Friday, April 22, 2011

UN: Sri Lanka’s crushing of Tamil Tigers may have killed 40,000 civilians

By Colum Lynch | The Washington Post

Sri Lanka’s decisive 2008-09 military offensive against the country’s separatist Tamil Tigers may have resulted in the deaths of as many as 40,000 civilians, most of them victims of indiscriminate shelling by Sri Lankan forces, according to a U.N. panel established by Secretary General Ban Ki-moon.

The panel recommended that Ban set up an “independent international mechanism” to carry out a more thorough probe into “credible” allegations of war crimes and crimes against humanity by the Sri Lankan government and the Liberation Tigers of the Tamil Eelam (LTTE), which held more than 300,000 civilians “hostage” to enforce a “strategic human buffer between themselves and the advancing Sri Lankan army.”

ri Lanka’s decisive 2008-09 military offensive against the country’s separatist Tamil Tigers may have resulted in the deaths of as many as 40,000 civilians, most of them victims of indiscriminate shelling by Sri Lankan forces, according to a U.N. panel established by Secretary General Ban Ki-moon.

The panel recommended that Ban set up an “independent international mechanism” to carry out a more thorough probe into “credible” allegations of war crimes and crimes against humanity by the Sri Lankan government and the Liberation Tigers of the Tamil Eelam (LTTE), which held more than 300,000 civilians “hostage” to enforce a “strategic human buffer between themselves and the advancing Sri Lankan army.”

The Sri Lankan commission is “deeply flawed, does not meet international standards for an effective accountability mechanism and, therefore, does not and cannot satisfy the joint commitment of the President of Sri Lanka and the [U.N.] secretary general to an accountability process,” according to the report.

The report offers an implicit criticism of Ban’s attempts to use quiet diplomacy to persuade Sri Lanka’s president, Mahinda Rajapaksa, a longtime friend, to bring a halt to the worst excesses in the conflict. It also faulted the U.N. reluctance to publish casualty estimates to rally international pressure against Sri Lanka.

At the time, the United Nations had informed diplomatic missions that more than 7,000 civilians may have been killed during the final stages of the conflict but was reluctant to make those figures public. Some U.N. officials in Colombo, the Sri Lankan capital, thought that the toll was far higher.

“Although senior international officials advocated in public and in private with the government that it protect civilians and stop the shelling of hospital and United Nations or [International Committee of the Red Cross] locations, in the panel’s view, the public use of casualty figures would have strengthened the call for the protection of civilians while those events in the Vanni were unfolding.”

Still, human rights groups praised Ban for authorizing the panel’s examination of excesses in the Sri Lankan war and pressed the United Nations, the United States and other key governments to establish an international investigation into the alleged crimes.

“The Sri Lankan government has thus far gotten away with doing the very thing the Security Council stopped [Moammar] Gaddafi from doing in Libya,” said Tom Malinowski, Human Rights Watch’s advocacy director in Washington. “The least the council can do is to pursue the truth about these tens of thousands of civilians who died.”

Malinowski said it would be reckless for the United States and other key powers to turn a blind eye to Sri Lankan excesses, saying it would encourage others to ignore the rules of war in prosecuting wars on their own insurgencies.

© The Washington Post

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Friday, April 22, 2011

Sri Lanka UN report delayed as Government hits back

Channel 4

The Sri Lankan government appears to have successfully delayed the publication of a critical UN report. By securing an agreement that the report's release would be held back until a Sri Lankan government response could be prepared, the Colombo authorities look to have forced the deferral of its release. It may be published over the Easter weekend, but is likely to receive much less global attention as a result.

The report on atrocities committed at the end of the 26-year Sri Lanka war, which has already been leaked, was compiled by a UN panel advising the Secretary General on accountability, and accuses both the Sri Lankan Government and the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE or Tamil Tigers) of "crimes against humanity".

It focuses in the main on the Government's responsibility for the deaths of tens of thousands of civilians in the final bloody months of the civil war in 2009, which ended with Government victory.


Ahead of the expected publication, the Sri Lankan Foreign Minister said the report had overstepped its mandate.

Foreign Minister GL Peiris said: "So how can this panel transform itself into an investigative panel? They must confine themselves to the limit of their mandate."

He said Sri Lanka had strongly urged UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon not to formally publish the report, and declined to comment on the detail until it was published. Sri Lanka banned the panel from entering the country during its investigations.

"We are very much conscious of the fact that the need of the hour is reconciliation," Mr Peiris said. "What needs to be emphasised is oneness and solidarity...we have to consider whether it is useful to have a report of this nature."


