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This report provides general trends and details of some significant incidents reported in relation to repression of dissent in Sri Lanka from October to December 2018. Executive summary describes context and analyses the trends and key findings. The summaries of the 28 reported incidents with sources are mentioned in the main section, under 4 categories. Media reports, incidents reported to INFORM, observations and experience of INFORM staff have served as sources of information to the report.
This three month period saw an unprecedented constitutional coup in Sri Lanka. On the night of 26th October, President Sirisena sacked Ranil Wickramasinghe, the Prime Minister with whom he had been in an uneasy coalition government for nearly four years; and appointed his former political ally turned foe, the former President he defeated in January 2015 presidential polls, Mahinda Rajapaksha, as the Prime Minister. The President also prorogued parliament and later dissolved it, and appointed new Ministers. Except the proroguing of parliament, all these were deemed unconstitutional. The majority in parliament repeatedly passed no confidence motions in parliament against the Rajapaksha amidst physical and verbal attacks against the speaker in parliament. Violent behavior of MPs supportive of Rajapaksha in the parliament led to MPs and policemen being injured. There were protests across the island for democracy, constitution and rule of law. The Court of Appeal issued interim orders stopping Rajapaksha from functioning as the Prime Minister and the end of the 50 day stalemate came when the Supreme Court determined that dissolution of parliament was unconstitutional, leading to the President being compelled to re-appoint Ranil Wickramasinghe as the Prime Minister. The crisis had led to political and economic uncertainty, with the scheduled budget reading in November being indefinitely postponed. The prospect of Rajapaksha returning to power led to widespread fears of even the limited reforms being stalled and more severe crackdown on dissent than had been seen under the Sirisena – Wickramasinghe government.
Within hours of Rajapaksha being appointed as the Prime Minister, there were threats to media freedom, and the relative independence displayed in the last four years by state media institutions was eroded. Key editors lost control on editorial policies as unions loyal to Rajapaksha took control of state media institutions. Later on, media was barred from significant political events. A prominent civil society activist opposing the coup was subjected to investigations based on comments he had made at a press conference, and the President had also made negative references to him and NGOs. The President also had made comments discrediting the Lesbian – Gay – Bisexual – Transgender – Intersex – Queer (LGBTIQ) community, referring to United National Front (UNF) government as one run by butterflies, butterflies being a term used to discredit the LGBTIQ community.
Before and after the coup, the Northern and Eastern Province continued to be heavily militarized, and long standing protests on disappearances and land continued. November was particularly significant, as some Tamils in North and East engaged in commemorating fallen LTTE cadres, after weeks of preparations to restore to extent possible, the cemeteries bulldozed by the military. It is mostly in this context that several Tamil activists and politicians faced obstructions, threats, intimidation and surveillance than in other parts of the country during this period. Two activists were also summoned for questing by the Terrorist Investigation Division (TID) of the Police, with reasons not being so clear. In the East, police had compelled the wife of a Tamil detainee to give up a hunger strike.
There were also several violations of freedom of expression in different forms during this period in different parts of the country. A Tamil journalist who had been subjected to harassments and intimidations in previous months, had his brother and friends summoned by the TID, some journalists were attacked by Navy personnel in civil clothes outside a court premises and media watchdog claimed a foreign correspondent was bullied. A film that was critical of the LTTE was pulled out after being publicly listed, at the Jaffna international film festival. A photographic exhibition featuring human rights issues was not allowed to be held in the Peradeniya University by some students. A journalist who has been consistently writing about a prison massacre, reported threats from suspects in the case, including a police officer who had been arrested, remanded and released on bail.
In the same university, and also at the Wayamba University, anti-ragging students had faced intimidation and threats from other students. At the height of the coup, and in context of arrest of country’s highest ranking serving military official in relation to an abduction case, a top police investigator was transferred (and subsequently reinstated due to widespread pressure), allegedly due to instructions from the President and pressure from the same military official who was being investigated by the said investigator. Tamil students demanding release of Tamil political prisoners were threatened by some Sinhalese men. Police had also been accused of firing tear gas at people protesting about alleged death in custody.
ශ්රී ලංකාවේ විසම්මුතිය මර්දනය ඔක්තෝබර් – දෙසැම්බර්
මේ වාර්තාව ශ්රී ලංකාවේ විසම්මුතිය මර්දනය සම්බන්ධයෙන් 2018 ඔක්තෝබර් සිට දෙසැම්බර් දක්වා කාලයේ වාර්තා වූ ප්රධාන සිදුවීම් සම්බන්ධ විස්තර සහ සාමාන්ය ප්රවණතා ඉදිරිපත් කරයි. විධායක සාරාංශය තුළින් සන්දර්භය සහ මූලික සොයා ගැනීම් විස්තර කෙරේ. ප්රධාන කොටසේ, කාණ්ඩ 4ක් යටතේ වාර්තා වූ සිද්ධි 28ක් සම්බන්ධයෙන් සාරාංශගත තොරතුරු මූලාශ්ර සමග සඳහන් කර ඇත. මාධ්ය වාර්තා, ඉන්ෆෝම් වෙත වාර්තා වූ සිදුවීම්, ඉන්ෆෝම් කාර්ය මණ්ඩලයේ අත්දැකීම් මේ වාර්තාවේ තොරතුරු මූලාශ්ර වේ.
