Country Report on Human Rights Practices for 1991

Sri Lanka's constitutional, multiparty form of government
features a strong executive presidency and a unicameral
legislature elected by universal adult suffrage. President
Ranasinghe Premadasa was elected to a 6-year term in 1988, and
his United National Party (UNP) won a majority of the seats in
Parliament in 1989.
In the 1980 's, a gradually escalating conflict broke out
between Sri Lanka's majority Sinhalese and separatist elements
among the minority Tamil population. Indian troops sent as a
peacekeeping force fought the separatist Liberation Tigers of
Tamil Eelam (LTTE) during 1987-1990. During the same period,
the Maoist Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna (JVP) insurgency
threatened the south but was defeated by early 1990. The LTTE
entered negotiations with the Government in April 1989.
However, in June 1990 the LTTE broke off negotiations, attacked
and murdered hundreds of police, and renewed its war against
the Government. This conflict continued throughout 1991.
The violence associated with the LTTE insurgency in 1991 was
confined largely to military and guerrilla operations in the
north and east, although two LTTE bombings in Colombo left the
State Defense Minister and scores of civilians dead. While
there were sporadic reports of arrests, disappearances, and
killings of JVP suspects, JVP terrorism ended and life was
largely peaceful in the south.
The primary internal security force is the 25,000-person police
force, which includes 2,000 police commandos in the Special
Task Force (STF) . The paramilitary Home Guards, charged with
providing security against LTTE attacks for Muslim and
Sinhalese communities in the northeast, number about
8,000-10,000. Except for Muslim Home Guard contingents,
security force personnel are overwhelmingly Sinhalese. The Sri
Lankan army has carried the brunt of the fighting with the
LTTE. The continuing need for larger forces to prosecute the
northeast war and severe budgetary restraints have resulted in
substantial numbers of army troops being poorly trained and
inadequately armed and equipped.
Sri Lanka has a mixed economy depending heavily on exports of
tea, textiles, and rubber. Despite a sluggish public sector
and the fiscal drain caused by large military outlays, the
economy grew an impressive 6 percent in 1991, due in large part
to economic reform, which included the removal of most price
controls and subsidies, lowering of tariffs, and shrinking of
the government bureaucracy.
There continued to be major human rights abuses in 1991, but
the number of incidents was markedly reduced from 1990. For
example, extrajudicial and combat-related civilian deaths
declined from 2,600 in 1990 to 710 in 1991, according to
government statistics, the press, and nongovernmental
observers. There were also hundreds of disappearances, most
credibly linked to security forces; torture and mistreatment of
prisoners; arbitrary arrest and detention, including
incommunicado detention; and restrictions on freedoms of
speech, press, assembly, and association. Both government and
insurgent elements were guilty of abuses. The Prevention of
Terrorism Act (PTA) and Emergency Regulations (ER), both of
which grant security forces wide powers such as preventive and
incommunicado detention, remained in effect. Some provisions
were suspended temporarily outside the northeast, however, to
permit unhindered elections.,
The Government established one commission to investigate
disappearances occurring after January 11, 1991, and another to
register and monitor detainees. The work of the first
commission, however, has proceeded very slowly, and neither '
mandate includes pursuit of prosecutions. Despite widescale
human rights abuses in recent years, the Government has
indicted a limited number of offenders, and only a few cases
had been concluded by the end of 1991.
Section 1 Respect for the Integrity of the Person, Including
Freedom From:
      a. Political and Other Extrajudicial Killing
Political killing by the Government's security forces, the LTTE
and other militant groups, and vigilantes continued on a
reduced but still large scale. According to government
statistics, the press, and nongovernmental observers, there
were roughly 710 noncombatant deaths caused by both government
and antigovernment forces in 1991, compared to 2,600 for 1990.
Of the 710, more than 650 occurred in the war-torn northeast
and bordering areas. More than 90 of the deaths in the
northeast were attributable to deliberate attacks by government
forces, most in retaliation for LTTE attacks, and 182 to
deliberate attacks by the LTTE, usually on Sinhalese and Muslim
villagers. Roughly 380 of the fatalities in the northeast were
apparently accidental deaths due to military action. In the
south (i.e., all of the country except for the northeast
province and bordering areas also affected by the separatist
war), an estimated 55 civilians were killed in political
violence. Two LTTE car bombings in Colombo accounted for 37 of
these civilian deaths (as well as 17 deaths of security force
personnel). The two bombings were directed against military
targets (the State Defense Minister and the military's
headc[uarters) and were carried out in busy residential and
commercial areas of the city. In the south there were also at
least three instances of vigilante-style killings,
characterized by mutilated or burned bodies left in public
areas. Six burned and bullet-ridden bodies were found in May
and another in September. These bodies were not identified,
and responsibility was not established. In a third incident,
three JVP suspects released from an army camp in October were
taken from their homes a week later, and their burnt bodies
were found the next day. A police officer arrested in the case
was subsequently reinstated in his job. The investigation is
continuing, according to police officials.
