Anniversary of the Convention Against Torture

By Together Against Genocide (TAG, formerly Tamils Against Genocide), Wednesday, June 26 2013

"No one shall be subjected to torture or to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment."

Universal Declaration of Human Rights (1948, art. 5)

The 26th Anniversary of Convention against Torture is marked today by TAG with the determination to continue to investigate allegations of torture committed by the state of Sri Lanka and to seek justice for the victims.

The Universal Declaration on Human Rights includes the prohibition of torture, to which Sri Lanka is a party. It is a central tenet in international law. The Convention Against Torture expands upon principles enshrined within human rights law to define the role of a government's ‘responsibility to protect’ its citizens. Under the treaties protecting the individual, States are prohibited from condoning or partaking in acts of torture. When torture has occurred, the State is obligated to use national law to prosecute, or to seek the assistance of the international community in the event that the State is not able to do so itself.
A state may not deviate from Article 5 of the Universal Declaration. Calling for a "State of Emergency" is no lawful justification for turning a blind eye to the prohibition of torture, or cruel inhumane, degrading treatment or punishment. The State must continue to protect its citizens against torture regardless of their race, age, gender, sexuality and other protected characteristics. 

Large numbers of human rights complaints continue to be recorded against Sri Lanka every year. TAG has played a part with other international NGOs in recording these complaints and advocating for justice. TAG made a submission to the UN Committee Against Torture in its review of the UK, regarding Article 3.1 of the Convention, namely "No State party 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". Meantime the UN and its member states, are failing to bring Sri Lanka to account for crimes against International Humanitarian Law as well as Human Rights Law. Indeed the UK even plans to go to the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting scheduled for Colombo, Sri Lanka this autumn.

On this anniversary TAG reaffirms its commitment to advancing justice for torture survivors, but also its fight to bring justice for the atrocities committed against the Tamil people in Sri Lanka in the final phase of the conflict, 2009. In order to stop torture today and tomorrow it is necessary to bring the Sri Lankan state to account for its war crimes. The UN and its member states failed to protect the Tamil people in Sri Lanka in 2009 and prior, and now compound those failures through continued inaction, by allowing the culture of impunity within Sri Lanka to grow ever more deep.