මේ මාස තුන ඇතුළත, මීට පෙර ශ්රී ලංකාවේ සිදු නොවූ ව්යවස්ථාමය කුමන්ත්රණයක් දක්නට ලැබුනි. ඔක්තෝබර් 26 වැනි දින රාත්රියේ, ජනාධිපති සිරිසේන විසින්, ඔහු සමග වසර 4ක් තිස්සේ අපහසු සන්ධානගත රජයක් ගෙන යමින් සිටි, අගමැති රනිල් වික්රමසිංහ ධූරයෙන් ඉවත් කළ අතර, සිරිසේනගේ දේශපාලනික සතුරෙක් බවට පත්ව සිටි, පෙර දේශපාලන සගයෙක් වූ, 2015 ජනවාරි පැවැති ජනපතිවරණයේ දී ඔහු විසින් පරාජය කරන ලද, හිටපු ජනපති මහින්ද රාජපක්ෂ නව අගමැතිවරයා ලෙස පත් කරන ලදී. ජනාධිපති විසින් පාර්ලිමේන්තුවේ වාර අවසන් කිරීම සිදු කළ අතර, පසුව එය විසුරුවා හරින ලදී. ඒ අතර නව අමාත්ය මණ්ඩලයක් ද පත් කරන ලදී. පාර්ලිමේන්තුවේ වාර අවසන් කිරීම හැරුණු කළ, මේ සියල්ල ව්යවස්ථාවට පටහැනි විය. පාර්ලිමේන්තුවේ බහුතරයක් විසින් රාජපක්ෂට එරෙහිව විශ්වාස භංග යෝජනා නැවත නැවතත් සම්මත කළ අතර, පාර්ලිමේන්තු කතානායකට එරෙහිව කායික සහ වාග් ප්රහාර ද එල්ල විය. රාජපක්ෂ පහතාට පක්ෂ පාර්ලිමේන්තු මන්ත්රීවරුන්ගේ ප්රචණ්ඩ හැසිරීම විසින් අනෙකුත් මන්ත්රීවරුන්ට සහ පොලිස් නිලධාරීන්ට තුවාල සිදු කරන ලදී. ප්රජාතන්ත්රවාදය, ව්යවස්ථාව සහ නීතියේ ආධිපත්යය ඉල්ලමින් රට පුරා උද්ඝෝෂණ පැවැත්වුනි. මේ අතර අභියාචනාධිකරණය විසින් රාජපක්ෂ අගමැතිවරයා ලෙස කටයුතු කිරීම වළක්වමින් අතුරු තහනම් නියෝගයක් නිකුත් කළ අතර, දින 50ක අස්ථාවරභාවය ශ්රේෂ්ඨාධිකරණය විසින් පාර්ලිමේන්තුව විසුරුවා හැරීම ව්යවස්ථා විරෝධී බව තීරණය කිරීමත් සමග අවසන් විය. මේ හේතුවෙන් ජනපතිවරයාට නැවතත් රනිල් වික්රමසිංහ අගමැති ලෙස පත් කිරීමට සිදු විය. අර්බුදය නිසා දේශපාලනික හා ආර්ථික අස්ථාවරභාවයක් ඇති වූ අතර, නොවැම්බර් මාසයේ සැලසුම් කර තිබූ අයවැය කියවීම දින නියමයක් රහිතව කල් තබන ලදී. රාජපක්ෂ නැවත බලයට පැමිණීම යන්නත් සමග, සිරිසේන-වික්රමසිංහ පාලනය යටතේ සීමිත ප්රතිසංස්කරණ ප්රමාණයක් ඇති කර තිබුන ද, ඊට වඩා දරුණු මට්ටමේ විසම්මුතිය මර්දනය කිරීමක් සම්බන්ධයෙන් පුළුල් භීතියක් ඇති කරන ලදී.
රාජපක්ෂ අගමැති ලෙස පත් කර පැය ගණනක් ඇතුළත, මාධ්ය නිදහස සම්බන්ධයෙන් තර්ජන ඇතිවූ අතර, පසුගිය වසර 4ක් තිස්සේ රාජ්ය මාධ්ය ආයතන විසින් පෙන්වූ සාපේක්ෂ ස්වාධීනත්වය සෝදා පාළුවකට ලක් විය. මාධ්ය ආයතනවල ප්රධාන කතෘවරුන්ට සංස්කාරක ප්රතිපත්ති සම්බන්ධයෙන් තිබූ පාලනය අහිමි වූයේ රාජපක්ෂ ලැදි සංගම් විසින් රජයේ මාධ්ය ආයතනවල පාලනය අතට ගත් බැවිනි. පසුව මාධ්ය සුවිශේෂී දේශපාලනික සිද්ධි වාර්තා කිරීමෙන් වළක්වන ලදී. කුමන්ත්රණයට විරුද්ධව මාධ්ය සාකච්ඡාවක දී අදහස් දැක්වූ ප්රසිද්ධ සිවිල් සමාජ ක්රියාකාරියෙකුට විරුද්ධව විමර්ශනයක් සිදු කරන ලද්දේ ඔහු මාධ්ය සාකච්ඡාවේ දී දැක් වූ අදහස් සම්බන්ධයෙනි. ජනාධිපතිවරයා විසින් ද ඔහු සහ රාජ්ය නොවන සංවිධාන සම්බන්ධයෙන් සෘණාත්මක අදහස් දක්වන ලදී. එසේම ජනාධිපතිවරයා විසින් සමලිංගික-ද්විලිංගික-සංක්රාන්තිසමාජභාවී-අන්තර්ලිංගික-කුයර් (LGBTIQ) ප්රජාව හෙළ දකිමින්, එක්සත් ජාතික පෙරමුණු රජය සම්බන්ධයෙන් එය සමනළයන් විසින් කර ගෙන යන්නක් බව කියමින්, සමනල්ලු යන්න LGBTIQ ප්රජාවට අපහාස වෙන වචනයක් ලෙස භාවිතා කරන ලදී.
