UN responds to Anuradhapura prison incident

September 15, 2021 at 12:07 PM

The United Nations (UN) today condemned the ill-treatment of prisoners in Sri Lanka, in light of a recent incident involving a State Minister and two prisoners at the Anuradhapura prison. 

It was reported that a State Minister had visited the Anuradhapura Prison and had got two of the prisoners to kneel down in front of him.

Issuing a statement, United Nations Resident Coordinator in Sri Lanka Hanaa Singer-Hamdy said it is the duty of the State, as per the Mandela Rules, to protect the rights of prisoners.

“In our work on prison reform and drug rehabilitation @UNSriLanka works to strengthen capacities to uphold the rights of all those in custody & condemns any ill-treatment of #prisoners,” she tweeted. 

Meanwhile, Opposition Leader MP Sajith Premadasa has called on the Government to remove from office the State Minister involved in the incident. 

Stating that he vehemently condemns the disgraceful and illegal behavior of a Government Minister at the Anuradhapura Prison Complex, MP Premadasa said this disgusting and unlawful act amply exemplifies the anarchical situation that exists in our country. 

“It is incumbent upon this government to protect the human rights of all citizens of our motherland. This unlawful & despicable act is a further illustration of the precipitous decline in the present human rights situation in our country. I call upon the President for the immediate removal of this minister from office,” he tweeted. 

The incident came to light after the Tamil National Alliance (TNA) had earlier called on the Government to immediately remove the State Minster for Prison Management Lohan Ratwatta over an incident at the Anuradhapura prison.

“We call on the government to immediately remove the State Minster for Prison Management and have him arrested and charged after an immediate inquiry for allegedly threatening to kill prisoners in Anuradhapura prison on Sunday 12th September” TNA tweeted.

Tamil National People’s Front  (TNPF) MP Gajen Ponnambalam had tweeted earlier alleging that the State Minister of Prisons had threatened to kill prisoners in the Anuradhapura prison.

The State Minister was also accused of forcefully entering the Welikada prison on Sunday (12) along with a group of friends while being under the influence of alcohol. 

Meanwhile, the Centre for Policy Alternatives (CPA), issuing a statement on the incident, said “it is deeply disturbed by media reports of the two incidents reported this week.

The Centre for Policy Alternatives (CPA) is deeply disturbed by media reports of two incidents this week where the State Minister of Prison Management and Prisoners’ Rehabilitation Lohan Ratwatte is alleged to have abused his position by entering two prisons inebriated, and attempted to assault remand prisoners. On Sunday 12 September, the State Minister is reported to have entered the Welikada Prison with a group of friends. Subsequently he is reported to have travelled by helicopter to Anuradhapura where he had entered the Anuradhapura Prison and ordered two suspects at gunpoint to kneel down in front of him. Both these incidents reflect the alarming trend of flaunting political office for personal gratification, the callousness and disregard for the rights of prisoners and human dignity, the use of arms to threaten individuals and the contempt for the rule of law in Sri Lanka. In light of the serious nature of these incidents, CPA calls for the immediate resignation of the State Minister, for the authorities to initiate a credible investigation into the incident, and action taken without fear or favour.

CPA also notes that such incidents occur against the background of previous incidents of violence including several prison riots which led to the deaths of inmates with no known domestic process of accountability. This is compounded by past incidents of violence linked to the State Minister including his alleged involvement in the murder of ten Muslim youth in Udathalawinne in 2001 where he and several others were indicted for the murders but subsequently acquitted. In such a context of impunity, there are genuine fears of evidence tampering and witness intimidation that will undermine an independent process meant to investigate and hold perpetrators accountable. These speak to the setbacks with justice in multiple emblematic cases and the urgent need for structural reforms in Sri Lanka, it said.

The CPA added that these two incidents occurred whilst Sri Lanka’s human rights record is being discussed at the ongoing 48th session of the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC). In fact, the incidents occurred on the eve of the Government of Sri Lanka’s response to the oral update of the High Commissioner for Human Rights with the Government claiming that they are “committed to achieving tangible progress on the entire range of issues relating to accountability, reconciliation, human rights, peace and sustainable development”. Inability at this critical juncture to take swift and firm action related to these two incidents, among many others, will send a clear message that the Government of Sri Lanka has no genuine intention of following through with its own statements and further reinforce reports by victims and civil society of the repressive climate and impunity in Sri Lanka. This is also days prior to the commencement of the United Nations General Assembly session where President Gotabaya Rajapaksa is tipped to participate, providing an opportunity for Member States of United Nations and the office of the United Nations Secretary General to raise concerns about the deteriorating human rights situation and entrenched impunity in Sri Lanka and the need for Sri Lanka to uphold the values enshrined in the United Nations Charter. (NewsWire)