Country Report on Human Rights Practices for 1990

Sri Lanka's constitutional, multiparty form of government
features a strong executive presidency and a unicameral
legislature elected by universal adult suffrage. In the
1980 's, a gradually escalating conflict broke out between Sri
Lanka's majority Sinhalese and minority Tamil populations. By
1986 government security forces were involved in major
military operations against armed Tamil separatists. To end
the conflict, the governments of Sri Lanka and India in July
1987 concluded a peace accord, which included provision for
the decentralization of authority to provincial councils.
Radicals of both major ethnic groups refused to accept the
accord. In the Tamil-majority northeast, the Liberation
Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) waged guerrilla war against the
Indian Peace-Keeping Force (IPKF), introduced under the
Indo-Sri Lankan Accord, and India's militant Tamil allies.
Meanwhile, in the Sinhalese-majority south, government
security forces were pitted against the Janatha Vimukthi
Peramuna (JVP), which used terrorism in its attempt to
overthrow the Government.
By the end of 1989, security forces had captured or killed
much of the JVP top leadership. JVP cadres were unable to
regroup sufficiently in 1990 to resume their campaign of
intimidation. In the northeast, the IPKF completed its
withdrawal by March 31. While continuing negotiations with
the Government begun the year before, the LTTE seized control
of the Jaffna peninsula, routed India's Tamil allies in the
northeast, and assassinated rival Tamil politicians. The
Government enforced a policy of nonconf rontation during
negotiations, forbidding security forces to react to LTTE
provocations, acceding to LTTE demands for withdrawal from
some military and police positions in the northeast, and
taking other measures which lowered its defensive posture.
On June 11, the LTTE broke off negotiations and attacked
police stations and a military convoy in the east, apparently
killing hundreds of police officers who had surrendered. When
early attempts to arrange a cease—fire failed, security
forces spent the rest of the year trying to reestablish
security and civil administration in the face of continued
guerrilla attacks.
In response to escalating terrorism and armed insurgency,
since 1983 the Government has expanded its navy, air force,
and army to some 60,000 members. About 25,000 people serve in
the police force, including 2,000 police commandos in the
Special Task Force (STF) . The Government increased the Home
Guards to about 25,000 by the end of 1990 to help provide
security for Muslim and Sinhalese communities in the northeast
against LTTE attacks. Although recently the police have
increased Tamil recruitment and contingents of Muslim and
Tamil Home Guards have been created, security force personnel
are overwhelmingly Sinhalese.
The Tamil and JVP insurgencies have seriously damaged the
economy; per capita gross domestic product is less than $400.
About 60 percent of Sri Lanka's productive capacity is still
owned or controlled by the State. Remittances were
dramatically reduced as a result of the Iraqi invasion of
Kuwait, where nearly 100,000 Sri Lankans were working. At the
same time the economy showed surprising resiliency in 1990,
growing by more than 5 percent, in part due to Sri Lanka's
economic reform efforts.
The human rights situation in the northeast seriously
deteriorated again in the last half of 1990, after temporary
improvement in the first half of the year during the truce
between the Government and the LTTE. Extrajudicial killings
redoubled after the LTTE broke off negotiations with the
Government in June and went on the offensive, attacking not
only police forces but Sinhalese and Muslim villagers. In
response, regular security forces and newly armed home guards
carried out a number of abductions and extrajudicial
killings. In the south, the elimination of the JVP leadership
resulted in a sharp decline in extrajudicial killings after
January. However, vigilante groups, some believed to have
links with security force personnel, continued to operate
against JVP cadre.
The total number of noncombatant deaths was estimated to be
2,600. It was not known how many persons were under
detention, but estimates range as high as 16,000 by the
Government, mostly in the south, and several hundred to 2,000
held by the LTTE. Although there were human rights abuses on
a large scale, the Government brought only a limited number of
offenders to trial, and no cases had been concluded by year's
end. The Government increasingly responded to human rights
critics, for example by establishing a human rights task force
in November.
In addition to the wave of political and extrajudicial
killings carried out both by the LTTE and government forces,
other areas of human rights concern included numerous
disappearances (many carried out by government forces);
torture and mistreatment of prisoners by both groups;
widespread arbitrary detentions; restrictions on freedom of
speech, assembly, and association; and some discrimination
against Tamils and women.
