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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 1994
United States & the struggle for Tamil Eelam
Whatever may be said, who ever may say
Sri Lanka is a constitutional republic with an active multiparty system. In generally free and fair elections in August, the People's Alliance (PA) coalition ended 17 years of control of Parliament by the United National Party (UNP), and Chandrika Kumaratunga, the daughter of two former prime ministers, became Prime Minister.
A conflict 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 into its eleventh year. However, the new Government initiated a dialogue with the LTTE, the first since 1990.
The Government controls all the security forces. The 50,000 member police force is responsible for internal security in most areas of the country, and the 80,000 member army conducts the war against the LTTE insurgents. The Home Guards, a paramilitary force of some 1,000 members, provides security for Muslim and Sinhalese communities in or near the war zone. The Government also equips various Tamil militias opposed to the LTTE. The security forces committed significantly fewer human rights abuses in 1994, although some human rights violations still occurred.
The economy is based on the export of tea, textiles, and rubber. Despite a costly social welfare system and a large fiscal deficit, the economy grew by 6.9 percent in 1993, due in part to continued economic reform, the continued privatization of government corporations, and increased foreign trade.
The Government took important steps to improve its human rights practices. However, torture remains a serious abuse and is practiced by both government and LTTE forces. Both sides used excessive force in their ongoing conflict. Many abuses were reported in LTTE-controlled areas, but there is little information available to verify them. Discrimination and violence against women and child prostitution continue to be problems.
In positive developments, political and extrajudicial killings and disappearances virtually ended in government-controlled areas. Three regional commissions were established to investigate disappearances. The Government began to prosecute current and past violators of human rights.
The overall human rights performance of the military and the police improved significantly. The new Government lifted the Emergency Regulations in most parts of the island, a move that reestablished the authority of the judiciary and the right of individuals to a fair, public trial. In accordance with a commitment made to the United Nations Human Rights Commission (UNHRC), the Government eliminated restrictions on the freedoms of speech, press, and association in the Emergency Regulations remaining in force. Eighty percent of those held in long-term security force detention were released during the course of the year. The Prevention of Terrorism Act (PTA), which gives security forces wide powers of preventive and incommunicado detention, remained in effect though little used.
RESPECT FOR HUMAN RIGHTS
Section 1 Respect for the Integrity of the Person, Including Freedom from:
a. Political and Other Extrajudicial Killing
There were no known extrajudicial killings committed by the security forces or groups allied with the Government. For the second year there were no reprisal massacres against Tamil civilians by the security forces. For the third consecutive year, there were no known killings by vigilante groups. However, there were 10 suspicious deaths, mostly involving detainees acting as informants for security forces who died during operational missions against the LTTE. There was insufficient information to determine responsibility for these deaths.
At least 25 people were killed preceding the parliamentary elections in August. The violence was apparently caused by individuals and did not appear to be an organized attempt by poltical parties to intimidate voters. The Government has prosecuted the alleged perpetrators. Among those arrested and charged for murder was a deputy minister in the new Government.
During the presidential election campaign, a suicide bomber killed the United National Party's candidate Gamini Dissanayake and 58 other people. The LTTE was the primary suspect in the bombing; however, at year's end, the Government's investigating team had not assigned blame. Eight other persons were killed in incidents preceding the presidential election in November.
The new Government sought to bring to justice the perpetrators of extrajudicial killings from previous years. It prosecuted suspects in several extrajudicial killings and brought charges against several members of the security forces and its own political supporters.
Reversing a much-criticized action taken in 1993, the new Government relocated the Mailanthani trial, in which 21 soldiers were accused of massacring 35 Tamil civilians in 1992, to Batticaloa, a Tamil majority town. It formally indicted the soldiers and scheduled their trials for 1995.
Government forensic experts resumed their investigation of a mass grave at Sooriyakanda, containing an estimated 300 bodies. The Government also started to investigate newly discovered graves, including one at Ankumbura which may contain the bodies of 36 persons killed by the police in 1989.
