injured, civilians far outnumbered any security personnel, and included two children, ages 9 and 11.

Al-Barghathi said that the victims’ injuries had been caused by a major detonation. Two of the victims at al-Jalaa had severed heads, and first responders collected multiple severed limbs. She said that al-Jalaa hospital had confirmed at least 25 deaths, including some victims who died at the hospital, and treated another 51 wounded people.

Khalil Qweider, spokesperson at the Benghazi Medical Center, who spoke with Human Rights Watch by telephone on January 24, said that the hospital had confirmed an additional 9 civilian deaths from the incident, and another 36 injured, among them some security force members. Qweider said that the Libyan-German hospital treated 7 injured people and al-Safwa hospital another 5. He said that on January 24, 9 people injured in the incident had surgery for their wounds, some of whom remained in critical condition.

Human Rights Watch has not seen any evidence to suggest that at the time of the attack, Baya’at al-Radwan mosque was being used for anything other than evening prayers.

On January 24, accounts appeared on multiple news sites and social media displaying undated photos that allegedly show a commander from the Libyan National Army forces (LNA), Mahmoud al-Werfalli, wanted for war crimes by the International Criminal Court (ICC), appearing to execute 10 individuals, assumed to be detainees as they were dressed in blue prison uniforms. Human Rights Watch reviewed a video recording purportedly from the same incident that appeared on social media, showing the apparent execution of 10 men wearing blue uniforms. The men, who in the video are kneeling and blindfolded with their hands tied behind their backs, are shot one after the other by a bearded man in military fatigues, as a large crowd of onlookers can be seen cheering.

The United Nations mission in Libya (UNSMIL) issued a call for the immediate hand over of al-Werfalli to the Hague. Human Rights Watch is unable to verify the authenticity of these photos or the video, but summary executions such as those portrayed in both constitute war crimes.

Armed conflict, insecurity, and political divisions have plagued Libya since May 2014, when General Khalifa Hiftar, commander of the LNA in eastern Libya, declared war on “terrorism” in Benghazi and announced a continuing military operation, “Operation Dignity.” Although the LNA declared Benghazi  “liberated” from opposing forces known as the Benghazi Revolutionaries Shura Council (BRSC) earlier in January, there have been new clashes, individual attacks against political and security officials, and extrajudicial killings.  

The laws of war strictly prohibit attacks that target civilians or civilian structures, including mosques, unless they were being used for military purposes. The laws of war also prohibit indiscriminate attacks, which fail to distinguish between military and civilian targets, and disproportionate attacks, in which the civilian casualties or damage to civilian buildings is excessive considering the military advantage gained. All feasible precautions must be taken by all parties to the conflict to avoid, and in any event, to minimize incidental loss of civilian life, injury to civilians, and damage to civilian objects.

“Authorities in eastern Libya should conduct a transparent and effective investigation into the incidents, and to the extent possible, prosecute those found to be responsible for criminal attacks,” Salah said.

Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

(Beirut) – Middle East and North Africa (MENA) governments can respond to the popular demands of the region’s youth for reform by implementing five changes in 2018 to arbitrary, outdated legal systems that infringe upon citizens’ rights and liberties, Human Rights Watch said today in releasing its World Report 2018. Some governments in the region have already embarked on important progress, but most remain hostage to rigid mentalities.

Demonstration outside Parliament on December 6, 2016, with women in white dresses and wrapped in bandages, calling for the repeal of article 522 of the penal code.

© Patrick Baz / AFP

“The people of the region are sick of their governments’ tired excuses for failing to make basic reforms that will dramatically improve everyone’s quality of life,” said Sarah Leah Whitson, Middle East and North Africa director at Human Rights Watch. “While the region is reeling from the untold destruction from armed conflicts in four countries and heightened repression elsewhere, there’s a lot that governments can do to give the young generation a reason to believe that progress is possible in the Middle East.”

