(London) – The United Kingdom should immediately suspend deportations of ethnic Tamil asylum seekers to Sri Lanka and review its policies in assessing these claims, Human Rights Watch said today. The next scheduled deportation of Tamils from the United Kingdom to Sri Lanka is due to take place on May 31, 2012.
Investigations by Human Rights Watch have found that some failed Tamil asylum seekers from the United Kingdom and other countries have been subjected to arbitrary arrest and torture upon their return to Sri Lanka. In addition to eight cases in which deportees faced torture on return reported in February, Human Rights Watch has since documented a further five cases in which Tamil failed asylum seekers were subjected to torture by government security forces on return from various countries, most recently in February 2012.
“The British government’s asylum procedure is failing to identify Tamils at risk of torture upon return to Sri Lanka despite growing evidence that torture of Tamil activists deported from abroad occurs,” said David Mepham, UK director at Human Rights Watch. “Until the government can fairly and thoroughly assess asylum claims based on up-to-date human rights information on Sri Lanka, it should suspend returns.”
The Sri Lankan security forces have long used torture against people deemed to be linked to the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), and growing evidence indicates that Tamils who have been politically active abroad are subject to torture and other ill-treatment, Human Rights Watch said. Four of the five cases recently reported to Human Rights Watch were corroborated by medical reports.
A Tamil woman asylum seeker returned to Sri Lanka in May 2009 said she was detained, questioned and subjected to torture including sexual abuse by security agents, and imprisoned for five months at an army camp.
Two Tamil men returned described torture by Sri Lankan authorities upon arrival in Colombo. One said he was severely beaten and scalded with cigarettes and heated iron rods. The second told Human Rights Watch about his torture at the headquarters of the military Criminal Investigations Department after he was detained at the airport:
I was beaten up and tortured. My head was banged against the wall. I was suspended upside down and burnt with cigarettes. I was handcuffed and shackled throughout and beaten with various objects. My interrogators accused me of being an LTTE agent and tried to suffocate me with a petrol-infused plastic bag.
The UK Border Agency’s Operational Guidance Note on Sri Lanka, updated in April 2012, acknowledges reports of torture as a widespread practice in Sri Lanka, but omits guidance on the risk of torture based on participation in demonstrations and other political activity abroad. Human Rights Watch’s investigations indicate that their torturers interrogated deportees about their political activities abroad.
The United Kingdom is a party to the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment, which states in article 3 that no state “shall expel, return (‘refouler’) or extradite a person to another State where there are substantial grounds for believing that he would be in danger of being subjected to torture.” In making such determinations, the authorities “shall take into account all relevant considerations including, where applicable, the existence in the State concerned of a consistent pattern of gross, flagrant, or mass violations of human rights.”
“The UK Border Agency guidance recognizes the danger of torture faced by those returned to Sri Lanka, and the government practice should reflect that,” Mepham said. “This is not just a matter of the UK respecting its international legal obligations, but a matter of basic decency.”