Claims that the Minister for Prison Affairs broke into prison while drunk and forced Tamil inmates to kneel under threat of weapon put in the middle of UN discussions on the country's human rights record.
COLOMBO, Sri Lanka - A senior official in Sri Lanka accused of breaking into prisons and mistreating political prisoners at the same time the government of the island nation downplayed concerns about worsening human rights conditions resigned on Wednesday, officials said.
Charges of abuse against Lohan Ratwatte, the minister of state responsible for prison management and prisoner reintegration, arose during the ongoing UN debate in Geneva on Sri Lanka's human rights record.
Michelle Bachelet, UN Commissioner for Human Rights, spoke called for "special attention" to the increase of the "milipricing and lack of responsibility ”in the country still under the shock of its almost- three decades of civil war .
"Unfortunately , the surveillance, intimidation and judicial harassment of human rights defenders, journalists and families of the missing not only continued, "said Bachelet," but has spread to a broader spectrum of students, academics, health professionals and religious leaders critical of government policies. "
Opposition parties and activists have accused Mr. Ratwatte for entering prisons twice while intoxicated this month, and on one such occasion, for mistreating prisoners held for belonging to, or aiding, the defeated guerrilla movement known asof Tamil Tigers. He is accused of having forced several prisoners to kneel for him at gunpoint.
Mr. Ratwatte, in a statement announcing his resignation, did not appear to accept responsibility and said he was stepping down to avoid embarrassing the government.
But President Gotabaya Rajapaksa's office said in a statement that Ratwatte had assumed "responsibility for the incidents in Welikada and Anuradhapura prisons." to resign from a second post he holds, as Minister of State for Gemstone and Jewelry Industries.
The Commission Sri Lanka Human Rights Lawyer said in a statement on Wednesday that it was investigating charges of abuse in prisons.
Senaka Perera, leader of the advocacy group of the Committee for Protection of prisoners' rights, said Mr. Ratwatte broke into the Welikada Pr ison while intoxicated on September 6, and then into Anuradhapura prison on September 12, which coincided with National Prisoners Day. , a commemoration intended to raise awareness of the well-being of detainees.
Gajen Ponnambalam, member of Parliament of the Tamil National Popular Front who also brought the accusation, said Tamil political prisoners were seen lnerable because they are being held under a law that allows long-term detention without trial or conviction. Human rights activists expressed concern that prisoners held under the law, known as the Prevention of Terrorism Act, are often targets of harassment, abuse and revenge attacks.
"The fact that the minister who is supposed to be going about their own business threatening to kill them can in no way make their trauma worse! "M. Ponnambalam said on Twitter .
The civil war in Sri Lanka ended in 2009 when the government of Mahinda Rajapaksa ruthlessly crushed the Tamil Tigers, a separatist group that championed the cause of minorities but often resorted to violent attacks and massive bombardments. The road to reconciliation in the country since has been turbulent.
A coalition government has arrivede in power in 2015 has pledged to be held to account for crimes committed during the latter part of the war and to respond to the grievances of the Tamil minority. But activists say much of the already slow progress was reversed by the return to power of the Rajapaksa family in 2019 - the old one. President Mahinda Rajapaksa became Prime Minister and his brother of the wartime Defense Minister Gotabaya Rajapaksa was elected President. Under their reign, the government is accused of pursuing a policy which continues to alienate minorities.
Since taking power, Mr. Rajapaksa has pardoned several officials accused of committing war crimes in the final years of the conflict and called some of the promisesresponsibility for "political victimization" of security guards.
In March, the United Nations human rights body has adopted a resolution which strengthened the work of collecting evidence on crimes committed during the war, a process which Ms. Bachelet said had begun.
The government of Sri Lanka continues to reject this call, saying its own internal mechanisms can address concerns without interference in its internal affairs that could affect the country .