The Prevention of Terrorism Act (PTA) and Emergency
Regulations (ER) , both of which grant security forces
wide-ranging powers, remained in effect in 1990, However,
some provisions of the latter were rescinded, including the
one of great concern to human rights workers—authorization
for the security forces to dispose of bodies without inquest.
Section 1 Respect for the Integrity of the Person, Including Freedom from:
      a. Political and Other Extrajudicial Killing
Political killing—carried out by the Government's security
forces, police, vigilante squads, and separatist
groups—remains a leading human rights problem. According to
government statistics and newspaper accounts, an estimate for
island-wide noncombatant deaths caused by both government and
antigovernment forces in 1990 was 2,600.
In the south, over 800 civilians had been killed in political
violence by the end of September. All but about 100 of these
deaths occurred in the first 3 months of the year, and life
for the vast majority of citizens in the south and west
returned to normal. A few members of the ruling and
opposition parties were among the civilians killed early in
the year. Many of these murders were probably committed by
armed groups in the employ of rival politicians, but
responsibility for individual killings generally could not be
established with certainty. Few arrests were made.
With the death or capture of most of the key JVP leaders by
the end of 1989, the number of deaths in the south
attributable to the JVP declined sharply. In contrast, over
200 JVP members and suspected JVP cadre had been killed by
government security forces by the end of September 1990. The
preponderance of evidence indicates that most of these were
extrajudicial killings. Opposition party members alleged that
some JVP detainees were summarily executed by the military
when they redeployed from the south to the northeast to meet
the new LTTE threat. There is no evidence to substantiate the
charge. In an earlier step to curb these types of security
force abuses, the Government in February lifted the ER
authorizing security forces to dispose of bodies without
inquest and in April established independent committees to
monitor the surrender of suspected JVP members.
Over half of the civilian political killings in the south were
vigilante-style deaths, characterized by mutilated or burned
bodies left in public areas. Many of those killed were
probably suspected JVP cadre. The Government denied knowledge
of the vigilantes' identities and declared they would be
treated as terrorists if captured. However, strong
circumstantial evidence and a wide range of observers,
including human rights groups, opposition politicians,
individual government officials, and members of the security
forces themselves, link individual security force members to
some vigilante groups. It is likely that vigilantes at times
operated with the knowledge and acquiescence of some
government officials.
The Government in 1989 announced that it would establish an
independent commission to investigate vigilante groups, but no
members were ever appointed. Charges were brought against
security force members in at least two vigilante cases, and
legal proceedings were initiated in at least 20 other cases in
which security force personnel allegedly murdered civilians
between 1988 and 1990. However, none of these cases had been
resolved by the end of the year, partly owing to a large
backlog in the judicial system and partly to killings and
intimidation of witnesses. In one case in which police
officers were accused of shooting a teenager, a number of
witnesses received death threats; three witnesses and an
attorney for the deceased's family were killed, one witness
disappeared after being abducted from his office by armed men,
and two lawyers connected with the case went into hiding. No
defendants appeared in court when the case came up for hearing
before the chief magistrate in January and March, and the
defendants requested dismissal for lack of evidence. No new
hearing date has been set.
In another important case, journalist and actor Richard de
Zoysa was abducted from his home in the middle of the night in
February; his body was found the next day. His mother claimed
that the abductors included police officers, two of whom she
identified. The Attorney General found insufficient evidence
to warrant an indictment against the accused police officers
and instructed the police to continue their investigation.
The attorney for the deceased's mother, local human rights
organizations, and the Bar Association of Sri Lanka (BASL)
alleged that the police conducted an inadequate investigation
because police officers were involved and called for an
independent investigative commission. The principal accused
officer retained his position in the police force during the
inquiry. The deceased's mother and her attorney received
death threats, as did the police guards assigned to the
attorney after he was threatened. Although motives for the
murder are not clear, speculation revolves around de Zoysa's
reporting on human rights matters for an international press
service, alleged ties to leftist organizations, including the
JVP, and reputed authorship of a satirical play aimed at
President Premadasa.
