Thursday, October 22, 2009

UN investigator urges convention to protect detainees

The UN's top investigator on torture and punishment called Tuesday for a new UN convention to protect the rights of detainees, saying many are held for years and sometimes for a lifetime in inhuman and degrading conditions.

"In many countries of the world, places of detention are constantly overcrowded, filthy and lack the minimum facilities necessary to allow for a dignified existence," Manfred Nowak said. "Moreover, tuberculosis and other highly contagious diseases are rife."

In a statement to the UN General Assembly committee dealing with humanitarian issues, he said the suffering caused by the few hours of torture in the early days of detention -- often to extract confessions -- is often outweighed by the suffering detainees have to endure for years.

While many people think torture is primarily the fate of political prisoners, Nowak said "in reality, most of the victims of arbitrary detention, torture and inhuman conditions of detention are ordinary people, usually belonging to the poorest and most disadvantaged sectors of society" -- including children, the disabled, gays and lesbians, drug addicts, illegal aliens, and members of religious and ethnic minorities.

According to "cautious estimates," he said, more than 1 million children are currently being held in police stations, pre-trial facilities, prisons, closed children's homes and similar places of detention.

"In general, I am alarmed by the very low age of criminal liability in many countries," he said. "During my missions, I came across boys and girls as young as 9 or 10 years who were deprived of their liberty, many of them in prolonged pre-trial detention."

"Far too many of the children whom I met on my visits are held in severely overcrowded cells, under deplorable sanitary and hygienic conditions. Moreover, I have found children deprived of their liberty to be at a very high risk of ill-treatment," he said.

Nowak, an independent investigator appointed by the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva, told the assembly committee that the "time has come to draft and adopt a special UN Convention on the Rights of Detainees."

One of the most important rights and needs of detainees, he said, "is sufficient contact with the outside world."

Detainees should also enjoy freedom of religion, expression, information and association, and in principle, they should also enjoy the right to vote, Nowak said.

Detainees also have a right "to an adequate standard of living, including adequate food, clothing and housing ... (and) to the enjoyment of the highest attainable standard of physical and mental health, which includes the need for medical services in detention facilities," he said.

Nowak said he was encouraged that Uruguay's president got rid of tiny metal boxes that hundreds of convicts and pretrial detainees spent months, and even years, in at the Libertad prison after he denounced the appalling conditions. And he praised Nigeria's former president for closing down a "torture room" at police headquarters in Lagos where more than 100 detainees -- including women -- were subjected to a variety of tortures including gunshots in their legs that were left untreated.

Nowak criticized the government in Equatorial Guinea for rejecting a report on his visit last November and December which said detainees were forced to spend weeks, even months, in dark, filthy police cells with nothing but a concrete floor and no toilets.

Some cells were so overcrowded, he said, that there was no space for all the detainees to sleep at the same time -- a problem he also found in Georgia, Nepal, Sri Lanka, Togo and Moldova's separatist Trans-Dniester region.

Nowak said in the coming months he has invitations to visit Zimbabwe and Jamaica, and hopes to go to Cuba and Iran next year. He lamented that most Arab countries, except for Jordan, have not allowed him to visit.

© The Associated Press

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Thursday, October 22, 2009

Journalist complains of death threats and unknown persons pursuing him

Mr. Senaka Ekanayake, the editor of SATANA, a local newspaper, complained of constant death threats received over the last few days and of unknown persons visiting his house in search of him, in a telephone interview given to the Asian Human Rights Commission yesterday, October 20, 2009. He further mentioned that despite of complaints having been made to the Sri Lankan police and other authorities he has not received any protection. He is now living in hiding, fearing for his life and is unable to continue with his work as a journalist.

The former editor of the same newspaper, Rohana Kumara, was assassinated on September 7, 1999 after he published information against the government of the day. Kumara’s assassination is a well known case in Sri Lanka and to-date; no one has been arrested or prosecuted for this crime.

Mr. Ekanayake has been arrested and remanded twice for two periods of ten months relating to his investigative journalism and held under provisions of the Prevention of Terrorism Act. On both occasions he was released as there was no evidence to proceed against him. On the first occasion he was conducting an investigation into disappearances in the Kalpitya area. While investigating this matter he received taped interviews done by a group of people in the area against the Officer-in-Charge of the local police station which revealed that the officer was engaged in corrupt practices to extort money from various small businessmen like illicit liquor traders and fisher folk. Mr. Ekanayake was stopped at a checkpoint by eight offices dressed in civilian clothes that had been waiting for him. He was taken to the Kalpitiya Police Station and severely assaulted with S-lon pipes, punched and kicked. As a result of the assault he lost two teeth.

Following this assault he was brought before a Magistrate’s Court on false charges of trying to sully the reputation of the President of Sri Lanka and engaging in false propaganda. Whilst in detention he was questioned by a senior intelligence officer about the information he was collecting and as to whether such information was being sent to foreign journals and human rights organisations. However, there was no prosecution for any of these charges.

Later he was again arrested while collecting information relating to disappearances and other human rights abuses. He was remanded on false charges and released after a further ten months.

Ever since his release he has been receiving death threats and in the recent weeks there has been unknown persons arriving at his house at night to make inquiries about him. He states that he is able to remain safe only because he is in hiding and he is afraid that his life is in danger by these persons who are pursuing him due to his work as a journalist.

© Asian Human Rights Commission

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Thursday, October 22, 2009

Trade union action in the offing

Essential utility services would be disrupted over the next few days as a series of trade union actions have been lined up in the semi government sector demanding salary increments and reduction of prices of essential commodities.

