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Sri Lanka

Section 1. Respect for the Integrity of the Person, Including Freedom from:

d. Arbitrary Arrest or Detention

The law prohibits arbitrary arrest and detention and provides for the right of any person to challenge the lawfulness of his/her arrest or detention in court, but there were reports that arbitrary arrest and detention occurred, although at a decreased rate compared with 2017, according to civil society and the HRCSL; under the PTA the ability to challenge detentions was particularly limited.

ROLE OF THE POLICE AND SECURITY APPARATUS

The Police Service is responsible for maintaining internal security and in November was moved from the Ministry of Law and Order to the Ministry of Defense. The military falls under the Ministry of Defense and is responsible for external security. According to the criminal procedure code, the military may be called upon to handle specifically delineated domestic security responsibilities. President Sirisena served as the minister of defense, but the civilian secretary of defense had daily operational responsibility over the military and, as of November, the police. The nearly 11,000-member paramilitary Special Task Force is a police entity that reports to the Inspector General of Police, which falls under the Ministry of Law and Order. It coordinates internal security operations with the military.

Civilian authorities generally maintained control over the security forces. Reports indicated that during anti-Muslim violence in March, the police initially were slow to respond or stop perpetrators from damaging Muslim buildings and assaulting Muslim individuals. The Ministry of Law and Order is responsible for determining whether security force killings were justifiable. According to civil society, intelligence operatives conducted domestic surveillance operations and harassed or intimidated members of civil society (see section 2.a., Freedom of Expression, Including for the Press).

Impunity for conflict-era abuses also persisted, including military, paramilitary, police, and other security-sector officials implicated in cases involving the alleged targeted killing of parliamentarians, abductions, and suspected killings of journalists and private citizens. Civil society organizations asserted the government and the courts were largely reluctant to take action against security forces. Prosecutions for abuses committed by the security forces and police were rare but increasing, as were prosecutions for government corruption and malfeasance.

Security forces had limited internal mechanisms to investigate abuses, but victims may bring cases directly to the Supreme Court. The HRCSL and criminal courts may also investigate such abuses, and the government pursued prosecutions and secured convictions in multiple high-profile cases against members of the security services. On August 9, the Jaffna High Court sentenced two senior military intelligence officers to death for the killing of a Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) militant while in custody in 1998. On July 18, the Supreme Court upheld and reimposed the suspended sentence of imprisonment of former Welikada police chief inspector Kamal Amarasinghe, who was convicted for assault. On July 5, the Supreme Court ruled against the police, ordering payment of compensation to a commercial sex worker and holding that her fundamental rights had been violated when she was harassed in 2014. On June 7, two police officers were sentenced to 20 years and six months of imprisonment with hard labor by the Colombo High Court after they were convicted of rape in Bambalapitiya in 2003. In October the United Nations sent the commander of the Sri Lankan peacekeeping contingent in Mali back to Sri Lanka after reportedly having discovered information that claimed to link him to a unit implicated in atrocities during Sri Lanka’s civil war.

In March widespread anti-Muslim violence erupted in the central Buddhist region of Kandy District, resulting in hundreds of Muslim homes, business, and mosques being destroyed or damaged, in addition to the deaths of four individuals and the injury of 28 others. Observers and victims of the violence reported some members of the police and Special Task Force either took no action to quell the violence or actively participated.

ARREST PROCEDURES AND TREATMENT OF DETAINEES

The criminal procedure code allows police to make an arrest without a warrant for offenses such as homicide, theft, robbery, and rape. Alternatively, police may make arrests pursuant to arrest warrants that judges and magistrates issued based on evidence. The law requires authorities to inform an arrested person of the reason for the arrest and arraign that person before a magistrate within 24 hours for minor crimes, 48 hours for some grave crimes, and 72 hours for crimes covered by the PTA. More time reportedly elapsed before some detainees appeared before a magistrate, particularly in PTA cases. For bailable offenses as characterized under the Bail Act, instead of arraignment in court, the police can release suspects within 24 hours of detention on a written undertaking and require them to report to court on a specified date for pretrial hearings. Suspects accused of committing bailable offenses are entitled to bail, administered by the police before seeing a magistrate, but for suspects accused of nonbailable offenses, bail is awarded only at a magistrate’s discretion, i.e., after appearing before a magistrate.

The Bail Act states no person should be held in custody for more than 12 months prior to conviction and sentencing without a special exemption. Under the PTA detainees may be held for up to 18 months without charge, but in practice authorities often held PTA detainees for longer periods. After a July 2017 visit by a UN special rapporteur on the protection of detainees accused of terrorism, the UN report noted that of 81 prisoners in pretrial detention awaiting the police investigation to be completed and the Attorney General’s Department filing of charges for offenses under the PTA, 70 had been in detention without trial for more than five years and 12 had been in detention without trial for more than 10 years. There was no known action on these cases during the year.

Judges require approval from the Attorney General’s Department to authorize bail for persons detained under the PTA, which the office normally did not grant. In homicide cases regulations require the magistrate to remand the suspect, and only the High Court may grant bail. In all cases suspects have the right to legal representation, although no provision specifically provides the right of a suspect to legal representation during interrogations in police stations and detention centers. The government provided counsel for indigent defendants in criminal cases before the High Court and courts of appeal but not in other cases; the law requires the provision of counsel only for cases heard at the High Court and courts of appeal.