In October the Government indicted 4 police officers for the 1990 murders of 12 civilians in Wavulkelle; the trial is scheduled for 1995. The Government also took legal action against several army personnel who attacked 80 villagers, killing one, in March in Batticaloa district.
The new Government lifted the Emergency Regulations from most of the country, a move that made the concealment of extrajudicial killings and disappearances by government forces more difficult. However, the Regulations remained in force in areas directly affected by the insurgency. In these areas, the Government revised the Regulations to require security forces to report the deaths of detainees to a magistrate, who in turn who is required to order a post mortem.
The LTTE continued to commit extrajudicial killings. LTTE cadres killed a candidate in local government elections in the Eastern Province and also killed several suspected government informants. In March, LTTE guerillas abducted and killed 22 fishermen off the coast of Puttalam District, and killed several more fishermen in the same area in August. In September the LTTE assassinated a leader of an anti-LTTE Tamil group in Batticaloa District, and are believed to have killed several opponents in the Jaffna District. In the past, the LTTE has killed university professors, members of nonviolent Tamil opposition parties, and human rights monitors.
LTTE violence was not restricted to Sri Lanka. In May LTTE agents killed Sabalingam Sabaratnam, an LTTE opponent, and four other Tamils in Paris.
There were 10 confirmed disappearances in 1994, compared to 98 in 1993, 210 in 1992, and an average 15 a day in 1990. Those who disappeared in 1994 and in previous years are presumed dead. The disappearances involved persons last seen in police custody; all occured in the first half of the year. The Commander of the Army and the Inspector General of Police both issued directives condemning the disappearances and stating that perpetrators would be called to account. However, at year's end the Government had not identified or charged those responsible for the 1994 disappearances.
The new Government started investigations into past disappearances. In November it established three regional commissions to inquire into disappearances occuring after January 1, 1988. Meanwhile the Presidential Commission of Inquiry into the Involuntary Removal of Persons continued to work slowly on disappearances that occurred after January 1991. So far the Commission has completed work on only 70 of the 694 cases under its mandate. However, the number of complaints received by the Commission continued to decline. In 1994 the Commission received 10 complaints, compared with 63 in 1993, 181 in 1992, and 725 in 1991.
Also in November, Parliament enacted the Registration of Deaths Bill. This legislation allows the next-of-kin to apply to the district registrar of deaths for a death certificate of a relative reported missing and presumed to be dead, or who has not been heard from for more than a year.
The new Government indicted 11 suspects, including an army brigadier general, in the disappearance of 32 boys from the southern town of Embilipitiya in 1989 and 1990. The Government charged the suspects with abduction with intent to commit murder and conspiracy to abduct with intent to commit murder. However, at year's end the Government had taken no legal action in the Vantharamulle case, in which Army troops reportedly abducted 158 persons from a refugee camp in Batticaloa district in 1990. Observers maintain that there is credible evidence identifying the alleged perpetrators.
The Government continued to give the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) unhindered access to detention centers, police stations, and army camps. This played a role in stopping disappearances attributable to the security forces, as did the work of the Human Rights Task Force (HRTF), a quasi-independent government body set up to register detainees held under the Emergency Regulations and the PTA and monitor their welfare.
The LTTE was responsible for an undetermined number of civilian disappearances in the northeastern part of the island. Most of the 400 to 600 police officers captured by the LTTE in 1990 are believed to be dead, as are over 200 security force personnel caputured at a battle in Pooneryn in 1993. The LTTE acknowledges holding only 30 security force personnel.
c. Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading Treatment or Punishment
Security forces continued to torture and mistreat detainees and other prisoners, particularly during interrogation, although the number of torture reports was somewhat lower than in previous years. Most victims were LTTE supporters or advocates of the Sinhalese Janatha Vimukhti Peramunk (JVP), a former Maoist party which led an insurgency in the southern part of the island. The Government suppressed that insurgency in 1988-89.