Professor Rajiva Wijesinha, a Sri Lankan MP who was central to the Government's reconciliation efforts towards the end of the war, told Channel 4 News the report was "vulgar".

Professor Wijesinha, the former Secretary-General of the Sri Lankan Government Secretariat for Coordinating the Peace Process (SCOPP), and former Secretary to the Ministry of Disaster Management and Human Rights, said: "The bulk of the Sri Lankans will find this report a very vulgar exercise.

"I don't think anyone's got particularly excited about it at the moment, I think it is important that members of the Security Council have made it very very clear that this is not an official document and I think this whole exercise has been rather regrettable.

"As I told the British, if you want us to hark back to terrorism, we are not playing at all. If you want to encourage us to work with the Tamil population of Sri Lanka, well that's what we want to do."


The report will suggest there are "credible allegations" of war crimes which - if proven - suggest a "grave assault on the entire regime of international law". It will indicate that actions by both the Sri Lankan government and the Tamil Tigers could amount to war crimes and crimes against humanity.

These alleged crimes include executions, rape and torture by Government forces. The leaked report also lists the shelling of civilians inside "no-fire zones", the "systematic shelling" of hospitals and attacks on the UN and Red Cross.

The LTTE stands accused of refusing civilians permission to leave the conflict zone and "using them as hostages" in a "buffer zone". The report also took into account a Channel 4 News video, which appeared to show executions and raised new questions over war crimes.

The Sri Lankan Government maintains it should be allowed to look into its own affairs through its Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission.

But many human rights organisations, as well as civilians, who are still searching for their family members or grieving for those they lost in the war, feel that someone must be held to account and international pressure could be the only way.

Dr Manoharan, whose son was killed by security forces in 2006, told Channel 4 News he has been searching for justice for his son, and all the other victims in Sri Lanka, ever since.

© Channel 4

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Friday, April 22, 2011

UN experts’ report makes the case for genocide

By Jan Jananayagam | Tamil Guardian

Based on leaked extracts, the UN expert panel’s report on Sri Lanka constitutes a watershed moment in international understanding of the crimes committed in the closing phase of the war in Sri Lanka.

Crucially, although the word does not appear in the extracts, the report’s contents well supports the charge that Sri Lanka engaged in genocide of the Tamils. The report lays out in detail the calculated, deliberate and systematic targeting of Tamil civilians by the Sri Lankan armed forces, operating under the direct command of the country’s top political leadership.

The former UN spokesperson in Sri Lanka, Gordon Weiss, has aptly termed the publishing of the UN experts’ report as a ‘Srebrenica’ moment for Sri Lanka and indeed for the world.

The analogy is correct on many counts. Firstly, it was in relation to Srebrenica that the ICTY (International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia) most clearly formulated the principle that part destruction – specifically, a geographically contained (i.e a small territory) destruction - of an ethnic or national group constituted genocide.

Deaths and more

The ICTY held to be genocide the systematic executions of an estimated 8,000 Bosnian men and boys -or 1 in 5 - out of a population of 40,000 (the target group) in Srebrenica, and a total population of 2 million. However, the now well substantiated allegations against Sri Lankan state and the Rajapakse regime are an order of magnitude greater.

The UN expert panel finds that a credible estimate of civilian deaths in the Vanni would be 75,000 (or nearly ten times Srebrenica’s grim total) from an estimated population of 330,000 Tamils (or 1 in 4 of the target group), out of a total population of 3 million Tamils in Sri Lanka.

The report also estimates the ratio of physically injured to dead as 1:2 or 1:3, and says the number killed could be much higher. It notes that approximately 40,000 surgical procedures and 5,000 amputations were carried out on the wounded, under horrific conditions.

The genocide convention, of course, covers not just killing but serious physical or mental harm. And the UN experts’ report goes on to provide harrowing details of the subhuman medical and humanitarian conditions the Sri Lankan state created for the Vanni population, surrounded by its armed forces, by withholding food and medical supplies and relentless bombardment for months on end.

Deliberate, systematic, widespread

The UN experts’ report makes clear the deliberate, widespread and systematic nature of the physical harm and destruction that the Sri Lankan state inflicted on the Tamils. This not only meets the International Criminal Court’s (ICC) definition of ‘Crimes Against Humanity’ (as the expert panel makes clear), it also demonstrates, crucially, the strategic logic - i.e. the intent to destroy – that makes this genocide.

