Concern for tortured detainee - Amnesty

[TamilNet, Friday, 07 August 1998, 23:59 GMT]
Amnesty International, the London based human right watchdog said that "there are serious concerns" for Thambirajah Kamalathasan, a Tamil man from Chunnakam, Jaffna, who was subjected to torture for several days following his arrest by police on 15 July 1998 in the capital, Colombo.

In a press release issued on Thursday, Amnesty said that Kamalathasan had been seen being assaulted with a rod at Pettah police station, and that chili powder had been rubbed into his eyes and that his genitals had been squeezed.

Kamalathasan is said to have had difficulty walking as a result of the torture, and one of his legs was apparently swollen below the knee. He was transferred to the custody of the recently formed Terrorist Investigation Department on 21 July and is reported to be held at the 6th Floor, police headquarters in Colombo. His relatives have so far not been allowed to visit him there.

According to Amnesty, Kamalathasan was one of 192 Sri Lankan asylum seekers whose boat was intercepted by the Senegalese navy on 24 February off the coast of Senegal. All returned to Sri Lanka, where they were arrested and held in detention for several weeks.

After being released on bail on 17 March, Kamalathasan returned to Jaffna. He had come to Colombo on 13 July with permission from the Sri Lankan Ministry of Defence to attend a court hearing scheduled for 31 July.

Amnesty says that " for years, torture has been one of the most widespread human rights violations in Sri Lanka", adding that "There have been widespread reports of torture since the resumption of the conflict in April 1995 between the [Sri Lankan] security forces and the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE)"

The organisation says "this has been ascertained by many testimonies obtained from victims of torture, by medical certificates corroborating these testimonies, by judgements of the Supreme Court in fundamental rights cases as well as by recent reports from government inquiry commissions."

Amnesty also says that "In Colombo, members of the Tamil community are at risk of arbitrary arrest and detention. Large numbers of Tamils are regularly arrested there", adding that "under current security legislation, the security forces have been given broad powers of arrest and detention. These wide powers have contributed to the prevalence of human rights violations including torture."

Amnesty said that "torture has been facilitated by widespread impunity of the perpetrators. To date, no member of the security forces has been brought to justice for committing torture."

Tamils are often rounded up in large numbers of the streets of Colombo. Though most are released - often on payment of a bribe, hundreds languish in the city prisons without access to relatives or lawyers.

Those suspected of involvement with the LTTE are at risk of torture, says Amnesty. However, in many cases, innocent men and women have been arrested and tortured into signing confessions that they are members of the LTTE, and then imprisoned. Lawyers are not involved in the procedure.

Acknowledging that it was "in the process of ascertaining whether the Senegalese authorities acted in conformity with the country's obligations under international law", Amnesty said that Senegal was a party to the UN Convention relating to the Status of Refugees and Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (CAT).

In particular, the CAT states that no "State Party shall expel, return ("refouler") or extradite a person to another State where there are substantial grounds for believing that he would be in danger of being subjected to torture".

 

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