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Home > Struggle for Tamil Eelam > International Frame of Struggle for Tamil Eelam > United States & the Struggle for Tamil Eelam > U.S. Department of State: Sri Lanka Country Report on Human Rights Practices for 1993
United States & the struggle for Tamil Eelam
Whatever may be said, who ever may say
Sri Lanka's constitutional, multiparty form of government features a strong executive presidency and a unicameral legislature elected by universal adult suffrage. In May President Dingiri Banda Wijetunga was chosen by Parliament to succeed assassinated President Ranasinghe Premadasa. The President's United National Party (UNP) holds a majority of the seats in Parliament. The violent ethnic conflict waged for over 10 years between the Government and the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), an organization fighting for a separate state for the country's Tamil minority, continued in 1993. An LTTE suicide bomber assassinated President Premadasa and 23 others at a public rally on May 1.
The 50,000-member police force, which includes 3,000 commandos of the Police Special Task Force (STF), is responsible for internal security in most areas of the country. Army manpower has increased steadily over the past 2 years. The 80,000-man army has the primary responsibility for conducting the war against the LTTE. The 8,000 to 10,000 paramilitary home guards provide security against LTTE attacks for Muslim and Sinhalese communities living in or near the war zone. The Government arms and equips up to 1,000 members of various anti-LTTE Tamil militias. These forces man checkpoints, provide intelligence, act as scouts, and sometimes engage in military operations alongside the army. All security elements fighting in the war committed human rights violations in 1993.
Sri Lanka's mixed economy depends heavily on exports of tea, textiles, and rubber. Despite a continuing fiscal drain caused by large military outlays (amounting to about 5 percent of gross domestic product), the economy grew by 4.5 percent in 1992. This was partly due to continued economic reform, including the removal of most price controls and subsidies, the lowering of tariffs, and a reduction in the size of the government bureaucracy.
Although the Government took further steps to institutionalize the protection of human rights in 1993, the pace slowed in the second half of the year, and its forces continued to commit serious abuses which went unpunished. More than 80 persons disappeared or died after being taken into custody by security forces, and government forces killed at least 250 civilians during military actions.
The Prevention of Terrorism Act (PTA) and the Emergency Regulations (ER), which give security forces wide powers such as preventive and incommunicado detention, remained in effect. The ER were revised to afford some safeguards for detainees and to ease some, but by no means all, of the restrictions on freedoms of speech, press, assembly, and association. Many Sri Lankans were detained without trial in 1993, though the number continued to decline. Torture and mistreatment of detainees were routinely practiced by both government forces and the LTTE. Despite credible evidence implicating security force members in human rights abuses, no member of the security force was tried or convicted for human rights violations in 1993, thus encouraging these forces to believe they are immune from prosecution.
RESPECT FOR HUMAN RIGHTS
Section 1 Respect for the Integrity of the Person, Including Freedom From:
a. Political and Other Extrajudicial Killing
The Government's security forces, the LTTE, and other militant groups continued to engage in political killings. The total number of such killings declined significantly, and most noncombatant deaths were the result of indiscriminate use of force rather than deliberate targeting of specific individuals (see Section 1.g.). Nevertheless, all sides to the conflict were responsible for scattered cases of extrajudicial execution.
For the first time in 3 years, there were no reports of Sinhalese or Muslim civilians being massacred by the LTTE, nor were there any reprisal massacres directed against Tamil civilians by the security forces. For the second year, there were no reports of the vigilante-style killings that plagued the country prior to 1992.
In January army soldiers operating in conjunction with irregulars from the Tamil Eelam Liberation Organization (TELO), an anti-LTTE militia allied with the Government, reportedly killed and beheaded two unarmed persons, suspected of being LTTE members, in the eastern village of Kaluwankerny. That same month, 9 civilians were reported to have been summarily executed by the army in the course of a military operation near Kanchurankudah, also in the east. In July the local press reported that the army had shot dead the chairman of a local citizen's committee in the eastern district of Batticaloa. At least 10 persons died of apparently violent causes while in the custody of the security forces, most as a result of mistreatment during interrogation. For example, in July a man arrested in the southern district of Galle died of injuries sustained while in police custody. A similar incident occurred in nearby Hambantota District in April. In mid-October the body of a young Tamil was discovered in a coastal town 20 miles north of Colombo. He was believed to be 1 of many young Tamils who had been rounded up in Colombo.
There were two high level political assassination believed to have been carried out by the LTTE. On May 1, an LTTE suicide bomber assassinated President Premadasa. A few weeks earlier opposition leader Lalith Athulathmudali was assassinated. The Government presented evidence suggesting that the LTTE was responsible.
The LTTE is thought to have executed a number of its opponents, as well as Tamil civilians accused of helping the security forces. In January the LTTE publicly executed two alleged traitors and in February executed three civilians in Mullaittivu District for allegedly passing information to the security forces. In December the LTTE announced that it had executed nine more "traitors" in Jaffna.
Action to bring to trial security force members accused of extrajudicial killings remained stalled despite repeated pledges by the Government to punish those responsible for such deaths. The trial, which began in October, of 23 soldiers accused of massacring 35 Tamil civilians in the village of Mailanthani in 1992 was moved from the majority Tamil town of Batticaloa to the majority Sinhalese town of Polonnaruwa. Tamil members of Parliament accused the Government of changing the venue to make it more difficult for witnesses--all Tamil--to testify. Court hearings were held in October and December at which witnesses identified a number of soldiers responsible for the attack. Hearings are set to continue in 1994.
