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Tuesday, August 9, 2022

Sri Lanka: CPA wants a response from AG on steps taken to investigate and hold to account alleged perpetrators of violence on July 21

In a letter to AG, Centre for Policy Alternatives CPA  urges  “that instructions be immediately issued to the police and military officers to adhere to the standards of necessity, proportionality and reasonableness and the fundamental rights guaranteed by the Constitution of Sri Lanka when exercising Emergency Powers, especially those relating to arrest and detention. ”

It further says that CPA would appreciate AG’s immediate attention and a response on steps taken to investigate and hold to account alleged perpetrators of this violence,
preferably within two weeks.

The letter in full:

Centre for Policy Alternatives (Guarantee) Limited |
6/5, Layards Road, Colombo 05, Sri Lanka
01st August 2022

Hon. Attorney-General,
Hulftsdorp,
Colombo 12.

Dear Sir,

Request for action on the attacks against peaceful protestors on 21st of July 2022 and other incidents of violence

The Centre for Policy Alternatives (CPA) has monitored recent incidents of violence including incidents that targeted peaceful protestors, media personnel and lawyers including the events of 21st/22nd July 2022 with grave concern. We issued a statement containing our initial concerns on 22nd July 2022.1 This letter raises several issues in relation to the inaction by the authorities and the need for action.

CPA hopes that your good office will take immediate action in relation to these issues. CPA notes there is a serious risk of breakdown of the rule of law due to the overbroad and illegal actions taken by the government. As the Chief law officer of the State, the Attorney General’s Department would have a keen interest in ensuring the protection of the rule of law. Citizens’ confidence in the legal system should be protected at all costs and to this end citizens have to see that the law is being implemented to all without discrimination or favour.

Based on media reports hundreds of military personnel and police blocked the access
roads to Galle Face Green soon after midnight on 21st July 2021 preventing the public
from entering the area.2 Following this, the military and police armed with riot gear
attacked the protest site, assaulting peaceful protestors (especially those trying to film the attack) and dismantling the tents. Video footage shows unarmed individuals/protesters being assaulted by security forces.3

The attack came just hours after protestors had publicly expressed their intention to
leave the premises of the Presidential Secretariat.4

Journalists, lawyers and activists were denied access to the protest site while the
attack was ongoing. A BBC video journalist was reportedly beaten by the military
and his phone snatched by a soldier and videos deleted.5 Lawyers who sought to
intervene in their professional capacity were also reportedly prevented from doing
so by security forces. At least two were reportedly assaulted.6 Several journalists and
at least one lawyer were arrested by the police.7

In the context of an unprecedented economic crisis which has resulted in sustained
mass protests by the citizens of Sri Lanka, this attack has further undermined the
peace and stability in the country. This in a context when Acting President (as he
then was) Ranil Wickremesinghe declared a State of Emergency with effect from the
18th of July 2022, by way of Gazette Extraordinary No.2288/30. Thereafter, on the
18th of July 2022, he brought into effect the Emergency (Miscellaneous Provisions
and Powers) Regulations, No. 1 of 2022 by way of Gazette Extraordinary No.2289/07.
CPA has already noted concerns with these regulations.8

CPA has previously raised concerns about the use of Emergency Powers to suppress
dissent and hinder the exercise of fundamental rights since the first wave of protests
3 Amnesty International, ‘Sri Lanka: Shameful, brutal assault on peaceful protestors must immediately stop’, 22nd July 2022.

CPA reiterates that Emergency Powers must be used only in instances of genuine need to ensure public security and not to further the undemocratic ends of successive governments.

Furthermore, the exercise of Emergency Powers must be reasonable and proportionate and the attack on peaceful protestors who had already expressed their intention to leave the protest site fails to conform to the standards of reasonableness and proportionality. It is indisputable that these regulations have encouraged the unreasonable and disproportionate exercise of power.

Based on publicly available information, CPA notes that this attack has violated the
following fundamental rights enshrined in the Constitution of Sri Lanka.

● Article 11- Freedom from torture or cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or
punishment.
● Article 12- Right to equality before the law and the equal protection of the law.
● Article 13- Freedom from arbitrary arrest, detention and punishment ensuring
due process safeguards.
● Article 14- Freedom of speech, assembly, association, occupation, and
movement.

The use of force by law enforcement officials are governed by the international
human rights principles of legality, necessity, proportionality, and accountability.10
In a context where these principles were clearly not adhered to, CPA urges that at
least the last of these principles be addressed, that of accountability. The failure to
take appropriate disciplinary action against all instances of excessive use of force
would entrench impunity and further destroy public trust in government, undermining the rule of law in Sri Lanka.

CPA also urges that instructions be immediately issued to the police and military
officers to adhere to the standards of necessity, proportionality and reasonableness
and the fundamental rights guaranteed by the Constitution of Sri Lanka when
exercising Emergency Powers, especially those relating to arrest and detention.
In this regard, we would appreciate your immediate attention and a response on
steps taken to investigate and hold to account alleged perpetrators of this violence,
preferably within two weeks.

In light of the public interest in this matter, this letter will be made public.

Thank you
Yours sincerely
Dr. P. Saravanamuttu
Executive Director

CC : The Inspector General of Police,
Police Headquarters,
Colombo 01.

Secretary to the President,
Presidential Secretariat
Galle Face,
Colombo 1.
Secretary, Ministry of Defence,
Ministry of Defence,
Defence Headquarters Complex,
Sri Jayawardenepura, Kotte.
Secretary, Ministry of Public Security,
Ministry of Public Security,
14th Floor “Suhurupaya”,
Battaramulla.
Chairperson,
Human Rights Commission of Sri Lanka,
Head Office,
Number 14,
R. A. De Mel Mawatha,
Colombo 4.

Read the statement as PDF with footnotes.: Letter-to-authorities-reg-July-violence

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