Revisions to PTA falls short of int’l recommendations: OHCHR

Revisions to PTA falls short of int’l recommendations: OHCHR

Revisions to PTA falls short of int’l recommendations: OHCHR

Written by Amani Nilar

03 Mar, 2022 | 10:12 am

COLOMBO (News 1st); Experts at the United Nations’ Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights has called for an immediate moratorium on the use of Sri Lanka’s Prevention of Terrorism Act (PTA), and urged the Government to substantively review and revise the legislation to comply with international human rights law. 

In a news release, UN Special Procedures comprising of Special Rapporteurs on the promotion and protection of human rights and fundamental freedoms while countering terrorism, rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and of association, minority issues,  promotion of truth, justice, reparation and guarantees of non-recurrence, torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment, along with the Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances have stated that revisions which the Government presented for reforming the PTA fell short of their recommendations.

“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.”

As part of its negotiation for trade-related assistance from the European Union, On 10th February 2022, a bill to amend the PTA was presented to the Sri Lankan Parliament, however, the given revisions fell short of their recommendations, as well as those expressed by the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights and other mechanisms, the experts stated.

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 experts point out.

The experts further acknowledges that the proposed reduction of the period of pre-trial detention, an increase of magistrates’ powers to visit places of detention and the speeding up of trials were welcome changes to the PTA. However, they expressed regret that the PTA Amendment Bill did not comply fully with Sri Lanka’s international human rights obligations.

“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.”

In a recent letter to the Sri Lankan Government as well as in the May 2020 country visit report of the Special Rapporteur on the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and of association, the experts identified key amendments to ensure the PTA is compliant with international law obligations, including:

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

The experts also 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 EU. “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,” said the experts.

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