The minister of justice acknowledged the suspension of the PTA in February 2017; however, the government made at least four arrests under the PTA during the year.

Arbitrary Arrest: The HRCSL received 101 complaints of arbitrary arrest and detention through June. Police sometimes held detainees incommunicado, and lawyers had to apply for permission to meet clients, with police frequently present at such meetings. In some cases unlawful detentions reportedly included interrogations involving mistreatment or torture.

In October dozens of Tamil prisoners across the country, including former LTTE fighters, undertook a hunger strike, demanding an immediate resolution to their protracted detention. Many of the prisoners were held under the PTA without charge. They asked the government either to indict them or provide a pathway for their eventual release.

Pretrial Detention: Pretrial detainees composed approximately one-half of the detainee population. The average length of time in pretrial detention was 24 hours, but inability to post bail, lengthy legal procedures, judicial inefficiency, and corruption often caused trial delays. Legal advocacy groups asserted that for those cases in which pretrial detention exceeded 24 hours, it was common for the length of pretrial detention to equal or exceed the sentence for the alleged crime.

Detainee’s Ability to Challenge Lawfulness of Detention before a Court: Under the law a person may challenge an arrest or detention and obtain prompt release through the courts. The legal process takes years, however, and the Center for Human Rights Development (CHRD) indicated the perceived lack of judicial independence and minimal compensation discouraged individuals from seeking legal remedies. Under the PTA the ability to challenge detentions is particularly limited.

e. Denial of Fair Public Trial

The law provides for an independent judiciary, and the government generally respected judicial independence and impartiality.

TRIAL PROCEDURES

The constitution and law provide for the right to a fair and public trial, and an independent judiciary generally enforced this right. The law presumes defendants are innocent until proven guilty. All criminal trials are public. Authorities inform defendants of the charges against them, and they have the right to counsel and the right to appeal. The government provided counsel for indigent persons tried on criminal charges in the High Court and the courts of appeal but not in cases before lower courts. Defendants have the right to confront witnesses against them and to present witnesses and evidence.

The law requires court proceedings and other legislation to be available in English, Sinhala, and Tamil. Most courts outside the northern and eastern parts of the country conducted business in English or Sinhala. Trials and hearings in the north and east were in Tamil and English. A shortage of court-appointed interpreters limited the right of Tamil-speaking defendants to free interpretation as necessary. In several instances courts tried criminal cases originating in the Tamil-speaking north and east in Sinhala-speaking areas, which exacerbated the language difference and increased the difficulty in presenting witnesses who needed to travel. Few legal textbooks were available in Tamil. Defendants have the right to be present in court during trial and have the right to adequate time and facilities to prepare a defense. Defendants also have the right not to testify or admit guilt.

POLITICAL PRISONERS AND DETAINEES

Some Tamil politicians and local human rights activists referred to alleged former LTTE combatants accused of terrorism-related violent crimes as “political prisoners,” and the CHRD reported that more than 130 such prisoners remained in detention. The government did not acknowledge any political prisoners and claimed the prisoners in question were detained for violent criminal acts. The government permitted access to prisoners on a regular basis by the HRCSL, magistrates, and the Board of Prison Visits, and it allowed the ICRC access to monitor prison conditions. Authorities granted irregular access to those providing local legal counsel.

CIVIL JUDICIAL PROCEDURES AND REMEDIES

Citizens may seek civil remedies for alleged human rights violations through domestic courts up to the Supreme Court.

PROPERTY RESTITUTION

Land ownership disputes continued between private individuals in former war zones, and between citizens and the government.

The military seized significant amounts of land during the war to create security buffer zones around military bases and other high-value targets, known as high security zones (HSZs). According to the 1950 Land Acquisition Act, the government may acquire private property for a “public purpose,” but the law requires posting acquisition notices publicly and providing proper compensation to owners. The former government frequently posted acquisition notices for HSZ land that were inaccessible to property owners, many of whom initiated court cases, including fundamental rights cases before the Supreme Court, to challenge these acquisitions. According to the acquisition notices, most of the land acquired was for use as army camps and bases, but among the purposes listed on certain notices were the establishment of a hotel, a factory, and a farm. Throughout the year lawsuits, including a 2016 Supreme Court fundamental rights case and numerous writ applications filed with High Courts, remained stalled. Although HSZs had no legal framework following the lapse of emergency regulations in 2011, they still existed and remained off limits to civilians. During the year the government returned approximately 2,300 acres of land. Since 2009 the government reported that it had released more than 83,000 acres of land, representing more than 80 percent of all land occupied during the war.

With the amount of remaining land in dispute, many of those affected by the HSZs complained that the pace at which the government demilitarized land was too slow and that the military held lands it viewed as economically valuable. Some Hindu and Muslim groups reported they had difficulty officially claiming land they had long inhabited after Buddhist monks placed a statue of Buddha or a bodhi tree on their property.

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The Lessons of 1989: Freedom and Our Future