Sri Lanka to amend controversial anti-terror law

The bill proposes a number of amendments and ensures the suspects are allowed to approach the Supreme Court on grounds of violation of their fundamental rights and seek relief, says officials.

January 28, 2022 05:01 pm | Updated 05:01 pm IST - Colombo

Sri Lanka will amend a controversial anti-terror law that gives police sweeping powers to arrest suspects without trial to fully align it with international standards, amid mounting pressure from the European Union (EU) and the UN Human Rights Council (UNHRC) over concerns it violates human rights.

The government issued a gazette notification on Thursday saying the Prevention of Terrorism Act (PTA) will be amended. Enacted in 1979, the PTA allows authorities to make warrantless arrests and searches if a person is suspected of involvement in a “terrorist activity.” The move comes ahead of the March session of the UNHRC in Geneva where Sri Lanka’s rights and progress accountability has come under review.

The bill proposes a number of amendments and ensures the suspects are allowed to approach the Supreme Court on grounds of violation of their fundamental rights and seek relief, officials said.

It proposes to allow for legal access to the person in custody and also permits relatives to communicate with the detainee.

The period of detention is to be reduced from 18 months to 12 months, they said.

The amendment makes it compulsory for magistrates to visit the place of detention of the suspect to ensure that the detainee is protected from torture or any degrading treatment.

It also includes provisions to allow a suspect to be produced before a judicial medical officer to ensure that such a person has not been subjected to torture.

The EU has been urging Sri Lanka since 2017 to amend the PTA to make it fall in line with international standards. The European Parliament in June last year passed a motion for a resolution demanding that the PTA be scrapped as it “breaches human rights, democracy and the rule of law.” The EU urged Sri Lanka to amend the PTA and threatened to withdraw its Generalized System of Preferences (GSP+), a favourable trade scheme to encourage developing nations to respect human rights.

The resolution noted that Sri Lanka had benefited from GSP+ and recalled that “one of the key commitments of Sri Lanka was to fully align its counter-terrorism legislation with international human rights conventions”.

It called upon the European Commission to “use the GSP+ as a leverage to push for advancement on Sri Lanka’s human rights obligations”.

Sri Lanka has been marred by over three-decade-long brutal civil war that ended with the death of Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) chief Velupillai Prabhakaran in the coastal village of Mullaittivu in 2009.

The UN believes 80,000-100,000 people died in the conflict when the rebels sought to carve out a separate state for the Tamil minority and accused both sides of war crimes.

The UNHRC has passed a resolution censuring Colombo over its treatment of minorities and alleged failure to investigate atrocities during the civil war.

According to government figures, over 20,000 people are missing due to various conflicts. The Tamils allege that thousands were massacred during the final stages of the war.

The Sri Lankan Army denies the charge, claiming it was a humanitarian operation to rid the Tamils of LTTE’s control.

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