Sri Lankan deligation told by UNHRC to rid of its Draconian PTA!

The Draconian Prevention of Terrorism Act first passed as a temporary measure; was used by the Sri Lankan Government to target and harass minorities, activists, journalists and voices critical of the rulers. This was despite assurances to amend the problematic legislation with the end of the civil-war in 2009.

The Sri Lankan Prevention of Terrorism Act (PTA) was initially passed in 1979 as a temporary measure to tackle “elements or groups of persons or associations” attempting to bring about a change of government. It was then made a permanent law in 1982.

Sri Lankans, and minorities in particular, still bear the burden of this draconian legislation which is used to detain people for prolonged periods of time, without charge and often times in contravention of due process guarantees recognised by international law. Despite the Sri Lankan government’s multiple assurances that the PTA would be reformed in line with international law and standards, to date no adequate reforms have taken place and the PTA continues to be used as a tool to arbitrarily arrest and detain people, violate fair trial rights, and put detainees at risk of to8rture or other ill-treatment, amongst other violations.

On 27 January 2021, the Sri Lankan government gazetted amendments to the PTA, however Amnesty International has found that these fail to address critical gaps in the law and following are notable for contributing to the violation of the human rights of people detained under the law:
 Detainees can be held for up to 18 months without charge.
 Arbitrary orders can be made by the Minister of Defence, restricting freedom of expression and association, with no right of appeal in courts.
 Contains special rules of evidence, allowing for confessions to be admissible in court.
 Places the burden on a suspect to prove to a court that a statement was made under duress.
 Unclear provisions on procedure of granting bail and therefore some detainees are not granted bail due to this lack of clarity.

What is more, the proposed amendments have fallen severely short of safeguarding rights protected by international human rights law and the Constitution of Sri Lanka.

The usual trick employed by Sri Lankan delegations before the sessions of the UNHRC by making various promises and even exhibiting draft Bills, thereby trying to create the impression that some compliance with the request of the Council is being considered by the Government was not able to convince the international community of the sincerity of the GoSL. 

Under this sinario, the Sri Lankan delegation to the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) was told to suspend the PTA altogether and immediately to amend the Prevention of Terrorism Act, by the 16 UN special experts calling on the Government of Sri Lanka (GoSL) After the suspension, the Government could suitably enact anti terrorism law which is in keeping with international law.