The parliament in Sri Lanka amended its controversial Prevention of Terrorism Act (PTA) early last week under pressure and threat from the European Union to revoke their favorable trade status. Then again, opposition legislators said this would not stop the abuses under the law.
Sri Lanka’s rights data has drawn the wrath of the international group. The island nation was criticized for executing wartime outrage during the decade-long civil war against its Tamil minority that lasted until 2009.
For over 40 years, the Prevention of Terrorism Act (PTA) was used to sanction extended arbitrary detention and draw out false admissions through torture, targeting civil society groups and minority communities. Sri Lankan President Gotabaya Rajapaksa published a bill to amend the act on Jan. 27, 2022, after years of international and domestic criticism of the law. But, the amendments retained the frequently abused provisions of the law and did little to comply with Sri Lanka’s international human rights commitments.
The United States implored Sri Lanka to cease prisoner incarceration under its anti-terror law and establish justice for hostilities to improve human rights during the war. After talks with local leaders in Colombo on Wednesday, Victoria Nuland, U.S. Undersecretary for Political Affairs, stressed:
The importance of the non-governmental sector, journalists and civil society, and ending surveillance, ending detention [under the PTA] and ending harassment.
Nuland’s remarks came a day after Colombo, under the PTA, decreased detention without judicial regulation from 18 to 12 months. She praised the amendments passed to the PTA and the release of soft prisoners.
More than 78 Tamil prisoners are in captivity, some for more than three decades without formal charge. Rights activists also said they receive increasing pressure from authorities while journalists grumble about intimidation and attacks.
The U.S. called for a credible investigation into the allegations that the military annihilated about 40,000 Tamil civilians in the final stage of the war by the UN Human Rights Council. Colombo resisted the call for an independent inquest and denied the killings of civilians.
Nuland said that Washington is willing to provide undefined assistance to help Colombo seek an IMF bailout to alleviate its worst economic dilemma since Sri Lanka’s autonomy from Britain in 1948.
Written by Janet Grace Ortigas
Edited by Cathy Milne-Ware
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