Presidential directive in response to representations

Following the twin bomb blasts in Colombo on November 28, 2007, the security forces and the police engaged in a cordon-and-search operation which resulted in some members of the Tamil community getting arrested. As with every terrorist attack by the LTTE that results in cordon-and-search operations, this time too, there has been an outcry about Tamils being harassed. Amnesty International (AI) condemning the arrests, says in a press release that it is, “deeply concerned that the arrests have been made on arbitrary and discriminatory grounds using sweeping powers granted by the emergency regulations.” It adds, “While the government has the right to carry out security measures it must never do this in violation of basic rights.”

Speaking in Parliament on December 3, Chief Government Whip and Minister for Highways and Road Development Jeyaraj Fernandopulle, explained that the government was compelled to take steps in the interest of national security said that those who are detained by police, would be released after questioning. Said the Minister, “We are aware that 54% of the Tamil speaking people live in the South. All these security checkups are in the interest of all communities. The forces have taken in to custody over a thousand on suspicion. They will be freed after their identifications and bona fides are established.

Today, (Dec 4), Minister Fernandopulle informed Parliament that so far, a total of 2554, both male and female, had been taken in to custody for questioning. Said the Minister, “Of this number, 2350 have already been released after questioning. Of the 2554, 2189 are from the Western Province and the rest from Puttalam.” Of those still in custody, 100 are in detention, and 102 are to be produced before the magistrate, and are in remand. Minister Fernandopulle pointed out, “They do not belong to one particular community. There are some Sinhalese and Muslims among them.” He added, “Of those to be produced before courts, there are some suspects with LTTE connections. It is a matter for the courts to decide. There are about 87 detainees from Jaffna and about 30 from upcountry.” The Minster assured parliament that the people who are being detained are being held under the normal laws of the country. He added that these are not uncommon happenings at a time of threat to national security.

According to media reports, the Special Investigation Committee (SIC), investigating into disappearances and abductions, has taken immediate steps to release suspects who are detained at the Terrorism Investigating Unit, and whose identities have been cleared. The Committee will release 43 suspects detained at the Boosa Camp.

Meanwhile, on a Presidential directive, the Ministry of Disaster Management and Human Rights (MoDM&HR) has established a Help Desk to assist members of the public seeking information about persons arrested and or detained by Police and Security Forces. This Help Desk is using the Disaster Management Centre’s Hotline, on which the public can call and ascertain if a person is detained by the authorities. The contact numbers for this 24-hour/7-day Help Desk are 2670002 (Voice) and 2779979 (Fax). Minister of MoDM&HR, Mr. Mahinda Samarasinghe, has directed the police to share the list of names of persons detained with the relevant authorities, including the MoDM&HR and the Human Rights Commission (HRC).

This action follows the many representations made by parliamentarians and the public to the President, during the past few days, regarding persons detained by the authorities. Minister Samarasinghe personally inspected some of the detention centers and met with detainees to ensure they were being treated humanely and with respect.

Minister Samarasinghe has also brought to the attention of the Police, as well as of all relevant authorities, and the public, the Presidential Direction on “Arrest, Detention and matters incidental thereto,” of June 2006 which was re-circulated in April 2007, by the Ministry of Defence, Public Security and Law and Order, to ensure that all arrests made, comply with the guidelines issued by President Rajapaksa to safeguard human rights of persons arrested or detained. At a meeting which focused on the arrest and detention of persons currently held in detention, Minister Samarasinghe emphasized the Government’s commitment to safeguarding the human rights of all persons arrested and detained; the firm policy on zero-tolerance of torture and inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment of persons in custody. He stressed that all arrests and detentions must be carried out strictly in accordance with the law.

Embassy of Sri Lanka
Washington DC

04 December 2007

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