In the 643-page World Report, its 28th edition, Human Rights Watch reviews human rights practices in more than 90 countries. In his introductory essay, Executive Director Kenneth Roth writes that political leaders willing to stand up for human rights principles showed that it is possible to limit authoritarian populist agendas. When combined with mobilized publics and effective multilateral actors, these leaders demonstrated that the rise of anti-rights governments is not inevitable.

Here are the top five reforms MENA governments can move to make this year:

  1. “Don’t Want to Marry My Rapist #MeToo!”: Women in MENA made clear that it is not OK to let a rapist escape prison by marrying his victim, a legal loophole that dates to Napoleonic times. Families who agree to such judicially sanctioned marriages do so largely to escape the stigma of a daughter “stained” by rape. Tunisia, Jordan, and Lebanon abolished these horrific laws in 2017, following Morocco and Egypt, which did so in years past; seven other countries in the region where this provision remains – Algeria, Bahrain, Iraq, Kuwait, Libya, Syria, and Palestine – should immediately abolish it.

“Shame on every legislator who still thinks they’re doing a rape survivor a favor by allowing her rapist to escape punishment by marrying her,” Whitson said. “The only dishonor that persists when a woman is raped is when governments and societies fail to punish the rapists and provide real support to their victims.”  

  1. “I’m Not Any Man’s Property”: MENA women made some advances on nationality issues in 2017: Tunisia repealed a decree that prevented Muslim women – but not men – from registering marriages with non-Muslims; it also passed a landmark law on violence against women, instituting measures to prevent violence, protect survivors, and punish their abusers. In response to Qatari women’s demands to pass nationality onto their children like Qatari men, Qatar pledged to grant residency to children of Qatari women, providing most but not all rights that non-citizen children have. This half-baked measure still means children of Qatari mothers and foreign fathers won’t have a right to a passport and to travel as Qatari nationals. Saudi Arabia promised that government agencies would end “arbitrary” applications of its male guardianship system, which deprives adult women the ability to apply for a passport or travel without a male guardian’s consent, but has yet to dismantle the entire system; it also promised to finally lift the ban on women driving in June 2018. Fortunately, female legislators in Iraq were able to stop some legislators from undermining women’s rights in Iraq’s personal status laws, including reducing the permissible age for marriage to 8. Even the invisible women in the region – the migrant domestic workers who hail mostly from Asia and Africa – are starting to gain recognition of their rights, with Qatar and the United Arab Emirates passing laws on domestic workers. In 2018, MENA governments should act rapidly to allow women equal rights with men to pass on nationality to their children; abolish whatever remnants remain of the guardianship system; and enact and implement laws on violence against women and domestic workers’ rights. Ending systemic discrimination in divorce, child custody, and inheritance should come next.

“Most MENA women are at the bottom of the global barrel of rights and equality, with governments manipulating stale justifications based on culture and religious interpretations,” Whitson said. “2018 should be the year when women in the Middle East are finally heard and can enjoy the rights and protections like women around the world.”

  1. “Get Out of Our Bedrooms”: Despite urgent problems of poverty, unemployment, failed infrastructure, and crippled economies, many MENA governments nevertheless devoted extensive resources to prosecuting people for their adult, consensual bedroom activities. While nearly every MENA government retains laws that criminalize sex outside marriage and lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) sex, Egypt stood out during 2017 by targeting the LGBT community with sweeps of arrests of suspected gay men. Police in the United Arab Emirates, Morocco, and Tunisia, among others, arrested or harassed people for adultery, kissing, and other so-called “morality” offenses. Survivors of sexual violence can be convicted under such charges if police or prosecutors don’t believe their claims of rape, discouraging reports of sexual assault. Iran and Saudi Arabia enforced strict codes on women’s hair covering and dress.

“Plenty of young people in the Middle East know well that when governments profess to enforce morality, they are hiding behind a hypocritical façade to cover up their critical failures in governance,” Whitson said. “What might have worked to placate the masses in the past won’t work anymore, and governments would be wise to bring their out-of-date notions on morality into the 21st century.”

