Cablegate: 2003 Human Rights Report for Sri Lanka

Published: Fri 3 Oct 2003 06:06 AM
This record is a partial extract of the original cable. The full text of the original cable is not available.
E.O. 12958: N/A
SUBJECT: 2003 Human Rights Report for Sri Lanka
Ref: State 214438
1. (U) Sensitive but Unclassified entire text.
2. (U) Following is the 2003 Country Human Rights
report for Sri Lanka.
3. (U) Sri Lanka is a democratic republic with an
active multiparty system. The popularly elected
president and 225-member Parliament share constitutional
power. The Government and its agents generally
respected the rule of law. From 1983 until 2001, the
Government fought the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam
(LTTE), a terrorist organization fighting for a separate
ethnic Tamil state in the north and east of the country.
The LTTE is on the U.S.'s list of Foreign Terrorist
Organizations. In December 2001, however, the
Government and the LTTE each announced unilateral cease-
fires. A formal ceasefire accord was signed by the two
sides in February 2002. This historic process of
reconciliation between the Government and the LTTE
continued during 2002-03 in Norwegian-facilitated talks.
After holding six rounds of talks, the LTTE withdrew
from negotiations in April 2003, but the ceasefire
accord continued to be observed by both sides. As a
result of the peace process, there has been a sharp
reduction in roadblocks and checkpoints around the
country. In addition, approximately 300,000 internally
displaced persons (IDPs) have returned to their points
of origin in the north and east, and authorities have
opened investigations into questionable actions by
security force personnel.
Violence, including at least 50 deaths, and
irregularities marred the December 2001 parliamentary
elections in which the United National Front (UNF), a
coalition of parties led by the United National Party
(UNP), won a majority in Parliament for a six-year term.
Stating that it feared possible infiltration by the
LTTE, the Government prohibited more than 40,000 Tamil
voters living in LTTE-controlled territories from
crossing army checkpoints in order to vote. In 2003,
the Supreme Court ruled that this action violated the
fundamental rights of these prospective Tamil voters,
and cited and fined the government for preventing
citizens from exercising their right to vote. The next
parliamentary elections are scheduled for 2007.
President Chandrika Kumaratunga, head of the People's
Alliance (PA) coalition, won reelection in 1999 for a
second six-year term. The next Presidential elections
are scheduled for 2005. The Government generally
respected constitutional provisions for an independent
The Ministry of Interior controls the 60,000-member
police force, which has been used in military operations
against the LTTE and is responsible for internal
security in most areas of the country. In the past, the
police paramilitary Special Task Force (STF) also
engaged in military operations against the LTTE. The
STF is also under Ministry of Interior control. The
Ministry of Defense controls the 112,000-member Army,
the 27,000-member Navy, and the 20,000-member Air Force.
The more than 20,000 member Home Guards, an armed force
drawn from local communities and responsible to the
police, provides security for Muslim and Sinhalese
village communities located near LTTE-controlled areas.
Sri Lanka is a low-income country with a market economy
based mainly on the export of textiles, tea, rubber,
coconuts, and gems. It also earns substantial foreign
exchange from the repatriated earnings of citizens
employed abroad, and from tourism. The population is
approximately 19.4 million. Real GDP growth was 3.2
percent in 2002. Growth for 2003 was forecast at 5.5
percent. Early signs of a peace dividend were visible
throughout the economy -- Sri Lanka has been able to
reduce defense expenditures and begin to focus on
getting its large, public sector debt under control. In
addition, the economy has benefited from lower interest
rates, a recovery in domestic demand, increased tourist
arrivals, a revival of the stock exchange, and increased
foreign direct investment.
The Government generally respected the human rights of
its citizens in 2003, but there were serious problems in
some areas. Continuing the improvement seen last year,
there were no reports of security forces committing
extrajudicial killings and no reports of disappearances.
However, the military and police reportedly tortured
detainees, and there were reports of several deaths in
custody. There were reports of rape while in custody,
and prison conditions remained poor. There were no
reports of arbitrary arrest during the year. During
2002, the Government released more than 750 Tamils held
under the Prevention of Terrorism Act (PTA) and no new
arrests under the PTA occurred in 2003. As of September
2003, only 65 Tamils held under the PTA remained in
custody. Observers claim that the PTA, like the
Emergency Regulations (ER) repealed in 2001, permitted
arbitrary arrests of Tamils.
There were no reports that security forces harassed
journalists in 2003. The LTTE permitted some access to
the areas of the country it controlled to journalists.
Some LTTE-imposed restrictions remained on freedom of
movement, such as from Vavuniya to Jaffna. Violence and
discrimination against women, child prostitution, child
labor, and discrimination against persons with
disabilities continued to be problems. There was some
discrimination and occasional violence against religious
minorities, and institutionalized ethnic discrimination
against Tamils remained a problem. Trafficking in women
and children for the purpose of forced labor occurred,
and there was some trafficking of women and children for
the commercial sex industry. The Government has taken
firm steps against the children for sex trade and
international involvement in the sex trade has declined
In the past few years, the Government has taken steps to
address human rights concerns. In 2002, the Government
named a new chairman for the National Human Rights
Commission (HRC). In 2000, the Government established
an Interministerial Permanent Standing Committee and an
Interministerial Working Group on Human Rights Issues,
chaired by senior officials, to investigate human rights
abuses. At the same time, the Government established
the Prosecution of Torture Perpetrators Unit, under the
direct supervision of the Attorney General.
The LTTE continued to commit serious human rights
abuses. The LTTE was responsible for arbitrary arrest,
torture, harassment, disappearances, extortion, and
detention. Through a campaign of intimidation, the LTTE
continued to undermine the work of elected local
government bodies in Jaffna. On occasion, the LTTE
prevented political and governmental activities from
occurring in the north and east. Most seriously, there
is overwhelming evidence that the LTTE killed more than
three dozen members of anti-LTTE Tamil political groups
and alleged Tamil military informants during the year.
There were also instances of intimidation of Muslims in
the east by the LTTE, and there was fighting between
LTTE personnel and Muslims that left several Muslims
dead. The LTTE continued to control large sections of
the north and east of the country. The LTTE denied
those under its control the right to change their
government, did not provide for fair trials, infringed
on privacy rights, generally restricted freedom of
movement, used child soldiers, and discriminated against
ethnic and religious minorities.
Section 1 Respect for the Integrity of the Person,
Including Freedom From:
a. Arbitrary or Unlawful Deprivation of Life
Unlike in previous years, there were no credible reports
that security forces committed extrajudicial killings.
Security force impunity remained a problem. Between
April 1995 and December 2001 when the peace process
began, several hundred persons were killed or
disappeared after being taken into security force
custody. At year's end, the government continued to
investigate five cases of rape, 50 cases of torture, and
approximately 500 cases of disappearance allegedly
committed by security force personnel. The Government
passed indictments against security force personnel in
several high profile cases, including the Bindunuwewa
massacre, in which two security force personnel were
convicted in 2003. Six security force personnel were
convicted in the 1996 killing of university student
Krishanthi Kumaraswamy. In numerous other cases,
military personnel may have committed human rights
violations for which they have not been identified and
brought to justice.
In December 2000, nine Tamil civilians were reported
missing in Mirusuvil after being arrested by the Sri
Lanka Army (SLA). One person escaped, and reported the
incident to police and the local magistrate. The
escapee identified two SLA soldiers as the perpetrators,
and the soldiers admitted to torturing nine civilians
and murdering eight of them. Nine soldiers later were
arrested for the torture and killings. The army
commander administratively punished the soldiers by
having their salaries withheld (see Sections 1.b. and
1.c.). The case was transferred to the Anuradhapura
Magistrate's Court for adjudication in November 2001.
In November 2002, five members of the army were charged
with the murders, and the trial continued in 2003.
In October 2000, local villagers killed 27 Tamil men and
15 others were injured at the Bindunuwewa rehabilitation
camp for former child soldiers. The HRC stated that the
police were guilty of "grave dereliction of duty."
Police allegedly took part in the killings and did
nothing to prevent the villagers from entering the
detention camp. Violence after the killings continued
for almost one week before police were able to restore
order. Three of the survivors were able to testify at a
Presidential Hearing, which met regularly throughout
2001. Many witnesses at the hearing criticized police
actions at the scene and during the initial
investigations. In 2001, all suspects in the case were
released on bail. Due to the failure to show at the
scheduled hearing in November 2002, the court remanded
all suspects until completion of the trial. At the end
of 2002, 10 police officers and 41 villagers were
indicted and were standing trial. Twenty-three of the
accused were acquitted on January 4, 2003. Five of the
accused, including two police officers, were convicted
and sentenced to death in July 2003. The sentences were
immediately commuted to rigorous imprisonment, which is
normal practice in Sri Lanka, of 23 years.
In previous years, some cases of extrajudicial killings
were reprisals against civilians for LTTE attacks in
which members of the security forces or civilians were
killed or injured. In most cases, the security forces
claimed that the victims were members of the LTTE, but
human rights monitors believed otherwise. In
Thampalakamam, near Trincomalee, in 1998, police and
home guards allegedly killed eight Tamil civilians,
apparently in reprisal for the LTTE bombing of the
Temple of the Tooth a week earlier. The Government
arrested police officers and home guards, charging four
with murder and 17 with unlawful assembly. At the end of
2002, eight police officers had been indicted and
hearings continued in 2003.