Methods of torture included beatings, especially on the soles of the feet, suspension by the wrists or feet in contorted positions, burning, near drownings, placing of insecticide or gasoline-filled bags over the head, and forced positions, e.g., prolonged standing. Detainees have reported broken bones and other serious injuries as a result of their mistreatment. Unlike in previous years, there were no reports of rape in detention.
In January the Government acceded to the U.N. Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment. In November Parliament enacted legislation making torture a punishable offense. The Government decided that henceforth police officers convicted of abuse would pay fines assessed by the courts. Formerly, the Govenment paid such fines.
Torture victims may file a suit for compensation in the Supreme Court, which granted awards ranging from $200 to $2,000, and in some cases assessed fines against individual army or police personnel. Most cases, however, take a year or more to move through the courts. The Government has not yet developed effective mechanisms to prosecute and punish military and police personnel responsible for torture.
The LTTE reportedly used torture on a routine basis. Because of the secretive nature of the LTTE, virtually no first-hand information is available regarding their use of torture.
Prison conditions are generally poor and do not meet internationally recognized minimum standards because of overcrowding and the lack of sanitary facilities. However, the Government permitted representatives from the ICRC to visit more than 400 places of detention. Conditions are also believed to be poor in prisons operated by the LTTE.
d. Arbitrary Arrest, Detention, or Exile
Under ordinary law, authorities must inform an arrested person of the reason for arrest and bring that person before a magistrate within 24 hours. In practice, persons detained under ordinary law generally appear before a magistrate within a few days of arrest. The magistrate may authorize bail or order continued pretrial detention for up to 3 months or longer. Except in limited areas of the northeast, security forces may no longer use the Emergency Regulations to detain suspects for prolonged periods without court approval.
During the first half of the year, there were continued reports that security forces held people incommunicado at secret locations--a violation of amendments to the Emergency Regulations in 1993. However, human rights monitors believe that such detentions occurred infrequently and for periods of only a few days before the detainees were put into the normal detention system. After taking power, the new Government announced that it would close all secret detention facilities. There were no reported detentions in secret locations after the announcement.
After the Government lifted the Emergency Regulations, it began to process the backlog of cases: it arraigned suspected felons, dismissed charges for minor offenses, and released persons against whom there was no case. However, the Government continued to detain some individuals under the Prevention of Terrorism Act, which permits detention without charge for up to 18 months.
At year's end, the Government held an estimated 380 detainees, down from more than 2,000 in 1993. Many of these detainees were arrested during military operations against the LTTE and are held in facilities operated by the army.
The Government modified the Emergency Regulations which remained in force in the northeastern part of the island and in Colombo. The change shortened pretrial detention to a maximum of 4 consecutive 3-month periods. A magistrate must order further detention. Detainees may challenge their detention in court and sue the Government for violating their civil rights.
Security forces continued to conduct mass arrests of young Tamil males--especially after several terrorist bombings in Colombo in April--although such arrests were made less frequently than in 1993. Most detainees were released after identity checks lasting several hours to several days. The Government justifies the arrests on security grounds, but Tamils claim the arrests are a form of harassment.
The Human Rights Task Force (HRTF), a quasi-governmental body established to register detainees, continued to investigate the legality of detention in cases referred to it by the Supreme Court and private citizens.
There were unconfirmed reports that the LTTE detained more than 2,000 civilians in the northern part of the island. The LTTE did not permit the ICRC or any other humanitarian organization to visit its detainees--aside from 30 security force personnel and 10 fishermen incarcerated in Jaffna.
In September the LTTE released 10 police officers detained since 1990 in response to peace overtures from the new Government. The LTTE holds a number of prisoners of conscience, including the poet and women's rights advocate Thiagarajah Selvanithy (see Section 2.a.).
