The highly controversial and draconian Law-Prevention of Terrorism Act (PTA) has come in for international focus and condemnation once again.

From the UN Human Rights Council to a US Congressman and British MPs along with International organizations and groups, human rights activists have called on the island nation to repeal the law and respect its Human Rights obligations.

Now, the British Parliament will debate on the Sri Lankan Tamils and Human Rights in the Westminster Hall. This debate comes in the backdrop of continuing arrests by the Sri Lankan state security agencies in particular the Counter Terrorism Investigation Department (CTID) dubbed the “Terror Police” in connection with events related to the “Maaveerar Naal” this year, when the Tamils mourn their war-dead every year on 27 November.

As many as 11 have been arrested this week. The event is scheduled for Tuesday (5), from 2.30-4.00 pm, which is 8:00 to 9:30 pm Sri Lanka time. MP’s cutting across parties are expected to participate in the debate.

The debate will be led by Martyn Day MP from the Scottish National Party. A detailed briefing note has been circulated to the MPs. Allegations of war crimes against the oversized army dominated by the majority Sinhalese find a mention in the background paper.

“Sri Lanka’s relationship with the rest of the world has been strongly shaped since then by allegations that the army committed war crimes and crimes against humanity during the final phase of the civil war. A UN Panel of Experts reported in April 2011 that there were ‘credible allegations’ of those crimes by both government and Tamil Tiger forces”.

The Sri Lankan Government in power in the final phase of the war denied many of the accusations of crimes made against the military and civilian Government at the time, and argued Tamil forces had used civilians as “human shields”, says the note circulated to the British Members of Parliament.

Asserting Sri Lanka is one of their priority countries on Human Rights issues, it reminds the MPs of its annual report this year.

“Sri Lanka is one of the UK’s 32 ‘human rights priority countries’ as identified by the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office (FCDO). The FCDO’s annual human rights and democracy report published in July 2023, looking back at 2022, highlights the treatment of Tamils and minority religious groups in Sri Lanka as a human rights concern”.

In its report for the current year, the FCDO has detailed the continued state oppression on various fronts and how even fundamental religious rights are being denied to minorities.

“Minority communities faced continued marginalization by state authorities. State-supported land appropriation, so-called ‘land grabs’, sparked concerns over their impact on demographics in the north and east and their impact on the freedom of belief of non-Buddhist denominations. Security forces continued to disrupt Tamil commemorative events for victims of Sri Lanka’s armed conflict, and arbitrarily accused Tamils of links to terrorist organizations”. 

In the briefing note compiled by ‘Subject specialist’ John Curtis and circulated by the House of Commons Library, the woes of the families of missing persons and the President’s planned meeting with Tamil political parties.

“Activists and families of the disappeared in the north-east faced surveillance, harassment, and intimidation by security forces. President Wickremesinghe committed to pursue a political solution with Tamil parties in December. Eight proscribed Tamil Diaspora organizations were also delisted, although some Muslim welfare organizations and individuals, including poet Ahnaf Jazeem, remained listed”.

With reference to various news reports as well as reports from international Human Rights bodies including the Office of the Commissioner for Human Rights of the UN, the background paper speaks about the draconian nature of the PTA and its brutal misuse.

“Amnesty International in its 2023 assessment of human rights in Sri Lanka, states that despite amendments to the Prevention of Terrorism Act (PTA), Muslim and Tamil minorities remained disproportionately affected by the use of the PTA”.

The US State Department’s report on human rights in Sri Lanka published in 2023, and looking at the events of 2022, describing how Tamils in the country report systemic discrimination also forms part of the briefing to the MPs.

That report from the US State Department describes how the military monitors Tamil journalists, requesting “copies of photographs, lists of attendees at events, and names of sources for articles”, and intimidated to “refrain from reporting on sensitive events, such as Tamil war commemorations or land occupation protests, as well as on posting anything related to former LTTE leaders”, stating that they “feared repercussions if they did not cooperate”.

“Both local and Indian-origin Tamils maintained that they suffered longstanding, systematic discrimination in university education, government employment, housing, health services, language laws, and procedures for naturalization of noncitizens”, the US report further adds.

US Congressman Raja Krishnamoorthi, representing the 8th Congressional District of Illinois tweeted on Saturday (1) about the misuse of PTA in Sri Lanka. “I am deeply concerned by the recent arrest of Tamils in North-East Sri Lanka during their peaceful commemorations. These arrests under the PTA are the latest in a historical pattern of Sri Lankan Police attempting to prevent Tamil memorialization," Congressman Krishnamoorthi said.

His comments were echoed by the US Ambassador to Sri Lanka Julie Chung. “It’s vital to ensure freedom of expression and humane treatment of those in custody” she commented on X.

Ambassadors of Canada and Switzerland too have called upon the government to repeal the PTA and ensure Human Rights are protected.

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