United Nations, July 25 (IANS) Under-Secretary-General Jeffrey Feltman urged Sri Lankan officials to ensure an end to impunity for crimes when he met them last week following harsh criticism by a human rights official of what he called “routine and endemic” torture mainly against Tamils.
He asked the island nation’s leadership to make Sri Lanka a “model of post-conflict country with harmonious relations among communities”, Farhan Haq, the deputy spokesperson for Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, told reporters here on Monday.
Feltman, who is in charge of political affairs, met with President Maithripala Sirisena, Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe, Foreign Minister Ravi Karunanayake and Tamil National Alliance (TNA) leader R. Sampanthan as well as representatives of civil society organisations during his three-day visit.
Feltman’s trip was preceded by a five-day visit of Ben Emmerson, the UN Special Rapporteur on human rights and counter-terrorism, who criticised what he described as “routine and endemic” torture of those detained under national security law.
“The Tamil community has borne the brunt of the state’s well-oiled torture apparatus,” a UN News Centre report quoted him as saying.
He noted that the Prevention of Terrorism Act is used disproportionately against the minority group, it added.
Eighty per cent of all those arrested in late 2016 under the law had reported torture and other physical ill-treatment, the report quoted him.
During his visit from July 10 to 14, Emmerson heard first-hand accounts of brutal torture, which “included beatings with sticks, stress positions, asphyxiation using plastic bags drenched in kerosene, pulling out of fingernails, insertion of needles beneath the fingernails, various forms of water torture, suspension for several hours by the thumbs, and mutilation of the genitals”, the report said.
During Feltman’s visit, President Sirisena signed the notification on the Missing Persons Act, which will create an investigative office for identifying people missing during the years of civil conflict.
Feltman noted that every community has missing persons and called “for a selection process to produce independent, credible and competent commissioners, and a budget” for the missing person’s office, Haq said.
Sirisena’s office said in a statement that during their meeting, “Feltman said that the UN would continue to extend fullest support to Sri Lanka’s development process and reconciliation.”
The statement said that Sirisena told Feltman that a “few extreme elements in the North” were disrupting reconciliation and resettlement efforts for Tamils by compelling them not accept land and houses offered by the government and demanding land elsewhere.
However, TNA leader Sampanthan told Feltman that land seized from the people should be returned to them and there was no justification to hold on to the properties eight years after the civil war ended, according to a statement from his organisation.
He added that the armed forces were cultivating the seized lands.
(Arul Louis can be reached at [email protected])