A court in 2000 ordered five soldiers arrested for the
1999 gang rape and murder of Ida Carmelita, a young
Tamil girl. Court hearings into the case continued
during 2003.
At his sentencing for the 1998 rape and murder of
Krishanthi Kumaraswamy, a Tamil university student,
former Lance Corporal Somaratne Rajapakse claimed
knowledge of mass graves at Chemmani in Jaffna
containing the bodies of up to 400 persons killed by
security forces in 1996. The other five defendants
corroborated his claim of mass graves in the Chemmani
area, where they allegedly had buried between 120 and
140 bodies on the orders of their superiors.
Exhumations in 1999 yielded 15 skeletons. Two of the
victims were identified as young men who had disappeared
in 1996. In 2001, 13 of the bodies had not been
identified. Rajapakse and others named a total of 20
security force personnel, including former policemen, as
responsible for the killings. The remaining
unidentified bodies underwent DNA testing for
identification purposes. The Attorney General's office
has indicated that it was not satisfied with the
inconclusive initial results and reportedly was
searching for funds to provide for a more detailed test.
All suspects in the case have been released on bail.
The case remains pending in 2003.
In 1994, the PA Government began prosecutions in several
extrajudicial killings allegedly committed by members of
the security forces. The trial of 21 soldiers accused
of massacring 35 Tamil civilians in 1992 in the village
of Mailanthani in Batticaloa district was transferred to
the Colombo High Court in 1996. Many witnesses for the
case live in displaced persons camps, and could not come
to court to give evidence. A jury trial, which began in
January 2002, ended in November 2002 when the security
forces were acquitted. In 2003, representatives of the
victims requested that the Attorney General appeal the
jury's decision.
In the January 2000 killing of Tamil politician Kumar
Ponnambalam, two key suspects were killed by unknown
assailants in early 2003. Judicial proceedings
continued with the remaining suspect in late 2003.
Although former paramilitary Tamil groups armed by and
aligned with the former PA Government committed
extrajudicial killings in the past, there were no
credible reports of such killings during the year.
In the past, the military wing of the People's
Liberation Organization of Tamil Eelam (PLOTE) and the
Razeek group were responsible for killing a number of
persons; however, there were no reports of such killings
during the year. The security forces had armed and used
these militias and a number of other Tamil militant
organizations to provide information, to help identify
LTTE terrorists, and, in some cases, to fight in
military operations against the terrorists. The exact
size of these militias was impossible to ascertain, but
they probably totaled fewer than 2,000 persons. These
groups were asked to disarm following the formal
February 2002 ceasefire agreement between the Government
and LTTE. The militia did hand over some weapons to the
Government; however, most observers believe that the
groups kept some arms. Persons killed by these
militants in the past probably included LTTE operatives
and civilians who failed to comply with extortion
There is overwhelming evidence that the LTTE killed more
than three dozen members of anti-LTTE Tamil political
groups and alleged Tamil informants for the security
forces during the year, mainly in the north and east of
the country. Both current and former members of anti-
LTTE Tamil political parties were targeted by the LTTE.
In one high-profile case, the deputy leader of the Eelam
People's Revolutionary Liberation Front (EPRLF) was shot
and killed in Jaffna in June. The LTTE also targeted
alleged Tamil informants to the military, killing
several during the year. One Sri Lankan police officer
was also killed in Colombo in an apparent LTTE attack.
Unlike in previous years, there were no attacks and
counter-attacks between government forces and the LTTE
during the year, although in two incidents in March and
June 2003, the Sri Lankan Navy sank LTTE ships allegedly
carrying weapons and ammunition. Several LTTE personnel
were killed in each of the incidents. There were no
reports of suicide bombings during the year.
There were no credible reports of disappearances at the
hands of the security forces in 2003.
In 2001, the army, navy, police, and paramilitary groups
were implicated in as many as 10 disappearances,
primarily in Vavuniya. These cases were not confirmed.
In December 2000, eight Tamil civilians were reported
missing in Mirusuvil. Two SLA soldiers were identified
as perpetrators and admitted to killing eight of the
civilians. The soldiers were punished administratively
by the army (see Sections 1.a. and 1.c.).
In February 2000, a fisherman seen arrested by naval
personnel near Trincomalee disappeared. In 2002, the
Trincomalee High Court ordered a police line up;
however, the witness did not identify any of the
suspects. At the end of 2002, the High Court was
conducting a habeas corpus hearing in conjunction with
the case. There were no further developments in this
case in 2003.
Those who disappeared in 2001 and previous years usually
were presumed dead. The 2000 U.N. Working Group on
Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances lists the country
as having an extremely large number of "nonclarified"
disappearances. The Commander of the Army and the
Inspector General of Police both criticized the
disappearances and stated that the perpetrators would be
called to account. Although there have been few
prosecutions of security force personnel to date, during
the year there were indictments and investigations,
including the case against the security forces involved
in the Bindunuwewa massacre and the killings in
The Attorney General's office successfully prosecuted
four cases in 2002 involving members of the security
forces on abduction and murder charges. In November
2002 the Government formed a new commission to
investigate disappearances in Jaffna area during 1996
and 1997. The commission was expected to begin work in
2003, but did not take any action during the year.
A U.N. Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary
Disappearances report, released in December 1999, cited
the PTA and ER as important factors contributing to
disappearances and recommended the abolition or
modification of these laws to bring them into conformity
with internationally accepted human rights standards.
The ER was repealed in 2001 and there were no arrests
under the PTA in 2002 or 2003; however, some arrests
were being made without proper procedures and the
Government had not released all persons detained under
the PTA in previous years at year's end (see Section
1.d.). The reviewing process for some cases continued
in 2003.
Tamil militias aligned with the former PA government
also were responsible for disappearances in past years;
however, there were no reports during the year. The HRC
had no mandate or authority to enforce respect for human
rights among these militia groups. It was impossible to
determine the exact number of victims because of the
secrecy with which these groups operated. These
militias were largely disarmed by the Government in
The LTTE released 10 people in 2002, including some
soldiers, to the International Committee of the Red
Cross (ICRC). At year's end, the LTTE was not known to
be holding any prisoners, but many observers believe
that they are (see Section 1.g.).
Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment
or Punishment
Despite legal prohibitions, the security forces and
police continued to torture and mistreat persons in
police custody and prisons. The Convention Against
Torture Act (CATA) made torture a punishable offense.
Under the CATA, torture is defined as a specific crime
which criminal conviction of carries a 7-year minimum
sentence. The High Court has jurisdiction over
violations. However, according to a recent Amnesty
International (AI) report and press release, the CATA
does not implement several provisions of the U.N.
Convention; this results in torture being prohibited
under specific circumstances but allowed under others.
Consequently, torture continued with relative impunity.
In addition, the PTA makes confessions obtained under
any circumstance, including by torture, sufficient to
hold a person until they are brought to court. In some
cases, the detention can extend for years.
Since 2000, the Government has been working on
developing regulations to prosecute and punish military
and police personnel responsible for torture. The
Attorney General's Office and the Criminal Investigation
Unit have established units to focus on torture
complaints; the units forwarded 50 cases for indictments
during the year, of which 20 resulted in indictments.
The Interparliamentary Permanent Standing Committee and
its Interministerial Working Group on Human Rights
Issues continued to track criminal investigations of
torture. In addition, the Government also ceased paying
fines incurred by security force personnel found guilty
of torture. Security force personnel have been fined
under civil statutes for engaging in torture. According
to the Attorney General's Office, members of the
security forces and police had been prosecuted under
criminal statutes, but none of the cases had come to
Members of the security forces continued to torture and
mistreat detainees and other prisoners, particularly
during interrogation. Methods of torture included
electric shock, beatings, suspension by the wrists or
feet in contorted positions, burning, slamming testicles
in desk drawers, and near drowning. In other cases,
victims must remain in unnatural positions for extended
periods or have bags laced with insecticide, chili
powder, or gasoline placed over their heads. Detainees
have reported broken bones and other serious injuries as
a result of their mistreatment. There were reports of
rape in detention during the year. Medical examination
of persons arrested since 2000 continued to reveal
multiple cases of torture.
In December 2000, the bodies of eight Tamils tortured
and killed by the army in Mirusuvil were exhumed after
an individual escaped and notified authorities. Nine
soldiers were arrested, and by year's end, a trial had
begun (see Sections 1.a. and 1.b.). The military also
conducted its own inquiry, but the accused were
discharged. Five soldiers were indicted in court,
however, and were standing trial in 2003.
On March 15, 2002, Thivyan Krishnasamy, a student leader
and an outspoken critic of the actions of security
forces in Jaffna, was released from custody. Human
rights observers claim that he was arrested because of
his political activism, but the police stated that he
was connected to the LTTE. He had been arrested in July
2001 and, when he was brought before a court in August,
he complained of being tortured. In support of his
allegations of torture, the Jaffna Student Union held
protests during the fall of 2001. In response,
university administrators temporarily closed the
university to avoid violence. There were no
developments in this case in 2003.