In the past, when such killings were far more common, strong
circumstantial evidence and the opinion of a wide range of
observers, including some members of the security forces
themselves, linked individual security force members to some
vigilante groups. It is likely that vigilantes operated with
the knowledge and acquiescence of government officials. In
1991 government sources claim these extrajudicial killings in
the south were frequently due to the private settling of
scores, especially against JVP members and supporters, rather
than continued officially condoned vigilante group actions.
Charges have been brought against security force members in at
least two vigilante cases, and legal proceedings initiated in
eight other human rights-related murder cases. These cases
date from 1988 to 1991. Only one of the cases had been
resolved by the end of 1991 (see Section I.e.), owing partly to
killings and intimidation of witnesses and partly to a large
backlog in the judicial system and the fact that such cases are
not given special priority. Those responsible for killing and
intimidating witnesses in such cases are almost never brought
to justice.
There were no new developments during 1991 in the murder case
of human rights activist Richard de Zoysa. In August 1990, the
Attorney General cited insufficient evidence to indict the
police officers implicated in the case; there is no evidence of
vigorous investigation since then. In February an opposition
parliamentary motion to create an independent commission to
investigate the de Zoysa case was defeated. In August a JVP
suspect leading police to an arms cache in the south reportedly
escaped from a police vehicle and his body was later found
under a bridge. There were no arrests in the case. Four
policemen who allegedly beat to death a suspect in custody in
June were charged with murder and remained in custody at year's
In the east, there were at least two vigilante-style killings
of civilians in April. In one incident, the headless body was
left in a public area with a poster claiming that the "Black
Cobras" had killed the person for helping the LTTE . The
preponderance of evidence indicates that security force
personnel, or people closely allied with the security forces
and probably working with their knowledge, were responsible.
Credible sources claim that Muslim Home Guards were responsible
for some killings of civilians in 1991, such as the attack on a
bus in the east in which six were killed in February. Other
observers claim that a Muslim mob, seeking revenge for an LTTE
attack on Muslims, was responsible. A limited number of deaths
in the northeast in 1991 were attributable to similar violence
between ethnic groups, often sparked by LTTE attacks on
civilians. See Section l.g. for a discussion of deaths
resulting from internal conflict.
      b. Disappearance
Disappearances of both Tamils and Sinhalese, usually young men,
continued in 1991 on a very large scale, though reduced from
levels over the past 5 years, during which time it is estimated
that as many as 10,000 persons disappeared. Although exact
numbers are not known, knowledgeable sources estimate that 114
persons disappeared in the south (18 in the last 5 months) and
approximately 785 in the northeast (90 in the last 5 months),
although one knowledgeable source believes there may have been
as many as 1,000 disappearances in one of three eastern
districts alone. Disappearances in the south were attributed
to security forces, vigilantes who may be tied to security
forces, and insurgent elements, but the degree of
responsibility for each group was not clear. In the northeast,
government forces were judged responsible for the majority of
785 disappearances in 1991. An additional 300 pers'ons believed
captured by the LTTE in 1991 also remained unaccounted for.
There were reports of the LTTE abducting persons in the
northeast and holding them for ransom. In a few cases,
families have testified that JVP detainees known to have been
released never returned home, presumably because they were
killed by unknown persons or forces after their release.
In the east, there was a notable improvement in the ability of
humanitarian organizations to visit detainees. By December,
the army had begun to implement in some cases the Amnesty
International recommendation for rapid notification of family
members when arrests are made, according to nongovernmental ^
organization (NGO) sources. In the north, guidelines
established between NGO'S and the military have almost
eliminated disappearances of detainees from camps for displaced
persons there.
As of October, Sri Lankan attorneys had brought 20 lawsuits
(far fewer than in 1990), asking the Government to produce
missing persons. Government authorities are required to
respond within days to such suits in normal circumstances, but
the Prevention of Terrorism Act (PTA) permits a 12-month
delay. The Government continues to claim that false names
given to conceal identity and the possible departure from the
country of many detainees complicate the process of accounting
for disappeared persons.
In January the President appointed a commission to inquire into
allegations of abductions and disappearances occurring after
January 11, 1991, the identity of those responsible, and the
whereabouts of the missing people. The commission was also
empowered to report on legal measures to be taken against
perpetrators and to assess current law relating to the problem
and remedial measures necessary to deter future incidents.