At least 12,000 people have disappeared in Sri Lanka since 1983, most in the period 1987-91. Reports of new disappearances continued to decline in 1993, from 200 in 1992 to roughly 70 in the first 9 months of 1993. The vast majority of these disappearances took place in the war zones of the north and east and most were attributable to government forces. For example, on February 17, 15 Tamils were reportedly detained by the army's Independent Brigade in the Batticaloa district. None has been seen since. At the instigation of the Batticaloa Peace Committee, the army is said to have begun an investigation, but no progress has been reported. Three Tamil men were arrested by the security forces in Mannar district on July 4; witnesses saw the men in custody shortly after their arrest, but they have since disappeared.
The Peoples Liberation Organization of Tamil Eelam (PLOTE), an anti-LTTE Tamil militia allied with the Government, is believed to be responsible for the disappearance of several persons in the northern district of Vavuniya. They were detained following an LTTE attack on a security checkpoint manned by the PLOTE and subsequently disappeared.
There were also credible reports of disappearances in Polonnaruwa District, in the North-Central Province. Witnesses report that local police were responsible for up to 15 disappearances.
Observers in the northeast reported that the LTTE was responsible for a number of disappearances, but it was impossible to determine how many. In addition, hundreds of policemen captured by the LTTE in 1990 remain unaccounted for, and the LTTE has refused all requests for information concerning their fate.
The Government's decision in 1989 to give the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) unhindered access to detention centers, police stations, and army camps has played an important role in reducing the number of disappearances attributable to the security forces, as has the work of the Human Rights Task Force (HRTF), a quasi-independent government body set up to register detainees held under the ER and the PTA and monitor their welfare. However, HRTF field offices outside of Colombo are hindered by a dearth of resources and their lack of assertiveness in dealing with security forces, which sometimes fail to comply fully with the Government's instructions. Recent changes in the ER--mandating the issuance of receipts to families of detainees and notification to the HRTF of all arrests--have been largely observed in the breach. Full implementation of this reform would further reduce the number of disappearances.
In the case of 32 high school-aged boys who disappeared from the southern town of Embilipitiya in 1989, the HRTF identified 10 soldiers implicated in the disappearances, but the Government has taken no action. In its 1993 report, the HRTF named 4 army officers allegedly responsible for the disappearance of 158 people from a refugee camp at the Eastern University in Batticaloa district in 1990. "This incident," said the chairman of the HRTF (a retired Supreme Court Justice), "is a dastardly crime which cries aloud for proper investigation." Despite this statement, the Government has taken no action against the four officers.
The Presidential Commission appointed to look into allegations of abductions and disappearances occurring after January 1991 has proven inadequate to the task. It has completed work on only 38 cases of the 873 that fall within its mandate. Of these, the President has referred two to the Attorney General for prosecution. None has come to trial. In mid-1993, the mandate of the Commission was changed in an attempt to speed the process by which disappearances are investigated. Under the new mandate, the Commission will determine only whether a complaint of abduction or disappearance is credible, after which the case will be sent to the President for a decision whether to refer the case for investigation and prosecution.
c. Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading Treatment or Punishment
Torture and mistreatment of detainees, particularly during interrogation, was common during 1993. Reports of torture included near drownings, placing of insecticide or gasoline-filled bags over the head, and beating the soles of detainees' feet with metal rods. Suspected criminals as well as those detained under the ER are routinely beaten during the initial phase of their detention. Severe beatings, sometimes resulting in broken bones or other serious injuries, were reported by many detainees.
Although government officials privately acknowledge that torture is common, the Government has done little to address the problem. Most members of the security forces regard torture as routine and acceptable. The ER allow the use in court of confessions made to police officers and place the burden of proof on the defendant to show that the confession was obtained under duress, thereby encouraging the security forces' tendency to use torture to extract confessions.
In several cases, people who claimed to have been tortured filed cases in the Supreme Court alleging that their rights had been violated. In one well-publicized case dating from 1990, a man whose teeth had been extracted with pliers during interrogation was awarded nearly $600 in compensation by the court. The officer responsible was fined an additional $100 but not otherwise disciplined. Lesser amounts of compensation were awarded in several other cases in which detainees had been tortured or severely beaten. All cases in which compensation was awarded are from previous years since it invariably takes more than a year to move a case through the courts. According to reliable sources, there have been a handful of reported rapes while in detention; several cases are being investigated, and in one case a police officer has been arrested.
d. Arbitrary Arrest, Detention, or Exile
Under ordinary law, authorities must inform an arrested person of the reason for his arrest and within 24 hours bring him before a magistrate, who may authorize bail or, for serious crimes, order continued detention. Persons detained under ordinary law are generally brought before a magistrate within a few days of arrest. A suspect may be detained without bail for up to 3 months, or longer if a court so rules.
In practice the PTA, adopted in 1979, and the ER, which have been renewed monthly by Parliament since the emergency was declared in 1983, provide exceptions, which have been widely used, to ordinary law on detention . Both the PTA and the ER permit preventive and incommunicado detention. A person held under the PTA may be detained without charge for up to 18 months, though there have been cases in which persons have been held longer. Most detainees are now held under the ER rather than the PTA. The number of people held under the ER and the PTA declined sharply in 1993, as many of those held for suspected involvement with the Janatha Vimukhti Peramunk (JVP), an extremist Sinhalese revolutionary group, were either released, charged with criminal offenses, or sent to rehabilitation camps in preparation for their release.
