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CHOGM 2013 / Sri Lanka: Commonwealth & human rights principles in Sri Lanka, in the weeks before CHOGM

HR festival banned

The Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM) is due to start tomorrow. The last few weeks has seen series of violations of Human Rights and Commonwealth principles in Sri Lanka, which is the host country and expected to lead the Commonwealth in the next two years. Victims of human rights violations, their families, activists, local and international journalists, UN experts and opposition politicians from Sri Lanka and Commonwealth countries who are critical of the government have been amongst those targeted. Pro-government protests have been allowed to go ahead, even as Police obtained a court order preventing protests in the Colombo city today and tomorrow. Below are some incidents reported, based on testimonies of victims, eye witnesses and media.

  • Today, 14th Oct., Police obtained a court order to prevent protests and processions in the Colombo city today and tomorrow. 
  • Afterwards, Police showed up at the Human Rights festival organized by the main opposition party and civil society groups, and compelled the event to be shut down.
  • A candle light vigil scheduled for later today in Colombo also had to be cancelled.
  • On 13th Nov., Tamil families of disappeared persons from the Northern province, who wanted to join a human rights event in Colombo, were prevented from coming by the police and military.
  • Also on 13th Nov., foreign journalists crew from UK’s channel 4, who had produced a series of well publicized documentaries showing alleged war crimes, were traveling to the North, when they were forced to return to Colombo by the police, after a protest against them led by a leading government politician from the North Central Province.
  • On the same day, a local media condemned the attendance of channel 4 journalists at press conference convened by the opposition party, implying it violated immigration rules.
  • On the same day also, protesters had tried to attack the leader of the opposition, as he was on his way to attend a human rights event in Colombo.
  • Further, on 13th Nov., the Army spokesperson had told media that the protest in Jaffna organized by people against land occupation by the military was a “circus”.
  • Also on the 13th Nov., the Media Minister told that the government cannot guarantee the safety of foreign journalists who visit areas outside Colombo.
  • On 12th Nov., five unidentified men visited the house of a senior journalist who had been reporting on human rights violations, and left after being told the journalist and his family was not at home. Based on appearance, questions asked and behavior, the men appeared to be military personnel in civilian attire.
  • On 11th Nov., a protest was organized against channel 4 journalists outside the airport. As this a High Security Zone where protest are usually not allowed, and the arrival time of the journalists were known in advance, it appears this was  a government backed protest, sending a signal that journalists critical of the government could be intimidated.
  • On the same day, channel 4 journalists reported that they were subjected to surveillance.
  • On 10th Nov., organizers of a protest against occupation of land in Jaffna were threatened and asked to stop the protests.
  • On 10th Nov, two MPs from Australia and New Zealand, who wanted to engage in a fact finding mission on human rights violations and a hold a press conference, were detained, questioned and deported, even though they reported that they had declared purpose of visit.
  • On 6th Nov, the Human Rights Institute of the International Bar Association was informed that visas already issued to experts due to participate in a seminar in Colombo about Rule of Law and Commonwealth Values will be revoked. The experts included the first and present UN Special Rapporteurs on Independence of Judges & Lawyers.
  • On the same day, it was also announced that the government had imposed an embargo on seminars and conferences between 20th Oct. to 20th Nov. – during CHOGM and the weeks leading upto it.
  • On 4th Nov., the Chairman of the state owned radio station, Sri Lanka Broadcasting Corporation, made death threats publicly on a radio show, against well known woman human rights activist, Dr. Nimalka Fernando, who was also  of the Conveners of the Alternative People’s Forum, which had decided to boycott all official CHOGM related events.
  • On 30th and 31st Oct., the Director and Deputy Director of the International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) were detained, subjected to intense interrogation and data on one of their laptops was deleted. Although authorities initially claimed this was due to alleged violation of immigration law, later they apologized for misunderstanding and miscommunication. The type of questioning, including their dealing with local media rights activists, appear not to be linked to immigration law violations.
  • On 30th Oct., immigration and intelligence offices raided a workshop on media freedom, took photographs of participants and later interrogated the Convener of the Free Media Movement.
  • Fits Aviation Pvt Ltd., reported that they have been asked to stop operating flights to Jaffna between 10th – 18th Nov., while the Air Force confirmed that they will continue to operate flights to Jaffna. This is expected to severely curtail the visits of foreign journalists to Jaffna and the Northern Province


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