Sri Lanka police

Ethnic Tamil British citizen tortured in Sri Lanka files complaint with the UN 

Today, REDRESS has filed a complaint with the UN Human Rights Committee on behalf of Velauthapillai Renukaruban (‘Renu’), a UK citizen who was abducted, detained and tortured by Sri Lankan officials when he visited Sri Lanka in 2016.  

Renu, an ethnic Tamil, fled Sri Lanka in 2001, when he was 19, during the civil war between the Sri Lankan government and the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE). In 2016, he returned to Sri Lanka to visit his elderly mother and to get married. Within 24 hours of arriving, he was abducted from his mother’s home and taken to a secret facility nearby. He was severely beaten and interrogated about this ties to the LTTE, which he denied. When he refused to confess, the officials threatened to kill him.

The next day, he faced fabricated charges in a court while being denied access to a lawyer and the chance to defend himself. Even though no evidence against him was presentedRenu was sent to Jaffna Prison, where he was heavily beaten by guards, leaving him badly injured and unconscious. Only after the British High Commission got involved, was Renu transferred to a hospital. He remained there for seven days and was treated for his injuries, though he remained handcuffed and under the watch of a security guard throughout 

With the help of a lawyer hired by his family, Renu was able to obtain bail. His case was dismissed after the police failed to present any evidence. The judge, however, advised Renu to go into hiding to prevent another detention by the police.  

Since his return to the UK in July 2016, Renu has suffered from ongoing physical and mental ill-health, as a result of the torture he suffered. He was diagnosed with brain injury and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, leaving him unable to work. His inability to return to his full-time work led to a delay in him being able to obtain a visa for his wife, which resulted in their separation for an extended period. Moreover, Renu now feels unable to return to Sri Lanka where his elderly mother resides. 

Renu has sought justice in Sri Lanka, but to no avail. The Sri Lankan police have failed to investigate his claim of torture. The Sri Lankan Human Rights Commission has failed to take any documented action on the complaint that he made to them in 2016. This fits within the country’s well-documented history of impunity for torture and other human rights violations. 

On 11 June 2020, REDRESS filed a complaint on his behalf to the UN Human Rights Committee (HRC), the body of experts that monitors State compliance with the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR). The complaint argues that Sri Lanka has violated a number of its obligations under the ICCPR. In particular, the severe pain and suffering inflicted on Renu at the hands of state officials, the inhumane conditions of his detention, and the denial of medical treatment amount to torture and thus violate Article 7 of the ICCPR. Moreover, Sri Lanka failed to prevent the torture, to conduct an effective investigation into the events and to provide him with an effective remedy.

Sri Lanka has also infringed his rights under Articles 9 (right to liberty and security), 14 (right to fair trial) as well as articles 17 and 23 of the ICCPR (protection of the family). Renu was targeted and arrested arbitrarily on the basis of his ethnicity. Thus, Sri Lanka also violated Article 26 (its duty to treat him equal and without discrimination).

The complaint asks the HRC to award him not only compensation for the harm that he has suffered and the costs for his medical rehabilitation, but also requests a public apology by Sri Lanka and an independent criminal investigation of the events. Furthermore, it calls for guarantees of non-repetition to prevent similar violations in the future, including the establishment of an independent judicial mechanism, the closing down of unofficial detention centres, the introduction of an effective torture prevention programme and reform of the justice sector. 

REDRESS partnered with a team from the International Human Rights Law Clinic at the University of California, Berkeley, to prepare the complaint. The Clinic, led by Professor Laurel E. Fletcher, has a 20-year history of combating torture and other gross violations through international advocacy. Professor Fletcher and clinical fellow Tamara Morgenthau supervised advanced law students Malka Herman, Simone Levine, and Edward Richter, who reviewed the factual record and built the case for the Sri Lankan government to provide justice and reparations. 

Read more about the case here. 

Photo credit: Indi Samarajiva, CC BY 2.0