Under the provisions of the ER governing preventive detention, a person may be held indefinitely under a detention order signed by the Defense Secretary without ever being charged with a crime or brought before a court of law. However, changes in the ER announced in February and June now make it mandatory for magistrates to visit places of detention on a monthly basis and post in their courts a list of all detainees. Officers in charge of places of detention must also, by law, submit lists of all detainees to the magistrate as well as to the HRTF. According to the law, officials who do not follow these requirements are themselves subject to punishment under the ER. Despite these changes to the law, compliance with the revised ER is still far from complete, due to the lack of any effective enforcement mechanism and the refusal of superior officers to insist on compliance by their subordinates. Moreover, the requirement to report detentions to the HRTF applies only to those detainees arrested on suspicion of an offense; detainees held in preventive detention are not covered.
Persons held under the ER are ineligible for bail during the first 3 months of detention unless the Attorney General gives his prior written consent. After 3 months, courts may grant bail, but it is granted infrequently. Once charged, PTA detainees are ineligible for bail. Family visits and access to lawyers are sometimes restricted under these laws.
Detainees are frequently held incommunicado during the initial period of detention, sometimes lasting several days or weeks. The recent changes in the ER prohibit the holding of detainees in unauthorized (i.e., secret) places of detention. The Government has published a list of 345 authorized places of detention, most of them police stations, and has made it a criminal offense to hold detainees elsewhere. Reports continue that government security forces held people incommunicado for months or even years in previously undisclosed places of detention. There were also reports that Tamil irregulars, armed and paid by the Government, were operating their own detention facilities. A fundamental rights application was filed in the Supreme Court against the leader of one such militia, the Eelam Peoples Democratic Party (EPDP), alleging illegal abduction and torture. In the latter part of 1993, Government security forces and alleged Tamil militias began operating what many human rights monitors called "a parallel system of secret detention" in Colombo. Beginning in August, dozens of suspected LTTE sympathizers were picked up in unmarked vehicles and taken to undisclosed places of detention. Some were held for several months and many were tortured before eventually being transferred to an official detention center.
Persons held under the ER and the PTA (or others acting on their behalf) may challenge the legality of their detention by filing habeas corpus applications in the Court of Appeals or by charging the Government before the Supreme Court with violating fundamental human rights. In recent years, the Supreme Court has simplified the procedures for initiating fundamental rights cases and waived the requirement that such cases be filed within 30 days of the alleged infringement. Detainees may now initiate a fundamental rights case simply by writing a letter to the court. A number of legal aid groups, including the Bar Association of Sri Lanka, provide free legal assistance to detainees. Over 400 habeas corpus applications were filed on behalf of detainees in 1993, but only a few detainees were released as a result. During the same period, 762 fundamental rights cases were filed, with the result that over 150 people were released from detention, and 18 people whose rights were found to have been violated were awarded monetary compensation.
As of the end of 1993, there were approximately 2,000 detainees being held under the ER, compared to roughly 5,000 at the end of 1992. Another 433 people were held in rehabilitation camps pending release, according to the Government.
The HRTF continued its efforts to monitor conditions of detention and maintain a central register of detainees. In addition, the Supreme Court in 1993 instructed the HRTF to begin inquiring into the legality of individual cases of detention. The HRTF began hiring a legal staff and advising the Court on the release of detainees. In addition to the HRTF, the ICRC regularly visited over 400 places of detention. Tens of thousands of Tamils were rounded up by the security forces in and around Colombo in the second half of 1993, following President Premadasa's assassination by an LTTE suicide bomber. Most of them were released after an "identity check" lasting between several hours and several days, but a small number were placed under detention orders pursuant to the ER. Many Tamils claimed that the mass roundups were an unjustified form of harassment based solely on ethnicity.
There were unconfirmed reports that the LTTE was holding over 2,000 prisoners in the north. The LTTE does not give the ICRC or other humanitarian organizations access to its detainees, except for some 35 security force members, most of whom have been held since 1990.
e. Denial of Fair Public Trial
In ordinary criminal cases, defendants are accorded due process rights, but trials under the ER and the PTA lack several significant safeguards. Persons accused of criminal acts generally receive a fair public trial, are informed of the charges and evidence against them, and are represented by the counsel of their choice. Persons tried on criminal charges in the High Courts and the Court of Appeal are provided an attorney at government expense if necessary. The Government does not provide attorneys in other cases, although private legal aid organizations assist some defendants. Public trial by jury is the custom.
Jury trials are not provided under the PTA on the grounds that jury members could be intimidated. Confessions are admissible in PTA and ER cases but not in cases tried outside the PTA and ER framework. Most ER and PTA convictions rely heavily on confessions, and the burden of proof of charges of torture and other forms of coercion rests on the defendant. Those convicted under the PTA or the ER have the same right of appeal to the Court of Appeal and the Supreme Court as those sentenced in other cases. In practice, however, most people held under these acts have never been formally charged and therefore cannot make use of the appeals process.
The Constitution provides for an independent judiciary, and the judiciary is independent in practice. The President appoints all judges of the Supreme Court, courts of appeal, and high courts. The Chief Justice and two Supreme Court judges comprise a Judicial Service Commission which appoints, transfers, and dismisses lower court judges. Judges serve from time of appointment to mandatory retirement age (65 for Supreme Court judges and 62 for others).
