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UN urges Sri Lanka not to criminalise poverty

Dec 26, 2017 13:03 PM GMT+0530 | 3 Comment(s)

ECONOMYNEXT – Poverty appears to be a key factor in people being arrested in Sri Lanka, a United Nations human rights team has said, urging the government to find alternatives to detention, instead of criminalising poverty.

Those who could afford quality legal representation were likely to receive a better outcome in their cases, including individuals charged with terrorist or criminal offences, according to the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention.

These were some of the preliminary findings of the team which conducted an official country visit in early December 2017 accompanied by staff from the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, at the invitation of the government.

“Poverty appears to be a major determinant of whether a person will be taken into custody throughout Sri Lanka, and how long he or she will be deprived of liberty,” said the team in their report.

The Working Group said it received testimony from many people currently in detention that indicated that those who could afford quality legal representation were likely to receive a better outcome in their cases.

These included individuals charged with Prevention of Terrorism Act or criminal offences, those detained at drug rehabilitation centres and child care institutions.

The Working Group also received reports that between 25 to 30 beggars, homeless and street people are reportedly being detained at Ridiyagama Detention Centre in Ambalantota each month.

The Centre, which is maintained by the Social Affairs Division of the Southern Provincial Council, also houses anybody sent by court order who is defined as a vagrant under the Vagrants Ordinance.

“This includes female prostitutes, elderly people, and individuals who have psychosocial impairments or alcohol addiction. The Working Group was informed that a similar detention centre is located at Weerawila,” the report said.

“The Working Group considers that any form of discrimination that results in the deprivation of liberty is clearly arbitrary, and urges the government to find affordable alternatives to detention for the most vulnerable members of society, including social services to alleviate rather than criminalise poverty.”

(COLOMBO, December 26, 2017)