The State Department web site below is a permanent electronic archive of information released prior to January 20, 2001.  Please see for material released since President George W. Bush took office on that date.  This site is not updated so external links may no longer function.  Contact us with any questions about finding information.

NOTE: External links to other Internet sites should not be construed as an endorsement of the views contained therein.

Department Seal


TITLE:  SRI LANKA HUMAN RIGHTS PRACTICES, 1993                           
DATE:  JANUARY 31, 1994

                   SRI LANKA

Sri Lanka's constitutional, multiparty form of government 
features a strong executive presidency and a unicameral 
legislature elected by universal adult suffrage.  In May 
President Dingiri Banda Wijetunga was chosen by Parliament to 
succeed assassinated President Ranasinghe Premadasa.  The 
President's United National Party (UNP) holds a majority of the 
seats in Parliament.  The violent ethnic conflict waged for 
over 10 years between the Government and the Liberation Tigers 
of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), an organization fighting for a separate 
state for the country's Tamil minority, continued in 1993.  An 
LTTE suicide bomber assassinated President Premadasa and 23 
others at a public rally on May 1.

The 50,000-member police force, which includes 3,000 commandos 
of the Police Special Task Force (STF), is responsible for 
internal security in most areas of the country.  Army manpower 
has increased steadily over the past 2 years.  The 80,000-man 
army has the primary responsibility for conducting the war 
against the LTTE.  The 8,000 to 10,000 paramilitary home guards 
provide security against LTTE attacks for Muslim and Sinhalese 
communities living in or near the war zone.  The Government 
arms and equips up to 1,000 members of various anti-LTTE Tamil 
militias.  These forces man checkpoints, provide intelligence, 
act as scouts, and sometimes engage in military operations 
alongside the army.  All security elements fighting in the war 
committed human rights violations in 1993.

Sri Lanka's mixed economy depends heavily on exports of tea, 
textiles, and rubber.  Despite a continuing fiscal drain caused 
by large military outlays (amounting to about 5 percent of 
gross domestic product), the economy grew by 4.5 percent in 
1992.  This was partly due to continued economic reform, 
including the removal of most price controls and subsidies, the 
lowering of tariffs, and a reduction in the size of the 
government bureaucracy.

Although the Government took further steps to institutionalize 
the protection of human rights in 1993, the pace slowed in the 
second half of the year, and its forces continued to commit 
serious abuses which went unpunished.  More than 80 persons 
disappeared or died after being taken into custody by security 
forces, and government forces killed at least 250 civilians 
during military actions.  

The Prevention of Terrorism Act (PTA) and the Emergency 
Regulations (ER), which give security forces wide powers such 
as preventive and incommunicado detention, remained in effect.  
The ER were revised to afford some safeguards for detainees and 
to ease some, but by no means all, of the restrictions on 
freedoms of speech, press, assembly, and association.  Many Sri 
Lankans were detained without trial in 1993, though the number 
continued to decline.  Torture and mistreatment of detainees 
were routinely practiced by both government forces and the 
LTTE.  Despite credible evidence implicating security force 
members in human rights abuses, no member of the security force 
was tried or convicted for human rights violations in 1993, 
thus encouraging these forces to believe they are immune from 


Section 1  Respect for the Integrity of the Person, Including 
           Freedom From:

     a.  Political and Other Extrajudicial Killing

The Government's security forces, the LTTE, and other militant 
groups continued to engage in political killings.  The total 
number of such killings declined significantly, and most 
noncombatant deaths were the result of indiscriminate use of 
force rather than deliberate targeting of specific individuals 
(see Section 1.g.).  Nevertheless, all sides to the conflict 
were responsible for scattered cases of extrajudicial execution.

For the first time in 3 years, there were no reports of 
Sinhalese or Muslim civilians being massacred by the LTTE, nor 
were there any reprisal massacres directed against Tamil 
civilians by the security forces.  For the second year, there 
were no reports of the vigilante-style killings that plagued 
the country prior to 1992.  

In January army soldiers operating in conjunction with 
irregulars from the Tamil Eelam Liberation Organization (TELO), 
an anti-LTTE militia allied with the Government, reportedly 
killed and beheaded two unarmed persons, suspected of being 
LTTE members, in the eastern village of Kaluwankerny.  That 
same month, 9 civilians were reported to have been summarily 
executed by the army in the course of a military operation near 
Kanchurankudah, also in the east.  In July the local press 
reported that the army had shot dead the chairman of a local 
citizen's committee in the eastern district of Batticaloa.  At 
least 10 persons died of apparently violent causes while in the 
custody of the security forces, most as a result of 
mistreatment during interrogation.  For example, in July a man 
arrested in the southern district of Galle died of injuries 
sustained while in police custody.  A similar incident occurred 
in nearby Hambantota District in April.  In mid-October the 
body of a young Tamil was discovered in a coastal town 20 miles 
north of Colombo.  He was believed to be 1 of many young Tamils 
who had been rounded up in Colombo.

There were two high level political assassination believed to 
have been carried out by the LTTE.  On May 1, an LTTE suicide 
bomber assassinated President Premadasa.  A few weeks earlier 
opposition leader Lalith Athulathmudali was assassinated.  The 
Government presented evidence suggesting that the LTTE was 

The LTTE is thought to have executed a number of its opponents, 
as well as Tamil civilians accused of helping the security 
forces.  In January the LTTE publicly executed two alleged 
traitors and in February executed three civilians in 
Mullaittivu District for allegedly passing information to the 
security forces.  In December the LTTE announced that it had 
executed nine more "traitors" in Jaffna.

