Rights group: Sri Lanka still uses abusive laws

AP News
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Posted: Sep 08, 2011 8:04 AM
Rights group: Sri Lanka still uses abusive laws

Despite removing draconian wartime laws, Sri Lanka's government is using new "abusive" regulations to keep hundreds of people in jails without trial, an international human rights groups said.

In a statement Wednesday, the New York-based Human Rights Watch called on the government of President Mahinda Rajapaksa to abolish such detention laws and free the prisoners.

"The Sri Lankan government announced that the state of emergency is over, but it is holding on to the same draconian powers it had during the war" against the Tamil Tiger rebels, said Brad Adams, the group's Asia director.

Foreign governments critical of Sri Lanka should not be "fooled by this cynical bait and switch," he said.

The statement comes as a reminder that Sri Lanka's government remains on the radar of civil rights groups, which have repeatedly accused it of gross violations during the 26-year war against the separatist Tamil Tigers, who were vanquished in 2009.

Between 80,000-100,000 people were killed in the war. However, a U.N. experts panel reported earlier this year tens of thousands of ethnic Tamil civilians may have been killed in the final months of the war leading to claims the death toll from the war could be much higher.

The emergency laws that had curbed civil and political liberties for most of the past 30 years in the island nation lapsed last week after the government did not renew them. The laws had allowed authorities to detain suspects for up to one year without bringing them to court, displace residents from their land and set up ubiquitous military checkpoints.

Rajapaksa said the laws were no longer needed now that the war has ended, but he approved four regulations under the powerful Prevention of Terrorism Act allowing the government to continue holding arrested rebel suspects. Tamil lawmakers say there are about 900 such detainees.

The PTA also allows for arrests for unspecified unlawful activities without warrant and permits detention for up to 18 months without trial.

Such laws "leave an abusive detention regime in place," Human Rights Watch said.

The PTA has existed for some time and people arrested over alleged terrorist activities will be detained until the investigation on them ends, said Lakshman Hulugalla, head of the government's Media Center for National Security. He also said people who are undergoing rehabilitation are being released as they complete their programs

The government is holding about 3,000 ex-rebels in military-run rehabilitation centers. About 11,000 Tamil rebels surrendered at the end of the war and nearly 8,000 have been freed after rehabilitation, the military says.

Rights groups and countries including U.S. have urged Sri Lanka to either charge the detainees or release them.

The island had been under a state of emergency since 1983 except for brief lapses to help peace talks between the government and rebels.