කුමන්ත්රණයට පසුව සහ පෙර, උතුරු සහ නැගෙනහිර පළාත් තදින් මිලිටරිකරණය වී තිබූ අතර, අතුරුදහන්වීම් සහ ඉඩම් සම්බන්ධයෙන් දිගු කාලීන විරෝධතා තවදුරටත් අඛණ්ඩව පැවතුනි. නොවැම්බර් මාසය විශේෂයෙන් වැදගත් වූ අතර, උතුරු නැගෙනහිර ඇතැම් දෙමළ ජනතාව විසින් මියගිය එල්ටීටීඊ සාමාජිකයන් සැමරීම සිදු කළේ, හමුදාව විසින් බුල්ඩෝසර් කරන ලද සොහොන් භූමි යම් පමණකට හෝ ප්රතිසංස්කරණය කිරීමට ගත් සති ගණනක උත්සාහයන් ද සමගය. මේ සන්දර්භය තුළ, දෙමළ ක්රියාකාරීන් සහ දේශපාලනඥයන් කිහිප දෙනෙකුට බාධා කිරීම්, තර්ජනය, බිය ගැන්නවීම්, සහ අවේක්ෂණය (surveillance) ආදියට රටේ වෙනත් පළාත්වල අයට වඩා වැඩි මට්ටමකින්, ලක් වන්නට සිදු විය. පොලීසියේ ත්රස්ත විමර්ශන අංශයට ක්රියාකාරීන් දෙදෙනෙකු ප්රශ්න කිරීම් සඳහා කැඳවා තිබූ අතර, ඊට හේතු අපහැදිලිය. නැගෙනහිර, පොලිසිය විසින් දෙමළ රැඳවියකුගේ බිරිඳට උපවාසය අවසන් කරන ලෙස බල කර ඇත.
එසේම රටේ විවිධ පැතිවල, අදහස් ප්රකාශනයේ නිදහස සම්බන්ධයෙන් විවිධ ස්වරූපයේ උල්ලංඝණය කිරීම් කිහිපයක් ද දක්නට ලැබුනි. පසුගිය මාසවලදී හිරිහැර සහ බිය ගැන්වීම්වලට ලක්වූ ජනමාධ්යවේදියකුගේ සොහොයුරා සහ යහළුවන් ත්රස්ත විමර්ශන ඒකකය විසින් කැඳවා තිබූ අතර, තවත් ජනමාධ්යවේදීන් කිහිප දෙනෙකුට උසාවිය ඉදිරිපිට දී සිවිල් ඇඳුමෙන් සැරසුණු නාවික හමුදා නිලධාරීන් විසින් පහර දීමකට ලක් කර ඇති අතර, විදෙස් වාර්තාකරුවකු ද හිංසනයට පාත්ර වූ බවට මාධ්ය අයිතිවාසිකම් ආයතනයක් විසින් ප්රකාශ කරන ලදී. එල්ටීටීඊය සම්බන්ධයෙන් විවේචනාන්තමක වූ චිත්රපටියක් යාපනය අන්තර්ජාතික චිත්රපට උළෙලේ ප්රසිද්ධියට පත්කළ ලැයිස්තුවට අඩංගු කිරීමෙන් පසුව, ඉවත් කර ගනු ලැබිණි. කිසියම් ශිෂ්ය කණ්ඩායමක් විසින් පේරාදෙණිය විශ්ව විද්යාලයේ පැවැත්වීමට සූදානම් කර තිබූ මානව හිමිකම් ගැටළු දැක්වෙන ඡායාරූප ප්රදර්ශනයක් පැවැත්වීමට ඉඩ දුන්නේ නැත. බන්ධනාගාර ඝාතන සම්බන්ධයෙන් දිගටම ලියූ ජනමාධ්යවේදියකුට සිද්ධියේ සැකකරුවන් වන අත්අඩංගුවට පත්ව, රිමාන්ඩ් බන්ධනාගාර ගතවී, පසුව ඇප මත නිදහස්ව සිටින පොලිස් නිලධාරියකු ඇතුළු පිරිසක් විසින් විසින් තර්ජනය කර ඇති බවට වාර්තා වේ.
එම විශ්ව විද්යාලයේ සහ වයඹ විශ්ව විද්යාලයේ නවක වද විරෝධී ශිෂ්යයන්ට අනෙකුත් ශිෂ්යයන්ගේ බිය ගැන්වීම්වලට සහ තර්ජනවලට ලක් වීමට සිදු වී ඇත. ව්යවස්ථා කුමන්ත්රණයේ උච්ච අවස්ථාවේ දී, සහ ලංකාවේ ඉහළම හමුදා ධූරය දරන නිලධාරියා පැහැර ගැනීමේ සිද්ධියක් සම්බන්ධයෙන් අත්අඩංගුවට ගත් සන්දර්භයක දී, ප්රමුඛ පෙළේ පොලිස් විමර්ශන නිලධාරියකු මාරු කළ අතර (බරපතල පීඩනය හමුවේ නැවත පෙර ධූරයේම පිහිටුවන ලද), මෙසේ කරන ලදුව ඇත්තේ ජනාධිපති උපදෙස් සහ අදාළ විමර්ශන නිලධාරියා විසින් විමර්ශනයට ලක් කරනු ලබන එකී හමුදා නිලධාරියාගේ බලපෑම මත බවට චෝදනා කෙරේ. දෙමළ දේශපාලන සිරකරුවන් නිදහස් කරන ලෙස ඉල්ලූ දෙමළ ශිෂ්යයන්ට කිසියම් සිංහල පිරිමි පිරිසක් විසින් තර්ජනය කර ඇත. එසේම පොලිස් රැඳවුම් භාරයේ සිටිය දී මියගිය බවට චෝදනා කෙරෙන පුද්ගලයකුගේ මරණය සම්බන්ධයෙන් විරෝධතාවේ නියැලි පිරිසකට පොලිසිය විසින් කඳුළු ගෑස් ප්රහාර එල්ල කර ඇති බවට වාර්තා වේ.