Action to bring to trial security force members accused of 
extrajudicial killings remained stalled despite repeated 
pledges by the Government to punish those responsible for such 
deaths.  The trial, which began in October, of 23 soldiers 
accused of massacring 35 Tamil civilians in the village of 
Mailanthani in 1992 was moved from the majority Tamil town of 
Batticaloa to the majority Sinhalese town of Polonnaruwa.  
Tamil members of Parliament accused the Government of changing 
the venue to make it more difficult for witnesses--all 
Tamil--to testify.  Court hearings were held in October and 
December at which witnesses identified a number of soldiers 
responsible for the attack.  Hearings are set to continue in 

     b.  Disappearance

At least 12,000 people have disappeared in Sri Lanka since 
1983, most in the period 1987-91.  Reports of new 
disappearances continued to decline in 1993, from 200 in 1992 
to roughly 70 in the first 9 months of 1993.  The vast majority 
of these disappearances took place in the war zones of the 
north and east and most were attributable to government 
forces.  For example, on February 17, 15 Tamils were reportedly 
detained by the army's Independent Brigade in the Batticaloa 
district.  None has been seen since.  At the instigation of the 
Batticaloa Peace Committee, the army is said to have begun an 
investigation, but no progress has been reported.  Three Tamil 
men were arrested by the security forces in Mannar district on 
July 4; witnesses saw the men in custody shortly after their 
arrest, but they have since disappeared.

The Peoples Liberation Organization of Tamil Eelam (PLOTE), an 
anti-LTTE Tamil militia allied with the Government, is believed 
to be responsible for the disappearance of several persons in 
the northern district of Vavuniya.  They were detained 
following an LTTE attack on a security checkpoint manned by the 
PLOTE and subsequently disappeared.

There were also credible reports of disappearances in 
Polonnaruwa District, in the North-Central Province.  Witnesses 
report that local police were responsible for up to 15 

Observers in the northeast reported that the LTTE was 
responsible for a number of disappearances, but it was 
impossible to determine how many.  In addition, hundreds of 
policemen captured by the LTTE in 1990 remain unaccounted for, 
and the LTTE has refused all requests for information 
concerning their fate.

The Government's decision in 1989 to give the International 
Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) unhindered access to 
detention centers, police stations, and army camps has played 
an important role in reducing the number of disappearances 
attributable to the security forces, as has the work of the 
Human Rights Task Force (HRTF), a quasi-independent government 
body set up to register detainees held under the ER and the PTA 
and monitor their welfare.  However, HRTF field offices outside 
of Colombo are hindered by a dearth of resources and their lack 
of assertiveness in dealing with security forces, which 
sometimes fail to comply fully with the Government's 
instructions.  Recent changes in the ER--mandating the issuance 
of receipts to families of detainees and notification to the 
HRTF of all arrests--have been largely observed in the breach.  
Full implementation of this reform would further reduce the 
number of disappearances.

In the case of 32 high school-aged boys who disappeared from 
the southern town of Embilipitiya in 1989, the HRTF identified 
10 soldiers implicated in the disappearances, but the 
Government has taken no action.  In its 1993 report, the HRTF 
named 4 army officers allegedly responsible for the 
disappearance of 158 people from a refugee camp at the Eastern 
University in Batticaloa district in 1990.  "This incident," 
said the chairman of the HRTF (a retired Supreme Court 
Justice), "is a dastardly crime which cries aloud for proper 
investigation."  Despite this statement, the Government has 
taken no action against the four officers.

The Presidential Commission appointed to look into allegations 
of abductions and disappearances occurring after January 1991 
has proven inadequate to the task.  It has completed work on 
only 38 cases of the 873 that fall within its mandate.  Of 
these, the President has referred two to the Attorney General 
for prosecution.  None has come to trial.  In mid-1993, the 
mandate of the Commission was changed in an attempt to speed 
the process by which disappearances are investigated.  Under 
the new mandate, the Commission will determine only whether a 
complaint of abduction or disappearance is credible, after 
which the case will be sent to the President for a decision 
whether to refer the case for investigation and prosecution.

     c.  Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading 
         Treatment or Punishment

Torture and mistreatment of detainees, particularly during 
interrogation, was common during 1993.  Reports of torture 
included near drownings, placing of insecticide or 
gasoline-filled bags over the head, and beating the soles of 
detainees' feet with metal rods.  Suspected criminals as well 
as those detained under the ER are routinely beaten during the 
initial phase of their detention.  Severe beatings, sometimes 
resulting in broken bones or other serious injuries, were 
reported by many detainees.

Although government officials privately acknowledge that 
torture is common, the Government has done little to address 
the problem.  Most members of the security forces regard 
torture as routine and acceptable.  The ER allow the use in 
court of confessions made to police officers and place the 
burden of proof on the defendant to show that the confession 
was obtained under duress, thereby encouraging the security 
forces' tendency to use torture to extract confessions.

In several cases, people who claimed to have been tortured 
filed cases in the Supreme Court alleging that their rights had 
been violated.  In one well-publicized case dating from 1990, a 
man whose teeth had been extracted with pliers during 
interrogation was awarded nearly $600 in compensation by the 
court.  The officer responsible was fined an additional $100 
but not otherwise disciplined.  Lesser amounts of compensation 
were awarded in several other cases in which detainees had been 
tortured or severely beaten.  All cases in which compensation 
was awarded are from previous years since it invariably takes 
more than a year to move a case through the courts.  According 
to reliable sources, there have been a handful of reported 
rapes while in detention; several cases are being investigated, 
and in one case a police officer has been arrested.

     d.  Arbitrary Arrest, Detention, or Exile

Under ordinary law, authorities must inform an arrested person 
of the reason for his arrest and within 24 hours bring him 
before a magistrate, who may authorize bail or, for serious 
crimes, order continued detention.  Persons detained under 
ordinary law are generally brought before a magistrate within a 
few days of arrest.  A suspect may be detained without bail for 
up to 3 months, or longer if a court so rules.

In practice the PTA, adopted in 1979, and the ER, which have 
been renewed monthly by Parliament since the emergency was 
declared in 1983, provide exceptions, which have been widely 
used, to ordinary law on detention .  Both the PTA and the ER 
permit preventive and incommunicado detention.  A person held 
under the PTA may be detained without charge for up to 18 
months, though there have been cases in which persons have been 
held longer.  Most detainees are now held under the ER rather 
than the PTA.  The number of people held under the ER and the 
PTA declined sharply in 1993, as many of those held for 
suspected involvement with the Janatha Vimukhti Peramunk (JVP), 
an extremist Sinhalese revolutionary group, were either 
released, charged with criminal offenses, or sent to 
rehabilitation camps in preparation for their release.

