Since 1971, Sri Lanka has been operating almost continuously under a State of Emergency. These emergency laws have granted state authorities sweeping powers of detention and have permitted the use of secret prisons, a practice that encourages human rights abuses like enforced disappearances, torture and death in custody, which could constitute crimes under international law. In the last thirty years, thousands of Sri Lankans have spent years in detention without trial.
The war is over. Perpetuation of the emergency is now just being used as a weapon against political opposition, and as a quick fix for poor law enforcement practices and a dysfunctional justice system – Madhu Malhotra, deputy director of Amnesty International’s Asia-Pacific program
During the last phase of the war with the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), we used satellite imagery to demonstrate the prison-like conditions displaced civilians faced, used aerial photography to demonstrate violations of international humanitarian law, and geovisualization tools to track the violence and growing humanitarian crisis. This information has helped us to campaign for the release of prisoners held under the emergency laws and for an end to the countless unmonitored human rights violations occurring.
Today, Sri Lanka’s first post-war parliament is meeting to discuss the next steps the country must take in the wake of its 27-year war. Now is the time for Sri Lanka’s parliament to press for the release of people still detained under these emergency laws, unless they are charged with an internationally recognized criminal offence, and are tried in regular civilian courts to international standards for fair trial.
Kristin Ghazarians contributed to this blog post