During 2001, there were a number of reports of women
being raped by security forces while in detention. One
such case involved two women arrested in March 2001 in
Mannar who claimed that they were tortured and
repeatedly raped by naval and police personnel. The
women were released on bail in April 2001 and filed
charges against their assailants. At the end of 2002,
the 14 accused were standing trial for rape, torture, or
both. Two of the perpetrators in this case were
acquitted in 2003. A fundamental rights case (see next
paragraph) also was opened against the accused. Four
other cases in which the security forces are accused of
raping women in detention were still pending in 2003.
Under fundamental rights provisions in the Constitution,
torture victims may file civil suit for compensation in
the high courts or Supreme Court. Courts have granted
awards ranging from approximately $150 (14,200 rupees)
to $1,940 (182,500 rupees). However, most cases take
two years or more to move through the courts.
Impunity remained a problem. In the majority of cases
in which military personnel may have committed human
rights abuses, the Government has not identified those
responsible or brought them to justice.
At the invitation of the Government, the U.N. Committee
on Torture sent a five-person mission to Colombo in 2000
to determine whether a systematic pattern of torture
existed in the country and, if so, to make
recommendations for eliminating the practice. In 2001
the mission had submitted its confidential report to
President Kumaratunga. The report has not been released
to the public.
In the past, Tamil militants aligned with the former PA
government engaged in torture; however, there were no
such reports in 2003.
The LTTE used torture on a routine basis.
Prison conditions generally were poor and did not meet
international standards because of overcrowding and lack
of sanitary facilities; however, the Government
permitted visits by independent human rights observers.
The Government permitted representatives from the ICRC
to visit places of detention. The ICRC conducted 69
visits to 33 government detention facilities, including
prisons and military jails in 2003. The HRC also
visited 690 police stations and 96 detention facilities
from January to September 2003 (see Section 1.d.).
Conditions also reportedly were poor in LTTE-run
detention facilities. The ICRC conducted eight visits
in LTTE-controlled detention facilities. Due to the
release of detainees in 2000 and the apparent release of
the remaining soldiers held by the LTTE in 2002, ICRC
visited fewer LTTE detention centers than in previous
years (see Section 1.d.).
Arbitrary Arrest, Detention, or Exile
There were no reports of arbitrary arrest and detention
during the year. Under the 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 generally appear before a
magistrate within a few days of arrest, who may
authorize bail or order continued pretrial detention for
up to three months or longer. Security forces must
issue an arrest receipt at the time of arrest, and
despite some efforts by the Government to enforce this
standard, arrest receipts rarely were issued in previous
years. Observers believed that the lack of arrest
receipts in the past prevented adequate tracking of
cases, which permitted extended detentions and torture
without making any persons directly responsible for
those detainees.
Under the ER and the PTA, security forces could detain
suspects for extended periods of time without court
approval. The ER, in force periodically since 1979 and
in force island-wide from August 1998 until July 2001,
gave security forces broad powers to arrest and detain
without charge or the right to judicial review. ER
provisions permitted police to hold individuals for up
to 90 days to investigate suspected offenses, although
the police had to present detainees to a court within 30
days to record the detention. The court was able to
order a further six months' detention.
In past years, the army generally turned over those it
arrested under the ER to the police within 24 hours,
although the police and the army did not always issue
arrest receipts or notify the HRC within 48 hours. The
HRC had a legal mandate to visit those arrested, and
police generally respected this. Due to censorship and
infrequent access, observers could not determine the
state of affairs in LTTE-controlled areas.
There was an instance of large-scale arrests of Tamils
in Colombo in June 2003, however, the vast majority of
those arrested were released shortly thereafter. In the
past, many detentions occurred during operations against
the LTTE. Most detentions lasted a maximum of several
days, but some extended to several months. As of
September 1, 65 Tamils charged under the PTA remained in
detention without bail awaiting trial. The Government
released more than 750 Tamils arrested under the PTA
during 2002.
Unlike in previous years, there were no reports of
arbitrary arrests or searches of residents. In previous
years, Tamils complained that they were abused verbally
and held for extended periods at security checkpoints
throughout Colombo. The vast majority of checkpoints
were removed in 2002 and the reports of regular
mistreatment by security forces largely ceased.
The Committee to Inquire into Undue Arrest and
Harassment (CIUAH), which includes senior opposition
party and Tamil representatives, examines complaints of
arrest and harassment by security forces and takes
remedial action as needed. Opinions on the
effectiveness of the CIUAH were mixed. Some human
rights observers believe that the work of the committee
deterred random arrests and alleviated problems
encountered by detainees and their families. Others
felt that although the CIUAH continued to meet in 2003,
it took no action during the year.
The HRC investigated the legality of detention in cases
referred to it by the Supreme Court and private
citizens. Although the HRC is legally mandated to
exercise oversight over arrests and detentions by the
security forces and to undertake visits to prisons,
members of the security forces sometimes violated the
regulations and failed to cooperate with the HRC.
The Government continued to give the ICRC unhindered
access to approximately 160 detention centers, police
stations, and army camps recognized officially as places
of detention. Due to the lapsing of the ER in July
2001, the total number of persons detained in military
bases at any one time has been reduced dramatically,
with the military making fewer arrests and transferring
detainees to police facilities more quickly than in
previous years. With the ceasefire agreement, the
number of arrests by the military has dramatically
The LTTE in the past has detained civilians, often
holding them for ransom. There were reports of this
practice during the year, particularly the multiple
reports of kidnaping of Muslims in the east. The
Muslims were usually released soon after being kidnapped
and often after ransom was paid. At year's end, there
were no reports of the LTTE holding Muslims in custody.
The Government does not practice forced exile, and there
are no legal provisions allowing its use.
Denial of Fair Public Trial
The Constitution provides for an independent judiciary,
and the Government generally respected this provision in
The President appoints judges to the Supreme Court, the
high court, and the courts of appeal. A judicial
service commission, composed of the Chief Justice and
two Supreme Court judges, appointed, transferred, and
dismissed lower court judges. Judges serve until the
mandatory retirement age of 65 for the Supreme Court and
62 for other courts. Judges can be removed for reasons
of misbehavior or physical or mental incapacity, but
only after a legal investigation followed by joint
action of the President and the Parliament.
In criminal cases, juries try defendants in public.
Defendants may be represented by the counsel of their
choice, are informed of the charges and evidence against
them, and have the right to appeal. The Government
provides counsel for indigent persons tried on criminal
charges in the high courts and the courts of appeal, but
it does not provide counsel in other cases. Private
legal aid organizations assisted some defendants. In
addition, the Ministry of Justice operated 11 community
legal aid centers to assist those who cannot afford
representation and to serve as educational resources for
local communities. However, these legal aid centers had
tried no cases by the end of September 2003. There are
no jury trials in cases brought under the PTA.
Confessions, obtained by various coercive means,
including torture, are inadmissible in criminal
proceedings, but are allowed in PTA cases. Defendants
bear the burden of proof to show that their confessions
were obtained by coercion. Defendants in PTA cases have
the right to appeal. Subject to judicial review in
certain cases, defendants can spend up to 18 months in
prison on administrative order waiting for their cases
to be heard. Once their cases come to trial, decisions
are made relatively quickly. In 2002, more than 750 PTA
cases were dropped and the prisoners released.
Most court proceedings in Colombo and the south were
conducted in English or Sinhala, which, due to a
shortage of court-appointed interpreters, restricted the
ability of Tamil-speaking defendants to get a fair
hearing. Trials and hearings in the north and east were
in Tamil and English, but many serious cases, including
those having to do with terrorism, were tried in
Colombo. While Tamil-speaking judges existed at the
magistrate level, only four high court judges, an
appeals court judge, and a Supreme Court justice spoke
fluent Tamil. Few legal textbooks and only one law
report existed in Tamil, and the Government has complied
only slowly with legislation requiring that all laws be
published in English, Sinhala, and Tamil.
In the past in Jaffna, LTTE threats against court
officials sometimes disrupted normal court operations.
Although the Jaffna court suspended activities due to
security concerns in 2000, it reopened in 2001 and
functioned continuously throughout 2003. During the
year, the LTTE expanded the operations of its court
system into areas previously under the Government's
judicial system in the north and east. With the
expansion, the LTTE demanded all Tamil civilians stop
using the Government's judicial system and only rely on
the LTTE's legal system. Credible reports indicated
that the LTTE has implemented the change through the
threat of force.
The LTTE has its own self-described legal system,
composed of judges with little or no legal training.
LTTE courts operate without codified or defined legal
authority and essentially operate as agents of the LTTE
rather than as an independent judiciary. The courts
reportedly impose severe punishments, including
The Government claimed that all persons held under the
PTA are suspected members of the LTTE and therefore are
legitimate security threats. Insufficient information
existed to verify this claim and to determine whether
these detainees are political prisoners. In many cases,
human rights monitors questioned the legitimacy of the
criminal charges brought against these persons. More
than 750 PTA cases were dismissed by the Attorney
General in 2002. The Attorney General's office expected
a few more of the 65 remaining cases to be dismissed at
year's end. The Government claimed that the cases that
remained will be of those individuals directly linked to
suicide bombings or other terrorist and criminal acts
The LTTE also reportedly holds a number of political
prisoners. The number is impossible to determine
because of the secretive nature of the organization.
