At SETIK, Mr. Ihagama has been involved in documenting human rights abuses including torture and assisting victims of torture and rape and their families since 1998. In particular, he has provided information to international bodies and has campaigned actively to raise human rights awareness and against rights abuses, particularly among the Estate Tamils.
The Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders, a joint programme of the World Organisation Against Torture (OMCT) and the International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH), requests your urgent intervention in the following situation in Sri Lanka.
Brief description of the situation:
According to the information received, on March 6, 2012, Mr. Asela Bandara Ihagama was forced to cancel the annual women’s day event which he had organised for SETIK-Caritas Kandy, following an order by the Office in Charge (OIC) of the Hatton police, prohibiting any public event to take place in Hatton from March 6 to 8, 2012. The event was to be held in Hatton on March 7, and all arrangements had been made when the police informed that the event should not be held at around 6.30 pm on March 6. Around 500 women from the estate community were expected to participate in the event, which focused on violence against women, in particular domestic violence. The OIC told Mr. Ihagama that no public gathering or celebration would be permitted since it would disrupt preparations for the women’s day celebrations organised by the Government, in Hatton, to which over 5,000 Sinhala women from Anuradhapura and Pollonnaruwa were due to participate. The OIC said that all buses and vehicles would be prevented from entering Hatton town from March 6 to 8, and threatened that any gathering of more than five persons would result in arrests by the police. As a result, Mr. Ihagama and his staff were forced to cancel the event planned for the following day and to return to the city of Kandy that night.
Moreover, Mr. Asela Bandara Ihagama has been subjected to a series of threats, intimidation and surveillance by State intelligence officers since January 2012. On January 29, officers from the Criminal Investigations Department (CID) visited his village and questioned neighbours about his work. On February 9, Mr. Ihagama was questioned at his office by an officer from the Terrorism Investigation Department (TID) who said that the TID had received information that Mr. Ihagama was working to support the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) among the estate community and was providing information to international groups, including through their websites in order to discredit the Government.
On February 19, 2012, at around 8 pm, a group of men in a white van were seen parked near a funeral house Mr. Ihagama had visited in the morning in his neighbourhood (around 30 meters from his house). When neighbours asked the men where they had come from and what they were doing there, they replied that they knew Mr. Ihagama and had come from Colombo. They also questioned the neighbours regarding Mr. Ihagama’s work and the details of his family members. They left at around 10.15 pm.
On February 20, 2012, men visited Mr. Ihagama’s office in Kandy and asked the caretaker whether he was in office, telling him that that they were Mr. Ihagama’s friends and wished to speak with him. The caretaker informed them that Mr. Ihagama had not come to office since it was a holiday on that day and offered to give him a message. The men refused to leave a message and left shortly after. Mr. Ihagama believes that these men were intelligence officers since any of his friends would have called him before visiting the office.
The Observatory expresses its great concern about the obstacles to Mr. Asela Bandara Ihagama’s human rights activities as well as the threats, surveillance and acts of harassment against him, which seem to merely aim at sanctioning his peaceful activities.
Please write to the authorities of Sri Lanka urging them to:
i. Guarantee in all circumstances the physical and psychological integrity of Mr. Asela Bandara Ihagam, as well as of all human rights defenders in Sri Lanka;
ii. Order an immediate, thorough, effective and impartial investigation into the above-mentioned events, the result of which must be made public, in order to identify all those responsible, bring them before a civil competent and impartial tribunal and apply to them the penal sanctions provided by the law;
iii. Put an end to all acts harassment against Mr. Asela Bandara Ihagam as well as against all human rights defenders in Sri Lanka;
iv. Conform with the provisions of the UN Declaration on Human Rights Defenders, adopted by the General Assembly of the United Nations on December 9, 1998, in particular :
its Article 1, which provides that “everyone has the right, individually and in association with others, to promote and to strive for the protection and realisation of human rights and fundamental freedoms at the national and international levels”,
Article 12(1) that provides “everyone has the right, individually and in association with others, to participate in peaceful activities against violations of human rights and fundamental freedoms”,
as well as Article 12.2, which provides that “the State shall take all necessary measures to ensure the protection by the competent authorities of everyone, individually or in association with others, against any violence, threats, retaliation, de facto or de jure adverse discrimination, pressure or any other arbitrary action as a consequence of his or her legitimate exercise of the rights referred to in the present Declaration”;
v. Ensure in all circumstances respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms in accordance with international human rights standards and international instruments ratified by Sri Lanka.
President Mahinda Rajapakse, Presidential Secretariat, C/- Office of the President, Temple Trees 150, Galle Road, Colombo 3, Sri Lanka, Fax: +94 11 472100 / +94 11 2446657, Email: [email protected] / [email protected]
Mr. Mohan Peiris, Attorney General, Attorney General’s Department, Colombo 12, Sri Lanka, Fax: +94 11 2 436421
Justice Priyantha R. P. Perera, Chairman, Human Rights Commission of Sri Lanka, 118, Barnes Place, Colombo 07, Sri Lanka. Fax +94 2694924 / +94112696470 / +94112689558, Hotline +94 2689064. Email: [email protected]
Inspector General Of Police (IGP), New Secretariat, Colombo 1, Sri Lanka. Fax no. +94 11 2 440440, Email: [email protected]
National Police Commission, 3rd Floor, Rotunda Towers, 109 Galle Road, Colombo 03, Sri Lanka, Fax: +94 11 2 395867 / +94 11-2395866. E-mail: [email protected] / [email protected]
Mr. Gotabhaya Rajapaksa, Defence Secretary, Ministry Of Defence and Urban Development, 15/5, Baladaksha Mawatha, Colombo 03, Sri Lanka. Fax: +94 11 254 1529. Email: [email protected]
Her Excellency Ms. Kshenuka Senewiratne, Ambassador, Permanent Mission of Sri Lanka to the United Nations in Geneva, 56 rue De Moillebeau, 5th Floor, 1211 Geneva 19, Switzerland, Fax: + 41-22 734 90 84, E-mail: [email protected]
Embassy of Sri Lanka in Brussels, 27 rue Jules Lejeune, 1050 Ixelles, Belgium. Tel: + 32 2 344 53 94/ + 32 2 344 55 85. Fax: + 32 2 344 67 37. Email: [email protected]
Please also write to the diplomatic mission or embassy of Sri Lanka in your respective country.
Geneva-Paris, March 16, 2012
Kindly inform us of any action undertaken quoting the code of this appeal in your reply.