According to government sources, as of October the commission
had 195 cases before it, and in the course of its work had
located 26 persons whom family members had reported missing.
      c. Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading Treatment or Punishment
Although the Constitution forbids torture and cruel, inhuman,
or degrading treatment or punishment, the Emergency Regulations
allow the use in court of confessions made to police officers
and place the burden of proof on defendants to show that a
confession was extracted under duress. Beatings are routinely
given during interrogations throughout the country, and
especially brutal beatings, in which bones were broken, were
reported in police stations in the south and east. Some
government security officials acknowledge that security forces
have used torture to elicit information and cooperation from
suspected members of the JVP and LTTE. Victims and family
members have also alleged torture by Tamil militant groups.
In March three police officers were acquitted of murder charges
in the 1988 death while in police custody of a lawyer and
accused JVP activist. The court found reasonable doubt because
others may have had access to the lawyer, who was beaten to
death. The policemen pled guilty to wrongful detention charges
and were ordered to pay the family compensation and were given
suspended sentences of up to 2 years' imprisonment. Two of the
policemen (the third has died) remained on paid suspension from
their posts and were appealing for reinstatement.
      d. Arbitrary Arrest, Detention, or Exile
By law an arrested person must be informed of the reason for
his arrest and brought within 24 hours before a magistrate who
may authorize bail or, for serious crimes, order continued
detention. Detainees are generally brought before a magistrate
within a few days of arrest, but there continue to be reports
of detainees who are never informed of the reason for their
arrest. A suspect may also be detained up to 3 months without
bail or longer if a court so rules.
The PTA, adopted in 1979, and the ER, renewed monthly with the
extension of the state of emergency in effect since 1983, are
exceptions to the above rules, and both permit preventive and
incommunicado detention. A person held under the PTA may be
detained without charge for up to 18 months. There have been
cases in which persons have been held longer. Under the ER,
security forces may detain a suspect for up to 3 months before
he must be presented to a magistrate. Magistrates are not
empowered to investigate the circumstances leading to a
person's arrest and continued detention but must remand him to
a prison where he may be held indefinitely. Bail may be
granted for persons held under the ER but, once charged, PTA
detainees are ineligible for bail. Visits by family, access to
lawyers, food, and other conditions of incarceration are
normally restricted under these laws. The High Courts may
order that any detainee be produced in court at any time.
Individuals, including ER and PTA detainees, may challenge the
legality of their detention either by filing habeas corpus
petitions in the Courts of Appeal or by charging the Government
before the Supreme Court with violating fundamental
constitutional rights. Forty-one ER and PTA detainees were
released in 1991 through fundamental rights and habeas corpus
petitions. Fundamental rights suits must be filed—complete
with documentation—within 30 days of the alleged
infringement. The 30-day limit makes it virtually impossible
for persons detained incommunicado for prolonged periods, or
relatives of those alleged to have disappeared, to bring such
suits. By the end of 1990, the Government had provided the
names of several thousand detainees to members of Parliament.
In August a commission established to register detainees held
under the ER and PTA and monitor their welfare began
operation. By mid-October, the commission had visited 15 of
the 18 army detention camps and rehabilitation camps and
registered about 2,000 detainees. The International Committee
of the Red Cross (ICRC) regularly visited over 600 places of
detention, primarily in the south, where most of the detention
sites are located (see also Section 4).
A three-person advisory board, first established in 1988,
reviews PTA and ER cases and makes nonbinding recommendations
for handling them. The estimated population of 15,000 ER and
PTA detainees in the south in February had shrunk to roughly
5,000-7,000 detainees by October, including about 2,000 in
rehabilitation centers. Of those still in detention camps,
roughly 2,000-2,500 have criminal charges filed against them,
according to government sources.
In the east, LTTE attacks on security forces were often
followed by roundups and screening of groups of up to several
hundred people, mostly young males, from the nearby civilian
population. In 1991 most of the several thousand rounded up in
various incidents during the year were quickly released,
according to knowledgeable sources. However, some from each
group reportedly remained in detention, and a few disappeared.
A credible source estimated in September that there were
350-400 detainees held by the security forces in the east;
there were also reported to be a lesser number in the north.
There were reports that the LTTE is holding as many as 4,000
political opponents on the northern peninsula, but these
reports could not be verified (see also Section l.g.).
      e. Denial of Fair Public Trial
Substantial due process rights are accorded in nonpolitical
cases, but trials under the PTA and ER lack several significant
procedural safeguards. Persons accused of criminal acts
generally receive a fair public trial, are informed of the
charges and the evidence against them, and are represented by
counsel of their choice. Persons tried on criminal charges in
the High Court and the Court of Appeals are provided an
attorney at government expense if necessary. The Government
does not provide attorneys in other cases, though private legal
aid organizations assist some defendants. Public trial by jury
is the custom.
