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Despite the end of the conflict in May 2009, the situation for human rights defenders (HRDs) in Sri Lanka remains critical. Strict security laws remain in force and the authorities continue to crackdown on peaceful dissent. Human rights defenders reported a shrinking of the space for civil society activism after the end of the war. Freedom of association and assembly are severely restricted, particularly in the northern and eastern part of the country, where prior permission is required even for family celebrations. In the same regions, land rights related cases have increased due to the state's failure to demilitarise the area after the end of the conflict.
Although the state of emergency, which had been in place for most of the past three decades, was lifted in August 2012, many of the extraordinary powers it granted to the authorities remained in place through the 1979 Prevention of Terrorism Act (PTA). The PTA allows for arrests for unspecified “unlawful activities” without a warrant and prolonged detention without charge, and it h as been used against HRDs. The PTA prohibits legal proceedings against officials who act in “good faith” or in “pursuance of any order made or direction given under” the PTA, resulting in impunity for wrongful acts including torture.
The activities of national and international NGOs are severely restricted and controlled by the government. In 2010, the governmental NGO secretariat was transferred from the Ministry of Social Services to the Ministry of Defence, and a new procedure for granting approval for internal movements of NGO personnel was established. HRDs working in the northern and eastern part of the country are required to obtain prior permission to travel in the region. Permission for activities such as counselling, capacity building and empowerment of communities has often been denied. The right to freedom of peaceful assembly, particularly for remembrance events that commemorate civilians killed during the conflict, has also been curtailed in several occasions by security forces. Many international NGOs were not allowed to operate after the end of the war.
Repeated threats, intimidation and criminalisation of human rights defenders has created a climate of fear. HRDs who engage in international advocacy, interact with international NGOs or diplomats are particularly targeted, and so are those who cooperate with the UN Human Rights Council and Special Procedure mandate holders. Many HRDs who receive death threats or suffer physical abuses from the security forces choose to remain silent for fear of retaliation if they report these incidents to regional and international human rights NGOs.
HRDs seeking accountability for violations committed during the conflict by the Government and the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) as well as those fighting against corruption or defending environmental rights are subjected to serious reprisals, including threats, slandering campaigns, judicial harassment, enforced disappearance and killing. As a result, many HRDs have been forced into hiding or exile.
The government and government-controlled media routinely label HRDs and NGOs as “terrorist sympathisers” or “unpatriotic”, and accused them of treason and misinformation.
The opposition-backed Right to Information Bill was blocked by the government in June 2011.
In her report to the Human Rights Council in March 2012, the UN Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders has reiterated her concern about the climate of fear, including stigmatisation of, threats and intimidation against human rights defenders. The government has not responded to the Special Rapporteur's requests to visit the country.
20 March 2012
08 March 2012
12 July 2011
Sri Lanka: Human rights defenders prevented from travelling to a demonstration against enforced disappearances
Sri Lanka: Police harassment of members of human rights organisations Right to Life and Families of the Disappeared
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