Lanka Petroleum Corporation Combined Trade Union Alliance (CPCCTUA) issuing a statement states trade union action of work to rule will be followed from the 22nd October. The statement emphasizes that due to this trade union action there would be a shortage of petroleum would occur through out the country and the public would be inconvenienced. The statement further states the government should take complete responsibility as it had failed to find solutions to issues of employees. CPCCTUA spokesman D.J Rajakaruna said tomorrow’s (22) work to rule campaign would be a 24-hour protest. He said the distribution of fuel could be disrupted during the trade union actions today and tomorrow.

Trade unions point out having removed the salary discrepancy occurred in 2006 salary modification, and to increase the salary from 1st of January 2009, a combined committee with managing authority and representatives from trade union was appointed in 2008. The trade union action to be taken would be due to the refusal to implement of the suggestions made by the committee. This too was made possible only after conducting a one day token strike to create an agreement with the managing authority. At a discussion held on 23rd of last month on this matter between all trade union delegates and the minister an agreement was reached to pay Rs.5000 allowance from the 1st of January, 2009 till the cabinet approval was taken for 2009 salary increments. This complex situation has occurred due to refusal of carrying out this agreement also by the authority. According to employees state the minister’s attitude to avoid solving the issue and the decision of the management not to give into the demands of the employees would make it necessary for trade unions to take tough action to win workers’ rights.

Meanwhile, Ranjan Jayalal, the Convener of the Lanka Viduli Seva Sangamaya, had said they would stage a protest on 28th of this month demanding a salary increase. Salary increments in the estate sector, CPC, CEB and the Ports Authority are given once in three years, in accordance with a collective agreement signed between the employees and the employer. The salary increments due this year have not yet been given. The last salary increment was given in 2006.

President of National Trade Union Alliance and Parliamentarian K.D. Lalkantha said repeated requests to President Mahinda Rajapaksa for a salary increase and a reduction of the cost of living had failed to yield results. “We are left with only the option of going for an indefinite general strike, covering all sectors, until the government grants our demands, as 80% of the people are struggling to make ends meet,” he said.

© Lanka Truth

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Thursday, October 22, 2009

Petrolium union office attacked

by Dasun Edirisinghe - The main trade union office of the Ceylon Petroleum Common Service Union (CPCSU) was attacked by an unidentified gang on Tuesday midnight. The office is located between two main security barriers within the CPC premises. The media spokesman of the union and an executive officer of the CPC D. J. Rajakaruna was also attacked by a person attached to the Sri Lanka Freedom Party’s trade union at the Muthurajawela storage complex of the CPC, the union alleged.

President of the CPCSU Ashoka Ranwala told The Island that the gang came to the premises for the attack in a van bearing registration WPNA-6150. Two individuals, accompanied by an Executive Officer of the Security Division of the Corporation, and they attacked the office and damaged all its furniture and windows. They had damaged cut outs too. The group had damaged the office using clubs and other implements.

"According to our members the van entered through the first Security barrier at 12.42 a.m. and left at 12.48 a.m. The supporters of the government in the CPC did this to stop our ongoing protest against the government’s delay in increase our salaries," Ranwala said.

D. J. Rajakaruna, when contacted by The Island said that he was attacked in front of the security officers on Tuesday morning, but they didn’t take any action to stop it. After both attacks on the office and himself, they complained to the security department of the CPC. But, they turned a blind eye on the issue.

Minister of Petroleum and Petroleum Resource Development A. H. M. Fowzie, when contacted by The Island, said he was not aware of the incident. He promised an impartial investigation.

© The Island

Related Links:
Attack on Union Office in consequent of ‘work to rule’ announcement - Lanka Truth

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Thursday, October 22, 2009

Sri Lanka says EU trade loss won't hurt exports

The potential loss of a European Union trade concession that helped Sri Lanka boost business in its largest export market will not have an adverse impact on exporters, the island nation's central bank said on Wednesday.

The EU published a probe on Monday that found Sri Lanka in breach of human rights laws, which threatens the Indian Ocean island nation's access to the Generalised System of Preferences (GSP) Plus scheme. [ID:nLJ731429]

"Our exporters are resilient and the loss would be minimal," K.D. Ranasinghe, director at central bank's economic research department, told Reuters.

With early presidential and parliamentary elections due by April, the present government may be reluctant to be seen as giving in to the EU, which has asked Sri Lanka to provide a response by Nov. 6.

Sri Lanka rejected the findings and said it would defend itself, after refusing last year to cooperate with a rights probe it viewed as a violation of sovereignty while it was fighting to defeat the Tamil Tiger rebels. [ID:nCOL517986]

The central bank on Tuesday, quoting the European Commission, said the GSP Plus concession gave it an extra 78 million Euro ($116.5 million) in 2008, which was 1.4 percent of Sri Lanka's total exports that year.

"Therefore, the loss of preferential duty margin by around 6-7 percent arising from a potential withdrawal of the GSP Plus facility is not expected to have an adverse impact on Sri Lanka's exports," the central bank statement said.

The suspension of GSP plus, which helped Sri Lanka earn a record $3.47 billion from garment exports in 2008, could deal another blow to Sri Lanka's apparel industry, which is already suffering because of the current global economic state.

EU members states are due to vote in the next two months whether to suspend Sri Lanka's GSP Plus participation. If that happens, Sri Lanka would lose the preference six months later, and keep the higher but still concessional duties under normal GSP.

Last year, Sri Lanka said it would set aside $150 million to cushion affected exporters against the loss of GSP Plus, and said that was its estimate of the total potential financial impact.

Now that Sri Lanka is in the middle of a $2.6 billion International Monetary Fund (IMF) loan programme, the fate of the plan, which Sri Lanka insisted was not a subsidy but a support scheme, is unclear. The IMF generally frowns on subsidies.

In 2008, the European Union was Sri Lanka's largest export market, accounting for 36 percent of its $8.1 billion in total exports, followed by the United States with 24 percent.

© Reuters

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