The British Government says it still has some concerns on human rights related issues in Sri Lanka.
An update on Sri Lanka by the Foreign and Commonwealth office in its human rights report states that the human rights situation in Sri Lanka between April and June saw both positive and negative developments.
The update says: The UK welcomed the Sri Lankan Permanent Representative’s announcement to the EU Parliament that Sri Lanka will investigate the Channel 4 video footage alleging war crimes. The High Commissioner for Human Rights will undertake a visit to Sri Lanka in August. The Sri Lankan Permanent Representative told the UN Human Rights Council in May that a centralised, comprehensive database of detainees had been established by the Terrorism Investigation Division (TID) and investigations on 1,628 cases were completed. Families of missing detainees however maintained that the database was not freely accessible.
The UK welcomed the announcement that Northern Provincial Council elections will take place in September. However, the debate continued over devolution of power. In May a government coalition member introduced a motion in Parliament to abolish the 13th amendment to the constitution which devolves power to the provinces. The Sri Lankan Defence Secretary said that empowering a “hostile” provincial administration with land and police powers would have grave repercussions. There were also increased reports of land takeovers in Tamil areas. On 15 May over a thousand landowners from the north filed writ applications challenging the acquisition of their land as being “illegal and unlawful”.
There were continued restrictions on freedom of expression during the last three months. The Jaffna based Uthayan newspaper was repeatedly attacked, including an arson attack on the eve of the Sinhala and Tamil New Year. There was a failed attempt to abduct the editor of an anti- government Sinhala language newspaper on 30 May. Opposition politicians, particularly MPs from the Tamil National Alliance, reported increased threats and harassment. In May, Azad Sally, an anti-government Muslim politician was arrested under the Prevention of Terrorism Act over press comments. He was subsequently released on a Presidential directive.
The BBC World Service suspended Sinhala and Tamil broadcasts citing “targeted interference” of Tamil programming. A number of local and international activists including the Committee to Protect Journalists and Human Rights Watch raised concerns over plans to introduce a code of media ethics. The Media Minister said that the code would not become law, but legal ramifications of non-compliance remained unclear. Government officials were also quoted as stating that new digital/social media needed to be monitored as it had the potential to “destabilise nations” and “affect serious change”. The UK raised concerns over attacks on media institutions and threats to freedom of expression with Sri Lankan authorities.
There were a number of attacks on minority religious sites and continued campaigns against Christians and Muslims during the quarter. On 12 April a peaceful vigil against religiously motivated hate campaigns was dispersed by the police.
There were also concerns surrounding Freedom of Association. On 21 April a protest held by the political party the Democratic People’s Front calling for wage hikes in the plantations sector was disrupted by persons allegedly connected to a ruling party politician. Party Leader Mano Ganesan sustained minor injuries during the incident.
A ruling party MP told Parliament on 5 June that disappeared journalist Prageeth Ekneligoda was currently living in France. The MP was asked to give evidence at the inquiry in to the disappearance. In a separate case regarding the death of a detainee during a prison riot, Chief Justice Mohan Peiris was quoted as stating that “human rights are there to protect the majority and not the minority of criminals”. 25 June marked 18 months since the murder of British National Khuram Sheikh. The High Commission expressed concern that no progress had been made in the murder investigation.
NGOs expressed concern about increasing restrictions on their operations in the country. Amnesty International in its latest report accused Sri Lanka of intensifying its crackdown on dissent and urged the Commonwealth not to hold the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM) in Sri Lanka unless the country’s human rights situation improved. In May, the British Prime Minister announced his decision to attend CHOGM. A government spokesman told media that “we do not think that turning away from the problem is the best way to make progress in Sri Lanka….” The Prime Minister will use his visit to “…..shine a light on what is going on in the country, what has been achieved and what more needs to be done”.
The British High Commission in Colombo marked the International Day Against Homophobia in May with a presentation of a cheque to Equal Ground, a non-profit organisation seeking rights for the LGBT community. (Colombo Gazette)