The LTTE refuses to allow the ICRC access to these
Arbitrary Interference with Privacy, Family, Home, or
The Constitution provides for the right to privacy, and
the Government generally respected this provision in
practice; however, it infringed on citizen's privacy
rights in some areas. The police generally obtained
proper warrants for arrests and searches conducted under
ordinary law; however, the security forces were not
required to obtain warrants for searches conducted
either under the now-lapsed ER or the PTA. The
Secretary of the Ministry of Defense was responsible for
providing oversight for such searches. The Government
was believed to monitor telephone conversations and
correspondence on a selective basis. However, there
were no reports of such activity by security forces
during the year.
The Government removed the LTTE from proscription on
September 4, 2002. This action by the Government meant
members of the LTTE were no longer subject to arrest
simply because of their status.
The LTTE routinely invaded the privacy of citizens by
maintaining an effective network of informants. The
LTTE also forcibly recruited children during the year
(see Section 6.d). In 2003, the LTTE released 141
children. In late 2002, the LTTE handed over 85
children to UNICEF, stating that the children had
volunteered to serve, but that the LTTE does not accept
children (see Section 6.d). Unlike in previous years,
there were no reports that the LTTE expelled Muslims
from their homes.
Use of Excessive Force and Violations of Humanitarian
Law in Internal Conflicts
Hostilities between the Government and the LTTE abated
with the announcement of unilateral ceasefires in
December 2001, followed by a formal ceasefire accord
agreed to in February 2002. Subsequently, a number of
prisoners were released by both sides and the key road
connecting Jaffna with the rest of the island was
opened. The abatement of hostilities also led to a
sharp reduction in roadblocks and checkpoints around the
country, to the return of approximately 300,000 IDPs to
their points of origin in the north and east, and to the
opening of investigations into actions by security force
In April 2002, in Nilaveli, on the east coast, naval
personnel opened fire and injured two Tamil women. The
circumstances surrounding the incident remained unclear,
and the investigation into the incident remained open at
year's end. On October 10, 2002, seven civilians were
killed when security force personnel fired into a crowd
storming their compound in the east. Some observers
claimed the security forces used excessive force in
repelling a peaceful crowd that was demonstrating
against the alleged harassment of LTTE cadre earlier in
the day. Others claim the security forces were
justified in repelling what appeared to be an LTTE-
instigated attack.
In November 2001, the Sri Lanka Army created the
Directorate of Human Rights and Humanitarian Law in the
army. The directorate is charged with coordinating all
human rights activities for the army from ICRC training
classes (see Section 4) to overseeing the human rights
cells that are assigned throughout the military. The
SLA also states that all of its personnel have completed
the appropriate training and pledged to adhere to the
"rules of international Humanitarian Law." Early in
2002, the air force and navy instituted similar
programs. The armed forces operated under written rules
of engagement that severely restricted the shelling,
bombardment, or other use of firepower against civilian-
occupied areas. In 2003, the army instituted further
mandatory human rights training programs for officers
and enlisted personnel.
The Government continued to provide food relief, through
the Commissioner General for Essential Services (CGES)
and the Multi-Purpose Cooperative Societies (MCPS), to
displaced and other needy citizens, including those in
areas controlled by the LTTE. The Government delivered
food rations to the Vanni area, an LTTE-controlled area
in northern Sri Lanka, through a checkpoint that is
controlled on one side by the security forces and on the
other by the LTTE. The border into the territory
controlled by the LTTE remained open during the year.
In previous years, NGOs and other groups that sought to
take assistance-related items to the LTTE-controlled
Vanni region needed permission from the Government.
With the onset of the peace process, NGOs and assistance
groups could move nearly all items into the LTTE-
controlled areas without extensive Government oversight.
During 2002, the Ministry of Defense reported capturing
several LTTE personnel with weapons in government-
controlled areas in direct contradiction of the terms of
the ceasefire agreement. The Government reportedly
returned most LTTE personnel directly to the closest
LTTE checkpoint. Some, however, were detained for longer
periods. Previously the military sent the LTTE cadre it
captured or who surrendered to rehabilitation centers.
The ICRC continued to visit former LTTE members in
government rehabilitation camps, although the October
2000 massacre of more than 20 such detainees at a
government-run detention facility at Bindunuwewa, near
Bandarawella, led observers to question the continued
security of residents of these facilities (see Sections
1.a. and 1.g.).
In view of the scale of hostilities in previous years
and the large number of LTTE casualties, some observers
have found the number of prisoners taken under
battlefield conditions to be low and have concluded that
many LTTE fighters apparently were killed rather than
taken prisoner. Some observers believed that, on the
government side, an unwritten "take-no-prisoners" policy
had been in effect. The military denied this claim,
stating that other factors limited the number of
prisoners taken, such as the LTTE's efforts to remove
injured fighters from the battlefield, the proclivity of
its fighters to choose suicide over capture, and the
LTTE's occasional practice of killing its own badly
injured fighters. There were no reports of security
forces personnel executing LTTE personnel during the
In previous years, the Government refused to permit
relief organizations to provide medical attention to
injured LTTE fighters, although it has offered to treat
any LTTE injured entrusted to government care.
According to credible reports, injured LTTE cadres
surrendering to the Government received appropriate
medical care.
The LTTE admitted that in the past it killed security
forces personnel rather than take them prisoner. Past
eyewitness accounts confirm that the LTTE executed
injured soldiers on the battlefield. At year's end, the
LTTE reportedly had released all security force
personnel they were holding. The LTTE is believed to
have killed most of the police officers and security
force personnel it captured in past few years.
The LTTE routinely used excessive force in the war,
including by targeting civilians. Since the peace
process began in December 2001, the LTTE has engaged in
kidnaping, hijackings of truck shipments, and forcible
recruitment, including of children. The LTTE was widely
believed by credible sources to have increased its
recruitment during the year. There were intermittent
reports through the year of children ranging in age from
13 to 17 escaping from LTTE camps. During 2003, the
LTTE released 141 children (see Section 1.f). The Sri
Lanka Monitoring Mission received approximately 130
complaints about child abductions since January 2003,
and credible sources say those children are recruited to
be child soldiers. High LTTE officials have alleged to
foreign officials that child soldiers were "volunteers."
In 2003, the LTTE and UNICEF reached an agreement on the
demobilization and rehabilitation of child soldiers, and
began work on an action plan which would address issues
relating to child labor, including underage recruitment.
The LTTE expropriates food, fuel, and other items meant
for IDPs, thus exacerbating the plight of such persons
in LTTE-controlled areas. Malnutrition remained a
problem in LTTE-controlled areas as well as in other
parts of the Vanni region, with nutrition levels falling
below the national average. Experts have reported a
high rate of anemia and a low birth rate, both of which
indicate lower levels of nutrition. Confirmed cases of
malnutrition included hundreds of children.
Landmines were a serious problem in Jaffna and the Vanni
and to some extent in the east (see Section 5).
Landmines, booby traps, and unexploded ordnance pose a
problem to resettlement of displaced persons and
rebuilding. At the end of 2002, a U.N. team had begun
coordinating the process of mapping the mined areas in
the country and established oversight for a mine removal
program. In 2003, a U.N team established a landmine map
database, which was shared throughout the 12 demining
agencies that worked in Sri Lanka in 2003. During the
year, the Sri Lankan Military and the LTTE removed mines
in areas they controlled. State Department-sponsored
humanitarian demining programs were active in clearing
landmines in 2002 and 2003, and a major USG-funded
demining training program for the Sri Lanka Army began
in late 2003. The Government reported as many as 15
mine-related casualties among civilians per month during
the year.
Section 2 Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:
a. Freedom of Speech and Press
The Constitution provides for freedom of speech and of
the press, and the Government generally respected these
rights in practice in 2003. In the past, the Government
restricted these rights, often using national security
grounds permitted by law. In 2002, criminal defamation
laws, which had often been used by the Government to
intimidate independent media outlets, were eliminated.
In 2001, the Government officially lifted the censorship
on war reporting. However, even when no specific
government censorship is exercised, private television
stations impose their own, informal censorship on
international television news rebroadcast in the
Although the Government owns the country's largest
newspaper chain, two major television stations, and a
radio station, a variety of independent, privately owned
newspapers, journals, and radio and television stations
dominate the media. Most independent media houses
freely criticized the Government and its policies. The
Government imposes no political restrictions on the
establishment of new media enterprises.
The President officially eased censorship restrictions
on foreign journalists in a circular published in June
2000; however, material for publication or broadcast
within the country, regardless of author, remained
subject to government approval until the repeal of
censorship laws in June 2001.
Human rights observers commented that in the past Tamils
from the north or east who criticized the Sri Lankan
military and Government often were harassed and
sometimes arrested. They cite the case of Thiviyan
Krishnasamy, a student leader in Jaffna and critic of
the military in the Jaffna area. He was arrested in
July 2001 and released in March 2002 (see Section 1.c.).
During the year, the defamation laws were repealed and
all cases pertaining to the defamation laws were
The Sri Lanka Tamil Media Alliance (SLTMA) was formed in
1999 to protect the interests of Tamil journalists, who
allege that they are subject to harassment and
intimidation by Tamil paramilitary groups and Sri Lankan
security forces. Regional Tamil correspondents working
in the war zones have complained of arbitrary arrest and
detention in the past and difficulty in obtaining press
accreditation. The SLTMA has filed cases on behalf of
Tamil journalists, but its cases have not yet succeeded
in the courts.
