Sri Lanka’s shameful practice of illegal detention

Three years after the end of the war, people are still being taken away and locked up in Sri Lanka.

Our new report, out today, documents the scale of the problem. Hundreds of people held incommunicado without trial or even charge. Held away from their families and without their lawyers. The world is looking elsewhere now, and these people are the forgotten prisoners, vulnerable to torture and even execution.

Sri Lanka has been forgotten, but perhaps not as much as government officials there wish that it had. Last year, the Sri Lankan government produced their own analysis of the last years of the war, a war which saw death and the destruction of lives on a massive scale. They had hoped that was the end of it, but it is not. A UN resolution which seeks to hold those responsible for crimes, to account has been proposed by the US. It is before the UN Human Rights Council, meeting in Geneva now, which is why we have released this report today. With our report, and the resolution, there is a sense that the pressure is mounting as opposed to ebbing away.

Then there is pesky old Channel Four, like a dog with a bone they keep returning to Sri Lankan atrocities. Last year’s Killing Fields documentary was met with high acclaim, and tomorrow’s follow up, which explores the chain of responsibility for the atrocities, promises to live up to its predecessor. It is set to be another harrowing production, with unseen footage of summary execution and an exploration of allegations that Tamil leaders tried to surrender, only to be killed.

These are testing times for international justice. Sri Lanka is clearly going to dig its heals in and resist independent international scrutiny. The BBC today announced that the Sri Lankan authorities are going to release their own documentary with their version of the closing chapters of the war. But it is imperative that the deadlock of impunity is ended.

As Sam Zarifi, our Asia-Pacific Director said today:

“The war crimes alleged in Sri Lanka in the final stages of the war are of such magnitude that if unchallenged risk fundamentally undermining international justice mechanisms - the UN must support an independent international investigation into these alleged crimes.”

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