Juries are not provided in trials under the PTA on the grounds
that jury members could be intimidated. Confessions are
admissible in PTA and ER cases but not in cases tried outside
the PTA and ER framework. Most ER and PTA convictions rely
heavily on confessions, and the burden of proof of charges of
coercion rests on the defendant. Those convicted under the PTA
or the ER have the same right of appeal to the Courts of Appeal
and Supreme Court as those sentenced in other cases. In
practice, however, most people held under these acts are never
formally charged and therefore do not enter the appeals process.
The Constitution provides for an independent judiciary. The
President appoints all judges of the Supreme Court, Courts of
Appeal, and High Courts. The Chief Justice and two Supreme
Court judges comprise a Judicial Service Commission which
appoints, transfers, and dismisses lower court judges. Judges
serve from time of appointment to mandatory retirement age (65
for Supreme Court judges and 62 for others). Because of
hostilities in the northeast, the judiciary functioned only in
a few larger towns in the east and one town in the north.
It is not possible to determine how many of the approximately
6,500 detainees the Government acknowledges holding might be
termed political prisoners. By October, the Government had
brought indictments against 630 persons under the PTA and 121
under the ER.
      f. Arbitrary Interference with Privacy, Family, Home, or Correspondence
The Government generally respects individual privacy and the
sanctity of the family and the home, and the judiciary usually
upholds privacy rights in cases that reach the High Courts.
Search and arrest warrants are normally recjuired to enter
private premises, but the PTA permits certain police officers
to enter and search any premises without a warrant and seize
"any document or thing" when there is a presumption or evidence
of support for, or involvement with, unlawful activity. These
powers were used less frequently in 1991 than in past years.
Government monitoring of telephones and correspondence is
believed to occur on a selective basis.
      g. Use of Excessive Force and Violations of Humanitarian Law in Internal Conflicts
Hostilities between the Government and the LTTE, which were
resumed in 1990 after a year's truce, continued throughout 1991
and resulted in indiscriminate killings on a wide scale. In
contrast to earlier periods, however, the current Sri Lankan
Government has reiterated publicly and privately that the
northeast conflict is one against the LTTE and not the Tamil
people, a stand generally believed to have reduced communal
violence. During 1991 the bodies of more than 300 police
previously captured by the LTTE in June 1990 were found. An
additional 41 policemen are known to be held by the LTTE, and
more than 200 are missing. More than 650 noncombatants were
also killed in the northeast and adjacent areas in 1991, with
more than 90 of these deaths attributable to deliberate attacks
by government forces and more than 182 to deliberate attacks by
the LTTE. The balance were apparently accidental, combatrelated
deaths. The figure for noncombatant fatalities
one-tenth the figure for combatant fatalities—is based
primarily on government reports and newspaper accounts and is
probably low since many reports of incidents never reach the
The LTTE ' s wide use of antipersonnel mines caused
indiscriminate death or injury to many persons in the
northeast. In the north, LTTE and government areas of control
were relatively clearly delineated. By contrast, security
forces in the east were frec[uently caught in LTTE ambushes,
even in the larger towns which they nominally controlled. The
remote-controlled mines used in many of these ambushes led to
many deaths and injuries. During the first 9 months of 1991
the LTTE was widely considered responsible for at least 16
attacks on civilian targets which killed more than 182 people.
Most of these incidents were attacks on Sinhalese and Muslim
villages in the east and bordering areas in which men, women,
and children were shot or hacked to death. In March the LTTE
placed a bomb in a Muslim marketplace, killing eight. A June
nighttime attack on a bus killed 23, including a Danish
There were several instances in which the security forces
avenged LTTE attacks by retaliating against nearby Tamil
civilians. In June soldiers responded to the death of two of
their colleagues in an LTTE bombing by going on a rampage in
two villages near Kokkaddicholai , killing at least 67 and
perhaps more than 100. At year's end, the commission
immediately appointed to investigate the incident was still
hearing the testimony of witnesses, and no findings have been
published. The lieutenant and 16 soldiers of the detachment
involved in the murders were confined to their base, but no
criminal charges had yet been brought.
Credible sources reported several other incidents of security
force retaliation, one in February in which 4 Tamils were
killed in the north, one in the east in March in which 11
people were killed, and one in the east in June in which 8
Tamil civilians were killed. There also were at least six
credible reports in 1991 of abuses committed by the military
forces, including extrajudicial killings and looting.
