May 19, New York: The global human rights organization, Huma Rights Watch (HRW) says Sri Lanka's latest counterterrorism bill falls far short of the government's pledges to the United Nations Human Rights Council to end abusive detention without charge.
While the Counter Terrorism Act (CTA), which is drafted to replace the draconian Prevention of Terrorism Act (PTA) improves upon the PTA, it would still permit many of the abuses occurring under current law, and raises a number of new concerns, the Human Rights Watch said in a statement Thursday.
The Cabinet approved the third draft of the Counter Terrorism Act (CTA) on May 3, 2017, but no parliamentary vote has been set.
"Sri Lanka's counterterrorism bill buries its abusive intent under detailed procedures, but it still won't protect people from wrongful detention," said Brad Adams, Asia director.
"While some provisions could prevent abuses, the fundamental danger of prolonged detention without charge remains. This isn't what UN member countries sought when they agreed that Sri Lanka would reform its security laws."
HRW says through recent interviews it has found that torture remains endemic throughout Sri Lanka, including through the use of the PTA.
As part of its undertakings for security sector reform at the Human Rights Council in October 2015, the Sri Lankan government pledged to repeal and replace the PTA.
The global right organization says several provisions under the proposed counterterrorism law are improvements, such as greater detainee access to counsel, entry of magistrates and Human Rights Commission officers to detention facilities, and reporting requirements that could help prevent enforced disappearances.
However, a number of provisions are likely to facilitate human rights abuses.
Of particular concern are the bill's broad and vague definitions of terrorist acts, which include a wide array of illegal conduct.
"While the draft law enumerates procedural safeguards, it is weak on demonstrating the manner in which they can be effectively implemented," the HRW said.
As with the PTA, under the proposed law police and military officers may make arrests without a warrant. Suspects may be detained without charge for 12 months, a reduction from the 18 months permitted under the PTA. Bail is only to be granted for exceptional reasons, the HRW highlighted.
The bill also prohibits a range of conduct with "Proscribed Terrorist Organizations" that violate the right to freedom of association. If enacted, the law would prohibit ordinary dealings with many ethnic Tamil organizations, including those based abroad, that were declared illegal during the armed conflict and remain so, even if during or since the war they never engaged in any terrorist activity.
"The latest counterterrorism bill brings Sri Lanka no closer to having a law that will genuinely respect the rights of suspects," Adams said. "UN member countries and the EU need to be pressing Colombo to fully abide by its pledges to the Human Rights Council."