The Government does not practice exile. There are no legal provisions allowing or prohibiting its use.
e. Denial of Fair Public Trial
The judiciary is independent of executive branch influence. The President appoints judges to the Supreme Court, the courts of appeal, and the 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 until mandatory retirement age, which is 65 for the Supreme Court and 62 for other judges.
In criminal cases, defendants are tried in public by juries. They are informed of the charges and evidence against them, may be represented by the counsel of their choice, and have the right to appeal. The Government provides counsel for indigent persons tried on criminal charges in the high courts and the Court of Appeal, but not in other cases; private legal aid organizations assist some defendants.
Under the Emergency Regulations, the authorities detained suspects for long periods without providing them access to legal representation. However, after the lifting of the Emergency Regulations in most parts of the country, the normal judicial procedures were restored and defendants in criminal cases were again accorded due process.
To avoid possible intimidation, there are no jury trials in cases prosecuted under the seldom-invoked Prevention of Terrorism Act (PTA). Defendants in PTA cases have less protection than those tried under ordinary laws. Confessions, which are otherwise inadmissible, are allowed in PTA cases, and most convictions rely heavily on confessions. In such cases, defendants bear the burden of proof to demonstrate that their confessions were obtained by coercion. Nevertheless, defendants in PTA cases have the right to appeal.
In the past, the Government claimed that all persons detained under the Emergency Regulations and the PTA were suspected members of the LTTE or the JVP. There is insufficient information to determine whether these detainees were political prisoners or suspected terrorists. Nonetheless, the overall number of detainees held without charges declined significantly (see Section 1.d.).
The LTTE has its own court system in Jaffna, composed of young judges with little or no legal training. The courts reportedly impose severe punishments. However, the courts have no basis in law, and essentially operate as extrajudicial agents of the LTTE, rather than a judiciary formed by a legal, sovereign government.
f. Arbitrary Interference with Privacy, Family, Home, or Correspondence
The Government generally respects the constitutional protections of individual privacy and the sanctity of the family and home. The police obtain proper warrants for arrests and searches conducted under ordinary law.
However, the security forces are not required to obtain warrants for searches conducted under the PTA (see Section 1.e.). The Secretary of Defense is responsible for providing oversight for such searches. There is no judicial review or other means of redress for alleged illegal searches under the PTA.
The Government is believed to monitor telephone conversations and correspondence on a selective basis. The security forces routinely open mail destined for the LTTE-controlled areas and seize contraband.
The LTTE routinely invades the privacy of citizens. In 1990 the LTTE evicted thousands of Muslim residents from their homes in the north. They currently live in refugee camps.
g. Use of Excessive Force and Violations of Humanitarian Law in Internal Conflicts
Hostilities between the Government and the LTTE continued but at a reduced level from 1993. There were no reports of army massacres of Tamil civilians, such as the ones at Kokkadichcholai in 1991 and Mailanthani in 1992. However, the security forces killed as many as 150 civilians by the indiscriminate or excessive use of force. Over 250 were killed in 1993. The security forces killed at least 90 persons, and injured hundreds of others, in the periodic shelling of the LTTE-controlled city of Jaffna. The LTTE also used excessive force, killing an undetermined number of civilians.
During the year, the Government took measures to address the problem of civilian casualties. The air force introduced new rules of engagement to reduce inadvertent deaths and injuries to civilians. The security forces also instituted human rights instruction in its training courses.
The Government detains very few captured LTTE cadres, as many of them themselves with cyanide before capture. The LTTE claims that it kills security force personnel rather than take them prisoner. It admits to holding only 30 security force prisoners. The LTTE is believed to have killed many of the 600 to 800 police officers and security force personnel it captured in recent years.
Section 2 Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:
a. Freedom of Speech and Press
The Constitution provides for the freedom of speech and expression but permits restrictions in the interests of national security. Such restrictions were eased by the termination of the Emergency Regulations in most parts of the country. Even in regions where the regulations are still enforced, the Government eliminated the stipulation for lengthy prison terms for "inciting feelings of disaffection, hatred or contempt of the president or the Government" or "creating discontent or disaffection among inhabitants."