As genocide experts recognize, it is not necessary to have explicit or recorded statements of intent to destroy or indeed explicit orders to this end. For example, not even the Nazis left a traceable trail of explicit orders for the various forms of destruction of their target groups. Intent can be inferred, often where no other plausible explanation is possible.

To return to Srebrenica, it is not the numbers that make the comparison valid. Indeed, the Rajapaksa regime seems to have adopted the modalities of the Serbian genocide.

Srebrenica was also a designated a safe haven (by the UN), encouraging civilians to concentrate there, and thereby making the mass killings possible. As the UN experts’ report notes, in Vanni, the Sri Lankan state three consecutively times declared ‘No fire Zones’, thereby encouraging civilians to concentrate there, before unleashing its mass bombardments.

The charge of genocide against the Rajapakse regime is simply this: that from the outset, it intended to substantially destroy the target group, namely the Tamils in the Vanni, and to ethnically cleanse the region in such a way that the community living there would not be able to be ever reconstituted in its original form.

Selected site

The ICTY found that the Srebrenica was chosen for its cataclysmic destruction because of the location’s strategic significance for the viability of the Bosnian state. As the ICTY’s 2004 report (p6) found, “capture and ethnic purification of Srebrenica would therefore severely undermine the military efforts of the Bosnian Muslim state to ensure its viability.”

Similarly, Sri Lanka marked the Vanni for a hammer blow because of its symbolism as a Tamil heartland and its strategic significance for the viability of a Tamil state. In a continuation of this logic, two years after the war ended, the vast majority of returning Tamils live under tarpaulins and corrugated sheets, while the Sri Lankan military sets up increasing numbers of bases and camps and, in parts, settles Sinhalese.

Crucially, the ICTY found that Serbian forces decided that “the elimination of the Muslim population of Srebrenica, despite the assurances given by the international community, would serve as a potent example to all Bosnian Muslims of their vulnerability and defenselessness in the face of Serb military forces.”

Similarly, the Sri Lankan state sought to deal the Tamil people such a traumatizing blow that they would no longer challenge Sinhala dominance of the entire island. As President Rajapaksa declared afterwards, the idea (of an independent Tamil Eelam) that began at Vaddukoddai in 1976 had been ended at Mulliyavikal in 2009.

Realisation dawning

While the UN experts’ report has not labeled what it oulines as genocide, it is clearly cognizant of the presence of the necessary indicators; the report is unequivocal that “[Sri Lanka’s] campaign constituted persecution of the population of the Vanni.”

Genocides do not occur outside of historical context and a prevailing racism. As many historians note, the Nazis’ extermination of Jews occurred amid the latent anti-Semitism in Europe of that period, and prior centuries of persecution.

The UN experts’ account of the events of 2009 have to be located, therefor, in their proper historic and contemporary trajectory. In successfully killing1 in 4 of the people of Vanni, the Rajapakse regime was continuing long-running trends of ethnic cleansing and annihilitary persecution undertaken by earlier governments.

As such, it is not the recognition of Vanni as Sri Lanka’s Srebrenica moment that is so surprising but the fact that this took so long to happen.

© Tamil Guardian

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Friday, April 22, 2011

Sri Lanka: UN reneges on releasing report “this week”

Photo courtesy: UN News & Media

By Matthew Russell Lee | Inner City Press

After the UN said it would release its Panel of Experts' report on Sri Lanka “this week,” at 6:20 pm the evening before the Easter holiday UN acting deputy spokesman Farhan Haq backtracked and announced that it would not be released this week. He referred to “after the Easter holiday,” but he had also said “this week.”

The expectation had been that the long delayed report, on which Sri Lanka's Rajapaksa government has already called protests and begun to solicit signatures for a petition of opposition, would finally be released at the April 21 noon briefing.

But Farhan Haq remained on the phone half an hour into the briefing. When he arrived, Inner City Press asked:

Inner City Press: Yesterday you said, 'We’re expecting a response from the Government of Sri Lanka. That doesn’t need to tie our hands. As I have said repeatedly, we will put it out this week.' So what changed?

Acting Deputy Spokesperson Haq: That hasn’t changed; the week is still happening.

Inner City Press: Yeah, but tomorrow is Easter. It’s Easter holiday.

Acting Deputy Spokesperson: Tomorrow is not Easter. Tomorrow is Good Friday.

Inner City Press: I understand; the UN is closed tomorrow. So why would you put out a report when the UN is closed?

