The Sri Lankan government tried to dodge mounting international pressure to end abuses under its infamous Prevention of Terrorism Act (PTA) by rushing cosmetic amendments through parliament this week. Human rights experts from the United Nations and the European Union have also acknowledged that the revisions do not fix the most abusive provisions of the law.
In its rush to pass the amendments, the government skipped committee hearings that would have allowed input from rights groups, missing a key opportunity to bring the law more in line with Sri Lanka’s international human rights obligations. .
For more than four decades, Sri Lankan authorities have used the PTA to facilitate prolonged arbitrary detention and torture, and to target members of minority communities and civil society. Even as amended, the law still allows the government to detain anyone for up to a year without charge, without producing any evidence and without the possibility of bail. The amendments do not provide meaningful safeguards against torture, but rather encourage it by allowing convictions based on confessions to a police officer.
The administration of President Gotabaya Rajapaksa is facing major protests over economic mismanagement, which has caused severe shortages of essential goods and runaway inflation. Seeking international financial support, but under pressure from ongoing abuses, the government is trying to claim “progress” on rights issues.
Yet the abuses continue. On the same day the PTA amendment was passed, a prominent human rights activist was summoned to the Terrorism Investigation Division of the police, another instance of the government using ‘terrorism’ as a pretext to target legal activism. Following threats of further protests, the summons was later withdrawn.
Police last week also cracked down on protests by families of people who were forcibly disappeared while in military custody during and after the civil war, which ended in 2009. recent visit to Sri Lanka, United States Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs Victoria Nuland stressed the need to “end the surveillance, end the detention [under the PTA] and end the harassment.
Sri Lankans need urgent international help as they face food and fuel shortages, but the government must understand that its friends and partners abroad are seeking real human rights reform and action. concrete actions to end abuses and achieve justice.