The Government alleges that all persons held under the ER and the PTA are members or suspected members of either the JVP or the LTTE. It is impossible to determine how many of the roughly 2,000 detainees it holds would properly be termed political prisoners, as defined in these reports (see Appendix A), and how many are held because of suspected involvement in terrorist activities.
f. Arbitrary Interference with Privacy, Family, Home, or Correspondence
The Government generally respects individual privacy and the sanctity of the family and home, and the judiciary usually upholds privacy rights in cases that reach the high courts. Under ordinary law, search and arrest warrants are generally required to enter private premises and must be approved by a magistrate. However, the ER and PTA permit members of the security forces to "enter and search any place, vehicle, or vessel" and to "inspect and take possession of any movable property" in the course of investigating any suspected offense under the ER and PTA, without the need for a warrant. Oversight is provided by the Secretary of Defense. There is no judicial review or other means of redress.
Government monitoring of telephones and correspondence is believed to occur on a selective basis. Mail to LTTE-controlled areas is routinely opened and banned items, including currency, are seized.
g. Use of Excessive Force and Violations of Humanitarian Law in Internal Conflicts
Hostilities between the Government and the LTTE continued throughout 1993. After a lull in the first 9 months of the year, fighting reached new levels of intensity in the 4th quarter, as both sides launched major offensives.
There were no army massacres of Tamil civilians similar to the ones at Kokkadichcholai in 1991 and Mailanthani in 1992. However, the Sri Lankan navy and air force were responsible for a number of civilian deaths, many due to indiscriminate or excessive use of force. Over 250 civilians were killed in such attacks. One of the most notorious of these occurred on January 2, when the navy attacked a group of civilians crossing the Jaffna lagoon under LTTE escort and in defiance of military orders. At least 35 civilians were killed in the incident, in which navy patrol boats trained their spotlights on several small, makeshift passenger ferries and machine-gunned those on board. Altogether, at least 100 civilians died in this and similar incidents on Jaffna lagoon during the course of the year. Following army setbacks in October and November, indiscriminate bombing of civilian targets in the LTTE- controlled areas of the country increased. On December 8, 25 civilians were killed when the air force bombed a crowded public market in Jaffna. On November 13, air force jet aircraft attacked the St. James Catholic Church in Jaffna, killing at least 10 and injuring dozens more. In all, at least 150 civilians were killed in bombing or artillery attacks.
The LTTE was also responsible for a number of violations. Fifteen civilians were killed when LTTE forces used innocent travelers as human shields in an attack on a crowded government checkpoint in June. At least seven civilians living near an army camp were killed when the LTTE attacked and overran the camp in July. The total number of such killings attributable to the LTTE probably amounts to several dozen, but no precise estimate was possible.
The LTTE sometimes conscript high school-age children for work as cooks, messengers, and clerks. There were also reliable reports of children being used as forced labor to build fortifications.
Section 2 Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:
a. Freedom of Speech and Press
The Constitution provides for freedom of speech and expression but permits these rights to be restricted by law in the interests of national security. There was, however, some improvement in the civil liberties climate during the year. The provisions of the ER that restrict freedom of speech and freedom of the press were rescinded in June, then reimposed without explanation in December. Under the ER, sentences of up to 20 years in prison may be imposed for "inciting feelings of disaffection, hatred or contempt ofthe President or the Government" or "creating discontent or disaffection among the inhabitants of Sri Lanka." Civil libertarians point out that these regulations could, in theory, be used to punish virtually any public criticism of the Government. However, the Wijetunga Government has so far shown itself to be far less likely to restrict freedom of expression than was its predecessor.
The Government controls the country's largest newspaper chain, although a variety of independent newspapers and journals provide a range of viewpoints on foreign affairs and domestic issues, including human rights, and openly criticize the ruling party and Government. Physical attacks on opposition journalists and politicians ceased with President Premadasa's death in May. Similarly, a previously secret organization headed by high-ranking former police officers and charged with harassment and intimidation of Premadasa's political opponents, including journalists, was disbanded by President Wijetunga, and revelations about the unit's past operations were widely reported in the press. In the one major exception to this trend, a respected newspaper columnist received a death threat--reportedly from the now-retired commander of the army--following a critical story he wrote about a major army offensive.
Although the Government denies it, many journalists allege that the Government continues to exert pressure on the press by controlling permits for the import of newsprint and through placement of paid government announcements and advertising. In addition, the Parliamentary Powers and Privileges Act allows Parliament to impose an unlimited fine or up to 2 years' imprisonment on anyone who criticizes a member of Parliament. Although it is rarely invoked and was not used in 1993, journalists and civil libertarians complained that the Act, along with new guidelines that effectively prevent the reporting of incidents in Parliament that are not part of the official record of proceedings, were an unjustified infringement on freedom of the press.
Several new, privately owned television and radio networks have begun operating, but the Government maintains a monopoly on the broadcast of local news. Local networks that broadcast foreign-produced international news such as the Cable News Network and the British Broadcasting Corporation are obliged to delete any portions concerning Sri Lanka.
For its part, the LTTE tolerates no freedom of expression. The print and broadcast media in areas under its control are tightly regulated. The LTTE has been known to execute those who criticize it or disagree publicly with its policies. In the past, university professors, members of nonviolent Tamil opposition parties, and human rights monitors have been among those killed.
The LTTE holds numerous prisoners of conscience, including the poet and women's activist Thiagarajah Selvanithy, who has been imprisoned since August 1991 for her participation in a play critical of the LTTE. The group University Teachers for Human Rights (UTHR), a human rights group formerly based in the LTTE-controlled Jaffna Peninsula, has been the target of severe repression by the LTTE for its attempts to present a balanced picture of human rights violations in both LTTE- and government- controlled areas of Sri Lanka.
