Torture endemic in Sri Lanka police - rights group

COLOMBO (Reuters) - Torture has become endemic in Sri Lankan police stations and there seems to be no political will to stop it, an Asian human rights group said on Wednesday.

The Hong Kong-based Asian Human Rights Commission said torture was standard procedure both in investigating ordinary crimes and as part of the civil war with Tamil Tiger rebels.

The government said the allegations were baseless.

Despite thousands of complaints, the commission said the attorney general’s office had only launched three prosecutions against alleged official torturers.

“Torture is a way of life at all police stations in Sri Lanka, whether the alleged crimes investigated are those relating to petty criminal offences, serious crimes or offences under the emergency and anti-terrorism laws,” the commission said in a statement.

Rights watchdogs have reported hundreds of abductions, disappearances and killings blamed on government security forces and Tamil Tiger separatists since a bloody civil war, in which 70,000 people have died since 1983, resumed in 2006.

The commission also said investigations into torture were being politically prevented to protect Sri Lanka’s human rights record, and that the lack of political will to eradicate torture affected the entire administration of justice.

International observers quit the island earlier this year, saying a probe into a string of high-profile killings, including the massacre of 17 local aid staff in 2006, was going nowhere.

The UN Human Rights Council has called on Sri Lanka to investigate allegations of killings and disappearances and prosecute those responsible, including members of the security forces.

Fighting between government forces and Tamil Tiger guerrillas has intensified since the government formally pulled out of a six-year-old ceasefire pact in January.

The Tamil Tigers, who are fighting for an independent state for minority Tamils in the north and east of the island, have hit back with a campaign of suicide attacks.