Court stops UK from returning Tamil to Sri Lanka

STRASBOURG, France (Reuters) - The European Court of Human Rights ruled on Thursday that an ethnic Tamil man denied asylum in Britain could not be sent back to his native Sri Lanka because he would be at risk of torture there.

The ruling could have implications for hundreds of other Tamils trying to avoid expulsion from Britain to Sri Lanka.

Thursday’s ruling centred on a 33-year-old man who sought asylum in Britain in 1999 citing fears of ill-treatment by the Sri Lankan authorities, who had detained him six times in seven years on suspicion of involvement with the rebel Tamil Tigers.

The man had been released without charge every time. He was ill-treated during at least one of his detentions and his legs bear scars from being beaten with batons.

The man also feared the Tigers because his father had done some work for the Sri Lankan army, which has been fighting the rebels for 25 years in a civil war estimated to have killed 70,000 people.

The European Court of Human Rights said it had received an increasing number of petitions from ethnic Tamils facing expulsion to Sri Lanka from Britain and it had asked British authorities to suspend 342 procedures pending rulings.

Fighting has intensified in the north of Sri Lanka after the army, which has vowed to finish off the Tigers this year, drove the rebels out of their eastern enclave in 2007.

The Tigers, fighting for an independent state for the ethnic Tamil minority in predominantly Sinhalese Sri Lanka, regularly retaliate with suicide attacks.

In its ruling, the European Court of Human Rights “took note of the current climate of general violence in Sri Lanka”, according to a summary posted on the court’s website.

The court agreed with British authorities that the deterioration in security did not create a general risk for all Tamils returning to Sri Lanka, but it found there were specific risk factors in the case they were examining.

The court said the man’s father had signed a document to ensure his release from detention and therefore it was possible authorities would have records of him and would detain him on arrival in Colombo.

“The court considered that where there was a sufficient risk that an applicant would be detained ... the presence of scarring, with all the significance that the Sri Lankan authorities were then likely to attach to it, had to be taken as greatly increasing the cumulative risk of ill-treatment.”