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Human rights outcry as Scots police train Sri Lankan forces

A SCOTTISH police project to train Sri Lankan security forces is due to continue until 2015, despite calls for the project to end over concerns at the country's human rights record.

Sri Lankan police have faced international censure over alleged war crimes and treatment of critics of their governmentPhotograph: Tamilnet
Sri Lankan police have faced international censure over alleged war crimes and treatment of critics of their governmentPhotograph: Tamilnet

Last year, the Sunday Herald revealed how more than 3500 Sri Lankan police officers - including some senior commanders - had received training from the Scottish Police College (SPC) since 2007.

The police training reform project, which aims to embed "international standards in police training" and is being funded by the Foreign Office, will carry on until 2015, Police Scotland have confirmed.

Bruce Milne, a former head of education and development at the SPC, has also been subcontracted to manage the project in Sri Lanka, which is developing new leadership programmes for senior officers.

Concerns over the Sri Lankan government have been brought into focus during the Commonwealth Games, with the country's president Mahinda Rajapaksa holding one of the main leadership positions in the Commonwealth.

Several hundred people staged a protest outside the Games opening ceremony on July 23, calling for the country to be suspended from the Games in light of the abuses allegedly committed during the regime of Rajapaksa, who is chair in office of the Commonwealth.

The Sri Lankan president has reportedly been reluctant to travel to Glasgow for the Games due to security fears and will not attend the Commonwealth's official First World War commemoration service in Glasgow tomorrow.

In March this year, the UN Human Rights Council voted to establish an inquiry into allegations of war crimes and crimes against humanity in Sri Lanka.

A UN report found that as many as 40,000 civilians may have been killed in the last months of the civil war in May 2009, with civilians and hospitals targeted by bombs.

Rajapaksa rejected the resolution and claimed it "hurt reconciliation efforts".

Amnesty International has also highlighted concerns about critics of the government being regularly threatened and harassed since the conflict ended. It says it continues to receive reports of arbitrary arrest and detention, enforced disappearance, extrajudicial execution, torture and other ill-treatment.

Human rights campaigner and researcher Phil Miller, who recently published a report on Britain's Dirty War against the Tamil People, said: "The Scottish Police College must quit Sri Lanka now."

But he stressed there is no evidence the project has prevented human rights violations.

"There would be uproar if president Rajapaksa came to Glasgow for the Commonwealth Games, so why are Scottish police still going out to Sri Lanka?"

A spokesman for the Sri Lanka Campaign for Peace and Justice said: "What is the point of supporting an international investigation against a country and condemning their human rights record if you ... train their forces of oppression (the police)?"

Among the cases highlighted by Amnesty International is that of Prageeth Eknaligoda, an outspoken government critic who disappeared in January 2010 while reporting on Sri Lanka's presidential elections.

Siobhan Reardon, Amnesty International Scotland's programme director, said: "Human rights defenders and campaigners rightly celebrate president Rajapaksa's decision not to attend the Commonwealth Games. However, it seems this is a missed opportunity to discuss Sri Lanka's appalling human rights record including the systemic failure to investigate war crimes.

"At present, any training of the security forces can be problematic given the role of the police ... and other law enforcement and military personnel in serious violations of human rights. It is important to recognise the structural nature of impunity in Sri Lanka. Without support for independent institutions, including a Police Commission free from political interference, training will not help to check the culture of impunity."

The Foreign Office has been funding the SPC's police training reform programme since 2007. The Scottish Government also previously funded a training project, which came to an end in March last year.

When contacted by the Sunday Herald, Bruce Milne referred enquiries about the training programme to Police Scotland. A Police Scotland spokesman said the programme is "currently projected" to end in 2015.

He added: "When the British Government supports justice and security projects there are safeguards put in place to ensure that any work does not contribute to human rights abuses and it has been clear from the outset that the training reform package in Sri Lanka, led by the SPC, was embedded in international standards in police training."

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