Locked Away: Sri Lanka's "Security" Detainees

Sri Lanka

Prisoners have been held for extended periods without charge at Welikada Prison © Private

I want to tell you a story about a man arrested in Sri Lanka.  It’s shocking.

In June 2008, “Roshan” (not his real name) was arrested in Colombo by unknown assailants who he later learned were plainclothes police.  The police suspected him of links to the opposition Tamil Tigers.  He was held for two years without ever being charged or tried and was repeatedly tortured, before eventually being released.  No one has been held accountable for his treatment.

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Kashmir Legislators Must Not Ignore Human Rights

Click image to enlarge. Copyright: Malik Sajad, used by permission

Yesterday, Amnesty International wrote an open letter to all members of the Jammu and Kashmir (J&K) State Assembly calling on them to take action to protect human rights and to investigate past human rights violations.

Among the actions we are calling for legislators to accomplish in this session:

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Finding the Disappeared

Gao Zhisheng with his family.

Disappeared human rights lawyer Gao Zhisheng with his family. © AI

On August 30, Amnesty International and other human rights groups around the world will observe the International Day of the Disappeared.  We’ll be pressing governments to disclose the status of  the disappeared and to prosecute those responsible for enforced disappearances.  Here’s how you can join us:

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Continued Impunity: Enforced Disappearances in Colombia

In the last two weeks, Francisco Pineda and Everto González, two members of the community council of Caracolí in north-west Colombia, were subjected to enforced disappearance by paramilitaries. They were both picked up by a group of paramilitaries, who took them away to “resolve some land issues.”

Pineda and González have not been heard from since, and their whereabouts remain unknown. Amnesty International fears their lives and the lives of other members of the Afro-descendant community may be at risk, and has issued an Urgent Action on their behalf.

Enforced disappearances persist in many countries all over the world, and violate a wide range of human rights. In Colombia, especially, there is tremendous impunity for enforced disappearances, and violators continue to evade justice.

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Remembering The Disappeared

Amnesty International condemns all enforced disappearances as crimes under international law.  And on August 30, we’ll be doing something about them.

Sandya Eknaligoda

Sandya Eknaligoda wife of disappeared journalist Prageeth Eknaligoda, Sri Lanka, 10 January 2011

An enforced disappearance occurs when a person is arrested or abducted by the state or agents of the state, who then deny that the person is being held or conceal their whereabouts, placing them outside the protection of the law.

Enforced disappearances take place around in the world, including in countries such as China, Nepal, Chad, Sri Lanka and North Korea.  In Sri Lanka, tens of thousands of enforced disappearances occurred during decades of civil conflict on the island.  One recent example is the journalist Prageeth Eknaligoda, who went missing after work on Jan. 24, 2010.

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Filipino Farmer Tells of Enforced Disappearance Nightmare

Raymond Manalo is one of the very few living victims of enforced disappearance.

He was abducted from his family home by armed men in February 2006 along with his brother Reynaldo. During 18 months in secret detention, he was subjected to repeated torture by his military jailers until the brothers made a daring escape.

They have since been reunited with their family but their struggle goes on. No one has been punished for the abuses suffered by the brothers, who were accused of being members of Communist armed group the New People’s Army (NPA), despite them having denied any such affiliation.

After being taken by the security forces, they were held in a cell in a military camp with 12 other abductees, where they were starved and regularly tortured with “searing hot tin cans”, “smacked with wood”, and “beat while pouring water into my [their] nose”.

After surviving the ordeal, Raymond was introduced to a man known as “The Butcher” – then a military commander, who has been prominent in the fight against Communists insurgents. The commander allowed Raymond to go with military escorts and see his parents.  He ordered Raymond to ensure that his family would not tell anyone about his detention, bring their case to court, or to speak to human rights organizations.

In the weeks that followed, Raymond was offered the possibility of becoming a soldier, as his captors were apparently impressed by his hardiness.  The brothers were moved to an officer’s farm in Pangasinan province, northern Philippines.  There they tilled the land as unpaid workers for the officer. Raymond went along with the plan, while all along waiting for his moment to escape.

“One day, our chance came. Our ‘guards’ were all completely drunk and while they slept, my brother and I fled by the side of the farm where there were no houses and made it to the highway.”

In the three years since Raymond’s escape, that justice has been elusive. His attempts to file a criminal case against soldiers who subjected him to abuses have been delayed or dismissed by the courts, while he lives in constant fear that he could be abducted again.

