Remarks by Hon. Mangala Samaraweera, MP, Minister of Foreign Affairs
Launch of Civil Society Network Joint Alternative Report
to the Committee Against Torture
Lakshman Kadirgamar Institute (LKIIRS), 13 October 2016
අශෝක් ස්ටීවන් පූජකතුමනි, රයිට් ටු ලයිෆ් සංවිධානයේ ෆිලිප් දිසානායක මහතා ප්රමුඛ මූලාසනයේ සිටින මහත්ම මහත්මයාණෙනි, ඒ වගේම බ්රිටෝ ප්රනාන්දු මැතිතුමනි, සම්භාවනීය අමුත්තනි, මිත්රවරුනි,
අද රාජ්ය නොවන සංවිධාන එක්මුතව විසින් සංවිධානය කරන ලද මෙම ඉතාමත්ම කාලෝචිත වැදගත් සම්මන්ත්රනයට මටත් ආරාධනා කිරීම ගැනත්, වචන කීපයක් කථා කරන්න ලැබීම ගැනත් මම ඉතාමත්ම සතුටු වෙනවා.
කොසේ වෙතත් මං හිතන්නනේ මේ ස්ථානයේ විවිධ භාෂා කථා කරන විවිධ අය සිටින නිසා මගේ කථාව ඉංග්රීසියෙන් කරන්නට මම ඔබතුමන්ලාගේන් මේ අවස්ථාවේ දී ඉල්ලා සිටිනවා.
First of all, I would like to thank the Right to Life Human Rights Centre for inviting me to join you at this important event this afternoon.
The work that you have done, collectively, bringing together a network of I believe more than 20 civil society organisations and activists against torture, which is a subject, which is still being talked about unfortunately after all these years its indeed remarkable. On behalf of my Ministry, and on behalf of the Government, I express my appreciation to you for the dedication and commitment with which you have carried out this work in producing this alternative report which was just handed over to me and I look forward to study some of the recommendations and I even look forward even more to implementing some of these recommendations as early as possible, As you know in fact, when I came Sudarshana was talking about the recent past.
When we campaigned for the Presidential Election in 2015, we did so with your support. In fact, I would say some of the Key Architects of that change, the unexpected change for most people but we were expecting it for quite some time. Many of the Key architects of that change are here today. What we achieved, we could not have achieved without your dedication, without your commitment and without your sense of sacrifice and your willingness to take risks. You made sacrifices because of your belief, because of your commitment to do what is right not just for the present, not merely for political expediency but for the sake of future generations.
This Report that you launch today is a manifestation of that same sense of commitment to make our country better for everyone; to uphold the fact that every person has individual inherent dignity and the right to have that dignity respected and protected.
In fact your work empowers us, especially when we’re in government and your work helps us in Government to take the steps that are required to make the necessary administrative and legal reform, and focus on the necessary technical, capacity building and training requirements to eliminate this crime of torture; take action where the crime is committed; and provide assistance in recovery, and redress of victims.
As we all agree Torture is a crime. Torture is a terrible crime. It is prohibited under all circumstances without exception. This is true in customary law, under the UN Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment, and other relevant Conventions. Yet, we do know that torture is practiced daily not only by State actors but by non-State entities as well, in several forms. Torture raises its ugly head in different manifestations in different parts of the country even today. Torture has no place in civilized society, and torture cannot be justified in any situation, or under any circumstances – whether it is national security, fight against terrorism, threat of armed conflict, or in a public emergency.
As a Government that stands for good governance; rule of law; upholding and promoting and protecting human rights – we are committed to eliminate torture and take action where required. And this includes the need to create far greater awareness than that which exists today at all levels of society, beginning from the school curricular. The Government is committed to zero tolerance for all forms of torture, and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment. Yet, this is not a battle that Government as was again mention earlier. can fight alone. We need your help. We value, in this context, the alternative report. However, we need your help to work at all levels of society to formulate clear strategies to ensure that in the long run, we create a humane society that does not tolerate or condone torture, and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment under any situation or circumstance.
In fact, I would like to thank the National Human Rights Commission for organizing a very visible event that included a walk to mark the international day in support of Victims of Torture earlier this year, in which the President himself participated. The President’s participation indicated commitment at the highest level of Government. However, we need your sustained and continuous support to carry out an island-wide awareness campaign which includes institutionalizing zero-tolerance for all forms of torture, so that torture is shunned by society at all levels and in fact we had a meeting again earlier this year not only with Human Right Commission but also with the Police Commission for them to come up with a plan so that may be even to create offices in every district so that people have a forum a place to go to If they have being subjected to torture of any kind and I hope some of these ideas will take fusion in the not so distant future. We should be futuristic in our vision of eliminating torture and denouncing torture from society, as an uncivilized practice, We have to get away from this arcane and primitive mindset that without torture that it is impossible to get a confession in fact at a meeting when I was speaking to some police officers one police officer looked genially confused when we said that torture as a form of extracting a confession must stop, I mean with almost in a state of innocence I would say for a better word he turns around and say “ , Sir හැබැයි මුන්ට දෙකක් අනින්නේ නැතුව කටඋත්තරයක් දෙන්නෙ නෑනෙ. I mean that is primitive mind set which we have to get over if we really fancy ourselves as a Civilized modern democracy.