Under the provisions of the ER governing preventive detention, 
a person may be held indefinitely under a detention order 
signed by the Defense Secretary without ever being charged with 
a crime or brought before a court of law.  However, changes in 
the ER announced in February and June now make it mandatory for 
magistrates to visit places of detention on a monthly basis and 
post in their courts a list of all detainees.  Officers in 
charge of places of detention must also, by law, submit lists 
of all detainees to the magistrate as well as to the HRTF.  
According to the law, officials who do not follow these 
requirements are themselves subject to punishment under the 
ER.  Despite these changes to the law, compliance with the 
revised ER is still far from complete, due to the lack of any 
effective enforcement mechanism and the refusal of superior 
officers to insist on compliance by their subordinates.  
Moreover, the requirement to report detentions to the HRTF 
applies only to those detainees arrested on suspicion of an 
offense; detainees held in preventive detention are not covered.

Persons held under the ER are ineligible for bail during the 
first 3 months of detention unless the Attorney General gives 
his prior written consent.  After 3 months, courts may grant 
bail, but it is granted infrequently.  Once charged, PTA 
detainees are ineligible for bail.  Family visits and access to 
lawyers are sometimes restricted under these laws.  

Detainees are frequently held incommunicado during the initial 
period of detention, sometimes lasting several days or weeks.  
The recent changes in the ER prohibit the holding of detainees 
in unauthorized (i.e., secret) places of detention.  The 
Government has published a list of 345 authorized places of 
detention, most of them police stations, and has made it a 
criminal offense to hold detainees elsewhere.  Reports continue 
that government security forces held people incommunicado for 
months or even years in previously undisclosed places of 
detention.  There were also reports that Tamil irregulars, 
armed and paid by the Government, were operating their own 
detention facilities.  A fundamental rights application was 
filed in the Supreme Court against the leader of one such 
militia, the Eelam Peoples Democratic Party (EPDP), alleging 
illegal abduction and torture.  In the latter part of 1993, 
Government security forces and alleged Tamil militias began 
operating what many human rights monitors called "a parallel 
system of secret detention" in Colombo.  Beginning in August, 
dozens of suspected LTTE sympathizers were picked up in 
unmarked vehicles and taken to undisclosed places of 
detention.  Some were held for several months and many were 
tortured before eventually being transferred to an official 
detention center.  

Persons held under the ER and the PTA (or others acting on 
their behalf) may challenge the legality of their detention by 
filing habeas corpus applications in the Court of Appeals or by 
charging the Government before the Supreme Court with violating 
fundamental human rights.  In recent years, the Supreme Court 
has simplified the procedures for initiating fundamental rights 
cases and waived the requirement that such cases be filed 
within 30 days of the alleged infringement.  Detainees may now 
initiate a fundamental rights case simply by writing a letter 
to the court.  A number of legal aid groups, including the Bar 
Association of Sri Lanka, provide free legal assistance to 
detainees.  Over 400 habeas corpus applications were filed on 
behalf of detainees in 1993, but only a few detainees were 
released as a result.  During the same period, 762 fundamental 
rights cases were filed, with the result that over 150 people 
were released from detention, and 18 people whose rights were 
found to have been violated were awarded monetary compensation.

As of the end of 1993, there were approximately 2,000 detainees 
being held under the ER, compared to roughly 5,000 at the end 
of 1992.  Another 433 people were held in rehabilitation camps 
pending release, according to the Government.

The HRTF continued its efforts to monitor conditions of 
detention and maintain a central register of detainees.  In 
addition, the Supreme Court in 1993 instructed the HRTF to 
begin inquiring into the legality of individual cases of 
detention.  The HRTF began hiring a legal staff and advising 
the Court on the release of detainees.  In addition to the 
HRTF, the ICRC regularly visited over 400 places of detention.  
Tens of thousands of Tamils were rounded up by the security 
forces in and around Colombo in the second half of 1993, 
following President Premadasa's assassination by an LTTE 
suicide bomber.  Most of them were released after an "identity 
check" lasting between several hours and several days, but a 
small number were placed under detention orders pursuant to the 
ER.  Many Tamils claimed that the mass roundups were an 
unjustified form of harassment based solely on ethnicity.

There were unconfirmed reports that the LTTE was holding over 
2,000 prisoners in the north.  The LTTE does not give the ICRC 
or other humanitarian organizations access to its detainees, 
except for some 35 security force members, most of whom have 
been held since 1990.

     e.  Denial of Fair Public Trial

In ordinary criminal cases, defendants are accorded due process 
rights, but trials under the ER and the PTA lack several 
significant safeguards.  Persons accused of criminal acts 
generally receive a fair public trial, are informed of the 
charges and evidence against them, and are represented by the 
counsel of their choice.  Persons tried on criminal charges in 
the High Courts and the Court of Appeal are provided an 
attorney at government expense if necessary.  The Government 
does not provide attorneys in other cases, although private 
legal aid organizations assist some defendants.  Public trial 
by jury is the custom.

Jury trials are not provided under the PTA on the grounds that 
jury members could be intimidated.  Confessions are admissible 
in PTA and ER cases but not in cases tried outside the PTA and 
ER framework.  Most ER and PTA convictions rely heavily on 
confessions, and the burden of proof of charges of torture and 
other forms of coercion rests on the defendant.  Those 
convicted under the PTA or the ER have the same right of appeal 
to the Court of Appeal and the Supreme Court as those sentenced 
in other cases.  In practice, however, most people held under 
these acts have never been formally charged and therefore 
cannot make use of the appeals process.

The Constitution provides for an independent judiciary, and the 
judiciary is independent in practice.  The President appoints 
all judges of the Supreme Court, courts of appeal, and high 
courts.  The Chief Justice and two Supreme Court judges 
comprise a Judicial Service Commission which appoints, 
transfers, and dismisses lower court judges.  Judges serve from 
time of appointment to mandatory retirement age (65 for Supreme 
Court judges and 62 for others).