Although academic freedom is generally respected, political activities on university campuses are restricted under the ER. The Government has defended this action as necessary to ensure that student political activity, such as that used by the JVP to close the universities for 3 years, would not disrupt education.
b. Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and Association
The Constitution provides for freedom of assembly and association. Freedom of association is respected in practice. The ER restricting the right to peaceful assembly were rescinded in 1993. Restriction of these rights is still possible under the PTA, but the act was not used for this purpose in 1993. There were no cases in which permits are known to have been denied for political reasons. An ER issued in 1990 prohibiting political and disruptive activity in schools and workplaces remains in effect. Under it, permission for meetings must be obtained from the head of an institution.
c. Freedom of Religion
The Constitution establishes Buddhism as the official religion, which the Government must "protect and foster." It also provides for the rights of members of other faiths, including Hindus, Muslims, and Christians, to practice their religions freely. Religious groups are free to maintain active ties with coreligionists in other countries, and many Sri Lankans perform religious travel each year.
Religious publishing and proselytizing are allowed, and foreign clergy may work in Sri Lanka. For over 30 years, however, the Government has forbidden entry to new foreign Jesuit clergy, while allowing those in the country to remain.
Evangelical Christians (who constitute less than 1 percent of the population) expressed concern that the government commission set up to look into the activities of nongovernmental organizations (NGO's) (see Section 4) has focused much of its attention on the activities of Protestant missionaries. These groups also report that their efforts to convert Sri Lankans are often met with hostility and sometimes violence on the part of local Buddhist clergy or other groups opposed to such missionary work, and they accuse the Government of tacitly condoning the harassment. There is no evidence of active Government support for or protection of those responsible for the harassment of evangelical Christians; on the other hand, the Government made no effort to remedy the situation. A chauvinistic vernacular press contributes to the climate of intolerance.
d. Freedom of Movement Within the Country, Foreign Travel, Emigration, and Repatriation
The Constitution grants every citizen "freedom of movement and of choosing his residence within Sri Lanka" and "freedom to return to Sri Lanka." However, curfews, checkpoints, and other actions taken by both the Government and the insurgent forces have had the effect of inhibiting travel in large parts of the north and east. Strict security measures imposed in the wake of President Premadasa's assassination have also had the effect of restricting the freedom of movement of Tamils in general and young Tamil males in particular because of reports that the LTTE was planning additional assassinations.
The Government does not restrict the travel abroad of its citizens.
Sri Lanka does not permit the entry of refugees or displaced persons from other countries, nor does it help refugees who attempt to stay in the country while seeking permanent residence elsewhere. There were no instances of refoulement in 1993. There were 620,000 internally displaced persons living in Sri Lanka in 1993. Most lived in camps, primarily financed by the Government, in the northeast or adjacent provinces.
At the beginning of the year there were over 70,000 Sri Lankan Tamil refugees living in refugee camps in Southern India. During 1993 nearly 7,000 of these refugees returned to Sri Lanka. The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees operated freely in Sri Lanka, supporting government refugee relief efforts in the north and east and funding transit camps for persons returning from India. Over 200,000 Sri Lankan Tamils have also migrated to or sought refuge in Western Europe and North America over the last 10 years. Many of them have been denied asylum, and a few have been returned to Sri Lanka.
Section 3 Respect for Political Rights: The Right of Citizens to Change Their Government
Citizens have the constitutional right to change their government through periodic multiparty elections on the basis of universal adult suffrage. Sri Lanka has a vigorous political opposition. Although 1993 was marked by two high-profile assassinations (see Section 1.a.), organized harassment of the political opposition ceased with President Premadasa's death in May. A total of 26 parties are recognized by the Commissioner of Elections, and members of 12 of these hold seats in Parliament. Although members of each ethnic community can be found in many of the political parties, the two most influential parties generally draw their support from the majority Sinhalese community. Historically, these two parties have alternated in power. Eighteen Tamils currently hold seats in the 225-member Parliament.
In May provincial council elections were held in seven of the country's eight provinces; security conditions precluded a vote in the Northeast Province (a temporary merger of the war-torn Northern and Eastern Provinces). An opposition coalition won control of the Western Province, which includes the capital, Colombo. Despite scattered irregularities, foreign and domestic election monitors judged this election to be largely free and fair.
There are no de jure impediments to women's participation in politics or government, but the social mores of some communities have the effect of limiting women's participation in activities outside the home. Although they are underrepresented, women serve at senior levels in both sectors. Eleven women hold seats in Parliament; two are deputy ministers and one is the Minister of Health. The leader of the opposition, a former Prime Minister, is a woman.
The indigenous people of Sri Lanka, known as Veddas, number less than a thousand. There are no de facto or de jure restrictions on their participation in the political life of the country. Preferring to maintain their traditional way of life, the Veddas have resisted government attempts to integrate them into Sri Lankan society.
Section 4 Governmental Attitude Regarding International and Nongovernmental Investigation of Alleged Violations of Human Rights
Several local NGO's, including the Movement for Interracial Justice and Equality (MIRJE) and the University Teachers for Human Rights (UTHR), monitor human rights, collecting information from families of victims or members of citizen committees near the sites of alleged incidents. Other groups, such as the Civil Rights Movement (CRM) and the Law and Society Trust (LST), monitor civil and political liberties. The Government generally does not respond to their periodic reports and appeals. Unlike in previous years, there were no reports in 1993 of human rights monitors receiving death threats.