INFORM அறிக்கை இலங்கையில் கருத்து வேறுபாட்டின் அடக்குமுறை ஒக்ரோபர் – டிசம்பர் 2018
2018 ஒக்ரோபரிலிருந்து டிசம்பர் வரை, இலங்கையில் கருத்து வேறுபாட்டின் அடக்குமுறை தொடர்பான சில குறிப்பிடத்தக்க சம்பவங்களின் பொதுவான போக்குகளையும், விபரங்களையும் இந்த அறிக்கை வழங்குகின்றது. சூழமைவினை நிறைவேற்றுச் சாராம்சம் விபரிப்பதுடன், போக்குகளையும், அத்துடன் முக்கியமான கண்டுபிடிப்புக்களையும் பகுப்பாய்கின்றது. பிரதான பிரிவில் 4 வகுதிகளின் கீழ் மூலங்களுடன் அறிக்கையிடப்பட்ட 28 சம்பவங்களின் சாராம்சங்கள் குறிப்பிடப்பட்டுள்ளன. ஊடக அறிக்கைகள், INFORMக்கு அறிக்கையிடப்பட்ட சம்பவங்கள் மற்றும் INFORM பணியாளரினதும், ஊடகங்களினதும் அவதானிப்புக்கள் மற்றும் அனுபவம் ஆகியன அறிக்கைக்கான தகவலின் மூலங்களாக விளங்குகின்றன.
இலங்கையில் என்றுமே சம்பவித்திருக்காத அரசியலமைப்புச் சதிப்புரட்சியொன்றை இந்த மூன்று மாத காலம் கண்டது. ஒக்ரோபர் 26இன் இரவன்று, அண்ணளவாக நான்கு வருடங்களுக்கு இலகுவற்ற கூட்டு அரசாங்கத்தில் இருந்த பிரதமர் ரணில் விக்ரமசிங்கவை ஜனாதிபதி சிறிசேன பதவிநீக்கினார். அத்துடன், எதிரியாக மாறிய தனது முன்னாள் அரசியல் கூட்டாளியும், 2015 ஜனவரியில் நடைபெற்ற ஜனாதிபதி தேர்தலில் தோற்கடிக்கப்பட்ட முன்னாள் ஜனாதிபதியுமான மகிந்த ராஜபக்ஷவைப் பிரதமராக நியமித்தார். பாராளுமன்ற அமர்வுகளை ஜனாதிபதி ஒத்திவைத்ததுடன், பின்னர் அதைக் கலைத்தார். அத்துடன் புதிய அமைச்சர்களையும் நியமித்தார். பாராளுமன்ற அமர்வுகளை ஒத்திவைத்ததைத் தவிர, சகல ஏனையவையும் அரசியலமைப்புக்கு மாறானவை எனக் கருதப்படுகின்றது. பாராளுமன்றத்தில் சபாநாயகருக்கு எதிராக உடல்ரீதியானதும், வாய்மொழியிலானதுமான தாக்குதல்களுக்கு மத்தியில், ராஜபக்ஷவுக்கு எதிராகப் பாராளுமன்றத்தில் நம்பிக்கையில்லா தீர்மானங்கள் பாராளுமன்றத்தில் உள்ள பெரும்பான்மையினரால் மீண்டும் மீண்டும் நிறைவேற்றப்பட்டன. பாராளுமன்றத்தில் ராஜபக்ஷவுக்கு ஆதரவான பாராளுமன்ற உறுப்பினர்களின் மூர்க்கத்தனமான நடத்தையானது பாராளுமன்ற உறுப்பினர்களும், பொலிசாரும் காயமடைவதற்கு இட்டுச்சென்றது. ஜனநாயகத்திற்கும், அரசியலமைப்புக்கும் மற்றும் சட்டத்தின் ஆட்சிக்கும் நாடு பூராகவும் போராட்டங்கள் இருந்தன. பிரதமராகச் செயற்படுவதிலிருந்து ராஜபக்ஷவை நிறுத்தும் இடைக்கால உத்தரவுகளை மேன்முறையீட்டு நீதிமன்றம் வழங்கியதுடன், பாராளுமன்றத்தைக் கலைத்தமை அரசியலமைப்புக்கு மாறானது என மீ-உயர் நீதிமன்றம் தீர்ப்பளித்த போது 50 நாள் ஸ்தம்பித்த நிலை முடிவுக்கு வந்ததுடன், இது பிரதமராக ரணில் விக்ரமசிங்கவை மீள்-நியமிப்பதற்கு ஜனாதிபதியைக் கட்டுப்படுத்தியது. நொவம்பரில் அட்டவணைப்படுத்தப்பட்ட வரவு-செலவுத்திட்ட வாசிப்பு நிச்சயமற்றதாக பின்போடப்பட்டதுடன், அரசியல் மற்றும் பொருளாதார உறுதியற்றதன்மைக்கு நெருக்கடிநிலை இட்டுச் சென்றது. மட்டுப்படுத்தப்பட்ட சீர்திருத்தங்கள் ஸ்தம்பிதமடைந்துவிடும் அத்துடன் சிறிசேன-விக்ரமசிங்க அரசாங்கத்தின் கீழ் காணப்பட்டதை விட கருத்து வேற்றுமை மீது அதிகளவு பாரதூரமான கடுமையான நடவடிக்கை எடுக்கப்படும் என்ற பரவலான அச்சங்களுக்கு ராஜபக்ஷ மீளத்திரும்புவதன் வாய்ப்புவளம் இட்டுச்சென்றது.
