Target: Mahinda Rajapaksa, President of Sri Lanka
Goal: Release prisoners held without charge under the Prevention of Terrorism Act
For over twenty-five years, Sri Lanka was torn apart by a brutal civil war. Although the war ended in 2009, its effect is still strong: over 11,000 people associated with the losing opposition remain in detention. Most have never been charged with any crime at all. With the war over, Sri Lanka has no reason to keep its own citizens arbitrarily locked up; those imprisoned by the government must either be charged with crimes or released immediately and unconditionally.
Sri Lanka’s civil war was fought between government forces and Tamil separatists who wanted to establish their own state on the island. Fighting was bitter and both sides committed a myriad of human rights abuses, some of which may constitute war crimes. These abuses have only recently come under international scrutiny, as a United Nations investigation was launched in March 2014.
However, the continuation of human rights abuses in the form of arbitrary detention is unacceptable. The majority of the 11,000 people detained were arrested under the Prevention of Terrorism Act merely “on suspicion” of associating with the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), the armed opposition group. There are reports of torture and ill-treatment of prisoners, and government security forces have been linked to forced disappearances as well.
Sri Lanka must put its war–and all the horrors and abuses associated with it–behind it. It can only begin to do that once it has pursued justice, not persecution, for the 11,000 people currently in detention. Sign the petition and demand that Sri Lanka immediately charge or release those detained under the Prevention of Terrorism Act and ensure that anyone who remains in state custody is guaranteed safety from torture and ill-treatment.
With the civil war in the past, Sri Lanka must look toward a new and brighter future. But as long as 11,000 people remain imprisoned without charge or trial, progress remains impossible. I demand that those arrested without charge under the Prevention of Terrorism Act either be charged with an internationally-recognizable crime or released immediately. In addition, I urge you to repeal the Prevention of Terrorism Act and replace it with laws that meet international standards of justice.
No one can argue that all the wrongdoing of Sri Lanka’s civil war was confined to one side. Both the government forces and the opposition committed human rights abuses and even possible war crimes. However, the continued imprisonment of possibly innocent members of the opposition rests on the government’s shoulders alone. If those imprisoned have committed crimes, what is the delay in charging them? If they have not, why are they still in custody? Continued imprisonment without charge or trial drains government money and resources and, aside from constituting a human rights violation in and of itself, leaves prisoners vulnerable to other abuses such as torture and ill-treatment.
Sri Lanka is caught in its turbulent past, but what it needs to do is move forward toward a future that is more just, peaceful, and harmonious. It will be a long process, undoubtedly, but it can never begin so long as 11,000 members of the opposition remain in jail. I urge you to remedy the situation and abandon the unfair law that made it possible in the first place.
[Your Name Here]
Photo credit: Images of Sri Lanka – Sequential Shots via Flickr