Statement of special Rapporteur on torture; Manfred Nowak on Sri lanka
POSTED BY Araliya CPA <araliya@...
Thursday, November 01, 2007 OPINION
Context and challenges in the promotion and protection of human rights
Statement of special Rapporteur on torture; Manfred Nowak at the conclusion of visit to Sri Lanka
I appreciate that by enacting the 1994 Torture Act, the Government has implemented its obligation to criminalize torture and bring perpetrators to justice. I am also encouraged by the significant number of indictments filed by the Attorney General under this Act. However, I regret that these indictments have led so far only to three convictions. One of the factors influencing this outcome is reportedly because of the Torture Act's high mandatory minimum sentence of seven years; it is effectively a disincentive to apply against perpetrators.
Other factors are the absence of effective ex-officio investigation mechanisms in accordance with Art 12 CAT, as well as various obstacles detainees face in filing complaints and gaining access to independent medical examinations while still detained.
Given the high standards of proof applied by the Supreme Court in torture related cases, it is regrettable that the facts established do not trigger more convictions by criminal courts.
Conditions of detention As far as conditions of detention are concerned, the Government provided me with statistics indicating severe overcrowding of prisons. While the total capacity of all prisons amounts to 8,200, the actual prison population reaches 28,000. That poor conditions of detention can amount to inhuman and degrading treatment is well established in the jurisprudence of several international and regional human rights mechanisms. In Sri Lanka the combination of severe overcrowding with antiquated infrastructure of certain prison facilities places unbearable strains on services and resources, which for detainees in certain prisons, such as the Colombo Remand Prison, amounts to degrading treatment in my opinion. The lack of adequate facilities also leads to a situation where convicted prisoners are held together with pre-trial detainees in violation of Sri Lanka's obligation under Act 10 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. Although the conditions are definitely better in prisons with more modern facilities, such as Polonnaruwa and the Female Ward of the New Magazine Prison, the prison system as a whole is in need of structural reform.
During my visit of various police stations I observed that detainees are locked up in basic cells, sleeping on the concrete floor and often without natural light and sufficient ventilation.
While I am not concerned about such conditions for criminal suspects held in police custody for up to 24 hours, these conditions become inhuman for suspects held in these cells under detention orders pursuant to the Emergency Regulations for periods of several months up to one year. This applies both for smaller police stations, such as at Mt. Lavinia, and especially for the headquarters of the CID and TID in Colombo, where detainees are kept in rooms used as offices during the day-time, and forced to sleep on desks in some cases.
Corporal punishment in prisons and the death penalty. I appreciate the recent abolition of corporal punishment in Sri Lanka, however, in Bogambara Prison I received disturbing complaints of cases of corporal punishment corroborated by medical evidence. I am pleased to report that the Government has initiated an inquiry to look into this matter.
On the death penalty, I am encouraged by the policy of Sri Lanka not to carry out death sentences for over thirty years. Nevertheless, courts continue to sentence persons to death, which leads to a considerable number of condemned prisoners living for many years under the strict conditions of death row.
I encourage the international community to assist the Government of Sri Lanka to follow-up on these recommendations.
The Special Rapporteur shared his preliminary findings with the Government at the close of his mission, to which the Government responded with constructive comments. He is pleased to report that the Government will appoint a high-level task force to study his recommendations, consisting of public sector stakeholders and members representing judicial and civil society sectors. The Special Rapporteur will submit a comprehensive written report on the visit to the United Nations Human Rights Council.
Mr. Nowak was appointed Special Rapporteur on 1 December 2004 by the United Nations Commission on Human Rights. As Special Rapporteur, he is independent from any government and serves in his individual capacity. The Commission first decided to appoint a special rapporteur to examine questions relevant to torture in 1985. The mandate, since assumed by the Human Rights Council, covers all countries, whether or not they have ratified the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment.
Mr. Nowak has previously served as member of the Working Group on Enforced and Involuntary Disappearances; the UN expert on missing persons in the former Yugoslavia; the UN expert on legal questions on enforced disappearances; and as a judge at the Human Rights Chamber for Bosnia and Herzegovina. He is Professor of Constitutional Law and Human Rights at the University of Vienna, and Director of the Ludwig Boltzmann Institute of Human Rights.