The Government controls the country's largest newspaper chain, a major television station, and the Sri Lankan Broadcasting Corporation. However, a variety of independent newspapers, journals, radio and television stations provide an unimpeded range of views and openly criticize the Government and political parties. The Government maintains a monopoly on the broadcast of local news, but networks may broadcast foreign-produced international news without deleting stories concerning Sri Lanka.
Under the former UNP Government, many journalists alleged that the Government sought to control the press by limiting the issuance of import licenses for newsprint and the placement of government advertising. However, journalists did not make such allegations after the new Government took office in August.
Journalists and civil libertarians also complain that the Parliamentary Powers and Privileges Act stipulates an unlimited fine or up to 2 years' imprisonment for anyone who criticizes a member of Parliament. Although the Government did not invoke the law in 1993 or 1994, journalists and civil libertarians complain that the act is an unjustified infringement on freedom of the press.
The LTTE does not tolerate freedom of expression. It tightly restricts the print and broadcast media in areas under its control, and has often killed those who criticize it. The LTTE has detained Thiagarajah Selvanithy for over three years, and has repressed the University Teachers for Human Rights, a human rights group formerly based in the Jaffna peninsula.
The Government generally respects academic freedom. It also removed restrictions on campus political activity with the lifting of the Emergency Regulations. The LTTE does not respect academic freedom, and has repressed and killed professors who criticize it.
b. Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and Association
The Government generally respects the constitutional freedoms of assembly and association. Although the Prevention of Terrorism Act may restrict such freedoms, the Government did not use the Act for that purpose in 1994. The Government routinely granted permits for demonstrations, including those held during the parliamentary and presidential elections.
c. Freedom of Religion
The Constitution establishes Buddhism as the official religion, but also provides for the right for members of other faiths to practice their religions freely. Foreign clergy may work in Sri Lanka, but for more than 30 years, the Government has prohibited the entry of new foreign Jesuit clergy. It permits those already in the country to remain.
Evangelical Christians, who constitute less than 1 percent of the population, have expressed concern that their efforts at proselytization are occasionally met with hostility and harassment by the local Buddhist clergy and others opposed to their work. They sometimes complain that the Government tacitly condones such harassment; however, there is no evidence of this.
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" and "freedom to return to Sri Lanka." The Government generally respects the right to domestic and foreign travel. During the year, the Government eased travel restrictions in the eastern part of the island because of the decline in insurgent activity. The termination of the Emergency Regulations also reduced travel restrictions. However, government security measures have the effect of restricting the movements of Tamils, especially young males.
The LTTE restricts the movement of Tamils in areas under its control. It levies a large "exit tax" from persons wishing to travel to areas under government control, requiring them to leave all of their property in escrow. In order to ensure that travelers return, the LTTE often grants permission to only one family member to travel at a time. The LTTE does not allow displaced persons living in areas under its control to return to their homes in government-controlled areas.
An estimated 558,000 citizens have been displaced by the insurgency. Most live in camps financed by the Government and non-governmental organizations (NGO's). An estimated 69,000 Tamil refugees live in camps in southern India. Another 100,000 refugees have been integrated into the Tamil society of southern India. The Government allows the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) to operate freely. UNHCR assisted in the repatriation of over 8,000 refugees from India.
The Government does not permit the entry into the country of refugees, nor does it aid those who manage to enter yet seek permanent residence elsewhere. There were no instances of forcible repatriation.
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 based on universal adult suffrage. Citizens exercised this right during parliamentary elections in August, when the PA ended the 17-year rule of the UNP, and during the presidential election in November, when PA presidential candidate Chandrika Kumaratunga won 62 percent of the vote (also see the Introduction). International election monitors judged the elections to be free and fair.