In a February case, 13 people were abducted by masked gunmen
who identified themselves as members of the security forces.
One escaped; the others' naked bodies were found partly
burned. Thirteen police officers were arrested in the case,
and six were charged with murder. The magisterial hearing had
not been completed at the end of 1990.
In the northeast, during the first half of 1990, as the IPKF
completed its withdrawal and the LTTE was establishing
dominance over other Tamil militant groups, the LTTE was
widely considered responsible for the deaths of many rival
Tamil politicians. The preponderance of evidence indicates
that the LTTE was also responsible for the deaths in May of a
Tamil parliamentarian in Colombo and 13 members (including
another parliamentarian) of a rival Tamil party who had taken
refuge in Madras, India.
In the second half of the year, more than 1,500 civilians were
believed to have died in the northeast during clashes between
the LTTE and the Government (see also Section l.g.).
      b. Disappearance
Disappearances of both Tamils and Sinhalese, usually young
men, continued in 1990. Such disappearances may have numbered
in the thousands, but the exact number is unknown. In many
cases, family members or other witnesses attested in sworn
affidavits to seeing persons—who later "disappeared"—being
arrested. Many affidavits described efforts to visit arrested
persons at police stations, military camps, or detention
centers; security officials claimed that the persons seen
being arrested were not in custody. Other families have
testified that detainees known to have been released never
returned home, presumably because they were killed after
There were also continuing instances in which fellow detainees
claimed to have seen in custody persons whom the security
forces denied arresting. In a few cases, detainees saw
missing persons taken away by security forces and not
returned. Such reports suggest that some missing persons were
killed by the security forces, perhaps in reprisal for attacks
on security force personnel and their families. While the
Government in February lifted the ER authorization granted to
the security forces to dispose of bodies without inquest,
other Emergency Regulations (55b-f) still restrict full,
public inquiries into the causes and circumstances of deaths.
In September two police officers were convicted of illegally
detaining and torturing a Muslim home guard in May 1989.
Compensation of over $500 was awarded, although the guard and
his parents had disappeared in December 1989. The guard and
his mother reportedly disappeared after they reported to a
police station, as the guard was required to do regularly as a
condition of his bail. The father disappeared after going to
look for the his wife and son at the police station.
Credible reports indicate that the security forces rounded up
large groups of Tamils and that many suspects were summarily
executed. In one case, credible sources reported that over
100 Tamils disappeared after being taken from a refugee camp
in the east in early September; the security forces maintain
that only 35 people from the camp were taken in for
questioning and that all were later released.
Sri Lankan attorneys brought 61 lawsuits in 1990 asking the
Government to produce missing persons. Many earlier cases
were dropped when the Government released over 3,000 Tamil and
Sinhalese militants. Government authorities are required to
respond within days to such suits under normal circumstances,
but the Prevention of Terrorism Act (PTA) permits a 12-month
delay. The Government has said that false names given to
conceal identity or affiliation and the possible departure
from the country of many detainees after a short detention
period complicate the process of accounting for disappeared
      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 ER 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
exacted under duress. 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. The trial of three police
officers, charged with murder in the death of a lawyer and
accused JVP activist while in police custody in September
1988, was still in progress at the end of 1990; there was
medical evidence that he had been beaten to death.
Police have also detained suspects on suspicion and used
torture to elicit information in criminal investigations. The
police officers convicted of illegally detaining and torturing
a home guard (see Section l.b.) were investigating a robbery.
The prisons ordinance defines two categories of prisoners:
remand prisoners or those awaiting trial have statutory rights
to visits by family members and legal counsel among other
privileges; convicted prisoners also have statutory rights but
these are less liberal. Harsher conditions are endured by
persons detained under the emergency regulations or the
prevention of terrorism statutes; they are held in army
stockades and prison camps not under the jurisdiction of the
prisons department, but these facilities also permit some
visits by relatives and lawyers. Beatings and torture do
occur in such facilities, and the Red Cross and local human
rights organizations are working to have them brought under
      d. Arbitrary Arrest, Detention, or Exile
The Constitution provides that no person "shall be arrested
except according to procedure established 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 are 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, permit preventive and
incommunicado detention.
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. 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. 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. In one case in 1990, persons acquitted in a
bombing trial were rearrested under the ER.
