UN damns Lanka 14,000 minors in childcare centres Calls for urgent reforms
By Sulochana Ramiah Mohan
A delegation from the United Nations Working Group on Arbitrary Detention visiting Sri Lanka, yesterday (15), expressed deep concern over 14,000 girls and boys under the age of 18 who are currently deprived of their liberty and living in 425 childcare institutions out of which 26 are run by the State.
The Group also pointed out that Sri Lanka's legal framework regarding children falls short of international best practices in several areas.
The five-member delegation led by Chair Rapporteur Elina Steinerte and Jose Guevara, Leigh Toomey etc., after touring the island for two weeks listed several alarming shortcomings in the justice system under which people are arrested and detained in the country.
After visiting over 30 places including Police Stations, long-term remand and open prisons, immigration detention facilities at entry ports, Army and Navy camps, children's homes, women and the elderly, they said that the fundamental rights are underutilized due to the flaws in the procedures including the one month limitation for petitions, the lack of standing for public interest petitions and the fact that the petition must be made to the Supreme Court which is not easily accessible to people living outside Colombo. They urged the Government to adopt measures in the draft Constitutional Bill of rights to address these flaws.
They said that the current population in prison is 20,598 of which 11,009 are held in pre-trial detention and that over half of the prison population is awaiting trial which is exceptionally high. They said that as a common practice, pre-trial detention could continue for three to four days or even up to 10 days.
The delegation also pointed out that the bail system is problematic and pre-trial detention should be used as a last resort but in numerous cases they had heard that the accused were granted bail but remained in custody because they were unable to afford the bail or provide the required sureties.
They also noted that the excessive duration of the trial is because of the lack of sufficient investigative capacity in the Police and at the Attorney General's Department which are functioning under insufficient resources and are therefore unable to handle pending cases. Numerous allegations have been received that confessions are obtained by the Police including the Terrorism Investigation Division (TID) and the Criminal Investigation Department (CID) with the use of torture and other inhuman treatment. They noted that any confession should be made before a judge who must ensure that it was given without coercion.
The experts called for the abolition of the special laws and powers enacted during the state of emergency. In particular, the Group urged the Government to repeal the Prevention of Terrorism Act (PTA) of 1979, as one of the key enablers of arbitrary detention for over four decades. Any new legislation must be in accordance with international human rights law and best practices. They also pointed out that not a single Tamil speaking judge is available in the Supreme Court in Colombo.
They further noted that the number of arrests made under the PTA is diminishing but added that there are still 17 suspects held under the PTA and are yet to be charged and out of this number 10 are Tamils.
"The fact that the detainees are interrogated by the authorities without a lawyer, in particular at Police stations, is of great concern," they said.
s called for urgent reforms to address problems regarding children in need of care and protection, children in conflict with the law, those deprived of liberty on the grounds of disability and rehabilitation purposes, rehabilitation programmes for drug users, vulnerable women and persons, and immigration detention for asylum seekers and refugees. Prior to the conclusion of its visit to the country the delegation also met with Government officials, judges, lawyers, civil society organizations and other relevant groups.
The delegation travelled to Colombo, Negombo, Anuradhapura, Vavuniya, Trincomalee and Polonnaruwa, visiting more than 30 different detention centres and interviewing more than 100 people deprived of their liberty.
The delegation will present the final report of its visit to the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) in September 2018.
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