Many Tamils in the northern peninsula, dominated by the LTTE
since June 1990, reported incidents of apparently
indiscriminate aerial bombing or strafing of civilian areas
until March 1991. As many as 100 people, thought to be mostly
civilians, are estimated to have been killed in aerial attacks
in the first 3 months of 1991. After March, according to
residents of the northern peninsula, aerial attacks were far
fewer and some were targeted against those traveling during
curfews and against sites where intelligence indicated that a
LTTE leader would be present at a ceremony. The Air Force
continued in 1991 to drop leaflets warning civilians of pending
operations. There were also reports of untargeted shelling in
the northern peninsula after the June car-bombing of military
headquarters in Colombo (see Section l.a.) and the launch of a
major LTTE offensive against an army camp in July.
Several thousand Tamils were rounded up in the east in
cordon-and-search operations in 1991. Most were quickly
released, but some were held in detention. Large numbers
(perhaps several thousand) of Tamil youths rounded up during
similar operations in 1990 have failed to return to their
Section 2 Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:
      a. Freedom of Speech and Press
The Constitution provides for freedom of speech and expression
but permits these rights to be restricted by law in the
interest of national security. The ER has been used directly
and indirectly to restrict free speech. For example, persons
wishing to post bills advertising meetings of any type are
rec[uired under the ER to secure police approval of the text,
although, pursuant to a Supreme Court ruling in 1987, the
police must specify a reason for denying permission. There
were no prosecutions for distribution of "antigovernment"
literature in 1991. However, the Government considers
possession of JVP literature prima facie evidence of
involvement in the organization and reason for detention under
the ER. Under the amended 1978 Parliamentary Powers and
Privileges Act, Parliament may impose an unlimited fine or up
to 2 years' imprisonment on anyone who criticizes a member of
Parliament, a clear deterrent to freedom of expression. The
amendment was not applied in 1991.
The Government controls the country's largest newspaper chain.
A variety of independent newspapers and journals provide a
range of viewpoints on foreign affairs and most domestic
issues, including human rights. Many newspapers openly
criticize the ruling party and the Government. Many
small-circulation periodicals are also published by opposition
political parties and special interest groups. They have
claimed that various groups have required them to publish
articles the groups have provided, threatening them if their
demands were not met. Tamil-language newspapers in particular
have claimed that militant Tamil groups have required them to
publish articles the groups have provided. The media based in
the northern peninsula have been subjected to particularly
tight control by the LTTE.
There was no formal political censorship in 1991, but
journalists assert that government pressure—or the threat of
pressure—forces the press to exercise self-censorship.
Although the Government denies it, it is widely alleged that
the Government exerts pressure on the press by controlling
permits for the import of newsprint and through placement of
paid government announcements and advertising. In October
several state-owned and state-affiliated banks were directed to
check for any loans in arrears that an opposition newspaper
might have, suggesting that such loans be called in, according
to credible sources. The Government also sealed the printing
press of an independent weekly without giving legal grounds. A
fundamental rights suit filed with the Supreme Court on this
action was still pending at year's end. In 1990 the Government
announced that it would enforce the Press Council Law, which
prohibits unauthorized publication of cabinet discussions and
decisions. No charges have been brought under the law, but
fear of its sanctions further encourages self-censorship.
However, during an impeachment challenge that began in August,
there were no known cases of censorship of the print media
beyond the sealing of the printing press mentioned above, and
the press generally seemed emboldened. English and
Sinhala-language newspaper editors say they are now more
subject to business pressures than physical threats.
The Government owns the radio and television networks, and only
news approved by the Government may be broadcast on
television. For example, during the impeachment crisis the
resignation of dissident parliamentarians was not reported on
radio or television. Although academic freedom is generally
respected, a new ER was imposed in 1990 banning political or
disruptive activities at all schools (see Section 2.b.). The
Government has justified this action as necessary to ensure
that student political activity, such as that used earlier by
the JVP to close down the universities for 3 years, would not
force a new school closure.
      b. Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and Association
The Constitution provides for freedom of assembly and
association, but these rights are restricted under provisions
of the ER and PTA.
As a general practice, the police issue or deny permits for
outdoor meetings or processions at the discretion of the
superintendent of police in each locality. During the Persian
Gulf War, the Government disapproved pro-Iraq demonstration
marches, although it allowed several small rallies to take
place. The opposition was allowed to hold a series of large
demonstrations during their impeachment bid against the
President (see Section 3), although municipal authorities
sometimes denied the use of sites in town centers. The
Government retained in effect the 1988 order to its security
forces to shoot on sight illegal antigovernment demonstrators
but did not use it in 1991.