“I am free, but I am not really free. The soldiers can take me again any time, all they need to do is take off their uniforms and do it anonymously”

Don't Forget the Disappeared in Sri Lanka

Today is August 30, the International Day of the Disappeared, observed by Amnesty International and other human rights groups to remember victims of “enforced disappearance”  around the world and to press for justice for them and their families.  An “enforced disappearance”  occurs when agents of the state detain someone and the state then denies any knowledge of the person’s status or whereabouts.   Over the past several decades, Sri Lanka has experienced tens of thousands of enforced disappearances, the vast majority of which remain unresolved.  One recent example is that of the journalist Prageeth Eknaligoda, who went missing shortly after leaving work on Jan. 24.  Please write the Sri Lankan government and ask them to conduct an effective investigation into Mr. Eknaligoda’s disappearance and make the results public.  Please also work to get the International Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance adopted.  Thanks.

Remember the disappeared in Sri Lanka

Today, Aug. 30, is the International Day of the Disappeared, observed by Amnesty International and other human rights groups around the word to remember the disappeared and to press for justice for the victims of enforced disappearance and their families.  An “enforced disappearance” occurs when agents of the state arrest a person and the state then denies any knowledge of the person’s status or whereabouts.  Over the past several decades, Sri Lanka has experienced tens of thousands of enforced disappearances, most of which remain unresolved.  Most of those responsible for these enforced disappearances have never been held accountable.  Please remember the disappeared today, especially those in Sri Lanka, and help to get the International Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance adopted.

Will the US Seek the Death Penalty in First Trial of a Former Guantanamo Detainee?

Last month, Ahmed Khalfan Ghailani became the first Guantanamo Bay detainee to be brought to the United States for trial outside of the military commission system.  His trial is set to begin in September 2010 in a regular federal court. While this is hopeful news for other Guantanamo detainees awaiting their day in court, if not their release, it also means that there is a possibility that the US government will pursue the death penalty should Ghailani be convicted.

Ahmed Ghailani, born in Zanzibar, Tanzania, was arrested in Pakistan in 2004 and brought to Guantanamo in 2006 for his alleged involvement with the 1998 bombings of the US Embassies in Tanzania and Kenya.  For two years he was held in secret detention by the Central Intelligence Agency, after which he was transferred to solitary confinement at Guantanamo and ultimately charged by a military commission in 2008.  Those charges have been dropped and he will now being tried in federal court on counts which include conspiring with Osama Bin Laden and other members of al-Qaeda to kill Americans, and charges of murder for each of the victims of the US Embassy attacks. Mr. Ghailani has pled not-guilty to all charges, saying that he was not a member of al-Qaeda and did not know about the attacks ahead of time.

Mr. Ghailani’s case may be a test of President Obama’s promise to shut down Guantanamo Bay, and may set a precedent for how similar cases might proceed. As a result, there will be a great deal of international attention given to his trial. It is especially important for the United States to demonstrate a commitment to human rights at this critical juncture by not seeking the death penalty for Ahmed Ghailani.

Additionally, the United States must investigate the conditions surrounding Mr. Ghailani’s enforced disappearance.  Such an investigation is required by Article 2 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), to which the US is a party. Any information obtained under conditions that violate international standards must be declared inadmissible in court, and a thorough investigation of Mr. Ghailani’s treatment in secret detention and at Guantanamo will be essential to ensuring he is given a fair trial.

Please urge the United States government to treat Ahmed Ghailani with humanity and fairness>>

Ex-President Fujimori Convicted of Human Rights Violations

Today, in a landmark decision, former Peruvian President Alberto Fujimori was convicted for torture, kidnapping and forced disappearances committed during the early 1990s.

This is a crucial victory in the struggle against impunity for human rights violations in Peru and a triumph for justice worldwide.

Javier Zúñiga, an Amnesty International delegate who observed the trial noted:

“Justice has been done in Peru. This is historic. Now it is vital that all of those responsible for human rights violations committed in Peru, including those perpetrated prior to the government of Alberto Fujimori, be brought before the courts.”

Former Peruvian president Alberto Fujimori speaks during the hearing in Lima on April 1, 2009.

Former Peruvian president Alberto Fujimori speaks during the hearing in Lima on April 1, 2009. (c) Getty Images

Peru’s Supreme Court ruled in the cases of Barrios Altos (in which 15 men, women and children were executed in 1991), La Cantuta (in which nine students and a university lecturer were kidnapped and later killed in 1992 by members of the Colina Group, a paramilitary force within the Peruvian Army) and the SIE basements (where two kidnap victims were held). The decision, which was unanimously adopted by the three presiding judges, concluded that Fujimori bore individual criminal responsibility in all three cases because he had effective military command over those who committed the crimes.

Amnesty International has been closely following the trial of Alberto Fujimori.  We have incontrovertible evidence documenting serious human rights violations and crimes against international law – such as torture, killings and enforced disappearance – were committed. Given their widespread and systematic nature, these constituted crimes against humanity.

The trial of Fujimori was highlighted in Amnesty’s short documentary, Justice without Borders.