Politics & Current Affairs

Sri Lanka shy away from answering UN questions on torture (video)


Sri Lanka suffered unprecedented humiliation when the country’s intelligence chief sat through a UN probe without responding to a series of crucial questions on his involvement in torture and abuse of detainees.

The UN Committee Against Torture (UNCAT) grilled Chief of National Intelligence Sisira Mendis at a two day session in Geneva about torturing war affected Tamils by two police agencies under his administration.

He was a member of a high-level Sri Lanka delegation led by the attorney general meeting UNCAT for the fifth periodic review of Sri Lanka on the implementation of the provisions of the Convention against Torture.

CID and TID

Scotland Yard trained Deputy Inspector General of police Sisira Mendis, oversaw the Criminal Investigation Department (CID) and the Terrorism Investigation Division (TID), during the final phase of the Sri Lankan civil war.

Both bodies are accused by the UN among other organisations for systematic, routine, and widespread use of torture against suspects in police custody throughout the country.

The silence of Sisira Mendis, the first intelligence chief to represent Sri Lanka at UNCAT was an undeniable setback to the government that claims to have warded off international pressure on accountability.

Details of his responsibility in torturing those in detention 'provided by Journalists for Democracy in Sri Lanka (JDS), Reporters Without Borders (RSF) and International Truth and Justice Project (ITJP)', revealed Committee Vice-Chair and Co-Rapporteur for Sri Lanka Felice Gaer .

"Since yesterday, the Internet seems to have exploded," she said, while welcoming the information given by those organisations.

{flowplayer}images/video/16_11_2016_uncat_felice_gaer_jdslanka.flv{/flowplayer}

Armed with the information, Felice Gaer asked Sisira Mendis to clarify whether he was 'physically present' when the TID and CID tortured detainees.

She said the Committee had expressed serious concerns about allegations that government officials continue to engage in widespread use of torture against suspects in police custody.

"The issue of impunity seems to be hanging like a sword over the entire situation in your country, and frankly over our review" Felice Gaer told the Sri Lanka delegation.

Menik Farm

Events in Menik Farm and the Vavuniya hospital which included torture, sexual violence and abuse, and enforced disappearances of persons interrogated there by the TID at the end of the war under his watch were called to the attention of Sisira Mendis.

Menik Farm was a military enclosure in the northern town of Vavunia where nearly 300,000 Tamils were detained following the governments military victory over the Tamil Tigers in May 2009.

“Can you elaborate for us specifically how you interacted with military intelligence?  Can you tell us whether you or officers under your responsibility jointly interrogated persons deprived of liberty, together with military officers, or together with the members of the TID,” Felice Gaer asked the intelligence chief.

Silent Mendis

Despite repeated questioning by the committee vice chair, Sisira Mendis chose to be silent while Attorney General Jayantha Jayasuriya and others were apparently using time allocated to the Sri Lanka delegation by speaking on unrelated matters.

At the conclusion of the two day session the committee chair politely told the Sri Lanka delegation and Sisira Mendis in particular that vital questions by UNCAT on the country's torture record remained unanswered.

"We had hoped for more replies. We had hoped that there were not a lot of unanswered questions, particularly those relating to Mr Mendis. Nevertheless we hope that some of the replies would be given in writing within the 48 hours. We look very much forward to those replies. I wish the delegation to have a safe trip back," concluded Chairperson Dr. Jens Modvig, who also heads the Danish Institute against Torture (DIGNITY).

Sisira Mendis was seen speaking to Jens Modvig privately soon after the session wound up.

© JDS