The Press Complaints Commission of Sri Lanka was
established during 2003 and is designed to provide a
venue for citizens to bring complaints against media
outlets. The Commission is set to begin full operations
later this year.
Unlike in the previous year, travel by local and foreign
journalists to conflict areas was not restricted. The
LTTE does not tolerate freedom of expression. It
tightly restricts the print and broadcast media in areas
under its control. The LTTE has killed those reporting
and publishing on human rights.
In 2002, two air force personnel were convicted of
forcibly entering the home of a well-known journalist
who reported regularly on defense matters and
threatening him. The two received nine year sentences,
were released on bail and continued to appeal the charge
in 2003.
The Government did not restrict access to the Internet.
The Government did not restrict academic freedom.
The LTTE restricted academic freedom, and it has
repressed and killed intellectuals who criticize it,
most notably the moderate and widely respected Tamil
politician and academic, Dr. Neelan Tiruchelvam, who was
killed by a suicide bomber in July 1999. The LTTE also
has severely repressed members of human rights
organizations, such as the University Teachers for Human
Rights (UTHR), and other groups. Many former members of
the UTHR have been killed and others are in hiding.
Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and Association
The law provides for freedom of assembly and
association, and the Government generally respected
these rights in practice. Although the PTA may be used
to restrict this freedom, the Government did not use the
act for that purpose during the year. Numerous peaceful
political and nonpolitical rallies were held throughout
the country during the year.
In July 2001, the opposition held a rally that the
Government claimed was illegal under the 1981 Referendum
Act, which essentially states that rallies and
demonstrations of a political nature cannot be held when
a referendum is scheduled. Security forces killed two
persons when the Government confronted the rally with
force, prompting further demonstrations. However, the
Government generally grants permits for demonstrations,
including those by opposition parties and minority
On October 9, 2002, special task force police killed
eight Tamil civilians during a protest in Akkaraipattu.
Police and the commission tasked with investigating the
incident claim that the crowd was trying to forcefully
enter the police compound and the police were defending
themselves. Tamils have disputed this finding,
asserting that the protest was peaceful. In April 2001,
a violent clash between the Sinhalese and Muslim
communities occurred in Mawanella. The Muslim community
protested alleged police inaction concerning an assault
on a Muslim store clerk. In response, a group of
Sinhalese attacked the Muslim protesters. As the
conflict escalated, two Muslims were killed, and
buildings and a few vehicles were destroyed. Police
reportedly did nothing to stop the destruction of Muslim
property. There were no further developments in the
case during the year.
The LTTE does not allow freedom of association in the
areas that it controls. The LTTE reportedly has used
coercion to make persons attend rallies that it
sponsors. On the Jaffna Peninsula, the LTTE
occasionally has posted in public places the names of
Tamil civilians accused of associating with security
forces and other Government entities. The Jaffna
Library, destroyed during the war, was reconstructed and
was set to reopen in 2003, however, the LTTE prevented
its reopening. The LTTE has killed Tamil civilians who
have cooperated with the security forces in establishing
a civil administration in Jaffna under a political
leadership elected freely and fairly in January 1998.
Freedom of Religion
The Constitution accords Buddhism a foremost position,
but it also provides for the right of members of other
faiths to practice their religions freely, and the
Government generally respected this right in practice.
Despite the special status afforded by the Constitution
to Buddhism, major religious festivals of all faiths are
celebrated as public holidays.
Foreign clergy may work in the country, but the
Government has sought to limit the number of foreign
religious workers given temporary work permits.
Permission usually is restricted to denominations
registered with the Government. The Government has
prohibited the entry of new foreign clergy on a
permanent basis. It permitted those already in the
country to remain.
Some evangelical Christians have expressed concern that
their efforts at proselytizing often meet with hostility
and harassment from the local Buddhist clergy and others
opposed to their work. During the year, there were
unconfirmed reports of assault on members of evangelical
Christian groups by Buddhists. Evangelicals sometimes
complain that the Government tacitly condones such
harassment, but there is no evidence to support this
Two developments in 2003 raised religious freedom
concerns. In July 2003, the Supreme Court issued a
ruling that the Constitution supports the right to
practice religion, but does not support the right to
proselytize. The Government is also reviewing a draft
law that would prevent the forced conversion of Hindus.
Christian groups have expressed deep concerns about
these developments, asserting that the prevention of
conversion is an effort to impinge on their religious
right to proselytize.
In April 2001, four Sinhalese attacked a Muslim cashier.
When the Muslim community protested police inaction,
rioting Sinhalese confronted the Muslim persons, and two
Muslims were killed. The police investigation into this
incident remains open and no arrests have been reported.
There were no developments in this case in 2003.
The LTTE expelled virtually the entire Muslim population
from their homes in the northern part of the island in
1990. Most of these persons remain displaced. During
the year, the LTTE leadership has met with the leaders
of the Muslim community to discuss the peace process.
In the past, the LTTE has expropriated Muslim homes,
land, and businesses and threatened Muslim families with
death if they attempt to return. The LTTE has made some
conciliatory statements to the Muslim community, but
most Muslims view the statements with skepticism. There
were also instances of intimidation of Muslims in the
east by the LTTE in 2003, and there was fighting between
LTTE personnel and Muslims that left several Muslims
There continue to be reports of vandalism of buildings
used by evangelical Christian groups, and members of
these groups have reported incidents of harassment.
The LTTE attacked Buddhist sites, most notably the
historic Dalada Maligawa or "Temple of the Tooth," the
holiest Buddhist shrine in the country, in Kandy in
January 1998. In May 2000, an LTTE bombing near a
temple at the Buddhist Vesak festival in Batticaloa
killed 23 persons and injured dozens of others.
The LTTE has been accused in the past of using church
and temple compounds, where civilians were instructed by
the Government to congregate in the event of
hostilities, as shields for the storage of munitions.
For a more detailed discussion see the 2003
International Religious Freedom Report.
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 [the country]," and the Government generally
respected the right to domestic and foreign travel.
However, in the past, the war with the LTTE prompted the
Government to impose more stringent checks on travelers
from the north and the east and on movement in Colombo,
particularly after dark. Tamils had to obtain police
passes to move freely in the north and east, and
frequently they were harassed at checkpoints throughout
the country. These security measures had the effect of
restricting the movement of Tamils.
Starting in December 2001, most travel restrictions were
lifted by the Government and this situation continued
into 2003. Areas near military bases and high security
zones still have limited access. Some observers claim
the high security zones are excessive and unfairly claim
Tamil lands, particularly in Jaffna. The LTTE limited
travel on the road connecting Jaffna in the north to the
rest of the country; however, in April 2002 the
Government lifted all of its restrictions on travel to
By late 2001, there were over 800,000 IDPs in Sri Lanka.
With the advent of the peace process, however, UNHCR
reports that 310,000 IDPs have returned to their places
of origin, leaving roughly 500,000 IDPs in the country.
An estimated 65,000 Tamil refugees live in camps in
Tamil Nadu in Southern India. Approximately 100,000
refugees may have integrated into Tamil society in India
over the years. UNHCR reports that a small number may
have returned from India during the year.
The LTTE has discriminated against Muslims, and in 1990
expelled some 46,000 Muslim inhabitants -- virtually the
entire Muslim population -- from their homes in areas
under LTTE control in the northern part of the island.
Most of these persons remain displaced and live in or
near welfare centers. There were credible reports that
the LTTE has warned thousands of Muslims displaced from
the Mannar area not to return to their homes until the
conflict is over. However, it appeared that these
attacks by the LTTE were not targeted against persons
due to their religious beliefs, rather, it appeared that
they were part of an overall strategy to clear the north
and east of persons not sympathetic to the cause of an
independent Tamil state. During the year, the LTTE has
invited the Muslim IDPs to return home, asserting they
will not be harmed. Although some Muslim IDPs have
begun returning home, the vast majority have not and
were instead waiting for a guarantee from the Government
for their safety in LTTE-controlled areas.
The LTTE occasionally disrupts the flow of persons
exiting the Vanni region through the two established
checkpoints. In particular the LTTE taxes civilians
traveling through areas it controls. In the past, the
LTTE disrupted the movement of IDPs from Trincomalee to
Jaffna by hijacking or attacking civilian shipping,
although there were no such reports this year.
Humanitarian groups estimate that more than 200,000 IDPs
live in LTTE-controlled areas (see Section 1.g.).
The law does not provide for the granting of asylum or
refugee status in accordance with the 1951 U.N.
Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees and its
1967 Protocol. The Government cooperated with the
office of the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees and
other humanitarian organizations in assisting refugees.
The issue of the provision of first asylum did not arise
during the year. The Government does not permit the
entry of refugees into the country or grant first
asylum, nor does it aid those who manage to enter to
seek permanent residence elsewhere. There were no
reports of the forced return of persons to a country
where they feared persecution.
Section 3 Respect for Political Rights: The Right of
Citizens to Change Their Government
The Constitution provides citizens with the right to
change their government peacefully. Citizens exercised
this right in practice through multiparty, periodic,
free and fair elections. Elections were held on the
basis of universal suffrage; however, recent elections
have been marred by violence and some irregularities.