An ER issued in 1990 prohibiting political and disruptive
activity in schools and workplaces remains in effect. Under
it, permission for meetings must be obtained from the head of
an institution.
      c. Freedom of Religion
The Constitution establishes Buddhism as the official religion,
which the Government must "protect and foster." It also
provides for the rights of members of other faiths, including
Hindus, Muslims, and Christians, to practice their religion
Religious groups are free to maintain active ties with
coreligionists in other countries, and many Sri Lankans perform
religious travel each year. Religious publishing and
proselytizing are allowed, and foreign clergy may work in Sri
Lanka. For over 30 years, however, the Government has
forbidden the entry of new foreign Jesuit clergy, while
allowing those already in the country to remain.
      d. Freedom of Movement Within the Country, Foreign Travel, Emigration, and Repatriation
The Constitution grants every citizen "freedom of movement and
of choosing his residence within Sri Lanka" and "freedom to
return to Sri Lanka." These provisions are generally honored.
However, curfews, checkpoints, and other actions taken by both
the Government and insurgent forces have had the effect of
inhibiting free travel in certain areas.
Sri Lanka generally denies entry to refugees or displaced
persons from other countries. The Government does not help
refugees who attempt to stay in the country while seeking
permanent residence elsewhere. There were over 674,000
internally displaced persons in Sri Lanka in June. Most lived
in camps, primarily financed by the Government, in the
northeast or adjacent provinces. The United Nations High
Commissioner for Refugees operated in Sri Lanka, supporting
government refugee efforts in noncombat zones. Over 135,000
Sri Lankan Tamil refugees left for southern India between June
1990 and September 1991; the majority left in 1990. In
addition, as many as 70,000 Sri Lankan Tamils have sought
refuge in Western Europe and North America over the last few
years. Tens of thousands of Sri Lankan workers, most of them
females, returned to Sri Lanka from the Persian Gulf area
before and during the Gulf War.
The Government does not restrict the travel abroad of its
citizens but does restrict the amount of foreign exchange they
may take with them.
Section 3 Respect for Political Rights: The Right of Citizens
to Change Their Government
Citizens have the constitutional right to change their
government through periodic multiparty elections on the basis
of universal adult suffrage.
An international observer team judged the May 11 local
government elections held outside the northeast largely free
and fair. The ruling party won 52 percent of the popular vote
and gained control of 81 percent of the local bodies. The
election of members of the northeast provincial council
continued to be deferred because of fighting in the area. A
September impeachment bid against the President was
A total of 29 political parties are legally recognized; 10 hold
seats in the Parliament.
Although members of each ethnic community can be found in many
of the political parties, the most influential political
parties generally draw their support from one ethnic
community. Historically, the two parties dominant in the
majority Sinhalese electorate have alternated rule. In 1988
and 1989, several formerly militant Tamil groups that had
accepted the Indo-Sri Lanka Accord emerged as political parties
in the northeast, representing the Ceylon Tamil population.
Tamil parties won 23 seats in the Parliament.
There are no de jure impediments to women's participation in
politics and government. Although under represented, there are
women at senior levels in both these sectors, including a
cabinet minister and the leader of the principal opposition
party, who was formerly Prime Minister.
Section 4 Governmental Attitude Regarding International and Nongovernmental Investigation of Alleged Violations of Human Rights
Several local nongovernmental organizations, including the
Civil Rights Movement and the Movement for Interracial Justice
and Ecjuality, monitor human rights, collecting information from
families of victims or members of citizens' committees near the
site of alleged incidents. The Government generally does not
address their periodic reports and appeals. In contrast to
recent years, there were no reported threats against human
rights activists in 1991. The high-level human rights task
force established by the President in November 1990 inquired
into a limited number of human rights cases referred to it by
domestic and international sources and recommended to the
President further steps to improve the Government's human
rights performance, including visits by Amnesty International
(AI) and the United Nations Human Rights Commission's (UNHRC)
Working Group on Enforced and Involuntary Disappearances.
However, human rights activists claim that this commission—and
two others established in 1991 to deal with problems of
disappearances and treatment of detainees (see Sections l.b.
and l.d.)—are mostly cosmetic. Senior government officials
have made themselves available to visitors looking into human
rights issues and have responded to inquiries from the UNHRC
and foreign governments. In June an AI research team visited
Sri Lanka and met with a wide range of officials and human
rights observers, and in December the Government announced it
would adopt 28 of 32 AI recommendations. The Government
declined, however, to broaden the mandate of the Disappearances
Commission (see Section l.b.) to include investigation of
disappearances before January 11, 1991. By year's end the
UNHRC Working Group on Enforced and Involuntary Disappearances
had not issued its report on its visit to Sri Lanka in
October. The Government has also invited the U.N. Special
Rapporteur on Summary and Arbitrary Executions to Sri Lanka.
Government cooperation with the ICRC continued in 1991. The
Government provided the ICRC with open access to its detention
facilities to register detainees and to monitor their
treatment, and it permitted the ICRC to transport government
and donor-provided food and medicine into the war zone, even
though some inevitably falls into LTTE hands. The LTTE also
provided the ICRC with periodic access to limited numbers of
its government police detainees during 1991. In addition, the
ICRC provided human rights training and materials to the Sri
Lankan' military and police.