Persons may challenge the legality of their detention either
by filing a writ of habeas corpus in the Courts of Appeal or
by charging the Government before the Supreme Court with
violating fundamental constitutional rights. However, there
were cases in which these provisions did not provide effective
means of redress to persons alleging arbitrary detention. The
Courts of Appeal are located only in Colombo, necessitating
costly travel to the capital for those seeking redress.
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. The
Government in November proposed a constitutional amendment
that would extend this time limit to 4 months.
In September 1989 the Government stated it would file lists of
detainees with local officials and permit access to them by
family members and other interested persons. The Government
also said it would permit Members of Parliament to visit
certain places of detention after prior notice to the Ministry
of Defense. By the end of 1990, the Government had provided
the names of several thousand detainees to Members of
Parliament but had not yet provided lists to local officials.
The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) visited
over 600 places of detention, primarily in the south, where
most of the detention sites are located (see Section 4).
A three-person advisory board, first established in 1988,
reviews PTA and ER cases and makes nonbinding recommendations
for handling them. The Government concurred with many of the
board's recommendations in 1990, but disagreed with or delayed
implementing others. By mid-August, the board had reviewed
the cases of over 13,000 suspected JVP members, including
almost 3,000 who had surrendered to the independent "surrender
committees" established under the January 1990 Youth
Commission report on youth unrest. The board recommended the
release of over 2,000 detainees, the short-term rehabilitation
and release of around 6,000, and the long-term rehabilitation
or prosecution of over 4,000. According to government
statistics in mid-October, over 2,000 detainees had been
released and approximately 4,000 were in rehabilitation
centers. There was a credible report in October that the
Government had stopped releasing detainees in the south and
that, with new arrests, the detainee population had grown to
16,000. A government official also stated in August that the
Government had temporarily halted the release of JVP
Fearing LTTE attacks in Colombo after fighting broke out in
June, the Government arrested up to a thousand Tamils in the
capital area. Some were allegedly beaten while in custody.
After intervention by Tamil leaders and others, all but a few
reportedly were released. In October, apparently again
fearing LTTE attacks in Colombo after the LTTE allowed freer
travel from Jaffna and thousands made their way southward, the
Government, resuming an earlier practice, raided hotels and
arrested several hundred Tamil youths found there. It is not
known how many LTTE members or others were detained in the
northeast by the security forces during the second half of the
year. There are reports that the LTTE is holding as many as
4,000 political opponents in the northern peninsula but these
reports cannot 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 provide assistance to
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. 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.
According to law, the Sri Lankan judiciary is independent.
The President appoints all judges of the Sri Lankan 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).
In the northeastern province, hostilities and LTTE
intimidation prevented the judiciary from functioning in
1990 .
It is impossible to determine how many of the approximately
10,000 detainees the Government acknowledges holding might be
termed political prisoners. By mid-October, the Government
had brought indictments against more than 109 persons under
the PTA and 39 under the ER.
Arbitrary Interference with Privacy, Family, Home, or
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 Court.
Search and arrest warrants are normally required 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 extensively in 1990.
Government monitoring of telephones or correspondence is
believed to occur on a selective basis.
      g. Use of Excessive Force and Violations of Humanitarian Law in Internal Conflicts
During the second half of 1989 and the first half of 1990, a
truce was in effect between the LTTE and Government while the
two parties negotiated. During this time, the Government
acceded to a number of LTTE requests for withdrawal from
police and military positions. However, on June 11 the LTTE
attacked seven police stations in the east without warning,
reinitiating hostilities with the Government which continued
through 1990 and resulting in indiscriminate killing on a wide
scale. Over 600 police surrendered or were captured in the
initial attacks, and although most of the bodies have not been
found, it is widely believed that the LTTE killed at least 200
and probably many more. Despite government efforts to limit
the fighting to the Government and LTTE through frequent
public calls for communal restraint by the President and other
high officials, the stationing of extra security forces around
Colombo, and the recruitment of home guards to protect
villages, over 1,600 noncombatants were killed in the
northeast and adjacent areas between June 11 and the end of
the year. This figure, which is half the figure for combatant
fatalities, is based primarily on government and newspaper
accounts and is probably low since many reports of incidents
never reach the media. It is unclear what percentage of
civilian deaths is attributable to deliberate attacks by the
LTTE or government security forces and what percentage is the
result of civilians being caught in cross fire. The LTTE '
wide use of antipersonnel mines caused indiscriminate harm to
many in the northeast, and their tactic of hiding among the
Tamil population also led to civilian casualties as a result
of attacks against them. The predominantly Sinhalese security
forces, not always able to distinguish between Tamil civilians
and LTTE members out of uniform, caused an unknown number of
deaths. The LTTE reportedly forced Tamils to leave refugee
camps so that the guerrilla fighters would have better cover
for their movements. Tamils deserted scores of villages in
the east to avoid becoming victims of the fighting.