A variety of international nongovernmental organizations are active in Sri Lanka, providing humanitarian relief services to those affected by the conflict in the northeast. The Government allows these organizations to operate unhindered, subject only to security considerations in the war zone.
On December 22, President Wijetunga used the Emergency Regulations to promulgate a law governing the activities of local and foreign NGO's, thereby bypassing normal parliamentary procedures. The law imposed financial reporting requirements on all NGO's, but as of the end of the year it was not clear what additional practical effect the new law would have on NGO's operating in Sri Lanka.
During 1993, the Government made progress in implementing some of the 44 recommendations it accepted from Amnesty International (AI) and the United Nations Human Rights Commission (UNHRC) Working Group on Enforced and Involuntary Disappearances, but this progress slowed in the second half of the year. For example, a "zero tolerance" directive on human rights was issued by the Eastern Province Commander in March, and according to reliable sources, this has led to significant on-the-ground improvements. Emergency regulations governing issuance of receipts and reporting to the human rights task force have been issued, though, as noted, compliance is spotty. Several new regional HRTF offices were opened and the HRTF is gradually making its presence felt. The activities of paramilitary groups (e.g. home guards, Tamil militias) seem to be coming under better supervision. However, there was no discernible movement in implementing the recommendations to prosecute past human rights violators and investigate disappearances.
At the 1993 meeting of the UNHRC, Sri Lanka pledged to continue implementation of the Working Group's recommendations. It also pledged to "take appropriate measures to ascertain the whereabouts of persons referred to in the reports of alleged disappearances" and "prosecute those responsible for disappearances and other human rights violations."
The Government continued to provide the ICRC with virtually unrestricted access to its detention facilities, allowing the ICRC to register detainees and monitor their treatment. At the request of the Government, the ICRC also continued to oversee the transportation of government and donor-supplied food and medical supplies into the war zone and to supply human rights training and materials to the Sri Lankan security forces.
Section 5 Discrimination Based on Race, Sex, Religion, Disability, Language, or Social Status
Sri Lankan women have equal rights under national civil and criminal law. However, questions related to family law, including marriage, divorce, child custody, and inheritance--are subject at the local level to the customary law of each particular ethnic or religious group. Muslims, for example, are guided by Islamic law in these matters. The Constitution guarantees equality in public sector employment, but women have no legal protection against discrimination in the private sector. In the private sector, women are sometimes paid less than men for equal work.
Women's rights monitors say that domestic violence and sexual assault are common in Sri Lanka, but that for cultural and social reasons Sri Lankan women are unlikely to report such abuse. According to women who work with victims, sexual assault, rape, and other forms of violence directed against female domestic servants is a particularly pernicious problem. Women's groups report that victims of rape and domestic violence must face police and judicial officials whose sympathies often lie with the accused rather than the victim.
There are several organizations actively working to promote women's rights and greater awareness of women's issues generally and particularly to reform the laws governing rape and domestic violence. As a result, public awareness of the problems faced by women has increased, but the Government has yet to deal effectively with these issues.
The Government is formally committed to protecting the welfare and rights of children, but its ability to do so in practice has been limited by its lack of resources.
There is no pattern of societal abuse against children. There is, however, a significant problem of child prostitution in certain coastal resort areas. The majority of these prostitutes are boys, and the majority of their customers are said to be foreign tourists. The true extent of child sexual abuse is unknown, but several thousand children are thought to be involved. The Government has appointed a technical committee to recommend possible new legislation to deal with the problem, and recent press reports indicate that such legislation is being considered. However, organizations working with abused children believe that the problem lies not with the inadequacy of existing legislation but with the law's enforcement, which is said to be lax.
There are also reports of abuse of rural children working as domestics in urban households. There are allegations of starvation, beatings, burnings, sexual abuse, and forced prostitution. Enforcement of laws designed to protect these children has also been lax. (See also Section 6.c.)
Tamils have long believed, with some justification, that they suffer systematic discrimination in competition for university entrance, government employment opportunities, and other matters under government control. While official discrimination continues in some fields, there has been little evidence of overt discrimination in university enrollment or government employment in recent years. However, many Tamils assert that more subtle forms of official discrimination persist. In 1990 the Government decreed that hiring for the public service would be based on ethnic groups' proportions in society. Upholding a suit filed by a Tamil public servant, the Supreme Court ruled in 1991 that promotions must be based on merit but did not address the hiring issue. Under the Constitution's 13th Amendment, enacted in 1987, Tamil and Sinhala were both made official languages and English the "link" language.
There are approximately 1 million Tamils of comparatively recent Indian origin living in Sri Lanka. Of these, roughly 200,000 are not citizens of either India or Sri Lanka. Most of them live in the tea-growing highlands and continue to suffer discrimination, especially in the Government's allocation of education funds. They no longer qualify for citizenship under Indian law and were also denied Sri Lankan citizenship by laws adopted after independence, making them essentially stateless. In 1986 the Government agreed to grant citizenship to all remaining stateless Tamils. In 1988 the Government eliminated processing delays by passing a law making extension of citizenship to those stateless persons automatic upon a simple request. However, the new legislation did not cover the nearly 85,000 Tamils who themselves or whose parents once applied for Indian citizenship but who now wish to stay in Sri Lanka. While they could legally be compelled to leave Sri Lanka, the Government has assured Tamil leaders that none will be forced to do so.
As noted above, evangelical Christians have been attacked both physically and in the press for their attempts to convert Buddhists to Christianity. However, there is still no evidence of "official" persecution.