The country is a longstanding democratic republic with
an active multiparty system. Power is shared between
the popularly elected President and the 225-member
Parliament. The right to change the government was
exercised in the December 2001 parliamentary elections
in which the United National Front, a coalition of
parties led by the UNP, won a majority in Parliament for
the next 6-year period. Stating that it feared possible
infiltration by the LTTE, the Government prohibited more
than 40,000 Tamil voters living in LTTE-controlled
territories from crossing army checkpoints in order to
vote. In 2003, the Supreme Court ruled that this action
violated the fundamental rights of these prospective
Tamil voters. The Supreme Court ruling cited and fined
the commander of the Sri Lankan Army, the then-
Commissioner of Elections, and the government for
preventing citizens from exercising their right to vote.
The commander of the Sri Lankan Army claimed he was
following orders from the government based on
information that the LTTE was planning to infiltrate
government-controlled areas on election day.
Following elections held in December 2001, the UNP and
its allies formed the new Government. The President's
party, the PA, now leads the opposition in Parliament.
Cohabitation ties between the President and Prime
Minister have been difficult.
The President suspended Parliament from July to
September 2001 out of concern that her coalition had
lost its majority in Parliament because of defections.
The suspension of Parliament angered opposition parties,
which sponsored numerous demonstrations. One of these
demonstrations, ended with the deaths of two marchers
killed by security forces (see Section 2.b.). After
further defections from her coalition, the President
dissolved Parliament in October 2001, and called for
elections to take place in December 2001.
On election day, December 5, 2001, 12 supporters of the
Sri Lankan Muslim Congress were killed, allegedly by
hired thugs of a PA candidate. Former PA MP Anuruddha
Ratwatte and his two sons have been indicted for
conspiring in the killings. In addition, 15 others,
including security force personnel, were indicted for
their alleged involvement in the murders. In June 2003,
Ratwatte and 14 others were granted bail by a five-judge
bench of the Supreme Court, setting aside the majority
order of the High-Court-Trial-at-Bar. Despite an
extremely violent campaign, including credible reports
of the use of intimidation by both of the major parties,
voter turnout exceeded 70 percent. The People's
Alliance for Free and Fair Elections (PAFFREL) reported
755 incidents of violence and 49 deaths; the Center for
Monitoring Election Violence (CMEV) reported 4,208
incidents, and 73 deaths; and the police reported 2,247
incidents, and 45 deaths connected to the 2001
In September 2001, the Parliament passed the 17th
Amendment, which established an independent Commission
on Elections (among other commissions), which is to be
tasked with ensuring free and fair elections; however,
implementing legislation has yet to be passed.
A delegation from the European Union monitoring the 2001
election expressed concern about violence and
irregularities in the voting, but concluded that the
election "did to a reasonable degree reflect the will of
the electorate."
The Commissioner of Elections recognized 46 parties at
the time of general elections in October 2000; only 13
parties actually held seats in the 225-member Parliament
elected during 2001. The two most influential parties,
the Sri Lanka Freedom Party (the principal component
party of the governing PA coalition) and the UNP,
generally draw their support from the majority Sinhalese
community. These two parties have alternated in power
since independence.
There are 10 women in the 225-member Parliament. There
was one in the Cabinet and two sat on the Supreme Court.
In December 1999, a woman, Chandrika Kumaratunga, was
elected President for a second term.
There are 28 Tamil and 24 Muslim persons in the 225
member Parliament elected in December 2001. The
Parliament elected in October 2000 had 23 Tamil and 22
Muslim members.
The LTTE continued to refuse to allow elections in areas
under its control, although it did not oppose
campaigning by certain Tamil parties in the east during
the December 2001 parliamentary elections. In previous
years, the LTTE effectively had undermined the
functioning of local government bodies in Jaffna through
a campaign of killing and intimidation. This campaign
included the killing of two of Jaffna's mayors and death
threats against members of the 17 local councils.
During the period of the conflict, the LTTE killed
popularly elected politicians, including those elected
by Tamils in areas the LTTE claimed as part of a Tamil
Section 4 Governmental Attitude Regarding International
and Nongovernmental Investigation of Alleged Violations
of Human Rights
Several domestic human rights NGOs, including the
Consortium of Humanitarian Agencies (CHA), the
University Teachers for Human Rights, Jaffna (UTHR-J),
the Civil Rights Movement (CRM), and the Law and Society
Trust (LST), monitor civil and political liberties.
There were no adverse regulations governing the
activities of local and foreign NGOs, although the
Government officially requires NGOs to include action
plans and detailed descriptions of funding sources as
part of its registration process. Some NGO workers have
seen this as an attempt by the Government to exert
greater control over the NGO sector after previous human
rights groups' criticisms. Few NGOs complied with these
new reporting requirements. A number of domestic and
international human rights groups generally operate
without government restriction, investigating and
publishing their findings on human rights cases.
Government officials are cooperative and responsive to
their views.
The Government continued to allow the ICRC unrestricted
access to detention facilities (see Sections 1.c. and
1.d.). The ICRC provides international humanitarian law
training materials and training to the security forces.
The UNHCR, the ICRC, and a variety of international NGOs
assisted in the delivery of medical and other essential
supplies to the Vanni area (see Section 1.g.).
In the first six months of 2003, the HRC conducted 690
visits to police stations and 96 visits to detention
facilities. The HRC has 2500 cases of alleged human
rights abuse pending. The Commission's investigation
into the allegations by former Lance Corporal Rajapakse
about mass graves at Chemmani in Jaffna resulted in
exhumations in 1999 that provided the basis for the
ongoing case (see Section 1.a.). Many human rights
observers recognized in 2003 that the new leader of the
HRC was willing to confront other branches of the
Government on human rights problems and new standard
procedures. Activists have expressed some satisfaction
with the HRC's leadership's prompt investigation into
the November 2000 Bindunuwewa massacre.
Section 5 Discrimination Based on Race, Sex, Disability,
Language, or Social Status
The Constitution provides for equal rights under the law
for all citizens, and the Government generally respected
these rights. The Supreme Court regularly upholds court
rulings in cases in which individuals file suit over the
abridgment of their fundamental civil rights. The HRC
and the CIUAH are other mechanisms that the Government
has established to ensure enforcement of constitutional
provisions in addition to access to the courts (see
Section 1.d.).
Sexual assault, rape, and spousal abuse (often
associated with alcohol abuse) continued to be serious
and pervasive problems. Amendments to the Penal Code
introduced in 1995 specifically addressed sexual abuse
and exploitation, and modified rape laws to create a
more equitable burden of proof and to make punishments
more stringent. Marital rape is considered an offense
in cases of spouses living under judicial separation,
and laws govern sexual molestation and sexual harassment
in the workplace. While the Penal Code may ease some of
the problems faced by victims of sexual assault, many
women's organizations believe that greater sensitization
of police and judicial officials is required. The
Government set up the Bureau for the Protection of
Children and Women within the police in 1994 to respond
to calls for greater awareness and attention; however,
there was no information on any actions taken by the
Bureau nor on the number of crimes against women.
In 2003, the police have reported a total of 294 rape
investigations in the country, and there were no reports
of cases involving security force personnel. In the
previous year, the police reported a total of 865 rape
investigations in the country. In 2001 there were a
number of reports of security forces raping women in
custody (see Section 1.c.). In 2002, there was one such
report. There have been no convictions in the cases
involving security force personnel.
Although laws against procuring and trafficking were
strengthened in 1995, trafficking in women for the
purpose of forced labor occurs (see Section 6.f.).
The Constitution provides for equal employment
opportunities in the public sector. However, women have
no legal protection against discrimination in the
private sector where they sometimes are paid less than
men for equal work, often experience difficulty in
rising to supervisory positions, and face sexual
harassment. Women constitute approximately one-half of
the formal work force.
Women have equal rights under national, civil, and
criminal law. However, questions related to family law,
including divorce, child custody, and inheritance, are
adjudicated by the customary law of each ethnic or
religious group. The minimum age of marriage for women
was 18 years, except in the case of Muslims, who
continue to follow their customary marriage practices.
Different religious and ethnic practices often resulted
in uneven treatment of women, including discrimination.
There are 10 women in the 225-member Parliament. There
was one in the Cabinet and two sat on the Supreme Court.
In December 1999, a woman, Chandrika Kumaratunga, was
elected President for a second term.
The Government is committed to protecting the welfare
and rights of children, but is constrained by a lack of
resources. The Government demonstrated this commitment
through its extensive systems of public education and
medical care. The law requires children between the
ages of 5 and 14 to attend school. Approximately 85
percent of children under the age of 16 attend school.
Education was free through the university level. Health
care, including immunization, also was free.
In the period from January 1 to September 2003, the
police recorded 214 cases of crimes against children,
compared to 613 cases of crimes against children in
2002. Many NGOs attribute the problem of exploitation
of children to the lack of law enforcement rather than
adequate legislation. Many law enforcement resources
were diverted to the conflict with the LTTE, although
the police's Bureau for the Protection of Children and
Women conducts investigations into crimes against
children and women. In September 2002 the police opened
an office to work directly with the National Child
Protection Authority (NCPA) on children's issues to
support NCPA investigations into crimes against children
and to arrest suspects based on those investigations.
Under the law, the definition of child abuse includes
all acts of sexual violence against, trafficking in, and
cruelty to children. The law also prohibits the use of
children in exploitative labor or illegal activities or
in any act contrary to compulsory education regulations.
The legislation further widened the definition of child
abuse to include the involvement of children in war.