பிரதமராக ராஜபக்ஷ நியமிக்கப்பட்டு சில மணித்தியாலங்களுக்குள், ஊடகச் சுதந்திரத்திற்கு எதிராக அச்சுறுத்தல்கள் இருந்ததுடன், அரசாங்க ஊடக நிறுவனங்களினால் கடந்த நான்கு வருடங்களில் காட்சிப்படுத்தப்பட்ட சார்புரீதியிலான சுதந்திரம் அரித்துதின்னப்பட்டது. அரசாங்க ஊடக நிறுவனங்களின் கட்டுப்பாட்டினை ராஜபக்ஷவுக்கு விசுவாசமான தொழிற்சங்கங்கள் கட்டுப்பாட்டுக்கு எடுத்ததினால், பதிப்புக் கொள்கைகள் மீதான கட்டுப்பாட்டினைப் பதிப்பாசிரியர்கள் இழந்தார்கள். பின்னர், குறிப்பிடத்தக்க அரசியல் நிகழ்ச்சிகளில் இருந்து ஊடகங்கள் தடுக்கப்பட்டன. சதிப்புரட்சியை எதிர்த்த முக்கியமான சிவில் சமூக செயலார்வலர் ஒருவர், பத்திரிகை மகாநாடொன்றில் அவர் செய்த கருத்துரைகள் மீதான அடிப்படையில் விசாரணைகளுக்கு உட்படுத்தப்பட்டதுடன், அவர் குறித்தும், அரச சார்பற்ற தாபனங்கள் குறித்தும் மறுதலையிலான மேற்கோள்களை ஜனாதிபதி செய்தார். வண்ணாத்திப்பூச்சிகளினால் நிருவகிக்கப்படும் ஒன்றாக ஐக்கிய தேசிய முன்னணி அரசாங்கத்தைக் குறிப்பிட்டு பெண் ஓரினச்சேர்க்கையாளர் – ஆண் ஓரினச்சேர்க்கையாளர் – ஈரினச்சேர்க்கையாளர் – மாற்றுப்பாலினத்தவர் – இருபால் உடலமைப்பினர் – பால்நிலைக் குழப்பத்திலுள்ளவர் [Lesbian – Gay – Bisexual – Transgender – Intersex – Queer (LGBTIQ)] சமூகத்தை நிந்திப்பதற்கான கருத்துரைகளையும் ஜனாதிபதி செய்தார். LGBTIQ சமூகத்தை நிந்திப்பதற்காக வண்ணாத்திப்பூச்சிகள் என்ற பதம் பயன்படுத்தப்படுகின்றது.
சதிப்புரட்சிக்கு முன்னரும், பின்னரும் வடக்கு மற்றும் கிழக்கு மாகாணங்கள் தொடர்ந்துமே கடுமையாக இராணுவமயப்படுத்தப்பட்டிருந்ததுடன், காணாமலாக்கப்பட்டவர்களினதும் மற்றும் நிலத்தினதும் மீது நீண்ட காலப் போராட்டங்கள் தொடர்ந்தன. இராணுவத்தினால் இடித்துத்தள்ளப்பட்ட மயானங்களைச் சாத்தியமான அளவுக்கு புனரமைப்பதற்கான வாரங்களைக் கொண்ட தயாரிப்புக்களின் பின்னர், மரணமடைந்த எல்.ரி.ரி.ஈ. போராளிகளை நினைவூட்டுவதில் வடக்கிலும், கிழக்கிலும் உள்ள சில தமிழர்கள் ஈடுபட்டிருந்ததினால், நொவம்பர் மாதம் குறிப்பிட்டரீதியில் முக்கியத்துவமாக விளங்கியது. இச் சூழ்நிலையில் பெரிதுமே இக் காலத்தின் போது, நாட்டின் ஏனைய பகுதிகளில் உள்ளவர்களை விட, பெருமளவு தமிழ் செயலார்வலர்களும் மற்றும் அரசியல்வாதிகளும் தடைகளுக்கும், அச்சுறுத்தல்களுக்கும், பயமுறுத்தல்களுக்கும் அத்துடன் கண்காணிப்புக்கும் முகங்கொடுத்தனர். தெளிவற்ற காரணங்களுடன், பொலிஸின் பயங்கரவாத விசாரணைப் பிரிவினால் இரு செயலார்வலர்கள் விசாரணைக்காக வரவழைக்கப்பட்டனர். கிழக்கில், உண்ணாவிரதப் போராட்டமொன்றைக் கைவிடுமாறு தடுத்து வைக்கப்பட்டிருந்த தமிழர் ஒருவரின் மனைவி பொலிஸாரினால் கட்டாயப்படுத்தப்பட்டார்.
இக் காலத்தின் போது, நாட்டின் வேறுபட்ட பகுதிகளில் வேறுபட்ட அமைப்புக்களில் கருத்துச் சுதந்திரத்தின் பெருமளவு மீறல்கள் இருந்தன. முன்னைய மாதங்களில் தொல்லைகளுக்கும், அச்சுறுத்தல்களுக்கும் உட்பட்டிருந்த தமிழ் இதழியலாளரின் சகோதரரும் மற்றும் நண்பர்களும் TIDஇனால் வரவழைக்கப்பட்டனர். நீதிமன்ற வளாகமொன்றுக்கு வெளியே சிவில் உடைகளில் இருந்த கடற்படை ஆளணியினரால் சில இதழியலாளர்கள் தாக்கப்பட்டதுடன், வெளிநாட்டு நிருபர் ஒருவர் அச்சுறுத்தப்பட்டதாக ஊடகக் கண்காணிப்பகம் வலியுறுத்தியது. எல்.ரி.ரி.ஈ. குறித்து விமர்சித்த திரைபடமொன்று யாழ்ப்பாணம் சர்வதேச திரைப்பட விழாவில் பகிரங்கமாக பட்டியலிடப்பட்ட பின்னர் இடைநிறுத்தப்பட்டது. பேராதனைப் பல்கலைக்கழகத்தில் நடைபெறவிருந்த மனித உரிமைகள் குறித்த பிரச்சனைகளைச் சித்தரிக்கும் புகைப்படக் கண்காட்சியொன்று சில மாணவர்களினால் அனுமதிக்கப்படவில்லை. கைது செய்யப்பட்டு, விளக்கமறியலில் வைக்கப்பட்டு, பிணை மீது விடுவிக்கப்பட்ட பொலிஸ் அலுவலர் ஒருவர் உட்பட வழக்கின் சந்தேகநபர்களினால் அச்சுறுத்தப்பட்டதாக சிறைச்சாலைப் படுகொலைகள் பற்றி தொடர்ச்சியாக எழுதிவந்த இதழியலாளர் ஒருவர் அறிக்கையிட்டுள்ளார்.