Beginning in mid-July, the LTTE attacked numerous Muslim and
Sinhalese villagers in the northeast and surrounding areas,
often hacking victims to death. In the first major incident,
the LTTE kidnaped, killed, and burned around 60 Muslims
returning from Colombo to their village in the east. In
October the LTTE threatened more such attacks if the
approximately 40,000 Muslims in a northwestern area did not
leave within a few days. The LTTE claimed that the Government
was responsible for the attacks, but there was no evidence of
government involvement. In one town where over 100 Muslims
were gunned down while praying in a mosque, relatives of
victims identified individual LTTE cadres among the
Under pressure to provide villagers in the northeast with
protection, the Government reportedly armed as many as 30,000
home guards, mostly Muslims, with shotguns and provided them
minimal training rather than spread the regular forces too
thinly. Although President Premadasa called for communal
restraint, by September there were credible reports of a
number of attacks on Tamil villagers in the east by Muslim
villagers and the newly recruited Muslim home guards. Despite
the President's appeals to the military for discipline, there
were numerous credible reports of abuses committed by the
military forces, including extrajudicial killings and
looting. Large numbers of Tamil youths rounded up during
cordon-and-search operations in the east have failed to return
to their homes (see Section l.b.). Credible eyewitnesses
report seeing piles of bodies—allegedly those of persons
seized by security forces— burning on tires in an eastern
town. An international organization source and some reputable
local residents estimate that over a thousand Tamils may have
been arrested and executed in an eastern district over the
period from June to October; however, there is no firm
evidence to corroborate this charge.
Many Tamils in the northern peninsula, dominated by the LTTE
since June, reported incidents of apparently indiscriminate
bombing of civilian areas. Some Tamil leaders in Colombo
claimed to have information from the peninsula that the Air
Force was, in fact, aiming for LTTE positions but inaccuracy
of fire and the location of LTTE military installations in
populated areas led to civilian casualties. A government
videotape revealed LTTE bunkers constructed in one school in
the north. Before heavy bombing around the besieged Jaffna
Fort, the Air Force repeatedly dropped leaflets warning
civilians to depart. As a result, there was considerable
damage to property around the fort but few civilians were
There were also reports of civilian deaths when security
forces returned LTTE mortar fire from civilian locations. In
some cases, LTTE fighters initiated attacks on government
forces from seized private houses, with the apparent intention
of provoking counterattacks on civilians. The Government
claims it often withheld return fire in such situations.
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.
Opposition groups alleged that the ER have been used directly
and indirectly to restrict free speech. For example, persons
wishing to post bills advertising meetings of any type are
required 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 known prosecutions for distribution of
"antigovernment" literature in 1990. 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 1990.
The Government controls the country's largest newspaper chain
and owns the radio and television services. Only governmentcleared
news is allowed to be broadcast on television. A
variety of independent newspapers and journals provide a range
of viewpoints on foreign policy and most domestic matters,
including human rights issues. Many newspapers criticize the
ruling party and the Government. Many small-circulation
periodicals are also published by opposition political parties.
In the wake of the murder of journalist Richard de Zoysa (see
Section l.a.), four other journalists left the country. One,
a correspondent for an international press agency, reportedly
left after receiving a government warning not to publish
stories concerning human rights. Journalists claim that they
must balance journalistic integrity with security
considerations vis-a-vis both the Government and
antigovernment radicals. Journalists have made credible
claims that various groups have required their newspapers to
run articles the groups have provided, and threatened the
journalists when their demands were not met. The media based
in the northern peninsula, where the LTTE has been dominant,
have exercised particular caution.