The Government alleges that all persons held under the ER and 
the PTA are members or suspected members of either the JVP or 
the LTTE.  It is impossible to determine how many of the 
roughly 2,000 detainees it holds would properly be termed 
political prisoners, as defined in these reports (see Appendix 
A), and how many are held because of suspected involvement in 
terrorist activities.

     f.  Arbitrary Interference with Privacy, Family, Home, or 

The Government generally respects individual privacy and the 
sanctity of the family and home, and the judiciary usually 
upholds privacy rights in cases that reach the high courts.  
Under ordinary law, search and arrest warrants are generally 
required to enter private premises and must be approved by a 
magistrate.  However, the ER and PTA permit members of the 
security forces to "enter and search any place, vehicle, or 
vessel" and to "inspect and take possession of any movable 
property" in the course of investigating any suspected offense 
under the ER and PTA, without the need for a warrant.  
Oversight is provided by the Secretary of Defense.  There is no 
judicial review or other means of redress.

Government monitoring of telephones and correspondence is 
believed to occur on a selective basis.  Mail to 
LTTE-controlled areas is routinely opened and banned items, 
including currency, are seized.

     g.  Use of Excessive Force and Violations of Humanitarian 
         Law in Internal Conflicts

Hostilities between the Government and the LTTE continued 
throughout 1993.  After a lull in the first 9 months of the 
year, fighting reached new levels of intensity in the 4th 
quarter, as both sides launched major offensives.

There were no army massacres of Tamil civilians similar to the 
ones at Kokkadichcholai in 1991 and Mailanthani in 1992.  
However, the Sri Lankan navy and air force were responsible for 
a number of civilian deaths, many due to indiscriminate or 
excessive use of force.  Over 250 civilians were killed in such 
attacks.  One of the most notorious of these occurred on 
January 2, when the navy attacked a group of civilians crossing 
the Jaffna lagoon under LTTE escort and in defiance of military 
orders.  At least 35 civilians were killed in the incident, in 
which navy patrol boats trained their spotlights on several 
small, makeshift passenger ferries and machine-gunned those on 
board.  Altogether, at least 100 civilians died in this and 
similar incidents on Jaffna lagoon during the course of the 
year.  Following army setbacks in October and November, 
indiscriminate bombing of civilian targets in the LTTE-
controlled areas of the country increased.  On December 8, 25 
civilians were killed when the air force bombed a crowded 
public market in Jaffna.  On November 13, air force jet  
aircraft attacked the St. James Catholic Church in Jaffna, 
killing at least 10 and injuring dozens more.  In all, at least 
150 civilians were killed in bombing or artillery attacks.

The LTTE was also responsible for a number of violations.  
Fifteen civilians were killed when LTTE forces used innocent 
travelers as human shields in an attack on a crowded government 
checkpoint in June.  At least seven civilians living near an 
army camp were killed when the LTTE attacked and overran the 
camp in July.  The total number of such killings attributable 
to the LTTE probably amounts to several dozen, but no precise 
estimate was possible.

The LTTE sometimes conscript high school-age children for work 
as cooks, messengers, and clerks.  There were also reliable 
reports of children being used as forced labor to build 

Section 2  Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

     a.  Freedom of Speech and Press

The Constitution provides for freedom of speech and expression 
but permits these rights to be restricted by law in the 
interests of national security.  There was, however, some 
improvement in the civil liberties climate during the year.  
The provisions of the ER that restrict freedom of speech and 
freedom of the press were rescinded in June, then reimposed 
without explanation in December.  Under the ER, sentences of up 
to 20 years in prison may be imposed for "inciting feelings of 
disaffection, hatred or contempt ofthe President or the 
Government" or "creating discontent or disaffection among the 
inhabitants of Sri Lanka."  Civil libertarians point out that 
these regulations could, in theory, be used to punish virtually 
any public criticism of the Government.  However, the Wijetunga 
Government has so far shown itself to be far less likely to 
restrict freedom of expression than was its predecessor.

The Government controls the country's largest newspaper chain, 
although a variety of independent newspapers and journals 
provide a range of viewpoints on foreign affairs and domestic 
issues, including human rights, and openly criticize the ruling 
party and Government.  Physical attacks on opposition 
journalists and politicians ceased with President Premadasa's 
death in May.  Similarly, a previously secret organization 
headed by high-ranking former police officers and charged with 
harassment and intimidation of Premadasa's political opponents, 
including journalists, was disbanded by President Wijetunga, 
and revelations about the unit's past operations were widely 
reported in the press.  In the one major exception to this 
trend, a respected newspaper columnist received a death 
threat--reportedly from the now-retired commander of the 
army--following a critical story he wrote about a major army 

Although the Government denies it, many journalists allege that 
the Government continues to exert pressure on the press by 
controlling permits for the import of newsprint and through 
placement of paid government announcements and advertising.  In 
addition, the Parliamentary Powers and Privileges Act allows 
Parliament to impose an unlimited fine or up to 2 years' 
imprisonment on anyone who criticizes a member of Parliament.  
Although it is rarely invoked and was not used in 1993, 
journalists and civil libertarians complained that the Act, 
along with new guidelines that effectively prevent the 
reporting of incidents in Parliament that are not part of the 
official record of proceedings, were an unjustified 
infringement on freedom of the press.

Several new, privately owned television and radio networks have 
begun operating, but the Government maintains a monopoly on the 
broadcast of local news.  Local networks that broadcast 
foreign-produced international news such as the Cable News 
Network and the British Broadcasting Corporation are obliged to 
delete any portions concerning Sri Lanka.

For its part, the LTTE tolerates no freedom of expression.  The 
print and broadcast media in areas under its control are 
tightly regulated.  The LTTE has been known to execute those 
who criticize it or disagree publicly with its policies.  In 
the past, university professors, members of nonviolent Tamil 
opposition parties, and human rights monitors have been among 
those killed.

The LTTE holds numerous prisoners of conscience, including the 
poet and women's activist Thiagarajah Selvanithy, who has been 
imprisoned since August 1991 for her participation in a play 
critical of the LTTE.  The group University Teachers for Human 
Rights (UTHR), a human rights group formerly based in the 
LTTE-controlled Jaffna Peninsula, has been the target of severe 
repression by the LTTE for its attempts to present a balanced 
picture of human rights violations in both LTTE- and government-
controlled areas of Sri Lanka.