The NCPA is comprised of representatives from the
education, medical, retired police, and legal
professions; it reports directly to the President.
The Government has pushed for greater international
cooperation to bring those guilty of pedophilia to
justice. The penalty for pedophilia is not less than
five years and up to 20 years as well as an unspecified
fine. Eleven cases of pedophilia were brought to court
in 2003. There were no convictions for pedophilia
during the year.
Child prostitution is a problem in certain coastal
resort areas. The Government estimates that there are
more than 2,000 active child prostitutes in the country,
but private groups claim that the number is much higher
(see Section 6.f.). The bulk of child sexual abuse in
the form of child prostitution is committed by citizens;
however, some child prostitutes are boys who cater to
foreign tourists. Some of these children are forced into
prostitution (see Section 6.f.).
The LTTE uses child soldiers and recruits children,
sometimes forcibly, for use in battlefield support
functions and in combat. LTTE recruits, some as young
as 13, have surrendered to the military, and credible
reports indicate the LTTE has stepped up recruiting
efforts (see Section 1.g.). In May 1998, the LTTE gave
assurances to the Special Representative of the U.N.
Secretary General for Children in Armed Combat that it
would not recruit children under the age of 17. The
LTTE has not honored this pledge, and even after the
ceasefire agreement there were multiple credible reports
of the LTTE forcibly recruiting children (see Section
Persons with Disabilities
There was some discrimination against persons with
disabilities in employment, education, or in the
provision of other state services. The law does not
mandate access to buildings for persons with
disabilities. The World Health Organization estimates
that 7 percent of the population consisted of persons
with disabilities. The Department of Social Services
operated eight vocational training schools for persons
with physical and mental disabilities and sponsored a
program of job training and placement for graduates.
The Government also provided some financial support to
NGOs that assist persons with disabilities; subsidized
prosthetic devices and other medical aids for persons
with disabilities; made some purchases from suppliers
with disabilities; and has registered 74 schools and
training institutions for persons with disabilities run
by NGOs. The Department of Social Services has selected
job placement officers to help the estimated 200,000
work-eligible persons with disabilities find jobs. In
spite of these efforts, persons with disabilities still
face difficulties because of negative attitudes and
societal discrimination. The law forbids discrimination
against any person on the grounds of disability. No
cases were known to have been filed under this law.
Indigenous People
The country's indigenous people, known as Veddas, number
fewer than l,000. Some prefer to maintain their
isolated traditional way of life, and they are protected
by the Constitution. There are no legal restrictions on
their participation in the political or economic life of
the nation. In 1998 the Government fulfilled a long-
standing Vedda demand when the President issued an order
granting Veddas the right to hunt and gather in specific
protected forest areas. The executive order granted the
Veddas the freedom to protect their culture and to carry
on their traditional way of life without hindrance.
Under a pilot program, Veddas received special identity
cards to enable their use of these forest areas. Some
Veddas still complain that they are being pushed off of
their land.
National/Racial/Ethnic Minorities
There were approximately one million Tamils of
comparatively recent Indian origin, the so-called "tea
estate" Tamils or "Indian" Tamils, whose ancestors
originally were brought to the country in the 19th
century to work on plantations. Approximately 75,000 of
these persons do not qualify for either Indian or Sri
Lankan citizenship and face discrimination, especially
in the allocation of government funds for education.
Without national identity cards, they also were
vulnerable to arrest by the security forces. However,
the Government has stated that none of these persons
would be forced to depart the country. During 1999, the
Government introduced a program to begin registering
these individuals; 15,300 tea estate Tamils received
identity cards between January and September 2001. Some
critics charged that the program did not progress fast
enough. In 2003, legislation was pending in the
Parliament that would grant citizenship to a large
number of these "tea estate" Tamils.
Both Sri Lankan and "tea estate" Tamils maintained that
they long have suffered systematic discrimination in
university education, government employment, and in
other matters controlled by the Government.
Section 6 Worker Rights
a. The Right of Association
The Government respects the constitutional right of
workers to establish unions, and the country has a
strong trade union tradition. Any seven workers may
form a union, adopt a charter, elect leaders, and
publicize their views; however, in practice such rights
can be subject to administrative delays, and
unofficially are discouraged. Nonetheless,
approximately 20 percent of the 6.4 million person work
force nationwide and more than 70 percent of the
plantation work force, which is overwhelmingly Hill
Tamil, is unionized. In total there were about more
than 1,000,000 union members. Approximately 15-20
percent of the nonagricultural work force in the private
sector was unionized. Trade union membership data
reported by the Sri Lankan Department of Labor of was
incomplete. Unions represent most workers in large
private firms, but those in small-scale agriculture and
small businesses usually do not belong to unions.
Public sector employees are unionized at very high
Most large unions are affiliated with political parties
and play a prominent role in the political process,
though major unions in the public sector are politically
independent. More than 30 labor unions have political
affiliations, but there are also a small number of
unaffiliated unions, some of which have active leaders
and a relatively large membership. The Ministry of
Labor registered 154 new unions and canceled the
registration of 154 others, bringing the total number of
functioning unions to 1,513. About 500 unions are
considered to be active. The Ministry of Labor is
authorized by law to cancel the registration of any
union that does not submit an annual report. This
requirement was the only legal grounds for cancellation
of registration.
In 1999 Parliament passed an amendment to the Industrial
Disputes Act (IDA), which required employers to
recognize trade unions and the right to collective
bargaining. The law prohibits antiunion discrimination.
This law is being implemented. Employers found guilty
of discrimination must reinstate workers fired for union
activities but may transfer them to different locations.
Anti-union discrimination is a punishable offense liable
for a fine of Rs 20,000 (approx $200).
In 2002 the AFL-CIO unsuccessfully petitioned USTR to
withdraw Generalized System of Preferences (GSP)
privileges, based on violations of Freedom of
Association. In 2003, a complaint was filed in the ILO
Freedom of Association Committee by the International
Confederation of Free Trade Unions (ICFTU), based upon a
flawed referendum in an Export Processing Zone (EPZ)
facility. Unions may affiliate with international
bodies, and some have done so. The Ceylon Workers
Congress, composed exclusively of Hill Tamil plantation
workers, is the only trade union organization affiliated
with the ICFTU, although a new trade union in the
Biyagama EPZ is affiliated with the Youth Forum of the
ICFTU. No national trade union center exists to
centralize or facilitate contact with international
The Right to Organize and Bargain Collectively
The law provides for the right to collective bargaining;
however, very few companies practice it. Currently,
about 50 companies belonging to the Employers'
Federation of Ceylon have collective agreements. All
collective agreements have to be registered at the
Department of Labor. Between 2000 and 2002, 121
collective agreements were registered.
In 1999 Parliament passed an amendment to the IDA which
requires employers to recognize trade union activities
and the right to collective bargaining. The law
prohibits anti-union discrimination. Only about seven
unions are active in EPZs, partially because of severe
restrictions on access by union organizers to the zones.
In order to give effect to the IDA and ILO conventions
on collective bargaining and trade union activity, the
Board of Investment (BOI) issued a new labor standards
manual in October 2002 instructing BOI companies,
including those in EPZs, to recognize Trade Union
activities and the right to collective bargaining.
According to the manual, where both a recognized trade
union with bargaining power and a non-union worker
council exist in an enterprise, the trade union will
represent the employees in collective bargaining.
Following these developments, three companies in BOI-
managed EPZs have recognized trade unions.
In BOI enterprises without unions, including those in
the EPZs, worker councils--composed of employees,
employers and often a public sector representative--
generally provide the forums for labor and management
negotiation. According to the new BOI labor manual and
BOI sources, the councils have the power to negotiate
binding collective bargaining contracts, although no
such contracts have been signed to date. Labor
advocates have criticized the employees' councils as
ineffective worker representatives.
All workers, other than police, armed forces, prison
service and workers in "essential" services, have the
right to strike. By law workers, may lodge complaints
with the Commissioner of Labor, a labor tribunal, or the
Supreme Court to protect their rights. These mechanisms
were effective and new reforms placed limits on the
amount of time allowed to resolve arbitration cases;
however, there continued to be substantial backlogs in
the resolution of cases. In the past, the Government
periodically has controlled strikes by declaring some
industries essential under the ER (which lapsed in
2000). The President retains the power to designate any
industry as an essential service. The 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 submit labor grievances to the Public
Service Commission (PSC). If not satisfied with PSC
decisions, they may appeal to the Administrative Appeals
Commission set up in July 2003, under the 17th Amendment
to the Sri Lanka Constitution. They can also seek
protection under fundamental rights protection
provisions in the Constitution and make submission to
the Supreme Court. Government workers in the
transportation, medical, educational, power generation,
financial, and port sectors have staged brief strikes
and other work actions in the past few years. There
were numerous public sector strikes during the year.
The law prohibits retribution against strikers in
nonessential sectors. Employers may dismiss workers
only for disciplinary reasons, mainly misconduct.
Incompetence or low productivity were not grounds for
dismissal. Dismissed employees have a right to appeal
their termination before a labor tribunal.
