HRW urges Sri Lanka to amend Counterterrorism Bill

Tuesday, 23 October 2018 00:00 -     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}

A global human rights organisation yesterday urged Sri Lanka to amend the new draft Counter Terrorism Act of 2018 (CTA) that was presented to Parliament by the Government to replace the draconian Prevention of Terrorism Act.

In a commentary released yesterday, Human Rights Watch said while the draft counterterrorism law significantly improves upon the current, abusive Prevention of Terrorism Act, it needs further safeguards against rights violations

“Parliament should amend the bill to fully comply with international human rights standards and resist pressure to roll back its reforms,” the New York-based right group said.

It noted that the CTA, drafted to replace the PTA, narrows the definition of terrorism, increases protections against torture and coerced confessions, and reduces pretrial detention. But overbroad provisions could be used to prohibit peaceful protests and ban nongovernmental organisations. Curbs on police powers remain insufficient.

“The Sri Lankan Government has finally addressed the torture-tarred Prevention of Terrorism Act, but the proposed law needs stronger human rights protections,” said Letta Tayler, Senior Terrorism and Counterterrorism Researcher at Human Rights Watch. “Parliament should reject attempts to add abusive clauses and pass a bill that advances the rule of law.”

The Cabinet of Ministers submitted the draft law to Parliament on 9 October. Media reports suggest that there is pressure within Parliament to reduce the bill’s rights protections. Measures reportedly under consideration would include restoring the Prevention of Terrorism Act’s use of confessions to police as evidence in court.

Sri Lanka has agreed to calls by the United Nations Human Rights Council and the European Union to repeal the current law as part of the Government’s accountability and reconciliation measures for widespread abuses during the country’s 26-year civil war, which ended in 2009. According to the HRW, The government has yet to carry out most reforms pledged to the Human Rights Council in its 2015 resolution.

Although the bill narrows definitions of terrorism acts, strengthens protections against custodial torture and coerced confessions, reduces pre-charge and pre-trial detention periods, and increases access by suspects to legal counsel and family members, the HRW said the bill’s list of terrorism acts should be narrowed further.