COLOMBO, Sri Lanka (AP) — A U.N. human rights expert said Saturday that torture is still being used by Sri Lanka's criminal and terrorism investigators, even though the tactic has decreased since the island nation's decades-long civil war ended seven years ago.
Juan E. Mendez, the United Nations' special rapporteur on torture, made the comment at the end of a nine-day visit to Sri Lanka. He said he interviewed people who claimed they were tortured while in detention, and that forensic tests done with the help of an expert showed their testimony was true.
"Fewer cases are reported today than during the conflict period and perhaps the methods used by the police forces are at times less severe," Mendez said. "But sadly the practice of interrogation under physical and mental coercion still exists and severe forms of torture albeit probably in less frequent instances continue to be used."
"Both old and new cases continue to be surrounded by total impunity," he said.
Mendez said torture methods used included asphyxiation using plastic bags drenched in kerosene, hanging of detainees upside down, applying chili power to the face and eyes, and the mutilation of and rubbing of chili paste and onions on genitals.
Government officials could not immediately reached for comment.
Mendez said Sri Lankan prisons he visited were overcrowded and dilapidated to the point of causing danger to the inmates and it amounted to cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment.
"I am struggling with adjectives to sxay what these conditions are like, because deplorable doesn't even begin to tell the story," he said.
"These places are very old, some 170 years and they never seem to have been maintained. They are literally crumbling on the prisoners even with the stairs that are very unstable and walls and ceilings seem to be falling on the prisoners."
He said overcrowding in certain places is about 5 times the capacity and it is a result of lengthy sentences for less severe offenses and long detention periods, in some cases up to 15 years before the cases are concluded.
"This is a serious violation of due process and the presumption of innocence," he said.