There were approximately 125,000 workers employed in 12
EPZs/Industrial Parks run by the BOI, a large percentage
of them women. Under the law, workers in the EPZs have
the same rights to join unions as other workers. Few
unions have formed in the EPZs, partially because of
severe restrictions on access by union organizers to the
zones. While the unionization rate in the rest of the
country is approximately 25 percent, the rate within the
EPZs was under 10 percent. Labor representatives
alleged that the Government's BOI, which manages the
EPZs, including setting wages and working conditions in
the EPZs, has discouraged union activity. The short-
term nature of employment and relatively young workforce
in the zones makes it difficult to organize. Labor
representatives alleged that worker councils in the EPZs
only have the power to make recommendations. The recent
BOI manual stated Employees' Councils could represent
workers in collective bargaining and industrial
disputes. Labor representatives alleged that the Labor
Commissioner, under BOI pressure, had failed to
prosecute employers who refuse to recognize or enter
into collective bargaining with trade unions. While
employers in the EPZs generally offer higher wages and
better working conditions than employers elsewhere,
workers face other concerns, such as security, expensive
but low quality boarding houses, and sexual harassment.
Some employers in the EPZs and factories located outside
the Western Province have established boarding houses
and provide transport. In most instances, wage boards
establish minimum wages and conditions of employment,
except in the EPZs, where wages and work conditions are
set by the BOI.
Prohibition of Forced or Bonded Labor
The law prohibits forced or bonded labor; however, there
were reports that such practices occurred. ILO
Convention 105 was ratified in 2003. The law does not
prohibit forced or bonded labor by children
specifically, but government officials interpret it as
applying to persons of all ages (see Section 6.d.).
There were credible reports that some rural children
were employed in debt bondage as domestic servants in
urban households, and there were numerous reports that
some of these children had been abused.
Status of Child Labor Practices and Minimum Age for
The law prohibits labor by children under 14 years of
age, but child labor still exists in the informal
sectors. The NCPA combats the problem of child abuse,
including unlawful child labor. The Ministry of Labor
is the competent authority to set regulations and carry
out implementation, and monitoring. The minimum age for
employment is 14, although the law permits the
employment of younger children by their parents or
guardians in limited family agriculture work or to
engage in technical training. A recent amendment to the
Employment of Women and Youth Act (EWYC) prohibited all
other forms of family employment of children below 14.
The Compulsory Attendance at Schools Act, which requires
children between the ages of 5 and 14 to attend school,
has been in effect since January 1998, although it still
is being implemented. A child activity survey carried
out in 1998 and 1999 by the Department of Census and
Statistics found almost 11,000 children between the ages
of 5 and 14 working full time and another 15,000 engaged
in both economic activity and housekeeping. The survey
found 450,000 children employed by their families in
seasonal agricultural work.
The EWYC and the Factories Ordinance govern employment
of young person between 14 and 18 years of age. Persons
under age 18 may not be employed in any public
enterprise in which life or limb is endangered. There
are no reports that children are employed in the EPZs,
the garment industry, or any other export industry,
although children sometimes are employed during harvest
periods in the plantation sectors and in non-plantation
agriculture. The Trade Union Ordinance of 1935 allows
membership only from the age of 16.
Many thousands of children were believed to be employed
in domestic service, although this situation is not
regulated or documented. A 1997 study reported that
child domestic servants are employed in 8.6 percent of
homes in the Southern Province. The same study reported
that child laborers in the domestic service sector often
are deprived of an education. Many child domestics
reportedly are subjected to physical, sexual, and
emotional abuse.
Regular employment of children also occurs in family
enterprises such as family farms, crafts, small trade
establishments, restaurants, and repair shops.
Government inspections have been unable to eliminate
these forms of child labor (see Section 5), although an
awareness campaign coupled with the establishment of hot
lines for reporting child labor has led to an increase
in the prosecutions regarding child labor violations by
the Labor Department. The Labor Department reported 161
complaints regarding child labor in 2002, with 72 of
these cases withdrawn due to lack of evidence or faulty
complaints. The Department prosecuted 23 cases during
the year. In the first 7 months of 2003, the Labor
Department reported 102 complaints, with 14 cases
withdrawn and 23 prosecuted. According to the Ministry
of Labor, there were 26 prosecutions for child labor
(below the age of 14) during 2002. Penalties for
employing minors were increased from about $11 (1,000
rupees) and/or 6 months imprisonment to $100 (Rs.
10,000) and/or 12 months imprisonment.
Although forced or bonded labor by persons of any age is
prohibited by law, some rural children reportedly have
served in debt bondage (see Sections 5 and 6.c.).
The LTTE continued to use high school-age children for
work as cooks, messengers, and clerks. In some cases,
the children reportedly help build fortifications. In
the past, children as young as age 10 were said to be
recruited and placed for 2 to 4 years in special schools
that provided them with a mixture of LTTE ideology and
formal education. The LTTE uses children as young as 13
years of age in battle, and children sometimes are
recruited forcibly into the LTTE (see Section 5). A
program of compulsory physical training, including mock
military drills, for most of the population of the areas
that it controls, including for schoolchildren and the
aged reportedly still functions. According to LTTE
spokesmen, this work is meant to keep the population
fit; however, it is believed widely that the training
was established to gain tighter control over the
population and to provide a base for recruiting
fighters. Despite repeated claims to the contrary by
the LTTE, there were credible reports that the LTTE
continued to recruit forcibly children throughout the
year. Individuals or small groups of children
intermittently turned themselves over to security forces
or religious leaders saying they had escaped LTTE
training camps throughout the year. In 2003, the LTTE
released 141 children. In late 2002, the LTTE handed
over 85 children to UNICEF, stating that the children
had volunteered to serve, but that the LTTE does not
accept children.
Acceptable Conditions of Work
While there is no universal national minimum wage,
approximately 40 wage boards set up by the Department of
Labor set minimum wages and working conditions by sector
and industry. These minimum wages do not provide a
decent standard of living for a worker and family, but
the vast majority of families have more than one
breadwinner. The Ministry of Labor effectively enforces
the minimum wage law for large companies through routine
inspections; however, staffing shortages prevent the
department from effectively monitoring the informal
sector. The Department of Labor did not report average
minimum wage rates for 2002. The minimum wage in the
garment industry was approximately $27 (Rs. 2,800) per
month. The minimum wage in the hotel industry was
approximately $20 (Rs. 2,100).
In July 2002, the daily wage rate (fixed by a collective
agreement) in the tea plantations managed by plantation
management companies was increased from Rs. 121 to Rs.
147. In the rubber sector, the daily wage was raised
from Rs. 112 to Rs. 131.
Most permanent full-time workers are covered by laws
that prohibit them from regularly working more than 45
hours per week (a 5 1/2-day workweek). Overtime has
been increased to 100 hours per year from 60 hours per
month under a recent ruling. Labor organizers are
concerned that the new legislation does not include a
provision for overtime to be done with the consent of
the worker. These workers also receive 14 days of
annual leave, 14 to 21 days of medical leave, and
approximately 20 local holidays each year. Maternity
leave is available for permanent and seasonal or part-
time female workers. Several laws protect the safety
and health of industrial workers, but the Ministry of
Labor's small staff of inspectors is inadequate to
enforce compliance with the laws. Health and safety
regulations do not meet international standards.
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 that they would lose their jobs if they removed
Trafficking in Persons
The law prohibits trafficking in persons; however, Sri
Lanka is a country of origin and destination for
trafficked persons, primarily women and children for the
purposes of forced labor, and for sexual exploitation.
Sri Lankan women travel to Middle Eastern countries to
work as domestics, and some have reported being forced
into domestic servitude and sexual exploitation. A
small number of Thai, Russian, and Chinese women have
been trafficked to Sri Lanka for purposes of sexual
exploitation. Some Sri Lankan children are trafficked
internally to work as domestics and for sexual
The Government has ratified ILO Convention 182 on the
elimination of the worst forms of child labor. Sri
Lanka was in the process of identifying these forms of
child labor that existed in the country during the year.
The law provides for penalties for trafficking in women
including imprisonment for two to 20 years, and a fine.
For trafficking in children, the law allows imprisonment
of five to 20 years, and a fine.
Internal trafficking in male children was also a
problem, especially from areas bordering the northern
and eastern provinces. Protecting Environment and
Children Everywhere (PEACE), a domestic NGO, estimated
that in 2003 there were 6,000 male children between the
ages of 8 and 15 years who were engaged as sex workers
both at beach and mountain resorts. Some of these
children were forced into prostitution by their parents
or by organized crime (see Section 5). PEACE also
reports that an additional 7,000 young men aged 15 to 18
years are self-employed prostitutes; however, some
organizations believe the PEACE numbers to be inflated.
The NCPA has adopted comprehensive national policy and a
national plan to combat the trafficking of children for
exploitative employment. The project was part of a
regional project funded by the ILO. On a local level,
in October 2002, the police opened an office to work as
part of the NCPA in children's issues, including
trafficking in children.
The country had a reputation in the past as a
destination for foreign pedophiles. This problem
appears to have declined significantly because of
improved law enforcement by the Government. In
addition, increased publicity on the issue seems to have
worked to scare off foreign pedophiles. Child sexual
exploitation by locals and by foreign pedophiles still
continued, however.
The Government has undertaken several initiatives to
provide protection and services to victims of internal
trafficking, including supporting rehabilitation camps
for victims. In addition, the Government has initiated
some awareness campaigns to educate women about the
dangers of trafficking; however, most of the campaigns
are through local and international NGOs and somewhat
through the Bureau of Foreign employment.
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