Allegations of torture have, in the past, arisen in our country, in two specific contexts:
First, with respect to investigations into ordinary crimes which are prosecuted under Sri Lanka’s criminal law; and
Secondly, in the context of counter-terrorism and suppression of other aspects of organized crime.
We acknowledge the challenges involved in effectively investigating and successfully prosecuting offences, particularly grave offences such as terrorism and organized crime.
In this regard, it is important that investigative techniques should shift from the possible use of torture as a means of obtaining confessions, to the deployment and use of modern tools of investigation.
This would require first and foremost a change of mindset among law enforcement officers, in particular, investigators. Secondly, this would require capacity building and understanding of techniques which could secure outcomes that advance the course of justice without being intrusive. Thirdly, exposure to the world of new techniques in the integrated area of investigation and suppression of grave offences is also important. This would mean that the continuous upgrading of knowledge as well as skills for the police for the investigators is imperative.
During armed conflict, allegations often range from harms committed on suspects by armed forces and the police, to extra-judicial killings. However, the end of conflict and the ensuing time of peace are also characterized by concerns over practices by law enforcement authorities that have similar effects on the civilian population. Therefore, peace time practices which violate the dignity of human beings and their right to life are of equal concern. We are seized by these concerns and we do not, at any time, turn a blind eye. We are determined to deal with these issues.
In Sri Lanka’s context, especially after 2009, most allegations pertain to police practices, and it is important that these concerns are addressed as expeditiously as possible. This requires, amongst others, the introduction of legal safeguards including the right of a suspect to access a lawyer upon arrest.
The Government is firm in its commitment to eradicate torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment and uphold relevant international legal standards. It is in manifestation of this commitment that the Government made a declaration under Article 22 of the Convention Against Torture in August this year, recognizing the competence of the UN Committee against Torture to receive individual complaints.
Once again, I reiterate Government’s commitment to eliminate torture and would like to conclude my remarks by seeking your sustained and continued support to address issues and concerns in this regard in a comprehensive manner with clear objectives, targets and timelines.
අවසාන වශයෙන් මම තව එක දෙයක් කියලා අවසන් කරනවා. ඊයේ කැබිනට් මණ්ඩලයේ දී අපි ත්රස්තවාදය වැලැක්වීමේ පනත වෙනුවට රජය ගෙන ඒමට බලාපොරොත්තුවන නව පනතේ සාකච්ඡාමය පිටපතක් කැබිනට් මණ්ඩලයට යොමු කරා. එම සාකච්ඡාමය පිටපතත් එක්කම විදේශ අමාත්යාංශය හැටියට අපි ඒ සඳහා යොමු කල සංශෝධනත් අපි ඉදරිපත් කරා. ඒ අනුව එම නව පනතත් එම සංශෝධනත්පාර්ලිමේන්තුවේ ඒ කාරක සභාවටත් ඒ වගේම තමුන්නාසේලාගේ සාකච්ඡාවටත් භාජනය කරන්න අපි තීන්දු කරලා තියෙනවා අන්න ඒ නිසා විශේෂයෙන්ම මෙතන රාජ්ය නොවන සංවිධාන විශේෂයෙන් මේ මේ ප්රශ්නය සම්බන්ධයෙන් දීර්ඝ කාලයක් කථා කරපු, සටන් කරපු නායකයන් ඉන්න නිසා මම තමුන්නාසේලාගෙනුත් ඉල්ලනවා මේ අපේ නව පනත සාර්ථක පනතක් බවට පත් කර ගන්නට we want a new act which will be in line with international base practices නව පනත ජාත්යන්තර වශයෙන් තියෙන හොඳම නීති රීති එකතු කරගත් පනතක් බවට පත් කර ගන්නට. අන්න ඒ නිසා තමුන්නාසේලාගේ අදහස් සංශෝධනත් ඉදිරියේදී මේ ආකාරයටම අපට ලබා දෙන්නැයි කියලා ඉල්ලා සිටිමින් යළි වතාවක් මෙම උත්සවයට මෙම වැදගත් සාකච්ඡාවට මටත් ආරාධනා කිරීම ගැන වචන කිහිපයක් කථා කිරීමට ලබා දීම ගැන මගේ ස්තුතිය පිරිනමමින් තමුන්නාන්සේලා සියලු දෙනාටම සුභපතමින් මගේ වචන ස්වල්පය අවසන් කරනවා.