There was no formal political censorship in 1990, but some Sri
Lankans assert the Government can intimidate the press into
self-censorship. By threatening to take over private media
which it claims do not serve the public interest, for
instance, the Government allegedly prevented the media from
accepting advertisements from certain organizations. Although
the Government denies it, it is widely alleged by members of
the media that the Government also exerts pressure on the
press by controlling permits for the import of newsprint and
through placement of paid government announcements and
In 1990 the Government announced it would enforce the Press
Council Law, which prohibits unauthorized publication of
cabinet discussions and decisions. Charges have never been
brought under the law, but fear of sanctions further
encourages self-censorship. Early in 1990 an editor whose
newspaper had reported cabinet meeting conversations in detail
was removed after statements by the President's office that
media leaders should understand the intent of the Press
Council Law and that abuses would not be tolerated.
In February the Government lifted the section of the ER that
authorized suppression of any article or program that might be
prejudicial to national security, public order, or the
maintenance of essential services.
Although academic freedom is generally respected by the
Government, a new regulation was imposed in January banning
political or "disruptive" activities at all schools (see
Section 2.b.), and dozens of students were expelled from
university residences for unruly behavior.
      b. Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and Association
The Constitution provides for freedom of assembly and
association, but these rights can be restricted under
provisions of the ER and PTA. Sri Lanka has numerous private
associations, and they are free to maintain ties with
international bodies.
In January, shortly before the reopening of universities and
schools after a hiatus of 3 years, the Government issued a new
ER prohibiting political and disruptive activity in schools
and workplaces (see also Section 6.b.). Permission for
meetings must be obtained from the head of an institution.
Under this ER, the President (or his designee) was also
authorized to prohibit any public meetings "likely to cause a
disturbance to public order and promote disaffection." This
section of the ER was lifted in April. In practice, the
police issue or deny permits for outdoor meetings or
processions at the discretion of the superintendent of police
in each locality. In 1990 permits to hold public meetings
were denied in volatile situations where the Government felt
violence might erupt, such as public meetings called in August
in response to the LTTE massacres of Muslim and Sinhala
villagers. The Government retained in effect the order that
it issued in 1988 to its security forces to shoot on sight
illegal antigovernment demonstrators, but did not use it in
      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 freely.
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 freely 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 constitutional provisions are
generally honored. However, acting on evidence that Tamil
militants and their military supplies were frequently crossing
between southern India and northern Sri Lanka via the Palk
Strait after fighting broke out in June, the Government
attempted to interdict suspect boats, some of which carried
refugees. Despite accusations from various Tamil sources,
there is no evidence that the Navy deliberately fired on
refugee boats. The Government did, however, follow a policy
of turning back refugee boats bound for southern India after
Indian authorities complained about a wave of new refugees.
The Government has generally allowed nongovernmental
organizations (NGO's) and journalists free access to the
northeast. Exceptions occurred when area commanders forbade
travel because of short-term security problems.
Movement in the northeast was also restricted by local curfews
imposed by the Government during specific operations in the
second half of the year. According to credible reports,
movement in the north during this period was hazardous,
particularly by day, because the Air Force, working under the
assumption that only the LTTE had access to vehicles and fuel,
might fire at any vehicle moving on the roads. There were
reports of civilians traveling by bicycle and foot being fired
upon by aircraft.
The LTTE required civilians who wanted to leave the northern
peninsula to obtain written permission, submit to luggage
searches, and in some cases pay a large fee. Concerned about
potential LTTE threats in Colombo when the LTTE briefly
allowed freer movement out of the peninsula in October, the
Government required displaced persons coming to Colombo to
stay with friends or relatives, or in refugee camps, rather
than in unlicensed places of accommodation.
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. During 1990 the Government
helped with the return of almost 90,000 Sri Lankan nationals
displaced from jobs in Kuwait by the Iraqi invasion. There
were over 850,000 internally displaced persons in Sri Lanka by
the end of October. Most lived in refugee camps in the
northeast or adjacent provinces. Over 200,000 Sri Lankan
Tamil refugees left the island for southern India during 1990,
most in the second half of the year. In addition, as many as
40,000 Sri Lankan Tamils have sought refuge in Western Europe
and North America.