அதே பல்கலைக்கழகத்திலும் அத்துடன் வயம்ப பல்கலைக்கழகத்திலும் ஏனைய மாணவர்களிடமிருந்து பகிடிவதைக்கு எதிரான மாணவர்கள் பயமுறுத்தலுக்கும், அச்சுறுத்தல்களுக்கும் முகங்கொடுத்தார்கள். சதிப்புரட்சியின் உச்சநிலையிலும், ஆட்கடத்தல் வழக்கொன்று தொடர்பில் நாட்டின் உயர் பதவிநிலையில் சேவையாற்றும் இராணுவ அதிகாரியின் சூழமைவிலும் ஜனாதிபதியின் உத்தரவினதும் அத்துடன் சொல்லப்பட்ட விசாரணையாளரினால் விசாரிக்கப்படும் அதே இராணுவ அதிகாரியினதும் அழுத்தத்தினதும் காரணமாக உயர் பதவிநிலையிலான பொலிஸ் விசாரணையாளர் ஒருவர் இடமாற்றப்பட்டார் (அத்துடன் அதைத் தொடர்ந்து பரவலான அழுத்தத்தின் காரணமாக மீளப்பதவிக்கு அமர்த்தப்பட்டார்). தமிழ் அரசியல் கைதிகளின் விடுவிப்பினைக் கோரிய தமிழ் மாணவர்கள் சில சிங்கள ஆடவர்களினால் அச்சுறுத்தப்பட்டனர். பாதுகாவலில் சார்த்துரைக்கப்பட்ட மரணம் பற்றி போராடிய மக்கள் மீது கண்ணீர்புகைக் குண்டு சுட்டதாக பொலிஸார் குற்றஞ்சாட்டப்பட்டுள்ளனர்.
INFORM’s previous reports on repression of dissent from January to March and April to June this year had 22 and 18 incidents respectively, but the number had almost doubled during these three months to 35.
About half of these have been against Tamil activists in North and East. They include journalists and editors, families of disappeared and those supporting campaigns against disappearances of Tamils and Tamil politicians. The type of repression ranged from physical assaults, interrogation, summoning to police, especially to its Terrorist Investigation Division (TID). The military has also been behind some of the reprisals.
In addition to Tamil journalists and editors, other journalists and editors have also faced questioning, harassments and intimidations, including from politicians and a Trade Union leader.
There were also reports of restricting arts and literature, including books and theatre, and arrests, questioning and intimidation of artists. Many of these were based on allegations that they contain content critical or harmful to the country’s majority religion, Buddhism. Politicians and Buddhist Monks appear to be behind some of these.
Amongst those who faced threats was the Chairperson of the Human Rights Commission of Sri Lanka, Dr. Deepika Udagama. The Catholic Archbishop of Colombo, Malcolm Cardinal Ranjith, also made public pronouncements criticizing the human rights framework. Both these drew strong condemnation from human rights activists.
Several of the victims were female activists. Amongst them were the Chair of the Human Rights Commission, the wife of disappeared person in the East, an activist supporting families of disappeared in the North, a journalist in the North and an activist who has been working with survivors of torture, in the southern part of Sri Lanka. Four of the above were physical assaults, though on one occasion, there was a narrow escape. One of the most brutal attacks on dissent was on female detainees who were protesting for their rights and basic needs.
After the completion of 365 days of continued protests by Tamil families of disappeared in the North and East and commencement of consultation meetings by the Office of the Missing Persons, disappearances continued to be a controversial human rights issue. During the period, protesting families faced obstacles from police in the East and an event at the UN building in Geneva where some Tamil families of disappeared were speaking, were disrupted. The wife of a disappeared journalist was at receiving end of death threats and hate speech attacks, when a Buddhist Monk was convicted for having threatened her in court premises in 2016. A lawyer appearing for families of disappeared in a court case where navy officers have been arrested, also reported about threatening phone calls.
Journalists also continued to face attacks, threats and harassments. In the North, four Tamil journalists were subjected to physical attacks, threats, interrogation and intimidation. Another Northern journalist reported being threatened by staff of a private company for coverage of a protest. A Colombo based journalist was summoned for questioning by Police for retweeting a tweet and the summons was withdrawn after it received wide publicity. Another Colombo based journalist reported harassment and threats outside court premises. President Sirisena publicly warned about a social media ban.
In an incident that went viral, a Railway department staff was caught on video engaging in racial abuse against Tamils while on duty. He had been accused of sexually harassing a Tamil woman and threatening a Tamil journalist / activist who had tried to intervene. Both victims were made to wait around 5 hours before Police took down their complaints.
Intimidation of protesters by taking photos continued during the period, by Police as well as security staff of the Indian Consulate in Jaffna, when a protest against killing of civilians in Thoothukodi, Tamilnadu, India was held outside the Consulate. The construction of a memorial for Tamils killed in the war was stopped, while a political / trade union activist was summoned for questioning in relation to remembrance events for war dead.
An Indian investor who had complained about senior Presidential staff and Chairman of a state corporation taking bribes, had complained to the Police about receiving death threats.
Overall, what was seen was regular repression of dissent, in different parts of the country, by police, government officials and private persons against journalists and activists reporting and campaigning on a range of issues such as disappearances, corruption, livelihood, and sexual harassment.
In January 2018, President Maithripala Sirisena completed third year of his five year term. Though he and Prime Minister Ranil Wickramasinghe’s election campaigns were supported by many rights activists and social movements, progress on human rights continued to be disappointing in 2018 too.
Local Government Election which was held 10th February 2018 was one of the significant events during the first quarter of 2018. The most progressive t feature of the election was the 25% quota for women candidates, despite the disappointment of it not being implemented in full. However, there was also widespread resistance to increased number of female candidates and violence that was based on gender. Female candidates of all ethnic groups across the country faced physical and other forms of violence, but attacks on social media and intimidation by family members were more intensely directed at Muslim female candidates.
The quarter also saw systematic attacks on the Muslim community in the Ampara and Kandy districts, by groups identifying themselves as Sinhalese – Buddhists. In Kandy, there some lives were lost, and the damage to properties, including Mosques, houses, shops, vehicles etc. was much more than in Ampara. In both places, survivors and eyewitnesses blamed the Police for watching by, delayed and inadequate responses. In some instances, the Special Task Force of the Police had physically and verbally abused Muslims.