Acting Deputy Spokesperson: We’ll put out a report as soon as we can. We are also, like I said, in discussions and we’re trying to give the fair opportunity — which is a reasonable thing — to allow for people the right of response. At the same time, that doesn’t bind our hands. I have made it clear: we will put out the report and we will put it out in full, and without amendment.

Inner City Press: Does this week mean tomorrow? Or are you counting the weekend?

Acting Deputy Spokesperson: I can’t… It could mean later today. We’ll keep you posted on when we put this out.

Again Haq said “this week,” that nothing had changed, that the UN hadn't allowed Sri Lanka to bind the UN's hand. Then six hours later he announced that the report would not be released on Thursday, and not at least for the three days after that.

Inner City Press asked,

Inner City Press: Can you confirm that yesterday there was a meeting in the North Lawn Building by the secretariat of the Panel and UN agencies, very much anticipating that it would be released today? And if you do confirm, that’s one. And two is, sort of, what changed? On 12 April or 13, was it Mr. [Vijay] Nambiar who handed in to Shavendra, General Shavendra Silva? And did he say, “you have a chance to respond?” Why would you allow them at the last second to sort of… has something changed between then and now that you would now put this off today?

Acting Deputy Spokesperson Haq: The discussions have been going on for some time, and they continue to be going on. Like I said, we are working in good faith to accord to the Member State involved the rights to which they reasonably can be seen to exercise. At the same time, this is a very serious issue. It is very important that the report comes out, and we do intend to put this out. Yes, we have briefed the relevant agencies about some of what they can expect. At the same time, we have made it… we’ve been very clear about not putting out bits of the report. We haven’t leaked the report. We’ve been basically working, like I said, in good faith to put this out at the appropriate time. And we will put this out at the appropriate time.

Haq turned on to other questions. Finally Inner City Press noted it had “more questions on Sri Lanka, including the ones I e-mailed you.” These questions, posed in the morning of April 21, have not been acknowledged or answered

“please state the role of Mr. Nambiar in reviewing the report, please disclose how much was spent by the UN in preparing the report, please state whether the Panel or any member traveled to Sri Lanka and if not, why not, and please deny or confirm and describe any meeting by any Sri Lanka government official since the Panel's work began.”

© Inner City Press

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Friday, April 22, 2011

Sri Lanka: Government adopts time-tested strategy to thwart UN report

By Amantha Perera | Inter Press Service

These are trying times for the Mahinda Rajapaksa government here. Faced with renewed international scrutiny over alleged abuses during the last phase of the island’s bloody civil war, the government has once again readied itself to face off global giants, yet another test of will and skill on the global stage.

The impending release of a report by the advisory panel set up by U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon on Sri Lanka has set off an international firestorm. Part of the report that was handed over by the secretary-general’s office to Sri Lanka during the third week of April has already leaked to the press. The full executive summary appeared in a local English newspaper ‘The Island’ over the weekend - detailing recommendations for an international probe into the last stages of the war that ended in May 2009.

The report is expected to be made public this week by the Secretary General’s office.

The report, its contents and recommendations are not new. Rights groups made similar charges even before the war ended. The only difference this time is that it has at least the stamp of the U.N. Secretary General’s office on it.

The Rajapaksa government too is not in unchartered waters, on the contrary, it is very much used to facing off international scrutiny, both nimbly and not so subtly.

The government is once again lobbying friendly nations like India, China and Russia to counter balance pressure brought in international fora from western powers like the U.S. and European Union members.

Russia has already indicated that it was backing the Sri Lankan government. On Apr. 19, Russia objected to any discussions on the report at the Security Council. The report had been listed as a topic of discussion before the Russian opposition was indicated.

A day later, the Russian ambassador in Sri Lanka criticised the report, the first time such a reaction has come from a high profile diplomat. "We speak not about a ‘U.N. report’, since it was prepared neither by a U.N. body or nor even by its request. It was just a personal initiative of the U.N. Secretary General," Ambassador Valdimir Mikhaylov said, following a meeting with Defence Secretary Gotabaya Rajapaksa at the defence ministry.

The Russian diplomat also hinted that the report and its contents could be disruptive to reconciliation efforts after decades of war. "When Sri Lanka [is] healing its wounds after [a] long armed conflict, the U.N. may render its assistance, if needed, and not complicate the process of reconciliation," Mikhaylov said.

Observers here say that the government was expected to lobby hard for support from other nations like China, neighbour India and members of the non-aligned group. Foreign Minister G. L. Peiris had lined up series of meetings with Colombo based diplomats to detail the government’s reaction as the release of the report was imminent this week.