However, the LTTE refused to allow elections in areas of the Jaffna district under its control. The UNP Government therefore restricted polling in this area to a few off shore islands. It denied the opportunity to vote to displaced persons in refugee camps outside Jaffna district.
Nine of the 10 Jaffna seats were won by candidates from pro-UNP government Tamil groups, whose armed militias intimidated voters. Although the election was marred by 25 murders (see Section 1.a.), the harassment of voters appeared equally divided among the parties and did not appear to be an official government or party policy. The harassment did not have any discernible affect on the election's outcome.
The Commissioner of Elections recognizes 26 parties; 9 hold seats in the 225-member Parliament. The two most influential parties generally draw their support from the majority Sinhalese community. Historically, these two parties have alternated in power. There are some 29 Tamil and 20 Muslim members of Parliament.
Although there are no legal impediments to the participation of women in politics or government, the social mores in some communities limit women's activities outside the home. In August voters elected a woman Prime Minister for the second time in Sri Lanka's history. In November, for the first time, a woman was elected president. Eleven women hold seats in the Parliament; one is a minister without portfolio; one is the Minister of Transport, Environment and Women's Affairs; and four are deputy ministers.
The indigenous people of Sri Lanka, known as Veddas, number less than 1,000. There are no restrictions on their participation in politics.
Section 4 Governmental Attitude Regarding International and Nongovernmental Investigation of Alleged Violations of Human Rights
There are several local human rights groups, including the Movement for Interracial Justice and Equality (MIRJE), the University Teachers for Human Rights, the Civil Rights Movement (CRM), and the Law and Society Trust (LST), which monitor civil and political liberties. The Government eliminated the Emergency Regulations which had regulated the activities of local and foreign NGO's. The former Government did not respond to the NGOs' human rights inquiries and reports. However, the new Government appears more receptive to such groups. For the consecutive second year, human rights monitors did not receive death threats.
The Government made significant progress in implementing a 14-point "Program of Work" to which it voluntarily committed itself during a meeting in February with the UNHRC (see the Introduction). The program, designed to raise human rights practices to an internationally acceptable standard, included, inter alia, the following: revision of the Emergency Regulations; pursuit of accountability; enactment of legislation to prohibit torture; implementation of the recommendations made by the United Nations Working Group on Disappearances; and continuation of efforts for a negotiated settlement to the LTTE insurgency.
The Government invited international observers to monitor both the August parliamentary election and November presidential election. There were no reports of interference with these groups.
The Government continued to provide ICRC with virtually unrestricted access to detention facilities. At the Government's request, the ICRC supervised the delivery of food and medical supplies into the war zone and provided human rights training materials to the security forces.
Several international groups provide humanitarian relief to those affected by the conflict in the northeast. The Government does not hinder their activities, aside from security concerns. Some of these groups conduct activities in LTTE-controlled areas.
Section 5 Discrimination Based on Race, Sex, Religion, Disability, Language, or Social Status
Women have equal rights under national civil and criminal law. However, issues related to family law, including divorce, child custody, and inheritance, are adjudicated by the customary law of each ethnic or religious group. These legal practices often result in discrimination against women.
The Constitution guarantees equal employment opportunities in the public sector, but women have no legal protection against discrimination in the private sector where they are sometimes paid less than men for equal work. In 1993 the Government signed the International Charter on Women's Rights, but has not yet passed enabling legislation. Several NGO's promote women's rights.
According to at least one NGO, spousal violence is a serious problem. There are no laws on spousal violence but the Government has established a National Committee on Women which will recommend appropriate legislation. To date the Committee has identified as grave problems sexual assault, rape, and other forms of violence--particularly directed against female domestic servants. Most of its work concerns job discrimination because most women are unwilling to report physical and sexual abuse. Women's groups also report that the sympathies of police and judicial officials often lie with the accused male rather than the aggrieved female. However, the Government has prosecuted numerous persons accused of sexual abuse and rape.
