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Saturday, December 2, 2023

Sri Lanka: Despite UN calls to protect civic freedoms, government targets activists and critics and stifles dissent – CIVICUS

The state of civic space in Sri Lanka remains rated as ‘obstructed’ by the CIVICUS Monitor. Ongoing concerns related to fundamental freedoms include the targeting of civil society groups, human rights defenders, journalists and the families of victims of past violations. Further, the government has used the draconian Prevention of Terrorism Act and ICCPR Act to silence dissent. There has also been impunity for crackdowns on mass anti-government protests including arbitrary arrests, judicial harassment and excessive use of force.

On 8-9th March 2023, the UN Human Rights Committee reviewed the state’s implementation of its obligations under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR). Ahead of the review, CIVICUS submitted a report to the Committee. In its concluding observations, the Committee highlighted concerns around the harassment, intimidation, surveillance, disappearances and killings, with impunity, of journalists, human rights activists and other media workers, the misuse of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights Act No. 56 of 2007 to stifle freedom of expression and the blocking of public access to social media platforms ahead of and during anti-government protests in 2022.

The Committee also noted with concern the use of excessive force in dispersing peaceful assemblies, the application of counter-terrorism legislation against protestors and the lack of effective investigations and prosecutions in these cases. It was also concerned about onerous requirements for the registration of non-governmental organisations and frequent denials of requests from organisations working on politically sensitive issues.

In April 2023, the US said it would refuse visas on human rights grounds to a Sri Lankan provincial governor and former Naval Commander who has been charged with killings during the island nation’s long civil war. A Sri Lankan investigation accused Wasantha Karannagoda, a former navy chief, among others, of abducting teenage children of wealthy families and killing them after extorting money.

In May 2023, Human Rights Watch noted that 14 years since the end of the country’s brutal civil war the Sri Lankan government remains in denial about the atrocities committed by its forces. The government Office on Missing Persons, set up to trace the disappeared, has made no progress. Some government officials implicated in alleged crimes remain politically powerful or hold senior positions in the Sri Lankan military. The authorities continue to seize or hold land belonging to Tamils or owned by Hindu temples.

In July 2023, the Universal Periodic Review of Sri Lanka’s human rights record will be adopted by the UN Human Rights Council following its review in February 2023. The government accepted recommendations on civic space it received during this cycle, including to repeal the Prevention of Terrorism Act and ensure any replacement legislation conforms to international human rights standards; to guarantee freedoms of expression, peaceful assembly and association; and ensure a safe environment for civil society, including human rights defenders and journalists, and refrain from imposing undue limitations on NGOs.

In recent months, the authorities have questioned or arrested activists, journalists and critics including Nathasha Edirisooriya, Bruno Divakara, Ramachandran Sanath, Tharindu Udavaragedera and Prasad Welikumbura. Human rights lawyer Priyalal Sirisena has received threatening phone calls while another, Hejaaz Hizbullah, continues to face judicial persecution. The authorities are investigating alleged contempt speech made by five activists against the arrest of Nathasha Edirisooriya. There have also been attempts to weaken unions and to increase monitoring of NGOs. The proposed draft terrorism law contains numerous provisions that threaten human rights, while protests have met with excessive force.

Read the full report here: https://web.civicus.org/SriLankaJuly2023


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