"This policy [of lobbying friendly nations] is something that has worked for them in the past. They are pretty confident that it will work this time as well," retired Additional Foreign Secretary Nanda Godage told IPS.

Russia and China have consistently blocked any resolution against Sri Lanka at the U.N. Security Council. In May 2009 as the war was heading for a decisive victory for the government, Russia, India and China were pivotal when an EU sponsored resolution to investigate rights violations here was defeated at the Geneva-based U.N. Human Rights Council.

Godage is also of the view that internal U.N. politics may have played a part in the report. "It is a name and shame report. It looks as if it was done with the re-election of the Secretary General very much in mind," he said, describing the report as an effort to please three permanent members of the U.N. Security Council critical of Sri Lanka - U.S., UK and France.

The Sri Lankan government is very likely to thwart any new efforts to bring a resolution to the Security Council based on the new report. But one observer here cautioned that the report could be a long-term headache for the government.

"It can be stalled at the Security Council, but then there is nothing stopping it from being on the agenda of the next Human Rights Council sessions," said Jehan Perera, the executive director of the National Peace Council, a national advocacy body. "How long can the stalling go on, and what happens if one of the big guns supporting Sri Lanka changes its stance."

Godage told IPS that Sri Lanka made a terrible mistake in initially refusing to recognise the panel’s legitimacy, but then changing track with officials meeting panel members. "The government should have kept up its aggressive stance."

He believes that the government now has to come up with its own credible report on the conduct of the war. "Not a report that is just from the ministry of defence or the ministry of foreign affairs, but a national report using expertise of those with international recognition."

Perera also agreed that if the government wanted to make a clean break, a credible internal mechanism was a must.

A national commission appointed by President Rajapaksa to look into the conduct of the war is expected to hand in its report by May 15, but has been criticised by international rights bodies as falling short of international standards.


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Friday, April 22, 2011

U.N. war crimes panel overstepped its mandate - Sri Lanka

By Shihar Aneez | Reuters

A panel advising the U.N. secretary-general on accountability for the bloody end of Sri Lanka's war overstepped its mandate by producing a investigative report concluding there are "credible allegations" of war crimes, Sri Lanka said on Thursday (21).

The panel, whose report has been leaked to newspapers on the Indian Ocean island, primarily blames the government for what it says were tens of thousands of civilian casualties, and urged the prosecution of those responsible for rights violations.

The report focuses on the final months of Sri Lanka's quarter-century war with the separatist Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), which ended with the annihilation of the Tiger leadership and government victory in May 2009.

Foreign Minister G.L. Peiris said the panel was appointed strictly to advise U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, and not to investigate or become a fact-finding body.

"So how can this panel transform itself into an investigative panel? They must confine themselves to the limit of their mandate," Peiris told reporters, adding that Sri Lanka had strongly urged Ban not to formally publish the report.

The report by the panel appointed by Ban represents the biggest pressure brought to bear on the government since the end of the war, when Western governments pushed in vain for a ceasefire to protect civilians.

Sri Lanka's government has consistently denied allegations that it targeted civilians. It has acknowledged that some were killed as troops advanced on an ever-shrinking patch of land on the northeastern coast of the island.


Many ordinary Sri Lankans are bemused at the push to investigate war crimes, now that the country is enjoying its first peace in almost 30 years.

"We live in peace and harmony and now the U.N. wants to disturb the peace we achieved by defeating terrorism," farmer M.A.V. Upul Kumara, 40, told Reuters after signing a petition against the report sponsored by the Jathika Hela Urumaya political party, led by nationalist Buddhist monks.

As it did when under pressure to slow its offensive as the Tigers were encircled and holding hundreds of thousands of people as human shields, Sri Lanka has sought Chinese and Russian backing at the U.N. Security Council.

Peiris declined to comment on the contents of the report itself, saying it had not been formally published.

He urged the United Nations not to preempt the findings of the government's Lessons Learned and Reconciliation Commission (LLRC), and said the U.N. report should include those findings.

Sri Lanka barred the U.N. panel from the country.

"We are very much conscious of the fact that the need of the hour is reconciliation," Peiris said. "What needs to be emphasised is oneness and solidarity ... we have to consider whether it is useful to have a report of this nature."

The panel says the LLRC fails to meet international standards. President Mahinda Rajapaksa founded the commission under a post-war agreement with Ban to look at the end of the war.

Sri Lanka has a four-decade history of commissions of inquiry that have failed to hold anyone responsible for rights violations running the gamut from murder and abduction to torture and intimidation during three separate insurgencies.