Although academic freedom is generally respected, political 
activities on university campuses are restricted under the ER.  
The Government has defended this action as necessary to ensure 
that student political activity, such as that used by the JVP 
to close the universities for 3 years, would not disrupt 

     b.  Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and Association

The Constitution provides for freedom of assembly and 
association.  Freedom of association is respected in practice.  
The ER restricting the right to peaceful assembly were 
rescinded in 1993.  Restriction of these rights is still 
possible under the PTA, but the act was not used for this 
purpose in 1993.  There were no cases in which permits are 
known to have been denied for political reasons.  An ER issued 
in 1990 prohibiting political and disruptive activity in 
schools and workplaces remains in effect.  Under it, permission 
for meetings must be obtained from the head of an institution.

     c.  Freedom of Religion

The Constitution establishes Buddhism as the official religion, 
which the Government must "protect and foster."  It also 
provides for the rights of members of other faiths, including 
Hindus, Muslims, and Christians, to practice their religions 
freely.  Religious groups are free to maintain active ties with 
coreligionists in other countries, and many Sri Lankans perform 
religious travel each year.

Religious publishing and proselytizing are allowed, and foreign 
clergy may work in Sri Lanka.  For over 30 years, however, the 
Government has forbidden entry to new foreign Jesuit clergy, 
while allowing those in the country to remain.

Evangelical Christians (who constitute less than 1 percent of 
the population) expressed concern that the government 
commission set up to look into the activities of 
nongovernmental organizations (NGO's) (see Section 4) has 
focused much of its attention on the activities of Protestant 
missionaries.  These groups also report that their efforts to 
convert Sri Lankans are often met with hostility and sometimes 
violence on the part of local Buddhist clergy or other groups 
opposed to such missionary work, and they accuse the Government 
of tacitly condoning the harassment.  There is no evidence of 
active Government support for or protection of those 
responsible for the harassment of evangelical Christians; on 
the other hand, the Government made no effort to remedy the 
situation.  A chauvinistic vernacular press contributes to the 
climate of intolerance.  

     d.  Freedom of Movement Within the Country, Foreign 
         Travel, Emigration, and Repatriation

The Constitution grants every citizen "freedom of movement and 
of choosing his residence within Sri Lanka" and "freedom to 
return to Sri Lanka."  However, curfews, checkpoints, and other 
actions taken by both the Government and the insurgent forces 
have had the effect of inhibiting travel in large parts of the 
north and east.  Strict security measures imposed in the wake 
of President Premadasa's assassination have also had the effect 
of restricting the freedom of movement of Tamils in general and 
young Tamil males in particular because of reports that the 
LTTE was planning additional assassinations.  

The Government does not restrict the travel abroad of its 

Sri Lanka does not permit the entry of refugees or displaced 
persons from other countries, nor does it help refugees who 
attempt to stay in the country while seeking permanent 
residence elsewhere.  There were no instances of refoulement in 
1993.  There were 620,000 internally displaced persons living 
in Sri Lanka in 1993.  Most lived in camps, primarily financed 
by the Government, in the northeast or adjacent provinces.

At the beginning of the year there were over 70,000 Sri Lankan 
Tamil refugees living in refugee camps in Southern India.  
During 1993 nearly 7,000 of these refugees returned to Sri 
Lanka.  The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees 
operated freely in Sri Lanka, supporting government refugee 
relief efforts in the north and east and funding transit camps 
for persons returning from India.  Over 200,000 Sri Lankan 
Tamils have also migrated to or sought refuge in Western Europe 
and North America over the last 10 years.  Many of them have 
been denied asylum, and a few have been returned to Sri Lanka.

Section 3  Respect for Political Rights:  The Right of Citizens 
           to Change Their Government

Citizens have the constitutional right to change their 
government through periodic multiparty elections on the basis 
of universal adult suffrage.  Sri Lanka has a vigorous 
political opposition.  Although 1993 was marked by two 
high-profile assassinations (see Section 1.a.), organized 
harassment of the political opposition ceased with President 
Premadasa's death in May.  A total of 26 parties are recognized 
by the Commissioner of Elections, and members of 12 of these 
hold seats in Parliament.  Although members of each ethnic 
community can be found in many of the political parties, the 
two most influential parties generally draw their support from 
the majority Sinhalese community.  Historically, these two 
parties have alternated in power.  Eighteen Tamils currently 
hold seats in the 225-member Parliament.

In May provincial council elections were held in seven of the 
country's eight provinces; security conditions precluded a vote 
in the Northeast Province (a temporary merger of the war-torn 
Northern and Eastern Provinces).  An opposition coalition won 
control of the Western Province, which includes the capital, 
Colombo.  Despite scattered irregularities, foreign and 
domestic election monitors judged this election to be largely 
free and fair.

There are no de jure impediments to women's participation in 
politics or government, but the social mores of some 
communities have the effect of limiting women's participation 
in activities outside the home.  Although they are 
underrepresented, women serve at senior levels in both 
sectors.  Eleven women hold seats in Parliament; two are deputy 
ministers and one is the Minister of Health.  The leader of the 
opposition, a former Prime Minister, is a woman.

The indigenous people of Sri Lanka, known as Veddas, number 
less than a thousand.  There are no de facto or de jure 
restrictions on their participation in the political life of 
the country.  Preferring to maintain their traditional way of 
life, the Veddas have resisted government attempts to integrate 
them into Sri Lankan society.

Section 4  Governmental Attitude Regarding International and 
           Nongovernmental Investigation of Alleged Violations 
           of Human Rights

Several local NGO's, including the Movement for Interracial 
Justice and Equality (MIRJE) and the University Teachers for 
Human Rights (UTHR), monitor human rights, collecting 
information from families of victims or members of citizen 
committees near the sites of alleged incidents.  Other groups, 
such as the Civil Rights Movement (CRM) and the Law and Society 
Trust (LST), monitor civil and political liberties.  The 
Government generally does not respond to their periodic reports 
and appeals.  Unlike in previous years, there were no reports 
in 1993 of human rights monitors receiving death threats.

