Speaking to the media after a four-day tour of Sri Lanka, Emmerson maintained that as recently as October 2016, 80 cases of torture of PTA detainees were reported and strongly called for the repealing of the PTA, a matter which Emmerson and the Lankan Justice Minister did not agree upon in their official meeting in the beginning of the week.
Although he briefly admitted that there has been a ‘steep decline’ in cases booked under the PTA, the UN representative was emphatic on what he saw as the continued violations of human rights under the existence of the PTA.
The PTA remains in the Lankan statute book despite an undertaking given to the UN Human Rights Council (UNRC) in 2015, he said, adding that the draft of the new anti-terror law had retained the admissibility of confessions made to a police officer during investigations. Stating that this is unacceptable because confessions at the police investigations stage are extracted by torture he said that for anti-terrorism law to be in conformity with international standards, the admissibility of confessions made to the police should be removed.
Although avoiding the mentioning of names the UN official blamed the influence of ‘certain vested interests’ in the security sector who are resistant to change, and above all, to accountability.
Taking a strong stand against the government and blaming the current administration of falling prey to ‘intertia’ Emmerson claimed that the current regime has done almost nothing to hold accountable those members of the armed forces and security services who committed gross human rights violations during and since the conflict.
Stating that the PTA system was ‘cruel and unjust’ he said that it has overwhelmingly impacted the Tamil community negatively and that only 71 police officers have been taken to task for torture.
With regard to the detainees under the PTA, he urged the government to either release them on bail or quicken the judicial process, pointing out that of 81 detainees, 70 have been in detention for over five years and eleven for over 10 years.
Making an indirect comment on the current tension between the SLFP and the UNP coalition of the Unity Regime, the UN Rapporteur felt that Prime Minister Ranil Wickremsinghe had ‘genuine’ interest in proceeding with the promised war time accountability mechanisms although he alleged that ‘retrograde forces both outside and inside the government’ are preventing this.’