The LTTE fought to establish a separate state for Sri Lanka's minority Tamils, who have complained of persecution by successive governments ruled by the Sinhalese majority since independence from Britain in 1948.

Sri Lanka also experienced 1971 and 1988-89 uprisings by Marxists, which the government crushed violently at the cost of more than 100,000 lives, primarily young, rural members of the Sinhalese community.

© Reuters

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Friday, April 22, 2011

Ex-detainees claim AFP officer witnessed torture in Sri Lanka

By Joel Keep and Rebecca Leaver | ABC News

The Department of Foreign Affairs (DFAT) has expressed concern over the conduct of security forces working in cooperation with the Australian Federal Police (AFP) in Sri Lanka.

Two former Christmas Island detainees arrested by Sri Lanka's Criminal Investigation Department (CID) after they were deported from Australia in 2009 claim to have been abused by members of the unit in the presence of an AFP officer.

Their lawyer, Lakshan Dias, says CID officers beat the men with wooden planks and threatened to rape their family members.

He says an AFP agent was visiting the CID headquarters in Colombo at the time.

"I was tortured. I was unable to pass urine for two days. I had unbearable pain in my body," said one of the men, Sumith Mendis, 31.

The CID denies the allegations.

The AFP has been providing the CID with equipment, training and intelligence support in an effort to combat people smuggling in the area, as civilians attempt to flee Sri Lanka following the end of the country's brutal 26-year civil war.

Mr Mendes and fellow ex-detainee Lasantha Wijeratna are being held at the country's Negombo prison, charged with illegally attempting to flee Sri Lanka.

Prior to their imprisonment they spent more than seven months on Christmas Island after leaving for Australia on a fishing vessel in 2009.

They were arrested by Sri Lankan authorities in August 2010 after attempting to flee the country a second time.

The AFP strenuously denies witnessing the abuse but has confirmed one of its officers was in the building at the time.

"The AFP can confirm records indicate an AFP officer was present in the building on the day the offence was alleged to occur," a spokesman told the ABC.

"At no stage did the AFP officer witness any mistreatment by CID officers of any persons held in custody.

"As part of the Sri Lankan legal process, all defendants appearing before court must first be examined by a judicial medical officer. The AFP has no knowledge of any concerns being raised."

However, Amnesty International reported in March 2010 that the two men were hospitalised at the recommendation of a judicial officer.

According to the men's lawyer, the AFP would have been aware of the abuses being carried out at the CID headquarters that day.

"There is no reason that the particular AFP officer [would] not have seen the interrogation and atrocities towards my clients, and my clients told me that they saw the AFP officer [witness] this interrogation," Mr Dias said.

Vetting procedures

Human Rights Watch has called on the Federal Government to institute vetting procedures when working with security forces with poor human rights records abroad.

In a letter to the Prime Minister, the group raised concerns over "the lack of accountability for crimes committed by security forces... in many of the countries where Australia provides training and assistance".

The CID is known as a byword for brutality in Sri Lanka and has been accused of involvement in the forced disappearance and murder of an unknown number of civilians in recent years.

"If you say you are going to be taken into [the] CID, everybody gets scared. It is a known thing in Sri Lanka," Mr Dias said.

Since the separatist Tamil Tiger movement was defeated in 2009, an unknown number of civilians have been killed, forcibly disappeared or placed in internment camps as the Colombo government seeks to cement its grip on power.

Mr Mendes and Mr Wijeratna, both Singhalese, claim to have been persecuted for supporting the country's main opposition figure, Sarath Fonseka, who remains in prison on charges said to be politically motivated.

The revelations come as rioting continues at the Immigration Department's Villawood detention centre outside Sydney.

Several Tamil asylum seekers held there claim to have been tortured by the CID and the Sri Lankan military before they managed to flee the country.

One man described being raped with metal implements after he was detained by CID officers during a mass sweep of a Tamil neighbourhood in the town of Batticolo in 2006.

"After that, whenever I went to the toilet, I thought I could see my intestines coming out of me," he said.

He says of the 13 people arrested by the CID in the raid, seven were released. Six were never heard from again.

Other Villawood detainees described various details of arbitrary detention and torture by CID officers, including suffocation with plastic bags filled with petrol, sustained beatings and rape.

Mr Dias says the Federal Government should apply its commitment to human rights practices while combating people smugglers in the region and that its relationship with the CID was in contravention with democratic values.

"Common standards should be based on human rights, universally accepted human rights standards. Nothing else," he said.

© ABC News

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