  1. Stop Jailing People for “Insults”: Many MENA government officials jailed people for alleged insults to them or to loosely defined notions of the country’s “reputation,” “national interest,” “culture,” or “religion.” Saudi Arabia went so far as to define “insulting the king,” crown prince, or head of state as a terrorist offense for which the punishment is five to 10 years imprisonment. Bahrain jailed human rights activists like Nabeel Rajab for an “insulting” tweet. Kuwait sentenced a writer to seven years in prison for insulting the state of Qatar. MENA governments should abolish any law that even uses the word “insult” in its definition of a crime.

“It’s the right of people to criticize their government officials on whatever grounds they wish, and officials with a life tenure to power are entitled to no special protections,” Whitson said. “Politics is a tough business, and thin-skinned government officials who can’t stand to be criticized should pitch a tent in some remote corner of an uninhabited desert instead and consider a new line of work.”

  1. “Let me in! Let me out!”: Many MENA governments have treated their countries – and sometimes the countries of others – as massive jails, arbitrarily denying people the right to leave or the right to enter. Saudi Arabia has imposed arbitrary travel bans on many Saudis, and reportedly detained visiting foreign government officials like Lebanon Prime Minister Saad Hariri, while Israel has refused to allow Gazans to exit even for urgent medical treatment or education abroad. Bahrain stripped hundreds of its nationals of their citizenship to punish families of activists. Israel refused entry to people – including Jews – whose political views it doesn’t like, and blocked human rights workers and journalists from accessing Gaza. Saudi Arabia also has banned human rights workers and journalists from traveling to war-torn Yemen.

“The temerity of governments that treat their citizens like property to be held on to or disposed at whim is an insult, to say the least,” Whitson said. “And they only embarrass themselves with what they are trying to hide when they block entry to journalists and human rights workers – because the truth always comes out.”

Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

Smoke billows behind a building in the Yemeni capital Sanaa on December 3, 2017, during clashes between Houthi rebels and supporters of Yemeni ex-president Ali Abdullah Saleh. 

© 2017 Getty Images

(Beirut) – Lawless armed conflicts in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) morphed into disastrous trends for the region in 2017, Human Rights Watch said today in releasing its 2018 World Report.

“Failed leadership, failed governments, and failed policies have brought nothing but catastrophe for the youth and future generations of the Middle East caught up in the region’s wars,” said Sarah Leah Whitson, Middle East and North Africa director at Human Rights Watch. “The legacy of these wars will be recorded as the ‘shame of the century’ for the Middle East.”

In the 643-page World Report, its 28th edition, Human Rights Watch reviews human rights practices in more than 90 countries. In his introductory essay, Executive Director Kenneth Roth writes that political leaders willing to stand up for human rights principles showed that it is possible to limit authoritarian populist agendas. When combined with mobilized publics and effective multilateral actors, these leaders demonstrated that the rise of anti-rights governments is not inevitable.

The top five trends in the region’s wars included:

  1. Chemical and Other Banned Weapons as the New Normal: The Syrian government, backed by its Russian allies, has used banned chemical weapons, and in Yemen, the United States-supported Saudi-led coalition has used widely banned cluster munitions. Human Rights Watch documented dozens of instances in which the Syrian government used chemical weapons in Syria, including littering Aleppo with chlorine-filled barrel bombs. The Islamic State (also known as ISIS) also used chemical weapons in both Syria and Iraq. The Russian government effectively blocked the only body whose job it was to attribute responsibility and pave the way for sanctions against Syria for using chemical weapons by vetoing the Joint Investigative Mechanism’s Mandate at the United Nations Security Council. Human Rights Watch also documented the Saudi-led coalition’s repeated use of cluster munitions in Yemen – including those made in the US and Brazil. Houthi-Saleh forces made wide use of anti-personnel landmines, despite repeated promises not to use this weapon, which leaves behind unexploded bomblets that harm civilians for generations.