The Government is committed to protecting the welfare and rights of children, but is constrained by lack of resources. There is a significant problem of child prostitution in certain coastal resort areas. A government survey published in January concluded that there are approximately 2,000 active child prostitutes, but private groups claim the number is much higher. Most of these prostitutes are boys who sell themselves to foreign tourists.
In May the Government initiated a campaign against child abuse and exploitation. The Department of Education and several NGO's developed a program to educate the public about the dangers of child prostitution, including AIDS. A government-appointed committee submitted a report recommending legislation on child labor and prostitution, but at year's end no legislation had been introduced in Parliament. NGO's attribute the problem of exploitation of children to the lack of law enforcement rather than inadequate legislation.
There have been reports that rural children working as domestic servants in urban households have been abused by their employers. Some of these children have reportedly been starved, beaten, sexually abused, and forced into prostitution. The Government does not effectively enforce the laws designed to protect these children (see Section 6.c.)
There are approximately 1 million Tamils of comparatively recent Indian origin living in Sri Lanka. About 85,000 of these people do not qualify for either Indian or Sri Lankan citizenship and face discrimination, especially in the allocation of government funds for education. However, the Government has stated that none will be forced to depart the country.
Tamils maintain that they have long been the victims of systematic discrimination in university education, government employment, and in other matters controlled by the Government. However, in recent years there has been little evidence of overt discrimination in university enrollment or government employment.
Discrimination based on religious differences is less common than discrimination based on ethnic group or caste. In general, the members of the various faiths tend to be tolerant of each other's religious beliefs. However, Evangelical Christians have been harassed for their attempts to convert Buddhists to Christianity (see Section 2.c.).
In the northern part of the island, LTTE insurgents expelled from their homes some 46,000 Muslim inhabitants in 1990--virtually the entire Muslim population. The LTTE has expropriated Muslim homes, lands, and businesses, and threatened Muslim families with death if they attempt to return.
People with Disabilities
The law does not mandate accessibility to buildings or government services for people with disabilities. The World Health Organization estimates that 7 percent of the population is disabled. Most disabled people who are unable to work are cared for by their families. The Department of Social Services runs eight vocational training schools for the physically and mentally disabled and sponsors a program of job training and job placement for graduates. The Government gives some financial support to nongovernmental organizations assisting the disabled, subsidizes prosthetic devices and other medical aids for the disabled, makes some purchases from disabled suppliers, and has registered 74 schools and training institutions for the disabled run by NGO's.
Section 6 Worker Rights
a. The Right of Association
The Government respects the constitutional right of workers to establish labor unions. Any seven workers may establish a union, adopt a charter, elect leaders, and publicize their views. About 50 to 60 percent of the nonagricultural work force, which is about 25 to 30 percent of the total work force, is unionized. Most workers in large private firms are represented by unions, but those in small-scale agriculture and in small businesses do not belong to unions.
Most large unions are affiliated with political parties and together play a prominent role in the political process. More than 30 labor unions have political affiliations, but there are also a small number of unaffiliated unions.
Through September, the Department of Labor registered 210 new unions and cancelled the registration of 61 others. The Department of Labor is authorized by law to cancel the registration of any union which does not submit an annual report. That requirement is the only legal grounds for cancellation of registration.
All workers, other than civil servants and workers in "essential" services, have the right to strike. By law, workers may also lodge complaints with the Commissioner of Labor, a labor tribunal or the Supreme Court to protect their rights. Under the Emergency Regulations, the Goverment controlled strikes by declaring some industries to be "essential." After the Government terminated the Emergency Regulations, it removed such industries from that category. However, the President retains the power to designate any industry as an essential service. The International Labor Organization (ILO) has pointed out to the Government that essential services should be limited to services where an interruption would endanger the life, personal safety, or health of the population.
Civil servants may collectively submit labor grievances to the Public Service Commission but have no legal grounds to strike. However, workers in the Post Office, Telecommunications Bureau, Electricity Board and Port Authority staged brief stikes and other work actions in 1993 and 1994. There were 246 strikes in 1994, 75 in the agricultural sector and 171 in the industrial and other sectors.
