Geneva: A United Nations committee that monitors acts of torture in member countries grilled an intelligence chief on Wednesday over the alleged abuse of detainees during Sri Lanka's bloody civil war, only to have the nation's attorney general step in to deflect the questions.
The mere presence of Chief of National Intelligence Sisira Mendis at the Committee Against Torture's two-day hearing on Sri Lanka was already a surprise to both panel members and many non-governmental groups that have raised concerns about his war-time activities.
A UN report last year documented evidence of "premeditated and systematic" torture by some of Mendis' subordinates when he was a top police official during the recent war.
The evidence included chambers equipped with "metal bars and poles used for beatings, barrels of water used for waterboarding, and pulleys and other apparatus from which victims were suspended," according to the report.
Panel Vice Chair Felice Gaer of the United States asked Mendis what he knew about possible torture by units of the Sri Lankan security forces while he was deputy inspector general of the police in 2008 and 2009.
"So Mr. Mendis, it's very unusual for this committee to have a person who has had the experiences you have before us," Gaer said. "Can you tell us whether you or officers under your responsibility jointly interrogated persons deprived of liberty together with military officers or with members of the TID (Terrorism Investigation Division)?"
Mendis did not respond. Sri Lanka Attorney General Jayantha Jayasuriya, who led the country's delegation to the Geneva hearing, said it would respond in writing to the questions within 48 hours and provide "comprehensive answers to the areas where we can."
Mendis and Jayasuriya declined to speak to The Associated Press following the session.
Sri Lanka's civil war ended in 2009 when government forces defeated Tamil Tiger rebel fighting to create a separate state for ethnic minority Tamils. The UN has estimated that at least 80,000 people were killed during the conflict, including up to 40,000 civilians in the last month alone.
The UN's Human Rights Council last year unanimously approved a resolution to increase post-war accountability and reconciliation in Sri Lanka.