A variety of international nongovernmental organizations are 
active in Sri Lanka, providing humanitarian relief services to 
those affected by the conflict in the northeast.  The 
Government allows these organizations to operate unhindered, 
subject only to security considerations in the war zone.

On December 22, President Wijetunga used the Emergency 
Regulations to promulgate a law governing the activities of 
local and foreign NGO's, thereby bypassing normal parliamentary 
procedures.  The law imposed financial reporting requirements 
on all NGO's, but as of the end of the year it was not clear 
what additional practical effect the new law would have on 
NGO's operating in Sri Lanka.  

During 1993, the Government made progress in implementing some 
of the 44 recommendations it accepted from Amnesty 
International (AI) and the United Nations Human Rights 
Commission (UNHRC) Working Group on Enforced and Involuntary 
Disappearances, but this progress slowed in the second half of 
the year.  For example, a "zero tolerance" directive on human 
rights was issued by the Eastern Province Commander in March, 
and according to reliable sources, this has led to significant 
on-the-ground improvements.  Emergency regulations governing 
issuance of receipts and reporting to the human rights task 
force have been issued, though, as noted, compliance is 
spotty.  Several new regional HRTF offices were opened and the 
HRTF is gradually making its presence felt.  The activities of 
paramilitary groups (e.g. home guards, Tamil militias) seem to 
be coming under better supervision.  However, there was no 
discernible movement in implementing the recommendations to 
prosecute past human rights violators and investigate 

At the 1993 meeting of the UNHRC, Sri Lanka pledged to continue 
implementation of the Working Group's recommendations.  It also 
pledged to "take appropriate measures to ascertain the 
whereabouts of persons referred to in the reports of alleged 
disappearances" and "prosecute those responsible for 
disappearances and other human rights violations."

The Government continued to provide the ICRC with virtually 
unrestricted access to its detention facilities, allowing the 
ICRC to register detainees and monitor their treatment.  At the 
request of the Government, the ICRC also continued to oversee 
the transportation of government and donor-supplied food and 
medical supplies into the war zone and to supply human rights 
training and materials to the Sri Lankan security forces.

Section 5  Discrimination Based on Race, Sex, Religion,
           Disability, Language, or Social Status


Sri Lankan women have equal rights under national civil and 
criminal law.  However, questions related to family law, 
including marriage, divorce, child custody, and 
inheritance--are subject at the local level to the customary 
law of each particular ethnic or religious group.  Muslims, for 
example, are guided by Islamic law in these matters.  The 
Constitution guarantees equality in public sector employment, 
but women have no legal protection against discrimination in 
the private sector.  In the private sector, women are sometimes 
paid less than men for equal work.

Women's rights monitors say that domestic violence and sexual 
assault are common in Sri Lanka, but that for cultural and 
social reasons Sri Lankan women are unlikely to report such 
abuse.  According to women who work with victims, sexual 
assault, rape, and other forms of violence directed against 
female domestic servants is a particularly pernicious problem.  
Women's groups report that victims of rape and domestic 
violence must face police and judicial officials whose 
sympathies often lie with the accused rather than the victim.

There are several organizations actively working to promote 
women's rights and greater awareness of women's issues 
generally and particularly to reform the laws governing rape 
and domestic violence.  As a result, public awareness of the 
problems faced by women has increased, but the Government has 
yet to deal effectively with these issues.


The Government is formally committed to protecting the welfare 
and rights of children, but its ability to do so in practice 
has been limited by its lack of resources.

There is no pattern of societal abuse against children.  There 
is, however, a significant problem of child prostitution in 
certain coastal resort areas.  The majority of these 
prostitutes are boys, and the majority of their customers are 
said to be foreign tourists.  The true extent of child sexual 
abuse is unknown, but several thousand children are thought to 
be involved.  The Government has appointed a technical 
committee to recommend possible new legislation to deal with 
the problem, and recent press reports indicate that such 
legislation is being considered.  However, organizations 
working with abused children believe that the problem lies not 
with the inadequacy of existing legislation but with the law's 
enforcement, which is said to be lax.

There are also reports of abuse of rural children working as 
domestics in urban households.  There are allegations of 
starvation, beatings, burnings, sexual abuse, and forced 
prostitution.  Enforcement of laws designed to protect these 
children has also been lax.  (See also Section 6.c.)

     National/Racial/Ethnic Minorities

Tamils have long believed, with some justification, that they 
suffer systematic discrimination in competition for university 
entrance, government employment opportunities, and other 
matters under government control.  While official 
discrimination continues in some fields, there has been little 
evidence of overt discrimination in university enrollment or 
government employment in recent years.  However, many Tamils 
assert that more subtle forms of official discrimination 
persist.  In 1990 the Government decreed that hiring for the 
public service would be based on ethnic groups' proportions in 
society.  Upholding a suit filed by a Tamil public servant, the 
Supreme Court ruled in 1991 that promotions must be based on 
merit but did not address the hiring issue.  Under the 
Constitution's 13th Amendment, enacted in 1987, Tamil and 
Sinhala were both made official languages and English the 
"link" language.

There are approximately 1 million Tamils of comparatively 
recent Indian origin living in Sri Lanka.  Of these, roughly 
200,000 are not citizens of either India or Sri Lanka.  Most of 
them live in the tea-growing highlands and continue to suffer 
discrimination, especially in the Government's allocation of 
education funds.  They no longer qualify for citizenship under 
Indian law and were also denied Sri Lankan citizenship by laws 
adopted after independence, making them essentially stateless.  
In 1986 the Government agreed to grant citizenship to all 
remaining stateless Tamils.  In 1988 the Government eliminated 
processing delays by passing a law making extension of 
citizenship to those stateless persons automatic upon a simple 
request.  However, the new legislation did not cover the nearly 
85,000 Tamils who themselves or whose parents once applied for 
Indian citizenship but who now wish to stay in Sri Lanka.  
While they could legally be compelled to leave Sri Lanka, the 
Government has assured Tamil leaders that none will be forced 
to do so.

     Religious Minorities

As noted above, evangelical Christians have been attacked both 
physically and in the press for their attempts to convert 
Buddhists to Christianity.  However, there is still no evidence 
of "official" persecution.