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.
In December 1988, the current President was elected with 50.4
percent of the popular vote, In February 1989, the
President's party won 50.7 percent of the popular vote and 125
of 225 seats in the nation's first parliamentary elections in
12 years. International observer teams found both elections
generally free and fair, given JVP attempts to disrupt the
voting, but the teams were very small and were able to monitor
only a small number of polling places. The leading opposition
presidential candidate challenged the results of the
presidential election in a petition to the Supreme Court. She
alleged that the prevailing violence, as well as governmentsponsored
coercion and vote fraud, unfairly influenced the
outcome. Witnesses were still being called at the end of
1990. The one election scheduled for 1990—election of
members of the Northeast Provincial Council—had to be
postponed indefinitely because of fighting in the area in the
second half of the year.
A total of 24 political parties are legally recognized; 8 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. One of these won 13 seats in Parliament to become
the third largest party there and the largest parliamentary
party in the northeast.
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 areas, 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 monitor human
rights, including the Civil Rights Movement and the Movement
for Interracial Justice and Ecjuality. They collect
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 addition to the killing of journalist Richard de
Zoysa (see Section l.a.), several human rights activists
reported receiving threats in 1990 either clearly or
presumably from members of the security forces.
The Government showed increased responsiveness to criticism of
human rights in Sri Lanka. As one example, the President
established a high-level human rights task force in November
which, if it fulfills its mandate, will inquire into human
rights cases referred to it by domestic and international
sources and promote the disciplining of members of the
security forces who commit human rights abuses. It will also
recommend to the President further steps to improve the
Government's human rights performance. Senior government
officials have made themselves available to visitors looking
into human rights issues and have responded to inquiries from
the United Nations Human Rights Commission (UNHRC) and foreign
governments. The Government in July invited the UNHRC
Subcommission on Disappearances to visit Sri Lanka early in
1991, but, because of the Subcommission' s schedule, the trip
is now set for September 1991. However, the Government has
denied Amnesty International permission to visit. In October
1989, 6 years after the ICRC had first offered its services,
the Government invited an ICRC team to visit Sri Lanka to
extend humanitarian assistance. In November 1989, the team
began visiting places of detention to interview JVP suspects
and by June 1990 had visited over 600 places of detention and
registered more than 15,000 detainees. In the north, however,
the Indian Peacekeeping Force denied the ICRC access to
prisoners it held.
Several times in 1990 the Government prevented human rights
activists from removing human rights-related materials from
the country. In one case the material was a newspaper article
from a major Colombo English- language daily. In another
instance, a Member of Parliament was prevented from taking
documents concerning human rights abuses to a session of the
Subcommission on Disappearances of the UNHRC in Europe. The
vast majority of the documents were returned to the
parliamentarian several weeks later, after extensive publicity
and the threat of legal action against the Government.
Section 5 Discrimination Based on Race, Sex, Religion,
Language, or Social Status
Tamils have long charged with some justification that they
suffer systematic discrimination in competition for university
entrance, employment opportunities, and other matters under
government control. Government officials have denied these
charges, pointing out that prominent Tamils occupy
senior-level civil service positions. Many of these Tamils
are approaching retirement age, however, and there are few
Tamils in the lower ranks of the civil service and military to
take their places. The low proportions are due in part to
Tamils declining many positions offered them in government and
the security forces because of ethnic hostilities in the
1980 's. There was no evidence of systematic or official
discrimination in university enrollment or government or
private employment in 1990. Under the Constitution's 13th
Amendment, enacted in November 1988 to implement the terms of
the Indo-Sri Lanka Accord, Tamil and Sinhalese were made
coofficial languages and English the "link" language.
However, one observer estimates that 98 percent of all schools
still are segregated by language. During 1990 the Government
continued its efforts to resuscitate the teaching of English
as a lingua franca.
Indian Tamils have suffered particular discrimination. 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 of these stateless Tamils. 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 simple request. The new legislation did not
cover some 94,000 Tamils who themselves or whose parents once
applied for Indian citizenship but who now wish to stay in Sri
Lanka. These will be compelled to leave Sri Lanka, presumably
for India. None, however, had been forced to leave by the end
of 1990.
