The HR Controller urges India and its partners to ensure that the new SL Anti-Terrorism Act meets rights obligations
“Sri Lanka’s international partners, including the United States, the European Union, Japan, India and others, should press for real reforms to ensure that this bill meets Sri Lanka’s international human rights obligations,” Human Rights Watch said, referring to the Anti-Terrorism Act (ATA). ), the Sri Lankan government plans to replace the draconian Prevention of Terrorism Act (PTA), a 1979 law that was used and abused during the 26-year civil war against minority Tamils who demanded separate land and others.
Human Rights Watch has also demanded that the EU make clear that replacing existing anti-terrorism law with similarly abusive legislation does not address its concerns and could affect the GSP+ trade privilege enjoyed by Sri Lanka.
“Successive Sri Lankan governments have made repeated assurances to the EU that they will uphold rights obligations, including by scrapping the FTA, in return for access to duty-free trade under the GSP+. Access to trade is conditional on ratification and implementation of key human rights treaties In its latest monitoring report, the European Commission said Sri Lanka “still has to implement a number of important reforms,” Human Rights Watch said.
Meenakshi Ganguly, South Asia director of Human Rights Watch, said the proposed anti-terrorism law would allow the Sri Lankan government to continue using crackdowns to silence peaceful critics and target minorities.
Anti-terrorism laws arbitrarily detaining protesters highlight the clear risk of ill-treatment.”
The Anti-Terrorism Bill, published on March 22, aims to replace the notorious Prevention of Terrorism Act, which has led to widespread torture and arbitrary detention since its introduction in 1979.
While the new bill contains some improvements, it includes provisions that would facilitate abuse. The bill is apparently designed to give the president, police, and military sweeping powers to detain people without evidence, to make vaguely defined forms of expression a criminal offense, and to arbitrarily ban assemblies and organizations without meaningful judicial oversight, Human Rights Watch said.
In response to criticism from Sri Lankan activists and lawyers, the UN Human Rights Council, foreign governments and the European Union, the rights group said, successive Sri Lankan governments have repeatedly promised to repeal and replace the PTA with rights-respecting legislation.
But amid pressure from international groups, the public, professionals, opposition parties and the country’s powerful legal fraternity, the government has temporarily shelved the proposed law, promising to review it later this month or in May.
The Bar Association of Sri Lanka (BASL), a body representing lawyers and judges in the country which has threatened to challenge the new law, has urged the government to postpone pending consultations with legal experts.
Those who oppose the ATA have complained that it lends itself to executive arbitrariness and that it lacks judicial oversight, granting maximum powers to the executive and too little to the judiciary.
Due to persistent pressure from the United Nations Human Rights Council and Western governments, Sri Lanka came up with a new anti-terrorism bill in March to replace the strict Prevention of Terrorism Act of 1979. But experts noted that the definition of a terrorist act in the bill was too broad.
sfl / dpb