Today, 14th of September 2022 , human rights defenders, civil society organizations, grassroot CBOs and women’s organizations of all eight districts (Jaffna, Kilinochchi, Mullaitivu, Mannar, Vavuniya, Trincomalee. Batticaloa, and Ampara) of the North and East regions of Sri-Lanka held a campaign against the continuing state-sponsored intimidations against civil society organizations in North and Eats areas.
This campaign was organized by the North East Coordinating Committee (NECC)
Sri-Lanka State! Stop State Sponsored Intimidation against Human Rights Defenders and Civil Society Organizations in North and East Sri-Lanka
We, North-East Coordinating Committee (NECC), a collective of fifteen grassroot human rights organizations that function in Northern and Eastern provinces of the country, call upon the Sri-Lankan state to immediately stop all forms of state sponsored intimidations and harassments perpetrate against the human rights defenders and civil society organizations in North and East.
Civil society organizations including grassroot women’s CBOs and action groups such as families of disappeared persons have been continuously facing the harassment, threats, and various forms of rights violations perpetrate against us by the men attached to state intelligence/ National Investigation Bureau (NIB), police, and the military (army and navy) and by the military intelligence.
In this statement we have covered the incidents of state sponsored intimidation between 31st July to 12th September 2022 (44 days). NECC has organized hundred days campaign in North and East areas for the political resolution of Tamil speaking people of this region under the theme of “A Dignified and Righteous Political Resolution for North East People of Sri-Lanka”. A press statement was made by NECC on 30th July 2022 relating to the hundred days campaign. Since then, the crackdown on member organizations of NECC, community groups and public who engage and support the campaign have been systematically intensified.
The types of intimidation and threats are:
- Targeting staff members and activist of civil society organizations and continually making telephone calls to them even in night times and odd times and question about their work, getting the details of them including phone numbers and national identity card numbers
- Army, police, and intelligence from different locations call the same person
- Continuously following the activists wherever they go
- Photograph and video the civil society activists
- Social activists are summoned to the Terrorism Investigation Department in Colombo
- Men attached to intelligence without any pre notice just enter the offices of civil society organizations and inquire them about their work, financial sources and about the donors
- They also threat the civil society activists by making falls allegations against them such as linking them with Tamil diaspora
- Leveling falls allegations such as the rights activities are anti government
- Threatening the activists that they would be arrested and detain for their activism
- Intelligence, police, and military personnel compel the civil society organizations to give their organizational action plans to them and to inform them about the common events in advance
- Directly visiting the houses of staff members even in odd times and inquiring the staff member about their work and stay in the houses for hours
- Directly visiting the houses when the staff / activist was not at home and questioning the family members (husband/ wife /old parents/ siblings/ or in-laws or children) about the work of the activists. Giving negative impression to the family about the work of the activist and creating fear among the family
- Questioning the family members in threatening manner and stay there for hours
- Intelligence men have stored the photos of the activists in their mobile phones and show the photos to neighbours of the respective activists and communities with whom the activists work and create negative impression and fear about civil activism among those people
- State intelligence, police and military visit the houses of local villagers and threat them not to engage in civil activism
- Intelligence, police, and army compel the media personnel to get details of the events organize by the civil society organizations
- They also pressure the government officials (eg: Grama Niladhari and officers attached to the divisional secretariates) in the respective areas to get details of the civil organizations and there are incidents the government officers have been threatened by those men
- Army, police and intelligence instructing the local government officials not to give the public places for the events of civil society organizations
- The level of intimidations has been expanded to office breakings, unlawfully searching the documents stored in cupboards and in electronic devices and the data
- The police rudely deal the civil society organizations when they make complaint to Human Rights Commission (HRC) and accuse them for complaining to the HRC
Number of intimidations within 44 days (a brief calculation):
- During this period two offices of civil organizations respectively on 31st July 2022 the office of Aham Humanitarian Resource Center (AHRC) in Trincomalle and on 9th September 2022 the office of Forum for Affected Persons (FAF) in Mannar have been broken, documents were searched and electronic devices that contain data were stolen.