To help address Tamil concerns, the Government had been
attempting to recruit Tamils to the largely Sinhalese m.ilitary
and to establish a predominantly Tamil police force for the
northeast province. There were few Tamil volunteers for the
military, but a number of candidates for the provincial police
force were offered by the LTTE. Allegations by some Tamil
leaders that the Government deliberately delayed hiring Tamil
policemen are difficult to judge, and the plan for a
provincial police force could not be implemented because of
the LTTE attacks in June.
Complaints in the past that Buddhists had an advantage over
members of other religions in winning senior government
positions are still heard, but less frequently. Members of
all religious groups hold influential positions in the
Government and in major political parties.
Sri Lankan women have equal rights under the law, including
equal property and inheritance rights. However, various
ethnic and religious groups have their own strictures which
place limitations on women. Some Tamil families believe their
women members should not be seen working in public. 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 equal
or similar work.
Violence against women occurs in Sri Lanka, but little is
published 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 family 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 infrequent reports
of rape, wife beating, and murder of wives by husbands.
Several women's advocacy groups have begun 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 1985. Charged with investigating individual complaints on
the basis of race, religion, language, caste, sex, political
opinion, or place of birth, the commission resolved over 200
complaints by year's end. Many of these complaints were
related to the workplace.
Section 6 Worker Rights
      a. The Right of Association
The Constitution provides for freedom of assembly and
association and the right to form and join trade unions. Any
seven workers may form a union, draw up their own procedures,
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,
and have done so frequently in the past. There were only a
few strikes in 1990. These were 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, the President may declare any
business to be an essential service, making a strike illegal.
There were no JVP-enforced involuntary strikes during 1990, as
there had been in the years 1987-89.
Together, about 1,000 labor unions and federations—there are
no clearly 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
ruling party.
      b. The Right to Organize and Bargain Collectively
Antiunion discrimination is prohibited by law, and workers are
expressly granted the right to bargain collectively by
formation of workers' councils to promote a voluntary
worker-employer dialogue. 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 may arbitrate when workers and employers are not able
to resolve a dispute. These officers are stationed throughout
the country to assure that employers fulfill their legal and
contractual obligations to workers and to be available for
mediation in minor local disputes.
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 do
not have access to workers inside the zone. Zone employees
participate in labor-management company associations. Workers
in the zone have the same legal right to strike, but in
practice strikes are rare. Workers in the unorganized
agricultural sector are not covered by labor laws, although
the Government may investigate individual complaints. In
January a new regulation prohibiting political or disruptive
activities at all workplaces and schools took effect (see
Section 2.b.). At that time, there had been no JVP-enforced
strikes for 6 months, and concern was expressed that the
regulation, which requires obtaining permission from the head
of an institution before holding a meeting, might be used to
prohibit legitimate labor activity. To date the regulation
has not been enforced in the workplace.
      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 forcibly
conscripting labor for digging trenches and building bunkers
beginning in September 1990.
      d. Minimum Age for Employment of Children
Employment of children under age 12 is prohibited. Those
between ages 12 and 14 are called child workers and may not be
employed in industry or daiigerous occupations. Employment of
young persons between 15 and 18 is subject to certain
restrictions. Employees under age 18 cannot be required to
work outside specified hours. 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 law.
In practice there is a work force of children, probably
numbering in the thousands, who work illegally, mostly at jobs
in rice cultivation, as domestics, or as street peddlers.
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.
For example, the minimum wage rate for nurses, bus drivers,
and garment workers is about $25 per month. Actual wages and
working conditions generally exceed these minimums , which many
union leaders consider insufficient for maintaining a decent
standard of living. Most permanent full-time workers are
covered by laws that provide that they shall work no more than
45 hours per week and that they will receive a 14-day paid
annual holiday.
Minimum conditions for the protection of the safety and health
of workers are set forth in legislation passed by Parliament
and implemented by the Department of Labor, which employs a
small staff of engineers and inspectors for this purpose.
Fines 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 and
safety guards. Government enforcement of health and safety
standards is poor.