A variety of international nongovernmental organizations
(NGO's) are active in Sri Lanka, providing humanitarian relief
services to those affected by the conflict in the northeast.
Some report that they have established good relations with the
Sri Lankan military. For example, the military and the NGO's
established guidelines for such operations as the making of
arrests in refugee camps administered by the NGO's. Some NGO's
are negotiating with the Government new guidelines for
safeguarding the movement of their vehicles in the northeast.
The effort was prompted by an incident in May in which the Sri
Lankan air force strafed and bombed a vehicle of the French NGO
Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF), injuring the three expatriate
passengers and the Sri Lankan driver.
In December 1990 the Government established a commission to
look into means for more closely regulating the more than 3,000
registered foreign and domestic NGO's working in the country.
It rec[uired NGO's to provide detailed information on their
funding and activities. NGO workers and human rights advocates
have expressed concern that the commission is trying to
discredit NGO's as the agents of foreign powers and may
ultimately restrict their freedom, a charge denied by the
Section 5 Discrimination Based on Race, Sex, Religion, Language, or Social Status
Although Tamils have long believed, with some justification,
that they suffer systematic discrimination in competition for
university entrance, employment opportunities, and other
matters under government control, there has been no evidence of
systematic or official discrimination in university enrollment
or government employment for the past 2 years. In March 19^0,
the Government decreed that hiring and promotions for the
public service would be based on ethnic proportions in
society. Upholding a suit filed by a Tamil public servant, the
Supreme Court ruled in January 1991 that promotions must be
based on merit but did not address the hiring issue. Under the
Constitution's 13th amendment, enacted in November 1987 to
implement the terms of the Indo-Sri Lanka accord, Tamil and
Sinhala were both made official languages and English the
"link" language. However, it is estimated that 98 percent of
all schools are still segregated by language. In July all
parties represented in the Parliament agreed to establish a
select comniittee to examine Sri Lanka's ethnic problem. At
year's end the committee was meeting but had not yet made any
Stateless Tamils living in Sri Lanka's tea-growing highlands
(so-called Indian Tamils) have suffered particular
discrimination, especially in the allocation of education
funds. No longer qualifying for citizenship under Indian law,
they were also denied Sri Lankan citizenship by laws adopted
after independence. Since then, the Sri Lankan and Indian
governments have reached several agreements aimed at resolving
the problem. Under a 1986 agreement, the Sri Lankan Government
agreed to grant citizenship to all remaining stateless Tamils.
In November 1988, the Government eliminated processing delays
by passing a law making extension of citizenship to these
stateless persons automatic upon a simple request. The new
legislation did not cover, however, some 168,000 Tamils who
themselves or whose parents once applied for Indian citizenship
but who now wish to stay in Sri Lanka. While these Tamils
could be compelled legally to leave Sri Lanka, none has been
forced to do so. The Government stated that earlier plans for
the recruitment of Tamils into the military and the
establishment of a predominantly Tamil police force for the
northeast were not implemented because of renewed hostilities
in 1990 and a lack of suitable candidates.
Sri Lankan women have equal rights under the law, including
equal property and inheritance rights. However, various ethnic
and religious groups have their own customs which place
limitations on women. Some Muslim women are discouraged by
members of their community from seeking higher education or
employment. Women do fill important posts in the civil
service, the professions, and business, but most are found
either in manual and semiskilled jobs or in the home. The
Government sets pay rates for most agricultural and
nonagricultural work, and according to Ministry of Labor
statistics, women are paid equally for similar work.
Violence against women occurs in Sri Lanka, but little is known
about its extent. There are no official statistics on the
subject. Abuse within the family is seldom reported or
discussed publicly owing to a strong sense of familial
privacy. Perpetrators of violence against women may be
prosecuted under the criminal code, but many women are
reluctant to pursue charges against family members. There are
infrec[uent reports of rape, wife beating, and murder of wives
by husbands. Several women's advocacy groups are active in
documenting and treating cases of violence against women.
The Government established a commission for the elimination of
discrimination and the monitoring of fundamental rights late in
1986. Charged with investigating individual complaints of
discrimination in public sector employment on the basis of
race, religion, language, caste, sex, political opinion, or
place of birth, the commission resolved over 275 complaints in
 Section 6 Worker Rights
      a. The Right of Association
The Constitution provides for the right to form and join trade
unions. Any seven workers may form a union, draw up their own
charter, elect their own representatives, and formulate
programs. Worker rights, including the right to choose
representatives, publicize views, and determine programs, are
protected by law. Unions are free to affiliate
internationally, and different Sri Lankan trade union
federations are affiliates of all three major international
trade union organizations.
