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Sunday, March 3, 2024

Sri Lanka: Stop militarisation of education & release detained activists (Joint statement)

We, the below mentioned civil society organizations and individuals, urge the government to stop the militarization of education through the Kotelawala Defense University Act and stop endangering the safety of activists who led the protests against the Act by continuing to detain them.

Endangering the health of the student leaders

We understand that the ruling party’s attempt to pass the Kotelawala National Defense University (KNDU) Act in the parliament is a step towards militarizing civil space. We strongly condemn expediting the enactment of such an Act, especially amidst a pandemic and repression of student activists and university academics who oppose it. Also, we emphasize that the government should be responsible for endangering the health of the student leaders who led the protests against the Act by imprisoning them on false charges during a pandemic.

As civil society stakeholders, we have continuously advocated protecting the democratic space, human rights, the rule of law, and reconciliation in this country. This is not the first time we have protested the attempts of militarization of the civil space. We have continually paid attention to the increasing militarization responses, especially with the appointment of task forces consisting of military leaders and members for fields such as agriculture, education, conservation of cultural heritage and health, after the current government came to power. We extend our support to the people’s struggle against the efforts for the militarization of education.

Militarization of education

We have observed that the content of this Act is a sharp attempt at the militarization of education.

According to the proposed KNDU Act, Kotelawala Defense University becomes an independent university entirely controlled by the Defense Ministry and the military, which is not accountable to the 1978 University Act. Currently, Sri Lanka’s state university system is controlled by the University Grants Commission (UGC). However, with the enactment of the proposed KNDU Act, a parallel military university system with equal powers to the UGC will be created. That university system is governed by a governing body consisting of senior officials from the Ministry of Defense and the Armed Forces.

In this military structure, our observation is that the Act contains provisions that make students entirely subject to military discipline. “When the minister is of the view that any situation within the university tends to endanger national security or thereby tend to undermine the proper functioning of the university, the minister can direct the board to take such action as he may deem necessary to control the situation.”

We opine that this affirms that students who enter this system are completely deprived of the opportunity for student activism, which they would enjoy in a democratic context.

The right to protest

All stakeholders, including university students, have the right to protest this, and we oppose any attempt to suppress the university academics and student activists who led the dissent. Many incidents of arbitrary arrests and grilling of student activists and academics on false charges have been reported.

Wasantha Mudalige, the Inter-University Students’ Federation convener, who was involved in the protest at Parliament Road on August 3rd, was arrested while returning from a discussion programme on Sirasa TV on the night of August 5th. Student activists Chameera Koswaththa and Koshila Hansamali, who were involved in the protests, were also arrested. Amila Sandeepa, the President of the Jayawardhanapura University Students’ Union, was also abducted and arrested. Lecturer Aminda Lakmal reported on social media an incident of attempting to arrest a person by someone in civilian clothes in a bus, which was transporting a group of people returning from a protest against the Act. We also draw attention to the attempts made to suppress the activists who are actively involved in the struggle of the teachers and the principals.

In our observation, most of these arrests were made under false charges of violating the quarantine laws. Student activists have been denied bail, accusing them of damaging public property by setting fire to a coffin model during the protest.

Pandemic is not a license to suppress protests 

It was informed that student leaders Wasantha Mudalige, Chameera Koswaththa, and Amila Sandeepa, who were imprisoned in that way, had been infected with the Covid-19 virus in prison. We strongly emphasize that the government must take responsibility for endangering their lives due to the irresponsibility of the authorities. It is necessarily the government’s responsibility to ensure the healthcare, security, and welfare of the persons who are in state custody.

We strongly emphasize that the pandemic is not a license given to the government to neglect the rights of the people.

We urge the government to repeal the KNDU Act, which has not been tabled in the parliament, and not deprive the people of their right to protest and express their views. Also, we urge immediate action to release the detained student leaders and other activists.




