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Report: Freedoms of Assembly and Association in Sri Lanka; 84 attacks in 2014

[Monks led mobs have disrupted peaceful meetings on several occasions]

Sri Lanka has ratified the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) which guarantees freedom of assembly and association. This is reinforced by the Sri Lankan constitution, which also guarantees freedom of assembly and association[1]. However, freedom of assembly and association is considered as a complicated and dangerous issue in Sri Lanka, and these freedoms are often suppressed through a variety of different avenues.

Read the full report on 84 attacks here as a PDF Freedom of Assembly + Association in Sri Lanka-INFORM-20Sep2014(1)

The legal framework:

The constitution itself offers certain exceptions to the guarantee of freedom of assembly and association. It allows freedom of assembly to be restricted in the “interests of racial and religious harmony”[2] , and freedom of association could be restricted in the “interests of racial and religious harmony and national economy”[3]. Both can be restricted in the “interests of national security, public order and the protection of public health or morality, or for the purpose of securing due recognition and respect for the rights and freedoms of others, or of meeting the just requirements of the general welfare of a democratic society”.[4] The Prevention of Terrorism Act (PTA)[5] further restricts and threatens freedom of assembly and association. In addition, the PTA also restricts host of other rights, such as freedom of expression, right to due process, right to be free from arbitrary arrest etc.

Amongst those individuals who have become victims of the repression of freedoms of assembly and association, are the families of disappeared, student activists, workers, lawyers, clergy, opposition politicians, NGO workers and human rights defenders. Additionally, organisations and groups have also been targeted, including NGOs operating at the national level, community based organizations, trade unions and student unions.

Supressing Freedom of Assembly:

Police and Army have been documented as having used disproportionate and maximum force against unarmed protestors, and have killed and injured those engaged in peaceful assemblies. Participants of protests have faced threats and intimidation. These peaceful protestors have been discredited as people who support terrorism and international conspiracies against the country. Police have resorted to obtaining ex-parte judicial orders to stop peaceful assemblies. The police have also blocked people from travelling from the North to Colombo for peaceful assemblies. Recent cases have shown police watching mob attacks (including those led by Buddhist monks) on peaceful assemblies, refusing to intervene and stop the attacks with even minimum force. Instead, police have chosen to disperse organizers and participants of peaceful assemblies instead of dispersing mobs, and have refused to provide security to victims. There have also been arson attacks on basic temporary infrastructure built for assemblies. Military had ordered the cancellation of training workshops for journalists. Surveillance of private and public events takes place regularly. Organizers and participants have documented intimidation tactics before, during, and after peaceful assemblies, used in order to pressurize them not to participate. In the North, such repression is more severe, with the Military and Police even stopping peaceful memorial and prayer events for those killed. Religious clergy who had organized such events have also faced interrogation and threats.

Suppressing Freedom of Association:

Freedom of Association has been under threat for several years, but events in recent months have become more alarming. The NGO Secretariat sent out a circular to NGOs warning them to stop the following; doing workshops for journalists; organizing trainings for journalists; press conferences; and issuing press releases. Public notices were issued by the Department of External Resources warning about accepting funds and collaborating with NGOs. Government has also been reported as planning to introduce new laws to register, monitor and control activities of Private Foundations and Trusts. Intense and probing reporting procedures have been established to monitor work of NGOs. Student Unions have been dissolved and Student Activists suspended. Associations have also been called unpatriotic and accused of supporting terrorism. Some associations are being subjected to surveillance regularly.

84 Freedoms of Assembly and Association violations reported in 2014[6]

[1]              Sri Lankan constitution, articles 14 (1) (b and C), available at http://www.priu.gov.lk/Cons/1978Constitution/Chapter_03_Amd.htm

[2]              Sri Lankan constitution, articles 15 (3) available at http://www.priu.gov.lk/Cons/1978Constitution/Chapter_03_Amd.htm

[3]              Sri Lankan constitution, articles 15 (4) available at http://www.priu.gov.lk/Cons/1978Constitution/Chapter_03_Amd.htm

[4]           Sri Lankan constitution, articles 15 (7) available at http://www.priu.gov.lk/Cons/1978Constitution/Chapter_03_Amd.htm

[5]           Prevention of Terrorism (Temporary Provisions) Act No. 48 of 1979, as amended by Act Nos. 10 of 1982 and 22 of 1988

[6]              Based on incidents reported in the media, compiled by INFORM Human Rights Documentation Centre, available at http://ihrdc.wordpress.com/repression-of-dissent/repression-of-dissent/. This is not a comprehensive list.

– Report submitted to UN Human Rights Committee by INFORM, Human Rights Documentation Centre, Colombo, Sri Lanka/ www.ihrdc.wordpress.com / [email protected]


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