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Sri Lanka's draft Counter Terrorism Act

DATE: 19 Apr 2017

Together with former UN Special Rapporteur on extra judicial executions, Prof Christof Heyns, Toby Fisher has produced a provisional opinion on the compliance of Sri Lanka's emerging Counter Terrorism Act ('CTA') with international human rights norms. The opinion can be accessed here

During the long civil war in Sri Lanka, a range of legislative measures were used to deal with the threat of terrorism. The key instruments were: i) the Public Security Ordinance No. 25 of 1947 (‘PSO’); ii) Emergency Regulations promulgated under the PSO; and iii) the Prevention of Terrorism (Temporary Provisions) Act No. 48 of 1979 (‘PTA’). Over time, these instruments were perceived to have been operated in a discriminatory manner and were seen to facilitate human rights abuses, including arbitrary arrest and torture of detainees, by the Sri Lankan police and security services. In 2011, the almost continuous state of emergency that had been in existence in Sri Lanka since 1971 expired, bringing to an end the State’s ability to exercise powers under the PSO and the Emergency Regulations, leaving the PTA as the operative legislative instrument.  

Since then, a range of international organisations, including the UN Human Rights Committee,  the UN Human Rights Council  and the European Union, have encouraged the repeal of the PTA. In 2015, the newly elected Government of Sri Lanka, led by President Maithripala Sirisena, committed to repeal the PTA and to replace it with an enactment that could empower the executive to protect the country from terrorism while paying due respect to human rights.  

An early draft of the emerging CTA was subject to widespread criticism when it was leaked in October 2016. A revised draft was published on 6 April 2017. 

The Foundation for Human Rights and the Institute for International and Comparative Law in Africa jointly instructed the opinion.