“While the world moves to end the scourge of chemical weapons, cluster munitions, and landmines, the Middle East has made these disgusting weapons the new normal in warfare,” Whitson said. “It’s repellent that arms manufacturers continue to profit off the sale of banned weapons.”

  1. Starving Children During War: Beyond bombing homes, schools, hospitals, and irreplaceable cultural architecture in the region, the Syrian government and Saudi-led coalition have each resorted to blocking aid and impeding critical supplies from reaching starving children. The Syrian government imposes sieges in various regions of Syria, including in so-called “de-escalation zones” such as Ghouta, severely restricting access to food and medical care for the civilian population. The Saudi-led coalition imposed a nation-wide blockade on all of Yemen’s ports and airspace, in a country where malnutrition, cholera, and diphtheria were already ravaging children and have now reached epidemic levels. The UN secretary-general placed the Saudi-led coalition on his annual “List of Shame” for violations against children, despite extraordinary threats and bullying by the Saudi government to be taken off the list.

“It is deeply disturbing that Arab governments are deliberately starving Arab children during wartime,” Whitson said. “The cruelty and barbarism on display in the Middle East should lead to a collective hanging of heads in shame in the region.”

  1. Unlawful Video Executions by Warlords, National Armies Alike: It’s not just ISIS that has promoted itself with gruesome acts of violence and savagery. Human Rights Watch documented Iraqi army soldiers and Khalifa Hiftar-aligned Libyan militias proudly recording depraved acts of torture and executions of detainees. The Egyptian army and police in Sinai staged “shoot-outs” to cover up such executions. Governments failed to investigate, condemn, or appropriately punish repeated unlawful acts by their forces, despite sometimes promising to do so. 

“It’s difficult to square the global outrage against ISIS horrors in the face of national armies and militias that mimic their tactics but receive military assistance from various foreign governments,” Whitson said.

  1. Ran Out of Men, Let’s Use Children: Houthi-Saleh forces resorted to recruiting children to help fight in Yemen. The UN secretary-general placed Houthi forces, as well as other parties in Yemen, on his annual “List of Shame” for their persistent recruitment of children. Human Rights Watch also documented the use of child soldiers in the Syrian conflict by multiple parties, including Kurdish armed groups and Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps. Iran actually recruited Afghan immigrant children to fight in support of Syrian government forces.

“As if slaughtering and starving the region’s children is not bad enough, some are now despicably dragging children to fight and die on the battlefield,” Whitson said.

  1. Arabs Flee the Arab World En Masse: Many people in the Middle East voted with their feet, fleeing their countries in record numbers over the past five years. Millions of Syrians escaped Syria, while the hundreds of thousands who sought refuge in Europe faced a widespread backlash against refugees. Libyans, Iraqis, Yemenis, and Egyptians joined the ranks of millions of refugees and internally displaced in the Middle East who have lost their homes, livelihoods, and communities.

“Is there any greater evidence of just how inhospitable the Middle East has become than the reality of millions of its people fleeing, or trying to flee, disastrous wars – caused by disastrous leadership?” Whitson said.

Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

Relatives of victims grieve next to coffins arriving to the Coptic church that was bombed on Sunday in Tanta, Egypt, April 9, 2017. 

© 2017 Reuters

United States Vice President Mike Pence, who canceled his visit to the Middle East in December amid a firestorm over US President Donald Trump’s announcement about Jerusalem, is due to visit Egypt on January 20, as part of a trip that will also include visits to Jordan and Israel to address “the shared need to combat terrorism and assist persecuted religious minorities.”

Speaking at the “In Defense of Christians” organization’s annual dinner last October, Pence said he intends to deliver a message to Arab leaders that there must be “an end to the persecution of Christians and all religious minorities” in the region.

This is indeed a worthy goal, as Egypt’s Christian community, which makes up roughly 10 percent of the population and is the largest Christian minority in the Middle East, has suffered legal and social discrimination for decades. Christians and other religious minority groups in Egypt suffer discrimination simply on the basis of their identity. But the fate of minority rights is tied to the broader state of human rights in Egypt, and must be seen as such by Pence and the US administration.