The members to the Office of Missing Persons was finally appointed on 28th February. But the establishment of the other three transitional justice institutions promised in September 2015 – an Office for Reparations, a Truth Commission and Special Court – remained uncertain and indefinite, with not even draft legislations shared. Other measures to address war related issues, such as reducing military’s role in the North, releasing military occupied lands, justice for political prisoners, equal opportunities for memorialization for war dead etc., have been painfully slow or non-existent. Progress on a new constitution has also been stalled. Cases against the military, on murder and disappearance of journalists and civilians under the previous regime dragged on without much progress.
Long term protest campaigns related to land occupation by the military and seeking answers about disappeared continued in the former war zones in the North. Protests intensified as they completed one year in February – March and also on Independence Day on 4th February, where some repressive actions by the military and police were reported.
In pre-dominantly Sinhalese areas, in some cases, angry protesters had turned violent against the police, but considering the unarmed nature of the protesters and provocations, police reactions appear to be disproportionate. In one instance, protesters who had thrown stones were not only arrested, but reported to have been beaten in custody. Students and parents protesting against a private medical institution were attacked and university students who were opposing ragging of new students were also reported to have been attacked by the raggers.
Several incidents of threats, harassments and obstructions on journalists were reported from different parts of the country, with the military and supporters of a politician being accused. Office premises belonging to an NGO running a project to prevent HIV/AIDS were forcefully entered by some group of villagers, and two persons in the network of NGO were assaulted by them with presence of media and police. A female lawyer was reported to have been assaulted when she had come to give evidence before courts. A female school principal from Badulla was compelled to kneel down by the Provincial chief minister and she had complained of death threats after she had exposed this and complained against the incident. And staff of a Sri Lankan diplomatic mission was seen making threatening gestures towards protesters in London.
In 9 out of 22 incidents, the victims were female, while in about 7 incidents, such as in protests, victims were mixture of men and women. The 22 incidents are from 8 of the 9 provinces in the country. Two were from the capital Colombo, while others have been reported from Mullaitheevu, Jaffna, Batticaloa, Anuradhapura, Polonnaruwa, Puttalam, Hambantota, Galle, Moneragela, Badulla and Kandy districts. One was in London, while the last one, on proposed legal amendment to the Voluntary Social Services Organizations (VSSO) Act, would have negatively affected freedom of association in the whole country.
Download full report here.
2017 was a year of protests in Sri Lanka. Across the island, grassroots agitations have been conducted to protest a broad range of issues, from war related injustices such as enforced disappearances, military occupied land, and political prisoners; to socio-economic issues such as contract labour, and privatisation of medical education. Memorialisation events for Tamils killed in the war, amidst varying degrees of repression also marked increasing resistance and defiance by Tamils affected by war, violence and injustice.
2017 was the Sirisena-Wickremesinghe administration’s third year in power, with small steps being made to achieve the some of the Yahapalanaya government’s 2015 election promises, such as the implementation of the Right to Information (RTI) act and the appointment of an RTI commission; finalizing the legal framework to establish an Office of Missing Persons and some releases of military occupied civilian lands in the North.
The government has also sought to increase dialogue and engagement with HRDs and civil society organisations through processes such as the UN’s Universal Periodic Review and adhocly on other issues, including related to some of the protests mentioned above. Many of the dialogues didn’t contribute to changes on the ground. The lack of genuine commitment to resolve grievances is also indicated by insistence of some protesters to continue protests till results were obtained, while continuing to engage in repeated dialogues. Much of the findings and recommendations of the 2016 government appointed Consultation Task Force on Reconciliation Mechanisms seems to have been ignored, with no formal and substantial government response for more than 16 months. Overall, consultations appear to be tokenistic ticking the box exercises, with findings and recommendations ignored, and not even acknowledged. A prominent exception appears to be the findings of the 2016 Public Representations Committee on Constitutional Reform which consisted mainly of civil society activists, academics and lawyers, who conducted consultation with grassroots communities to determine a national consensus for the constitution reform, being reflected in the Sub Committee and Steering Committee reports of the Constitutional Assembly (Parliament), though there is no indication of much of this will make it to a final draft for a new constitution.
Repression of dissent continued alongside these dialogues and consultations. 2017 marked the first high profile exile of a human rights defender, when Colombo based human rights lawyer Lakshan Dias was forced to temporarily leave the country when threatened by then Justice Minister Wijeyadasa Rajapakse for speaking out against attacks on Evangelical Christian groups. 2017 also saw two notable incidents of abduction in the South: the first being the abduction of a Trade Union leader leading a protest on workers rights; and the second being the attempted abduction of a university student activist protesting against the establishment of Private Medical Colleges. In May 2017, a court order was issued to an activist Catholic priest in Mullaitivu in an attempt to stop an event on May 18, memorialising those killed in the last stages of the war in 2009. Court orders have also been used to suppress protests by workers and student activists in and around Colombo. Following anti-garbage dumping protests by Colombo residents in the aftermath of the collapse of the Meethotamulla garbage dump, President Sirisena approved a gazette declaring disposal of garbage an essential service, which essentially criminalized vulnerable communities attempting to resist dumping of harmful and toxic substances near their homes.
While older, more explicit methods of containing dissent such as assaults, threats, intimidation, detention, interrogation, surveillance remained, there has also been an increasing reliance on court orders to pre-emptively shut down protests and other organised dissenting activities. Below are six cases from across the country, indicating trends in repression of dissent on variety of rights and social justice issues in the country.
Download full report here.
Tamil women from Sri Lanka’s war affected Northern region participate in the ‘Women for Change’ march to pressure political parties to give more opportunities to women in politics, on Nov. 14 in Colombo. (Photo by Niranjani Roland/ucanews.com)
The budget allocations for women is an indicator of a government’s commitment to women’s rights. Though a comprehensive estimate of gender responsive budget is not available, the annual budget for Ministry of Women and Child Affairs was significantly curtailed this year. Ministry’s recurrent expenses in the year 2017 were only 15% of the budget of previous year and it appears that almost all the costs of welfare programmes for women and children have been curtailed this year as the cost for welfare programmes was only 0.2% of last year’s budget.
