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Sri Lanka must make reparations to Canadian after imprisonment: UN

The United Nations logo is seen on one of the front doors at the U.N. Headquarters in New York, August 31, 2013.

Carlo Allegri/Reuters

The United Nations Human Rights Committee has ordered the Sri Lankan government to make reparations for the alleged detention and torture of a Canadian man over the course of three years.

The committee said Sri Lanka must prosecute and punish those responsible for imprisoning Roy Samathanam while he was in the country for a visit in 2007 until his release in 2010.

Samathanam was allegedly tortured and forced to sign a confession to being part of the rebel group Liberation Tigers of Tamil Ealam before he was released, the committee said in its decision, which was issued last week.

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The 46-year-old Samathanam welcomed the committee's finding in a statement issued on Monday.

"Although I can never get back the three years of my life that I lost, I finally have a measure of justice," he said.

Sri Lanka was engaged in a multi-year civil war that ended in May 2009 with the defeat of the rebel Tamil Tigers.

The rebels had been fighting for an independent state for the ethnic Tamil minority complaining of systematic marginalization by successive governments controlled by the majority Sinhalese.

Samathanam filed a complaint to the UN Human Rights Committee three years ago in an attempt to address what he described as multiple violations of his rights in the country.

The UN committee is a body of independent experts that monitor the implementation of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights by its state parties.

It concluded Sri Lanka violated several sections of the covenant.

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Under the terms of the covenant, Sri Lanka must provide Samathanam "an effective remedy" that includes "adequate compensation," a thorough investigation and to "prosecute, try and punish those responsible for the (Samathanam's) arbitrary arrest, ill-treatment, and inhuman detention, and make the results of such measures public," the committee said.

Samathanam, who is of Tamil descent, now lives in Toronto with his wife and child. He came to Canada in 1990 as a refugee.

In 2005, Samathanam travelled to Sri Lanka's capital, Colombo, to marry the woman who became his wife. During a lull in Sir Lanka's civil war, Samathanam's wife became pregnant and they decided to remain in the country until she gave birth.

During that time, according to the committee's decision, Samathanam helped a friend with the importation of 600 mobile phones into Sri Lanka. Officers with the country's Terrorist Investigation Division then raided his house and arrested him. They alleged there was a GPS device in the boxes, which was illegal, according the committee's decision.

While in custody Samathanam alleged he watched guards beat and torture other prisoners.

Later, he alleged he was beaten and tortured while behind bars and said officers threatened to beat and rape his wife and kill his child if he didn't confess to being part of the rebel group's intelligence arm.

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In August 2008, after more than an hour of interrogation, Samathanam hand-wrote a statement in Tamil that he had imported an illegal GPS device for the rebel group, the committee's decision said.

Samathanam was finally released from prison in 2010.

"My arrest was not ordered by any judge but instead by the Sri Lankan Ministry of Defence," Samathanam said. "The same unjust law that was used in my case — the Prevention of Terrorism Act — is still in force and being used to detain Tamils in violation of their rights."

In 2013, the Canadian Centre for International Justice helped Samathanam file his complaint with the UN's Human Rights Committee.

The centre said it was "thrilled" with the committee's conclusions.

"While we monitor the progress of the Sri Lankan government in this case, we will continue to review other avenues for accountability," said the centre's legal director Matt Eisenbrandt in a statement. "All the individuals responsible, including the hands-on torturers and their commanders, must be brought to justice."

The centre noted that the UN committee has given Sri Lanka 180 days to report back about the measures taken to comply with its decision.

The Sri Lanka High Commission in Ottawa did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

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