Militant groups have frequently attacked Egypt’s Christian community, claiming dozens of lives in just the last two years. The threats against Egyptian Christians are real, but Pence is wrong to claim, as he did in his October speech, that the problem is simply “radical Islamic terrorism.” This claim demonstrates a deeply flawed understanding of the situation. Even before the recent escalation of attacks claimed by the Islamic State and its affiliates, Christians faced frequent incidences of mob violence, particularly in relation to their efforts to build or renovate places of worship. This has been compounded over the years by the state’s lack of investigation and prosecution of perpetrators, and its sponsoring of “customary reconciliation” sessions that have often enabled attackers to evade justice. When the government finally issued Egypt’s first modern law to regulate the building of churches in 2016, it still enshrined discriminatory restrictions.

The current predicament of Egypt’s Christians cannot be separated from the larger human rights disaster that society as a whole is experiencing under President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi’s brutal repression. The violation of citizens’ rights has been widespread: from political opponents to atheists, religious preachers to LGBTQ individuals, even belly dancers. Pence’s boss, President Trump, has endorsed Sisi, saying he’s doing a “fantastic job.”

Whether Christian, Muslim or otherwise, anyone in Egypt who peacefully protests government policies is subject to arrest under the draconian 2013 protest law. To appreciate the state’s intolerance for free expression, one need look no further than the government’s arrest and prosecution of four Christian children and their teacher in 2016 for the “crime” of making a 30-second video “mocking” the Islamic State. They received heavy prison sentences and eventually fled the country.

In another prominent case in May 2016, Egypt’s infamous National Security Agency (NSA) raided the home of rights activist Mina Thabet, arrested him and beat him. Thabet had been one of the most vocal activists documenting discrimination and attacks against Christians in Egypt. In October 2017, a court sentenced Andrew Nassef, another Christian activist, to five years in prison under farcical terrorism charges for criticizing the government on Facebook.

If Pence really wants to combat discrimination against Christians and other minority groups, he must address Sisi’s wholescale repression, especially the crackdown on Egypt’s civil society groups, those once best placed to promote human rights and counter a broader culture of intolerance. The authorities have dragged scores of workers from independent organizations, especially rights activists, into endless investigations, frozen their assets, and threatened them with prison sentences.

Thabet was released weeks after Egypt’s security forces detained him, but they raided the organization he worked for, the Egyptian Commission for Rights and Freedoms, several times after his arrest, and the staff continue to work in a environment of persecution and fear, like several other rights organizations across the country.

The Egyptian government’s cosmetic approach to protecting Christians relies largely on empowering a few officially recognized Christian leaders, who maintain strong influence over communal affairs, including highly restrictivepersonal status laws. These leaders have also defended the government’s broader crackdown on protest, including deflecting government responsibility for the 2011 Maspero violence, in which dozens of Christians were killed while holding an anti-discrimination protest.

Back in 2011, the Christian community mobilized in massive numbers to protest the corruption, abuse, and general loss of dignity they suffered under Mubarak’s rule. Seven years later, Egypt’s Christians find themselves to be just as much under threat due to Sisi’s attempts to bully an entire society into submission and silence.

If Pence truly wants to improve the situation for Christians in Egypt, then he should use his visit to stress that traditional bilateral relations and respect for human rights are not separate realms; one is, or should be, tightly connected to the other. US support for Christians should stem from the recognition that the discrimination they face is part of a wider pattern of repression under Sisi’s regime, not just the result of extremist violence. 

Author: Human Rights Watch
Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

The United States flag decorates the side of a guard tower inside of Joint Task Force Guantanamo Camp VI at the U.S. Naval Base in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, March 22, 2016. 

