Dec 16, 2017

Caution should be exercised when questioning at police stations - UN Featured

The UN group on arbitrary detention has identified significant challenges being exerted on the right of people’s right to freedom in Sri Lanka, resulting in arbitrary detention by the police across the country.

Subsequent to an official visit to the country, the three member UN group on Arbitrary Detention in its statement said the right to personal liberty has yet to be respected by law enforcement, security forces, judicial and other authorities. The Group issued its preliminary findings yesterday (15).
However, the committee positively accepted certain steps taken by Sri Lanka.

The Working Group also commended the constructive cooperation of the Government of Sri Lanka with the international community, in particular the United Nations Human Rights Mechanisms. The visit of the Working Group and the recent visits of other UN Special Procedures are a clear example of such engagement.

However, the experts recognize positive initiatives, including engagement with UN human rights mechanisms, as well as the recent accession to the Optional Protocol to the Convention against Torture.

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José Guevara Bermúdez, Leigh Toomey and Elina Steinerte engaged in the visit.

“The right to personal liberty has yet to be respected by law enforcement, security forces, judicial and other authorities,” the experts said it their statement.

They said that current powers to deprive individuals of their liberty extended across a range of facilities, including police stations, prisons, open work camps, centres for juveniles and the elderly, mental health institutions and rehabilitation camps for former combatants, as well as those for drug addicts and people in vulnerable situations.

The experts called for urgent reforms to address problems including the excessive use of remand, a lack of effective alternatives to detention, an outdated legal framework and reliance on confessions, often extracted under torture or duress.

Court proceedings were affected by excessive and unjustified delays, while suspects remained in detention indefinitely, they said, adding that the rights to the presumption of innocence and due process were yet to be fully recognized.


The experts noted the need for the abolition of the special laws and powers enacted during the state of emergency. The Working Group urged the Government of Sri Lanka to repeal the Prevention of Terrorism Act of 1979, which is a primary mechanism that enables arbitrary detention for over four decades. Any new legislation must be in accordance with international human rights law and best practices.

The UN representatives also highlighted that detainees in general were not given due access to their basic entitlement of immediate access to legal assistance from the moment of the arrest and before their initial statement was recorded.

“Especially interrogation of detainees at police stations without a lawyer, is of great concern,” the experts said.

In their summery the group said, “Under these circumstances there is no productive safeguard against arbitrary detention while there is an urgent need for independent observation and strengthening of control mechanisms.”

The delegation comprised of Working Group members José Antonio Guevara Berm­­údez, Leigh Toomey and Elina Steinerte, who toured the country from December 04 to 15.