The LTTE has expelled all Muslims from the areas of northern Sri Lanka under its control; expropriated Muslim lands, homes, and businesses; and threatened Muslim families with death if they attempt to return to their homes. The Tigers also severely restrict the freedom of movement of Tamils living in areas under their control, exacting a large "exit tax" from persons wishing to travel to areas under government control and requiring them to leave all of their property in escrow. In order to ensure that people return, the Tigers often allow only one member of a family to travel at a time. The LTTE does not allow internally displaced persons living in areas under Tiger control to return to their homes in government-controlled areas.
People with Disabilities
The unique problems faced by the disabled in Sri Lanka have yet to become an issue of public-policy debate. Most disabled people who are unable to work are cared for by their families; those whose families are unable to care for them often resort to begging on the streets. There are no laws mandating accessibility for the disabled.
Section 6 Worker Rights
a. The Right of Association
The Constitution establishes the right of workers (except the military and police) to associate freely and to form or join labor unions. No prior approval from the employer is needed to form or to join a trade union. Any seven workers may form a union, draw up their charter, elect their own representatives, and publicize their views. This right is usually exercised in the industrial sector, civil service, state owned enterprises, and plantation sector. Workers in nonplantation agriculture and most of those employed in small businesses are not generally represented by unions. Altogether 50 to 60 percent of the nonagricultural work force, equal to 25 to 30 percent of the total work force, is unionized.
There are a number of independent trade unions; however, most large unions are affiliated with political parties and play a prominent role in the political process. There are two trade unions affiliated with the ruling United National Party (UNP), while more than 30 trade unions are affiliated to other political parties.
During 1992, 154 new unions were registered with the Department of Labor, whereas registration of 206 unions were canceled. It is a statutory requirement that unions submit their annual reports to the Department of Labor, and a failure to do so is the only criteria for cancelation of registration.
All workers other than civil servants and those in essential services, as classified by the Government, have the right to strike. In 1992 there were 103 strikes. Although civil servants have no right to strike, they may submit grievances to the Public Service Commission for relief but have no other legal recourse. Under the Essential Services Act (ESA), based on Emergency Regulation No. 1 of 1989, the President can exercise the power to declare any sector an essential service, making the strike illegal. The law prohibits retribution against legal (nonwildcat) strikers in nonessential sectors. The only grounds for dismissal is indiscipline.
Taking note that the Government was preparing to remove export industries from the list of essential services where strikes are banned, the Committee on Freedom of Association of the International Labor Organization (ILO) observed in May that nonessential services under the Emergency Regulations Act should be limited to services where an interruption would endanger the life, personal safety, or health of the population.
In June the Government amended the ER, restricting coverage to sectors it explicitly defined as "essential services": government establishments; air, sea, port, rail, road, and other public transport services; services connected with the sale of foods and medicines; and the operations of tea, rubber, and coconut plantations. The garment industry, which employs nearly 200,000 workers, was dropped from the list of essential services. Even though illegal, strikes in sectors classified by the Government as essential services do occur. In fact, 86 of the 103 strikes in 1992 were in the plantation sector (tea, rubber, and coconut), which is still technically listed as an essential service. There were 78 strikes in 1993, of which 56 occurred in the "essential" plantation sector. A telephone workers strike became technically illegal when the Government classified telecommunications as an essential service following the outbreak of the strike, but no action was taken against the strikers and the strike went on as scheduled. There was no retribution.
Workers in the public enterprises and in the private sector, including those in the essential services, may lodge complaints with the Commissioner of Labor, the Labor Tribunal, or the Supreme Court to protect their rights.
On September 29, the Emergency (Maintenance of Exports) Regulation No. 1, under which "anyone intimidating an employee to disrupt the activities of a company commits an offense and will be sentenced to a minimum of 10-years' imprisonment," was rescinded. The President signed a regulation exempting disputes between registered employers and unions from the emergency decree, provided 14 days' notice is given to the Commissioner of Labor and the employer.
Unions are free to affiliate internationally, and various Sri Lankan trade union federations are affiliates of major international trade union organizations.
b. The Right to Organize and Bargain Collectively
Workers are expressly granted the right under the law to bargain collectively, and it is fairly widely practiced. For those enterprises in which workers are represented by trade unions, the unions do the bargaining for the workers. Where unions are lacking, work councils--composed of employees, employers, and often a public sector representative--are the forums for collective bargaining. Except in the Export Processing Zones (EPZ), work councils are not required in cases where unions do not exist. In the EPZ's, Board of Investment (BOI) regulations require the establishment of a work council, known as a Joint Consultative Council (JCC).
However, Sri Lankan law does not compel management to recognize unions. There have been isolated cases where employers were hesitant to recognize the unions in their factories. The Labor Commissioner has intervened in these cases to try to persuade the employers to do so. The employer's recognition of a union confers on the union the right of representation, allows payroll deduction of union dues, and permits the union to enter into collective bargaining.
Antiunion discrimination is prohibited by law but is not always enforced or practiced. When claims arise, they often result in protracted legal proceedings. Employers found guilty of antiunion discrimination are required to reinstate workers fired for union activities, but reinstated workers are often transferred to different locations. In some cases, employers have offered to pay compensation instead of reinstating the worker.