© 2016 Reuters

As of today, the United States has used its Guantanamo Bay facility for 16 years to detain people it alleges pose a security threat without charge or fair trial. The number of people locked up has been reduced from 780 at the peak to 41, but even they should not be there. Of those, 31 have been held for years without charge or trial and the remaining 10 face charges before military commissions that do not meet fair trial standards and should not be used.

The story of Guantanamo is not pretty. Initially, US government officials claimed that those being held there were “the worst of the worst.” But over the years we learned that there is no reliable evidence that many of these men were involved in terrorism, raising serious doubts about whether they should have ever been taken into custody, let alone detained at Guantanamo for all these years.
 
Ridah Bin Saleh al-Yazidi, a 52-year-old Tunisian, has been at Guantanamo since the day it opened on January 11, 2002. A 2007 US military assessment accuses him of being an al-Qaeda member and having ties to its leadership. But these assessments have proven unreliable, containing information derived from torture, or false statements provided by co-detainees eager to curry favor or get better treatment. Both the George W. Bush administration and the Obama administration cleared al-Yazidi for release. He is one of five cleared detainees who remains imprisoned that the Trump administration has made no effort to release.
 
Sharqawi al-Hajj is among the 26 detainees the US government has not cleared for release and that it claims it may hold indefinitely. He has been at Guantanamo for 13 years but his ordeal began long before. We first documented his case in a 2008 report on US renditions to Jordan between 2001 and 2004 for interrogation using torture. US and Pakistani forces arrested al-Hajj in Karachi in February 2002 and sent him to Jordan, where he was held for nearly two years.
 
They sent him to a then-secret US prison in Afghanistan, where he was held in complete darkness and isolation for five months, and then transferred him to Guantanamo in September 2004. According to a letter other prisoners managed to smuggle out of the Jordanian prison for him and what he told his lawyer, he was repeatedly tortured and gave his interrogators false information in the hopes that they would stop tormenting him — information that ended up in US military assessments of other Guantanamo detainees.
 
In 2011, after detainees finally won the right to challenge their detention in US federal court, a judge ruled that statements he made in Jordan or at the US prison in Afghanistan were coerced, unreliable and could not be used against him. By then however he had seen many detainees win at lower-court levels only to have their cases reversed on appeal — including Adnan Latif who died of a drug overdose at Guantanamo in 2012. Al-Hajj said he lost faith in the process, dropped his habeas case, began regular hunger strikes, and became depressed and physically weak.
 
Last year, with new legal counsel, he decided to challenge his detention once again. That time he went through the Periodic Review Board process, set up by the Obama administration in 2013 to review whether the government continued to believe it was necessary to hold individual detainees. Despite the favorable 2011 ruling barring the use of information obtained during his interrogations, the government appears to have drawn upon the discredited information during the review board process, and rejected his appeal.
 
After 16 years, continuing detentions without due process at Guantanamo generates global condemnation that poses a far greater security threat to the US than the release of any one detainee.

Laura Pitter

Senior National Security Counsel, US Program

Today al-Hajj is frail and in despair. He was hospitalized last summer after he fell unconscious in his cell and currently weighs 107 pounds. In September, his lawyers filed an emergency motion seeking an outside medical examination and his medical records.
 
There are many more equally disturbing cases at Guantanamo. Though President Trump has not had any new detainees taken to Guantanamo, his administration has also not made any effort to release the cleared detainees or review the cases of others who remain locked up.
 
We have long argued that if there is credible evidence that detainees committed crimes they should be prosecuted in the federal courts, not the fundamentally unfair military commissions, and without such evidence, they should be released. Holding them indefinitely without charge violates international law, is unjust, and after so many years, inhumane.
 
A new habeas petition filed by the Center for Constitutional Rights today makes that case. Congress should remove the bar preventing detainees from being transferred to the United States for federal court trials, and press the administration to resolve the other cases. US courts should also no longer permit the government to hold detainees indefinitely as they have in the past. After 16 years, continuing detentions without due process at Guantanamo generates global condemnation that poses a far greater security threat to the US than the release of any one detainee.  
Author: Human Rights Watch
Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am