The LTTE has expelled all Muslims from the areas of northern 
Sri Lanka under its control; expropriated Muslim lands, homes, 
and businesses; and threatened Muslim families with death if 
they attempt to return to their homes.  The Tigers also 
severely restrict the freedom of movement of Tamils living in 
areas under their control, exacting a large "exit tax" from 
persons wishing to travel to areas under government control and 
requiring them to leave all of their property in escrow.  In 
order to ensure that people return, the Tigers often allow only 
one member of a family to travel at a time.  The LTTE does not 
allow internally displaced persons living in areas under Tiger 
control to return to their homes in government-controlled areas.

     People with Disabilities

The unique problems faced by the disabled in Sri Lanka have yet 
to become an issue of public-policy debate.  Most disabled 
people who are unable to work are cared for by their families; 
those whose families are unable to care for them often resort 
to begging on the streets.  There are no laws mandating 
accessibility for the disabled.

Section 6  Worker Rights

     a.  The Right of Association

The Constitution establishes the right of workers (except the 
military and police) to associate freely and to form or join 
labor unions.  No prior approval from the employer is needed to 
form or to join a trade union.  Any seven workers may form a 
union, draw up their charter, elect their own representatives, 
and publicize their views.  This right is usually exercised in 
the industrial sector, civil service, state owned enterprises, 
and plantation sector.  Workers in nonplantation agriculture 
and most of those employed in small businesses are not 
generally represented by unions.  Altogether 50 to 60 percent 
of the nonagricultural work force, equal to 25 to 30 percent of 
the total work force, is unionized.

There are a number of independent trade unions; however, most 
large unions are affiliated with political parties and play a 
prominent role in the political process.  There are two trade 
unions affiliated with the ruling United National Party (UNP), 
while more than 30 trade unions are affiliated to other 
political parties.

During 1992, 154 new unions were registered with the Department 
of Labor, whereas registration of 206 unions were canceled.  It 
is a statutory requirement that unions submit their annual 
reports to the Department of Labor, and a failure to do so is 
the only criteria for cancelation of registration.

All workers other than civil servants and those in essential 
services, as classified by the Government, have the right to 
strike.  In 1992 there were 103 strikes.  Although civil 
servants have no right to strike, they may submit grievances to 
the Public Service Commission for relief but have no other 
legal recourse.  Under the Essential Services Act (ESA), based 
on Emergency Regulation No. 1 of 1989, the President can 
exercise the power to declare any sector an essential service, 
making the strike illegal.  The law prohibits retribution 
against legal (nonwildcat) strikers in nonessential sectors.  
The only grounds for dismissal is indiscipline.

Taking note that the Government was preparing to remove export 
industries from the list of essential services where strikes 
are banned, the Committee on Freedom of Association of the 
International Labor Organization (ILO) observed in May that 
nonessential services under the Emergency Regulations Act 
should be limited to services where an interruption would 
endanger the life, personal safety, or health of the population.

In June the Government amended the ER, restricting coverage to 
sectors it explicitly defined as "essential services":  
government establishments; air, sea, port, rail, road, and 
other public transport services; services connected with the 
sale of foods and medicines; and the operations of tea, rubber, 
and coconut plantations.  The garment industry, which employs 
nearly 200,000 workers, was dropped from the list of essential 
services.  Even though illegal, strikes in sectors classified 
by the Government as essential services do occur.  In fact, 86 
of the 103 strikes in 1992 were in the plantation sector (tea, 
rubber, and coconut), which is still technically listed as an 
essential service.  There were 78 strikes in 1993, of which 56 
occurred in the "essential" plantation sector.  A telephone 
workers strike became technically illegal when the Government 
classified telecommunications as an essential service following 
the outbreak of the strike, but no action was taken against the 
strikers and the strike went on as scheduled.  There was no 

Workers in the public enterprises and in the private sector, 
including those in the essential services, may lodge complaints 
with the Commissioner of Labor, the Labor Tribunal, or the 
Supreme Court to protect their rights.

On September 29, the Emergency (Maintenance of Exports) 
Regulation No. 1, under which "anyone intimidating an employee 
to disrupt the activities of a company commits an offense and 
will be sentenced to a minimum of 10-years' imprisonment," was 
rescinded.  The President signed a regulation exempting 
disputes between registered employers and unions from the 
emergency decree, provided 14 days' notice is given to the 
Commissioner of Labor and the employer.

Unions are free to affiliate internationally, and various Sri 
Lankan trade union federations are affiliates of major 
international trade union organizations.

     b.  The Right to Organize and Bargain Collectively

Workers are expressly granted the right under the law to 
bargain collectively, and it is fairly widely practiced.  For 
those enterprises in which workers are represented by trade 
unions, the unions do the bargaining for the workers.  Where 
unions are lacking, work councils--composed of employees, 
employers, and often a public sector representative--are the 
forums for collective bargaining.  Except in the Export 
Processing Zones (EPZ), work councils are not required in cases 
where unions do not exist.  In the EPZ's, Board of Investment 
(BOI) regulations require the establishment of a work council, 
known as a Joint Consultative Council (JCC).

However, Sri Lankan law does not compel management to recognize 
unions.  There have been isolated cases where employers were 
hesitant to recognize the unions in their factories.  The Labor 
Commissioner has intervened in these cases to try to persuade 
the employers to do so.  The employer's recognition of a union 
confers on the union the right of representation, allows 
payroll deduction of union dues, and permits the union to enter 
into collective bargaining.

Antiunion discrimination is prohibited by law but is not always 
enforced or practiced.  When claims arise, they often result in 
protracted legal proceedings.  Employers found guilty of 
antiunion discrimination are required to reinstate workers 
fired for union activities, but reinstated workers are often 
transferred to different locations.  In some cases, employers 
have offered to pay compensation instead of reinstating the 

All public and private sector enterprises, including essential 
services, enjoy the right of collective bargaining.  However, 
collective bargaining takes place in an estimated 15 to 20 
percent of businesses in the private sector, and only a few 
large-scale private companies and banks sign collective 
agreements with their unions on pay increases and maintenance 
of the wage levels for a specific period.  The primary 
mechanism for setting minimum wages and service conditions in 
the private sector is wage boards (see Section 6.e.). 
Remuneration tribunals also set wages in some cases.  In 
addition, the Board of Investment sets minimum wages for 
workers in the EPZ's.  These wages are higher than the national 
minimum wage.

