A prisoner was seriously injured and has been hospitalised after a clash between the Sri Lankan Army and detainees being held at a school in Vavuniya in the north-east of the country this week.
The detainee, Sri Chandramorgan from Kanahapuram, Kilinochchi, was initially reported to have been killed by the army when he tried to escape from the Poonthotham Teachers Training College, which serves as an unofficial detention centre.
The rumour sparked unrest in the camp and the road to the facility was closed by authorities.
“The danger of serious human rights violations, including torture, enforced disappearances and extrajudicial killings increases substantially when detainees are held in locations that are not officially acknowledged places of detention and lack proper legal procedures and safeguards”, commented Sam Zarifi, Asia Director for the human rights organisation Amnesty International.
Detention centres such as the Poonthotham Teachers Training College are irregular places of detention. Since May 2009, an estimated 10,000 to 12,000 individuals suspected of ties to the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE or Tamil Tigers) have been detained in irregular detention facilities operated by the Sri Lankan security forces and affiliated paramilitary groups.
Several such groups are active in Vavuniya and have been implicated in human rights violations, including People’s Liberation Organisation of Tamil Eelam (PLOTE), Tamil Eelam Liberation Organization (TELO), Eelam People’s Democratic Party (EPDP) and both factions of the Tamil Makkal Viduthalai Pulikal (TMVP).
On 25 May 2009, just a week after the Sri Lankan government declared victory over the Tamil Tigers, Army Commander General Sarath Fonseka announced that 9,000 Tamil Tigers cadres had surrendered to the army.
Since then, there have been regular reports of arrests. Some have been officially acknowledged and reported in the Sri Lankan press and others reported by relatives of detainees in displacement camps.
Many of these detainees are being held incommunicado, meaning they have not had access to family members or legal counsel and have not appeared in court.
Amnesty International has confirmed the location of at least 10 such facilities in school buildings and hostels originally designated as displacement camps in the north. There have also been frequent reports of other unofficial places of detention elsewhere in the country.
The International Committee of the Red Cross has no access to these detainees and there is no transparency about their registration and treatment.
Incommunicado detention of suspects in irregular places of detention (i.e. places other than police stations, officially designated detention centres or prisons) has been a persistent practice in Sri Lanka and is associated with torture, killings and enforced disappearances.
Human rights activists are calling on the Sri Lankan government to ensure that the screening process for suspected combatants is carried out in a manner which guarantee the human rights and dignity of all those involved.
Arrangements should be made for independent monitoring of screening processes, says Amnesty. Tamil Tiger suspects must be held only in recognised places of detention and be brought before a judicial authority without delay after being taken into custody.