- AHRC: Office breakers entered the office by removing the roof sheets. They broke the file cupboards and mainly searched and viewed the documents and stolen the CCTV system and an old used Samsung phone. Though a quality camera and other valuable things were in the office they haven’t taken it.
On 5th August 2022 an illegal trespass to AHRC office was made by the police. Policemen jumped over the parapet wall and illegally entered the office premises. Police admitted the trespassing and stated that they did so to get the stolen CCTV system of AHRC which was put into the well by the office breakers.
Police also accused AHRC for complaining the action of the police to the human rights commission
- FAF: On 9th September 2022, doors of the FAF office were broken by two men (according to CCTV footages) and files in the cupboards were searched by them thoroughly. They have taken a camera, a pen drive and a file containing important documents. Though laptop and other valuables were there they haven’t taken those things.
- Within this period 10 social activists and Tamil politicians including women activists from Eastern Province were received notices from the TID headquarters in Colombo to face inquiries at the Colombo TID office
- Minimum 27 staff of 15 civil society organizations have received telephone calls totally for 46 times. 2/3 of the staff are women
- Intelligence and army visited the houses of 7 staff members totally for 9 times
- All the staff of member organizations of NECC and community participants have been photographed and videoed. Majority of the staff and community members are women
- In North and East regions, several village level communities were threatened by intelligence and army not to engage in the rights activities of civil societies. Eg. On 5th August 2022, people of Navatkuli village of Jaffna were threatened by the intelligence stating that they would encroach their houses and beaten up them if they engage in civil activism.
The gendered nature of intimidation against women human rights defenders:
- Male intelligence, police and army called female staff of civil society organizations and inquired about their work in odd times. Eg. After 10.00 pm.
- Vavuniya district: On 18th August 2022, two men attached to intelligence visited a young female civil society worker’s house while she was at the office. The mother was alone at home. The men asked several questions relating the work of her daughter. This has caused the mother fear and she is worrying about the safety of the family.
Again, on 7th September 2022, a man called the particular young woman and introduced himself that he is from police, and they will be visiting her on that day and told her to stay at home. Then two male intelligences visited the house around 10.30 and they inquired her for two hours. At that time her mother and siter in law were only at home.
- Kilinochchi district: On 2nd August 2022, the female activist received telephone calls three times on the same day from intelligence from different locations (Mullaitivu, Mallavi and Mankulam). Also intelligence from Kilinochchi also continuously called her to get details of the campaign and about their work
Further they visited her house owner and inquired them about her.
On 6th August 2022, two men attached to intelligence visited her mother, showed their official identity cards, and told her that they were sent to inquire her (the mother) about her daughter. They inquired the mother for more than one and a half hours. The way they questioned was to create fear among the family members. After this the mother become sick and she didn’t eat for two days due to fear and thinking the safety of the daughter.
The particular female social worker is continuously followed by the intelligence, and they call her and tell that the location where she is at the particular moment. The intelligence men follow her when she is getting in the bus and getting out.
- On 13th September 2022, a woman human rights defender from Batticaloa was interrogated for more than three and a half hours at the TID office in Colombo by three officers. They questioned her regarding her past and present social activism. They had photographs of her when she engaged in public events and campaigns and showed it to her and questioned about those activisms and her involvement in it
- Intelligence men visited the houses of female social workers and women community-based activists after 5.00 pm
- When women participate in campaigns, they visited the women’s houses and complain about the women and about their activism with their husbands and cause problems within the family and also create fear among them about the safety of the family members
- Men attached to intelligence questioned why particular female activists are not married and why do they don’t have children
- Men attached to state intelligence, army, navy and police photograph and video women human rights defenders and women community activists and have their photos in their phones
These types of rude and brutal crackdown on civil society workers must be strongly opposed and condemned by the international community, neighboring friendly country India and by the United Nations.
We call upon the Sri-Lankan government to immediately stop the state sponsored intimidation and to create democratic environment for the better functioning of civil society activism.
We also call upon the United Nations to protect and promote human rights in Sri-Lanka
North East Coordinating Committee
(All photos courtesy of NFCC)
14 September 2022