Sri Lanka: Australia Should Raise Torture Concerns
Sri Lanka: Australia Should Raise Torture Concerns
(Melbourne) - Australia's immigration minister should raise concerns with Sri
Lankan officials about alleged arbitrary arrest and torture of people who were
refused asylum and sent back to Sri Lanka when he visits this week, the Human
Rights Law Centre and Human Rights Watch said today.
Immigration Minister Chris Bowen is scheduled to visit Sri Lanka from May 2 to
4, 2012, to discuss migration issues, including preventing people smuggling
from Sri Lanka to Australia. Bowen has said, "Australia will continue working
closely with Sri Lanka on issues relating to people smuggling, including
preventing and disrupting people smuggling ventures by air and sea." The Human
Rights Law Centre and Human Rights Watch called on Bowen and all senior
Australian officials to ensure that respect for human rights and accountability
for human rights violations are central to all discussions with their Sri
"Rejected asylum seekers returned to Sri Lanka have been subject to arbitrary
detention, torture, and other serious human rights abuses," said Phil Lynch,
executive director of the Human Rights Law Centre. "Efforts to counter and
prevent people-smuggling should seek to protect asylum seekers, and shouldn't
interfere with their right to seek asylum."
Australia cooperates closely with Sri Lanka on addressing people-smuggling. The
Sri Lankan Department of Immigration and Emigration receives Australian aid,
and Australia's last federal budget included almost AU$11 million to deploy
Australian federal police officers to Sri Lanka and other countries to "combat
The Human Rights Law Centre and Human Rights Watch urged both governments to
make certain that they do not undermine legal protections for asylum seekers in
their efforts to counter people-smuggling. Human Rights Watch has documented at
least eight cases in which people who had unsuccessfully sought asylum in the
UK were returned to Sri Lanka and endured serious human rights abuses,
including torture and rape. Some said they were beaten with batons and burned
The Edmund Rice Center in Australia similarly documented in May 2010 that
asylum seekers returned to Sri Lanka were handed over to the Criminal
Investigation Department, the Sri Lankan police, and taken into custody. Some
have been detained and assaulted.
In March an Australian citizen, Premakumar Gunaratnam, who was trying to form a
political party in Sri Lanka, alleged that he was picked up and tortured in
custody. Sri Lankan authorities subsequently deported him to Australia.
The United Nations Committee against Torture found in November 2011 that
torture and ill-treatment in Sri Lanka are "widespread and persistent." It
stated that, "[The] continued and consistent allegations of widespread use of
torture and other cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment of suspects in police
custody, especially to extract confessions or information to be used in
criminal proceedings. The Committee is further concerned at reports that
suggest that torture and ill-treatment perpetrated by state actors, both the
military and the police, have continued in many parts of the country after the
conflict ended in May 2009 and is still occurring in 2011."
"Australia should ensure that human rights concerns and safeguards are
paramount in any security, intelligence, and migration cooperation with Sri
Lanka," said Elaine Pearson, deputy Asia director at Human Rights Watch.
"Australia is prohibited under the Refugees Convention and international human
rights law from sending anyone to a country where they face torture and
Immigration Minister Bowen should also raise Australia's broader concerns about
the human rights situation in Sri Lanka during his visit, the organizations
said. Specifically he should ask what the Sri Lankan government is doing to
investigate and prosecute alleged war crimes during Sri Lanka's 26-year-long
conflict, which ended three years ago.
In March the UN Human Rights Council adopted a resolution on Sri Lanka showing
strong international support for accountability for abuses committed by all
sides to the conflict. The resolution calls upon the Sri Lankan government to
fulfill its legal obligations toward justice and accountability, to
expeditiously provide a comprehensive action plan to carry out the
recommendations of its Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission, and to
address alleged violations of international law. It also encourages the Office
of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights and other UN human rights envoys
to assist Sri Lanka in implementing these steps.
"Bowen should make it crystal clear though public and private statements that
Australia supports international efforts at accountability, and that Sri Lanka
has failed to deliver," Lynch said. "In particular, Bowen should ask what
efforts have been made to implement the UN Human Rights Council resolution to
ensure justice for the numerous atrocities that occurred during the conflict."
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