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UN Special Procedures call for immediate moratorium on Sri Lanka’s anti-terror law

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ECONOMYNEXT – The Special Procedures of the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC), the largest body of independent experts in the UN human rights system, have called for an immediate moratorium on the use of Sri Lanka’s Prevention of Terrorism Act (PTA).

The Special Rapporteurs, independent experts and working groups that comprise the UNHRC Special Procedures have urged the government of Sri Lanka to substantively review and revise the legislation to comply with international human rights law, a statement from the Office of the High Commissioner on Human Rights (OHCHR) said on Wednesday (02).

“There is a grave risk to the rights and liberties of people who may be detained arbitrarily, especially religious and ethnic minorities, and the use of the law may curtail political dissent with no effective due process guarantees,” the experts said. “An immediate moratorium on the use of the PTA is required until the necessary amendments can be made.”

Wednesday’s statement came amid reports that Sri Lanka’s human rights record will be subjected to close scrutiny at the ongoing 49th UNHRC session in Geneva, Switzerland. Analysts and diplomats have said global rights groups and Western nations are increasingly sceptical of the government’s sincerity in implementing some of the provisions in the UN resolution passed last year. Rights groups have also questioned Sri Lanka’s commitment to reforming its controversial anti-terror law.


Sri Lanka to face tough UNHRC session amid more international scrutiny


Sri Lanka’s foreign minister G L Peiris has said an amendment bill he presented in parliament on February 10, 43 years after the PTA’s promulgation, was an initial step in amending the controversial anti-terror law with a view to protecting the rights of detainees and others.

“Sri Lanka is convinced that counter-terrorism legislation must secure and protect the rights of persons subject to investigation, detention and trial, and must not restrict democratic freedoms such as the freedom of expression,” he said.

The proposed amendments include a reduction of the period of pre-trial detention, an increase of magistrates’ powers to visit places of detention and the speeding up of trials. Though these will be welcome amendments, the OHRCH statement quoted its experts as saying, the PTA Amendment Bill did not comply fully with Sri Lanka’s international human rights obligations and that the revisions fell short of their recommendations, as well as those expressed by the OHCHR and other mechanisms.

“The current proposals leave intact some of the most egregious provisions of the PTA, which have led to alleged human rights violations, including arbitrary detention, torture and enforced disappearances,” the experts said. “The actions of the Sri Lankan government call into question its commitment to reform. Sri Lanka has an immediate obligation to put forth solutions to address the human rights violations carried out under the PTA.”

The experts also pointed to five key amendments to ensure the PTA is compliant with international law obligations, as articulated by the UN Special Rapporteur on the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and of association.

  1. Employ definitions of terrorism that comply with international norms;
  2. Ensure precision and legal certainty, especially when this legislation may impact the rights of freedom of expression, opinion, association and religion or belief;
  3. Institute provisions and measures to prevent and prohibit arbitrary deprivation of liberty;
  4. Ensure the enforcement of measures to prevent torture and enforced disappearance and adhere to their absolute prohibition and non-derogable prohibition; and
  5. Enable overarching due process and fair trial guarantees, including
    judicial oversight and access to legal counsel.

“The PTA has been used for over 40 years to enable prolonged arbitrary detention, extract false confessions through torture, and target minority communities and political dissidents in Sri Lanka. Its application may also enable the commission of enforced disappearances. Suspects detained pursuant to the PTA have been held for decades without charge,” the statement said.

The experts urged Sri Lanka to adopt counter-terrorism legislation that is fully compliant with international human rights standards as it negotiates a trade deal with the European Union, whose parliament adopted a resolution in June 2021 calling for the repeal of the PTA and inviting the EU Commission to consider temporarily withdrawing Sri Lanka’s access to the Generalised Scheme of Preferences Plus (GSP+) concession.

“The EU should stress that the government, as a good faith gesture, implements an immediate moratorium on the use of the PTA and release all those unjustly jailed under this abusive law,” the experts were quoted as saying. (Colombo/Mar03/2022)

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