Bill on use of rehabilitation centers in Sri Lanka raises concerns

Colombo, Oct 17 (EFE).- The nonprofit Human Rights Watch (HRW) expressed concern Monday about a bill in Sri Lanka proposing to grant the authorities broad powers to detain people in military-run “rehabilitation” centers, which could lead to rights abuses and crackdown on the opposition and dissent.

The Bureau of Rehabilitation Bill, submitted to the parliament last month, seeks to establish an administrative structure under the defense ministry to operate rehabilitation centers run by military personnel.

“The objective (…) shall be to rehabilitate drug dependant persons, ex-combatants, members of violent extremist groups and any other group of persons who require treatments and rehabilitation by adopting various therapies in order to ensure effective reintegration and reconciliation,” according to the text of the bill.

However, HRW South Asia Director Meenakshi Ganguly said in a statement Monday that “the Sri Lankan government’s proposed ‘rehabilitation’ efforts appear to be nothing more than a new form of abusive detention without charge.”

Although Justice Minister Wijeyadasa Rajapakshe recently said that the law’s aim is to cater to the youth with drug abuse problems, HRW underlined that the bill is vague about who could be taken to the centers.

These rehabilitation centers were first set up in the country to “rehabilitate” former members of the separatist Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) after decades of war, and then expanded to serve people with drug addiction.

A court order is currently required to be admitted to these centers, but the Sri Lankan Government seeks to allow people to be admitted voluntarily or without a court order.

However, activist Ruki Fernando underlined that the bill does not specify the type of people who could be sent to the rehabilitation centers, opening a up possibilities for the legal framework to be abused and used against those critical of the government.

“Rehabilitation is not a punishment and should be entered into voluntarily with options to opt-out. Clauses in the bill indicate persons could be forced to undergo rehabilitation by the state,” Fernando told EFE.

Instead, “rehabilitation should be a civilian process, handled by experienced professionals and experts,” said the activist, who also criticized the government for trying to hand over these centers to the military.

Sri Lanka has been under the scrutiny of international and human rights organizations for the violence and arrests of hundreds of protesters during a civilian uprising caused by the severe economic crisis.

Earlier, Sri Lanka has also been accused of the lack of impartial and transparent mechanisms to investigate human rights violations, especially during the war against the LTTE.

Now, just as the island needs economic assistance from the international community, “foreign governments should make clear that they will support the urgent needs of the Sri Lankan people, but they will also take action through targeted sanctions and other measures against those committing serious human rights violations,” Ganguly said. EFE


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