The situation of Human Rights Defenders has significantly improved recently. With the changes in the political spectrum, first through Presidential election in January and then the parliamentary election in August 2015 has greatly changed the landscape for HRDs in Sri Lanka. The previous years saw large scale repression of dissent and HRDs are hoping for a sustainable change with cautious mind.
Despite the end of the protracted armed conflict with the Tamil Tigers in 2009, strict security laws are in force, and the situation for human rights defenders in Sri Lanka remained critical. HRDs seeking accountability for violations committed by both parties to the conflict, as well as HRDs fighting against corruption, enforced disappearances or defending environmental rights face serious risks, including death threats, smear campaigns, judicial harassment, torture, enforced disappearance and killing. National and international NGOs also face restrictions in their activities and operate under government control. HRDs in the northern and eastern part of the country are required to obtain prior permission to travel in the region. In the same areas, land rights related cases have increased due to the state's failure to demilitarise the area after the conflict.
HRDs who engage in international advocacy, interact with international human rights bodies, NGOs or diplomats, have been targeted. In 2014, government officials and state-owned media attacked a human rights defenders who attended a session of the UN Human Rights Council, during which a resolution on alleged war crimes in Sri Lanka was adopted. Government-controlled media routinely label HRDs and journalists as “terrorist sympathisers” or “unpatriotic”, and accuse them of treason and misinformation. Journalists who dare to criticise the authorities are also subject to arbitrary arrests, torture and sometimes killings. As a result, many journalists have been forced into hiding or exile.
The 1979 Prevention of Terrorism Act allows for arrests for unspecified “unlawful activities” without a warrant and prolonged detention without charge, and it has been used against HRDs. The PTA also prohibits proceedings against officials who act in “good faith” or who act on orders given under the PTA, resulting in impunity for wrongful acts including torture. The authorities have failed to investigate attacks and killings of HRDs.