Public servants have no right to strike and are not provided
arbitration machinery. Aggrieved public servants may appeal to
the Public Service Commission for relief. However, union
activists and labor lawyers claim that the Commission is biased
against employees. Other workers are free to strike; there
were about 20 strikes in 1991 in all sectors, including about a
dozen small, isolated strikes in the plantation sector, mostly
over administrative matters that were subsequently settled.
Strikes in key industries require 21 days' notice and are
subject to other limitations. Under the Essential Services Act
(ESA), the President may declare any business to be an
essential service, making a strike illegal. In February the
ESA was used by a private firm to justify the firing of
striking textile workers. (Certain industries, including
textiles, were declared essential in a presidential decree.)
Despite intercessions by the Commissioner of Labor, they had
not been rehired as of year's end. Union leaders complain that
the ESA is abused.
About 1,000 labor unions and federations (there are no dominant
trade union centers) represent about one-third of the
5 . 5-million-strong labor force. Although there are a few
independent unions, most large worker organizations are
affiliated with political parties and play a significant role
in the political process. Two unions are affiliated with, but
are not directly controlled by, the governing UNP.
      b. The Right to Organize and Bargain Collectively
Workers are expressly granted the right under the law to
bargain collectively by formation of workers' councils to
promote a voluntary worker-employer dialogue. Collective
bargaining takes place especially in state banks and the
private sector, where it occurs in an estimated 15-20 percent
of businesses. For more than 100 occupations in industry,
commerce, services, and agriculture, minimum wages are set by
37 wage boards. Employees, employers, and department of labor
representatives sit on the boards. Remuneration tribunals also
set minimum wages in some cases. Antiunion discrimination is
prohibited by law, and workers who believe that they have
suffered discrimination as a result of their union affiliation
or who believe that the right to bargain collectively has been
abridged may lodge complaints with the Commissioner of Labor,
the Labor Tribunal, or the Supreme Court. Department of Labor
officers, who are stationed throughout the country, may
arbitrate when workers and employers are not able to resolve a
Workers in the nonplantation agricultural sector and most of
those employed in small businesses, as well as workers in the
free trade zones, are not represented by unions. Unionization
in the zones is not prohibited by law but is discouraged in
practice by employers and the Government. Union organizers,
like all other individuals who lack work passes, do not have
access to workers inside the zones, ostensibly for security
reasons. Zone employees participate in the labor -management
associations within companies. Workers in the zones have the
same legal right to strike; in 1991 there were a minimum of
eight work stoppages in the zones.
Workers in the unorganized agricultural sector are not covered
by labor laws, although the Government may investigate
individual complaints.
      c. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor
While not prohibited by law, forced labor is not practiced by
the Government or the private sector. The LTTE began in
September 1990 forcibly conscripting labor for digging
trenches, building bunkers, and ferrying supplies.
      d. Minimum Age for Employment of Children
Employment of children under age 14 is prohibited by law except
that younger children are allowed to work an hour daily before
and after school on family farms. Employment of young persons
between 14 and 18 is subject to certain restrictions. In
addition, employers are required to provide young workers with
annual leave, rest periods, and meal breaks similar to those
provided to adult workers. There is no compulsory education
The regulations prohibiting child labor are not effectively
enforced. According to a 1991 government report, 500,000
youths and children are employed in contravention of these
regulations. The report also stated that 20,000 youths under
the age of 18 years were engaged in prostitution (in Sri Lanka
this means mostly males), and another 10,000 are begging on the
streets. Other sources indicate that there are probably tens
of thousands of children who work illegally on farms or as
domestics or in other menial jobs. Public awareness of this
problem is increasing, but efforts to redress it have been
hampered by the fact that in many cases child workers are an
important source of family income.
      e. Acceptable Conditions of Work
There is no national minimum wage, but wage boards for 37
different trades set minimum wages and working conditions. The
minimum wage is considered insufficient for a worker to
maintain a decent standard of living for the standard family of
five. The minimum wage law is effectively enforced by the
Labor Department and the courts.
Most permanent full-time workers are covered by laws that
prohibit them from working more than 45 hours per week and
require that they receive a 14-day paid annual holiday.
Minimum conditions for the protection of the safety and health
of workers are set forth in laws administered by the Department
of Labor, which employs a small staff of engineers and
inspectors for this purpose. Fines of up to $150 may be levied
on employers who fail to meet the prescribed standards. The
Department of Labor educates workers about minimum standards
for different workplaces and encourages the use of safety
equipment such as earplugs, helmets, and machine guards.
Government enforcement of health and safety standards is poor.