All public and private sector enterprises, including essential services, enjoy the right of collective bargaining. However, collective bargaining takes place in an estimated 15 to 20 percent of businesses in the private sector, and only a few large-scale private companies and banks sign collective agreements with their unions on pay increases and maintenance of the wage levels for a specific period. The primary mechanism for setting minimum wages and service conditions in the private sector is wage boards (see Section 6.e.). Remuneration tribunals also set wages in some cases. In addition, the Board of Investment sets minimum wages for workers in the EPZ's. These wages are higher than the national minimum wage.
Workers have significant protection for the right to employment under the Termination Act. Under the Act, no one may be fired without the permission of the Labor Commissioner. Outside of the essential-services area, dismissal may only be allowed on the grounds of disciplinary infractions. Should workers performing an essential service go on strike, management may legally terminate employment, and the striking worker has no recourse. This power, however, has rarely been used.
Workers in the EPZ's are free to join unions, but unionization in the zones has been traditionally discouraged by employers and the Government. Unions, to date, do not represent workers in collective bargaining or dispute resolution. Otherwise, workers in the EPZ's have the same rights as other workers, including the right to strike. Workers in the EPZ's are represented by Joint Consultative Councils (JCC), which are established under BOI regulations. Fifty percent of the JCC members are elected by EPZ workers, and 50 percent are appointed by management. They are chaired by the BOI, with most decisions being reached by consensus. Until recently, union officials were only permitted into EPZ's with an invitation from the JCC, an employer, or a group of employees. Now, the Government's Board of Investment (BOI) is preparing office space and meeting rooms for use by unions in each of the EPZ's, as they no longer require invitations for entry. Two established trade unions have taken advantage of the June 1993 decision allowing entry into the EPZ's. However, it is too soon to say whether they will be successful in forming branches there.
c. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor
Forced or compulsory labor is prohibited by law. There is no conscription or forced recruitment.
There are reports of abuse of children brought in from rural areas in debt bondage to work as domestic servants in urban households (see also Section 5). In the view of the National Employers Union (Jathika Sevaka Sangamaya), these children are not adequately protected, mainly due to the shortage of labor inspectors.
d. Minimum Age for Employment of Children
The basic minimum age for employment in Sri Lanka is 14 years. However, the employment of children below the age of 14 by their parents or guardians in light agricultural or horticultural work for a limited period is legally permitted. Light work is also permitted in any school or institution for training purposes. Persons under 16 may not be employed in any public performance in which life or limb is endangered. Until recently, children under 14 years could be employed in the plantation industry, but with the adoption of ILO Convention 10, ratified by the Government in November 1991, children under 14 years of age may no longer be employed on the plantations. Child labor is not used in the EPZ's or in the garment factories. About 85 percent of children below the age of 16 attend school, and the law provides that the employment of such persons is permitted for not more than 1 hour on any day before school. For the small percentage of children over the age of 14 who are not in school (and who are legally allowed to work), there is no explicit law that limits their working hours to less than those allowed for adults.
Despite legislation, some child labor still exists. Some children work in the informal sectors, including coir-making, which is the making of products, such as mats, from coconut fiber; industries; fishing; drying fish; wrapping tobacco; street trading; domestic service and on farms. Enforcement measures taken by the Department of Probation and Child Care Services, including inspections and penalties, have been unable to eliminate child labor, and the labor laws are used only to deal with extreme forms of it.
Based on the recommendation of a committee of experts appointed by the Government to examine child labor, the Cabinet decided in September to enact laws to increase the minimum age to 15 years in view of ILO conventions and to tighten child labor laws. Social and economic factors also help to control the problem of child labor in Sri Lanka. The country's gross national product, relatively high by regional standards, and its near-90 percent literacy level serve as a brake on the employment of children. Virtually all children attend primary school and three-quarters of them go on to secondary school, according to government statistics.
e. Acceptable Conditions of Work
There is no national minimum wage, but wage boards set minimum wages and working conditions on a sector by sector basis. The Wage Board, a legislated body under the Wage Board Ordinance of Sri Lanka of 1941, is a tripartite body representing the employer, employee, and the Department of Labor. There are 38 boards covering more than 100 occupations in industry, commerce, services, and agriculture. The current minimum wage rates are $34 (1,166 rupees) a month in industry and commerce, $33 a month in the service industry, and $1.50 a day in agriculture. Minimum wages in the industrial and commercial sectors also vary from trade to trade. In the garment industry, where nearly 200,000 persons are employed, the minimum wage is $41.20 per month. While this minimum wage is considered insufficient for a worker to support the standard family of five, the overwhelming number of textile workers are young women whose incomes are supplementary to their families' main income. The Minimum Wage Law is effectively enforced by the Department of Labor.
Most permanent full-time workers are covered by laws that prohibit them from working regularly more than 45 hours per week (a 5 1/2-day workweek). Such workers also receive 14 days of annual leave, 14 to 21 days of medical leave, and some 20 local holidays each year. Maternity leave is available for all female workers, permanent or casual. Employers also must contribute an amount equal to 12 to 15 percent of a worker's wage to an employee's provident fund and 3 percent to an employees trust fund. If these contributions are not paid on time, the Government fines the employer.
Safety and health of workers are protected under a variety of laws. The Department of Labor employs a small staff of technical officers to inspect workplaces, but the staff is inadequate for effective enforcement. The Department also provides nationwide worker education programs on health and safety issues in an effort to increase worker awareness.
The graphite industry records the highest number of health hazards. In tea factories, asthma and chronic bronchitis are common. Workers have the statutory right to remove themselves from situations that endanger their health, but much of the work force is either unaware of, or indifferent to, the risks involved in their work.