The law prohibits retribution against strikers in nonessential sectors. Employers may dismiss workers only for indiscipline.
Unions are free to affiliate with international bodies and many of them have done so.
b. The Right to Organize and Bargain Collectively
The law provides for the right to collective bargaining and it is widely practiced. In enterprises that do not have unions, work councils--composed of employees, employers, and often a public sector representative--are the forums for collective bargaining, though the councils are not mandatory outside the Export Processing Zones (EPZ'S) and do not have the power to negotiate binding contracts.
The law does not require management to recognize unions, and in some cases, employers have declined to recognize the unions in their factories. However, the law prohibits antiunion discrimination. Employers found guilty of such discrimination are required to reinstate workers fired for union activities, but have the right to transfer them to different locations.
Workers in the EPZ's have the same right to join unions as other workers. However, employers in the EPZ's offer higher wages and better working conditions, thus discouraging union activity. In the place of unions, workers in the EPZ's are represented by organizations known as Joint Consultative Councils (JCC's), which are chaired by the Government's Board of Investments (BOI) and consist of equal delegations from labor and management. During the second half of the year, workers in the EPZ's staged several strikes over wages, benefits, and worker rights. In some cases, they took hostages and violently confronted the police. The new Government mediated an end to the strikes. Management granted modest pay raises and the Government prosecuted the strikers who engaged in violence.
In most instances, Wage Boards establish minimum wages and conditions of employment, except in the EPZ's where wages and work conditions are set by the BOI.
c. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor
Forced or compulsory labor is prohibited by law. According to some reports, rural children are sometimes employed in debt bondage as domestic servants in urban households. The Government does not have sufficient resources to protect these children from such exploitation.
The LTTE conscripts high-school age children for work as cooks, messengers, and clerks, and in some cases, pressed children into builiding fortifications.
d. Minimum Age for Employment of Children
In 1993 the Government raised the minimum age for employment to 15 years from 14 years. However, the law permits the employment of children below the age of 15 by their parents or guardians in limited agricultural work. It also permits employment 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 in 1991 the Government prohibited such employment after it ratified ILO Convention 10.
Children are not employed in the EPZ's, the garment industry, or any other export industry. About 85 percent of the children below the age of 16 attend school. The law provides that the employment of such persons is permitted for not more than 1 hour on any day before school.
Despite legislation, some child labor still exists. Some children work in the informal sectors, including the manufacture of coconut fiber products, fishing, wrapping tobacco, street trading, domestic service, and farming. Government inspections have been unable to eliminate these forms of child labor.
e. Acceptable Conditions of Work
There is no national minimum wage, but some 38 wage boards set minimum wages and working conditions according to sector and industry. Current minimum wage rates average $32 (1,550 rupees) a month in industry and commerce; $30 (1,450 rupees) a month in the service industry; and $1.50 (72 rupees) a day in agriculture. The minimum wage in the garment industry is $41 (2,000 rupees) a month. The minimum wages are insufficient to support a worker and the standard family of five, but most families have more than one breadwinner.
The Department of Labor effectively enforces the minimum wage law. 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 work week). Such workers also receive 14 days of annual leave, 14 to 21 days of medical leave, and some 20 holidays each year. Maternity leave is available for permanent and casual female workers. Employers must contribute 12 to 15 percent of a worker's wage to an employee's provident fund and 3 percent to an employees trust fund. Employers who fail to comply may be fined.
Several laws protect the safety and health of industrial workers. The government provides nationwide programs on health and safety issues to increase worker awareness. However, the Department of Labor's small staff of inspectors is inadequate to enforce compliance with the laws. Workers have the statutory right to remove themselves from situations that endanger their health, but many workers are unaware of, or indifferent to, health risks and fear they would lose their jobs if they removed themselves.