  1.     Anuradhapura District Citizen Committee
  2.     Asia Lanka Social Development Cooperation
  3.     Center for Community Empowerment,
  4.     Centre for Human Rights and Development (CHRD)
  5.     Centre for Society and Religion
  6.     Civil Society Solidarity Centre
  7.     Eastern Social Development Foundation (ESDF)
  8.     Environment and Community Development Information Centre (ECDIC)
  9.     Families Of the Disappeared
  10.     Food Information Action Network- FIAN Sri Lanka
  11.     Human & Environment Links Progressive Organization (HELP-O)
  12.     Human Rights Office, Kandy
  13.     INFORM Human Rights Documentation Centre
  14.     Institute Social Development (ISD)
  15.     Janawaboda Kendraya
  16. Lanka Organic Agriculture Movement  (LOAM)
  17.     Law and Society Trust
  18.     Lawyers for Democracy
  19.     Movement for National Land and Agriculture Reform (MONLAR)
  20.     Movement for Plantation Peoples’ Land Rights (MPPLR)
  21.     Muslim Women’s Development Trust
  22.     National convener -National Fisheries Solidarity Movement
  23.     National Peace Council
  24.     Organization of Environment and Children Rights Preservation OECRP
  25.     Partners in Alternative Training (PALTRA)
  26. PEF Sri lanka
  27.     People’s Alliance for Right to Land (PARL)
  28.     RED Organization
  29.     Right to Life Human Rights Centre (R2L)
  30.     Rights Now Collective for Democracy
  31.     Rural Development Planning Organization (RDPO)
  32.     SAFE Foundation
  33.     Samadana
  34.     Savisthri National Womens’ Movement
  35.     Social Institute for Development of Plantation Sector (SIDPS)
  36.     Sri Lanka Brief
  37.     Sri Lanka Nature Group
  38.     St John’s Church, Uranee, Batticaloa
  39.     Standup Movement Lanka
  40.     University of Peradeniya
  41.     Upcountry Civil Society Collective (UCSC)
  42.     UPSAC Sri Lanka
  43.     Uva Shakthi Foundation
  44.     Vikalpa
  45.     Viluthu–Centre for Human Resource Development
  46.     Women Development Organization
  47.     Women for Justice and Peace in Sri Lanka
  48.    Women’s Action for Social Justice (WASJ) Net Work.
  49.     Women’s Action Network


  1.     Anithra Varia
  2.     Anushaya Collure
  3.     Aruna Shantha Nonis
  4.     Ashila Dandeniya
  5.     Gowthaman, Attorney at law
  6.     Buhary Mohamed
  7.     Chaminda Piyasekara
  8.     Chandra Devanarayana
  9.     Chathura Walivitiya
  10.     A Saman Hamangoda
  11.     M. Nimal Disanayake
  12.     Dinushika Dissanayake, Attorney-at-Law
  13.     Jeevantha peiris
  14.     Nandana Manatunga –
  15.     Rohan Silva
  16.     M.Sathivel
  17.     Herman Kumara
  18.     Ian Ferdinands
  19.     A.N.N.Priyantha Fernando
  20. Jagath Siriwardana
  21.     Jayani Abeysekara
  22.     Jayanthi Kuru-Utumpala
  23.     Jayasiri Jayasekara
  24.     Jehan Jegadeesan
  25.     Jehan Perera
  26.     Joanne Senn
  27.     Juwairiya Mohideen
  28.     K,S,Ratnavale , Attorney at law
  29.     Ajith Hadley Perera
  30.     J. Brito Fernando
  31.     W.R Wickramasinghe
  32.     Lal Wijenayake
  33.     Lucille Abeykoon
  34.     Maithreyi Rajasingam,
  35.     Marisa de Silva
  36.     Harsha Jayarathna,
  37.     Sukirtharaj,
  38.     Nadesan Suresh
  39.     Nadie Kammallaweera
  40.     Nagulan Nesiah
  41.     Nalini Rathnarajah
  42.     Niroshan Ekanayaka
  43. Niyanthini Kadirgamar
  44. Muthulingam
  45. N.Singham
  46. Peter Rezel
  47. Prabodha Rathnayaka, Attorney-at-Law
  48. Arjuna Parakrama
  49. Jayadeva Uyangoda
  50. Puni Selvaratnam
  51. Raman Sanjay Gandhi
  52. Rajan Rohaan,
  53. Andrew Devadason
  54. Dr. Jayasiri Peiris
  55. Reid Shelton Fernando
  56. Ruki Fernando
  57. Ruwan Laknath Jayakody
  58. Balakrishnan
  59. Ratnajeevan H. Hoole
  60. Visvalingam
  61. C.C.Elankovan,
  62. Sandanam
  63. Sachitha Nandajith
  64. Sampath Samarakoon
  65. Sarala Emmanuel
  66. Shereen Saroor
  67. Suchith Abeyewickreme
  68. Sunanda Deshapriya
  69. Suren D. Perera,
  70. Swasthika Arulingam, Attorney-at-Law
  71. Thilak Kariyawasam
  72. Tisaranlee Gunasekara
  73. Udaya Kalupathirana
  74. Vadivel Rameshananthan,
  75. Vasuky Rajendra
  76. Viboo Balakrishnan
  77. Visakha Tillekeratne,




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