Sri Lanka: Investigate and remedy violations against human rights defenders, say UN experts

31.10.2014

Sri Lanka must prevent, investigate and remedy a pattern of intimidation of attacks against human rights defenders, journalists, lawyers and others, the UN Human Rights Committee has said in a significant new report.

(Geneva) - UN experts have expressed concern over widespread reports in Sri Lanka of intimidation and harassment against human rights defenders, journalists, lawyers and clergymen by State officials.

The UN Human Rights Committee, a body of independent experts that monitor the implementation of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights by its States parties, released their findings on Sri Lanka yesterday.

The committee of experts also expressed serious concern at the alleged enforced disappearance of human rights defenders, together with reports about the arbitrary detention and ill-treatment of detainees.

‘As expected, the Sri Lankan government rejected the Committee’s concerns regarding the ongoing and systematic trend of attacking those in Sri Lanka seeking justice and accountability for human rights violations’, said Ms Pooja Patel of the International Service for Human Rights.

'This is despite the existence of well documented cases evidencing such a trend, including cases of physical attacks, death threats, administrative detention and politically motivated charges against opposition politicians’.

A number of such cases were outlined in a submission to the Committee by ISHR and FORUM-ASIA.

The Committee’s concluding observations express further concern over ‘defamation campaigns against human rights defenders and the blocking of websites’. It called on the Sri Lankan government to ‘vigorously investigate all cases of threats and attacks against journalists, lawyers, clergymen, political activists, NGO workers and human rights defenders, hold the perpetrators accountable, and provide effective remedies to victims’.

In the month of September alone, INFORM Human Rights Documentation Centre documented several cases of intimidation and harassment against civil society and media personnel. The following are some such examples:

  • Two human rights lawyers, Namal Rajapakshe and Manjula Pathiraja, received death threats by unidentified assailants. One of the armed assailants threatened that the lawyers would be killed if they appeared in ‘unnecessary cases’. The lawyers are known for their longtime commitment to working with victims of human rights violations;
  • Government supporters held demonstrations to campaign against the release of Balendran Jeyakumari, a campaigner for truth and justice in relation to enforced disappearances in the country. Leaflets were distributed at the demonstration which echoed the State's position portraying Ms Jeyakumari as a terrorist supporter;
  • At the same demonstration, posters accusing prominent human rights defenders of treacherous acts against the country were displayed;[1]
  • A Tamil journalist from the Jaffna Daily ‘Uthayan’ escaped a murder attempt against him. Two masked men, suspected to be members of security agencies, allegedly attempted to throw Mr Sinnarasa Siventhiran in front of a speeding bus after stopping him on the side of the road. Uthayan’s office and personnel have been the target of several attacks in recent years;
  • Media activist Mr Thayaparan Ratnam, in Jaffna, has been subject to continuous interrogation, intimidation and harassment by the Terrorist Investigation Division and Criminal Investigation Division. This allegedly followed attempts by journalists based in the North to attend media workshops in Colombo. Mr Thayaparan was amongst journalists who were stopped by military and police on their way to Colombo. The workshop itself was subsequently canceled due to a protest and threats by a mob believed to be supports of the government;
  • Another media workshop in Negombo was disrupted by the so-called ‘Nation Building Union’, allegedly consisting of former military personnel. The  group threatened to 'teach the journalists a lesson' if they continued to hold workshops;
  • A meeting scheduled to be held in Trincomalee by two civil society organisations was disrupted by intelligence officials. The intelligence officials compelled organisers to cancel the meeting. The organisers changed the venue of the meeting, which was also disrupted and thus a third venue was chosen which was subsequently subject to surveillance.

The Committee also ensured that it sent a clear message to the Sri Lankan government on the issue of retaliation against those who submitted information, reports or testimony to the UN, saying ‘it should ensure that any individual or organisation can freely provide information to the Committee and protect them against any reprisals for providing such information’.

‘The systematic practice of intimidating victims and human rights defenders cooperating with the UN human rights mechanisms and processes must end. We share the Committee’s disappointment at Sri Lanka’s repeated failure to bring perpetrators of reprisals to justice’, said Ms Patel. Human rights organisations recently brought such disturbing trends to the attention of the Human Rights Council and the government of Sri Lanka.

'We call on the government of Sri Lanka to promptly and fully implement the Committee's recommendations, ensuring that human rights defenders in the country are able to undertake their vital work to expose violations, pursue accountability, and promote human rights and the rule of law in a safe environment free from attack or fear,' Ms Patel said.

Contact: Pooja Patel on p.patel@ishr.ch or + 41 76 787 39 28

Photo: UN Photo / Jean-Marc Ferré (Ambassador Ravinatha P. Aryasinha, Permanent Representative of Sri Lanka to the UN Office in Geneva, addresses the Human Rights Council)

 


[1] The poster included images of the following prominent human rights defenders: Dr. Nimalka Fernando (International Movement against All Forms of Discrimination and Racism); Sudarshana Gunawardana (Rights Now Collective, Attorney-At-Law); Fredy Gamage (Web Journalists Association); Ruki Fernando (INFORM Human Rights Documentation Centre); Brito Fernando (Families of the Disappeared); Dr. Paikiasothy Saravanamuttu (Centre for Policy Alternatives); Father Sathivai (Anglican priest); Sunil Jayasekara (Free Media Movement) 

Category:

Region
  • Asia
Topic
  • Freedom of expression, association and assembly
  • Human rights defenders
  • Reprisals and intimidation
Mechanism
  • Human Rights Committee (CCPR)
Country
  • Sri Lanka