Workers have significant protection for the right to employment 
under the Termination Act.  Under the Act, no one may be fired 
without the permission of the Labor Commissioner.  Outside of 
the essential-services area, dismissal may only be allowed on 
the grounds of disciplinary infractions.  Should workers 
performing an essential service go on strike, management may 
legally terminate employment, and the striking worker has no 
recourse.  This power, however, has rarely been used.

Workers in the EPZ's are free to join unions, but unionization 
in the zones has been traditionally discouraged by employers 
and the Government.  Unions, to date, do not represent workers 
in collective bargaining or dispute resolution.  Otherwise, 
workers in the EPZ's have the same rights as other workers, 
including the right to strike.  Workers in the EPZ's are 
represented by Joint Consultative Councils (JCC), which are 
established under BOI regulations.  Fifty percent of the JCC 
members are elected by EPZ workers, and 50 percent are 
appointed by management.  They are chaired by the BOI, with 
most decisions being reached by consensus.  Until recently, 
union officials were only permitted into EPZ's with an 
invitation from the JCC, an employer, or a group of employees.  
Now, the Government's Board of Investment (BOI) is preparing 
office space and meeting rooms for use by unions in each of the 
EPZ's, as they no longer require invitations for entry.  Two 
established trade unions have taken advantage of the June 1993 
decision allowing entry into the EPZ's.  However, it is too 
soon to say whether they will be successful in forming branches 

     c.  Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor

Forced or compulsory labor is prohibited by law.  There is no 
conscription or forced recruitment.

There are reports of abuse of children brought in from rural 
areas in debt bondage to work as domestic servants in urban 
households (see also Section 5).  In the view of the National 
Employers Union (Jathika Sevaka Sangamaya), these children are 
not adequately protected, mainly due to the shortage of labor 

     d.  Minimum Age for Employment of Children

The basic minimum age for employment in Sri Lanka is 14 years.  
However, the employment of children below the age of 14 by 
their parents or guardians in light agricultural or 
horticultural work for a limited period is legally permitted.  
Light work is also permitted in any school or institution for 
training purposes.  Persons under 16 may not be employed in any 
public performance in which life or limb is endangered.  Until 
recently, children under 14 years could be employed in the 
plantation industry, but with the adoption of ILO Convention 
10, ratified by the Government in November 1991, children under 
14 years of age may no longer be employed on the plantations.  
Child labor is not used in the EPZ's or in the garment 
factories.  About 85 percent of children below the age of 16 
attend school, and the law provides that the employment of such 
persons is permitted for not more than 1 hour on any day before 
school.  For the small percentage of children over the age of 
14 who are not in school (and who are legally allowed to work), 
there is no explicit law that limits their working hours to 
less than those allowed for adults.  

Despite legislation, some child labor still exists.  Some 
children work in the informal sectors, including coir-making, 
which is the making of products, such as mats, from coconut 
fiber; industries; fishing; drying fish; wrapping tobacco; 
street trading; domestic service and on farms.  Enforcement 
measures taken by the Department of Probation and Child Care 
Services, including inspections and penalties, have been unable 
to eliminate child labor, and the labor laws are used only to 
deal with extreme forms of it.

Based on the recommendation of a committee of experts appointed 
by the Government to examine child labor, the Cabinet decided 
in September to enact laws to increase the minimum age to 15 
years in view of ILO conventions and to tighten child labor 
laws.  Social and economic factors also help to control the 
problem of child labor in Sri Lanka.  The country's gross 
national product, relatively high by regional standards, and 
its near-90 percent literacy level serve as a brake on the 
employment of children.  Virtually all children attend primary 
school and three-quarters of them go on to secondary school, 
according to government statistics.

     e.  Acceptable Conditions of Work

There is no national minimum wage, but wage boards set minimum 
wages and working conditions on a sector by sector basis.  The 
Wage Board, a legislated body under the Wage Board Ordinance of 
Sri Lanka of 1941, is a tripartite body representing the 
employer, employee, and the Department of Labor.  There are 38 
boards covering more than 100 occupations in industry, 
commerce, services, and agriculture.  The current minimum wage 
rates are $34 (1,166 rupees) a month in industry and commerce, 
$33 a month in the service industry, and $1.50 a day in 
agriculture.  Minimum wages in the industrial and commercial 
sectors also vary from trade to trade.  In the garment 
industry, where nearly 200,000 persons are employed, the 
minimum wage is $41.20 per month.  While this minimum wage is 
considered insufficient for a worker to support the standard 
family of five, the overwhelming number of textile workers are 
young women whose incomes are supplementary to their families' 
main income.  The Minimum Wage Law is effectively enforced by 
the Department of Labor.

Most permanent full-time workers are covered by laws that 
prohibit them from working regularly more than 45 hours per 
week (a 5 1/2-day workweek).  Such workers also receive 14 days 
of annual leave, 14 to 21 days of medical leave, and some 20 
local holidays each year.  Maternity leave is available for all 
female workers, permanent or casual.  Employers also must 
contribute an amount equal to 12 to 15 percent of a worker's 
wage to an employee's provident fund and 3 percent to an 
employees trust fund.  If these contributions are not paid on 
time, the Government fines the employer.

Safety and health of workers are protected under a variety of 
laws.  The Department of Labor employs a small staff of 
technical officers to inspect workplaces, but the staff is 
inadequate for effective enforcement.  The Department also 
provides nationwide worker education programs on health and 
safety issues in an effort to increase worker awareness.

The graphite industry records the highest number of health 
hazards.  In tea factories, asthma and chronic bronchitis are 
common.  Workers have the statutory right to remove themselves 
from situations that endanger their health, but much of the 
work force is either unaware of, or indifferent to, the risks 
involved in their work.

[end of document]


Department Seal

Return to 1993 Human Rights Practices report home page.
Return to DOSFAN home page.
This is an official U.S. Government source for information on the WWW. Inclusion of non-U.S. Government links does not imply endorsement of contents.