For the first time, a special UN rapporteur on Thursday visited the Tamil political prisoners arrested under Sri Lanka’s anti-terrorism laws in the Northern Province to get a first-hand information on their human rights situation.
Ben Emmerson, the special rapporteur on human rights and counter-terrorism, is visiting the island nation since July 10 on a five-day trip following an invitation by the Sri Lankan government.
His visit is aimed at gathering first-hand information on counter-terrorism initiatives and assess how they affect the promotion and protection of human rights. In the process, he met Tamil political prisoners arrested under the Prevention of Terrorism Act (PTA) in Vavuniya in the Northern Province.
Emmerson’s visit comes at a time when the Sri Lankan government is in the process of formulating its new counter-terrorism bill to replace the PTA, which was enacted in 1979 to deal with the growing Tamil separatist militancy.
The PTA has been criticised by Tamil and rights activists as it allows indefinite detention of people without charges. During the over three-decade armed campaign by the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), many activists of the rebel outfit were held under the PTA.
But rights groups have raised concerns over some of the provisions on the new counter-terror bill. And Emmerson is to present a comprehensive report about his findings and recommendations to the UN Human Rights Council in March 2018.
“I will seek to provide assistance in the discussion of the country’s counter-terrorism policy and legal framework, as well as in the preparation and drafting of relevant legislative acts, with a view to ensuring that measures taken by the Government are in compliance with international human rights law,” he had said before arriving in Sri Lanka.