Two major National Human Rights Action Plans: National Human Action Plan (2017-2021) and Policy Framework and National Plan of Action to address Sexual and Gender–based Violence (2016-2020) were finalized during the last year.
However, by a letter dated February 02, 2017, a group of civil society activists who participated in drafting National Human Rights Action Plan (NHRAP) stated that the final report sent to the Cabinet for approval was altered without their knowledge raising serious questions as to the inclusiveness and integrity of the process. The said revisions were related to decriminalising adult consensual same sex activity and decriminalising sex work. On January 20, 2017 the former Minister of Justice Wijedasa Rajapaksha made a statement stating that homosexuality is a mental illness. On the 25th January, President Sirisena stated at a public meeting that the proposal to decriminalize homosexuality was removed by him personally. These two statements clearly elucidate opinion of the Government on LGBTIQ rights.
On 25th January 2017, President Maithreepala Sirisena publicly stated that he was the person who removed a cabinet proposal to decriminalize homosexuality
On 25th January, the Chairman of National Human Rights Commission Dr. Deepika Udugama stated that the state should not intervene in cases of consensual sex between adults, one should not be discriminated on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity and that rights of LGBTIQ persons should be promoted in a civilized society. An ethno-nationalist website owned by an opposition party MP published a news article about her statement with a misleading title and subsequently she was targeted with numerous hateful, sexualized and abusive reader comments. Even though LGBTIQ rights were excluded in the NHRAP (2017-2021), it is commendable that National Human Rights Commission has identified rights of LGBTIQ persons as one of its priority areas in its strategic plan (2017-2019).
66th Session of Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) and GSP Plus Trade Concession for Sri Lankan exports to European Union both demanded human rights commitments from GoSL. The concluding observations of CEDAW committee issued in March 2017 highlighted both progress and delay in implementing previous recommendations and presented a set of recommendations and principal areas of concern including women’s rights, LGBTIQ rights, legal reforms on discriminatory laws, and transitional justice.
Discriminatory personal laws
Reforms to Muslim Marriage and Divorce Act (MMDA) of 1951 came into public discussion due to strong advocacy efforts by Muslim women activists. MMDA includes several provisions that discriminate against women in matters of marriage, divorce, maintenance, inheritance, property rights and access to justice. The Government appears to have left the responsibility of reforming the Muslim personal law to the leadership of Muslim community often headed by male political and religious leaders.
The MMDA does not specify a minimum age of marriage and thus, allows for child marriages. A research report published in 2013 presented 71 cases of statutory rape and child marriage. In April 2017, the tragic death of a pregnant child bride after she was set on fire by her husband drew attention to the importance and urgency of reforming Muslim personal law.
A committee appointed by Minister of Justice in 2009 to make recommendations to amend the MMDA is yet to publish its report. A press statement issued by the Chairman of the committee in February 2017, claimed that the report was in its final stage. Meanwhile, on March 22, 2017, a member of this committee, and the Chairman of All Ceylon Jamiyyathul Ulama (ACJU) Ash Sheikh Rizwe Mufthi declared that the MMDA does not need reforms. Despite repeated recommendations by the CEDAW committee, and demands from women’s rights activists and organizations over the years, Sri Lanka has not yet reformed the discriminatory law. Further, it appears that the GoSL has completely ignored the recommendations made by the independent Committee on Muslim Personal Law Reforms initiated by the Muslim Women’s Research and Action Forum (MWRAF) comprising of prominent Quazi judges, lawyers and MWRAF members.
GoSL has also failed to take any satisfactory action to reform discriminatory provisions in Kandyan Law and Tesawalami Law (customary laws of Kandyan Sinhalese and Tamils in Sri Lanka) and the Land Development Ordinance (1935) which discriminates against women in matters of inheritance.
Though the Sri Lankan Constitution recognizes equality of sexes as a fundamental right, Article 16 of the Constitution prevents any existing law being challenged based on inconsistency with fundamental rights. This provision is a barrier to reform personal laws that discriminate against women. The GoSL has not taken into consideration the demands of women’s and LGBTIQ rights activists to repeal Article 16.
A media report stated that several members of women’s organizations in the Northern Province who had expressed views against implementing ‘Shariah’ law were threatened with death and they lodged complaints at several police stations in the North. Though Shariah law is not valid in Sri Lanka, Muslim women activists and victimized Muslim women have previously stated that they have been mistreated, verbally abused, threatened and humiliated in courts throughout their case processes, and that the Quazi judges have acted beyond their mandates.
Human rights of women
In the post-war period, a majority of women have taken an active role in leading campaigns against disappearances of their husbands and family members, and have the military occupied civilian land released. Mayuri Jayasena, a woman HRD seeking justice for her disappeared husband in the South who protested in front of Presidential Secretariat on September 01, 2016, was accused of cruelty to children as she accompanied her children to the protest (Court case Number: B/3038/16). This incident clearly illustrates how threats against women human rights activists can be gendered in complex ways and linked to their responsibilities of child care.
Further, incidence of rape and sexual abuse in the North and East by the military remain high even after 8 years since the end of the war. A recently released research report named five high level military leaders as those responsible for running a torture and rape camp in Sri Lanka. The most recent torture and rape case documented in the research has occurred in December 2016. This highlights the failure of the current government to stop sexual violence by the military and armed forces despite the promises given to the civil society and international community.
Quota for women in nomination list
On July 10, 2017 the Government gazetted the Provincial Councils Elections (Amendment) Bill to increase female representation in Provincial Councils. The Bill that seeks to amend the Provincial Councils Elections Act, No.2 of 1988 requires 30% of candidates in the nomination lists of all parties and independent groups to be female. The bill empowers the returning officers to reject any nomination paper which does not contain the required number of female candidates.
Last year, the Government amended Local Authorities Election Act to include a 25% quota for women at the Local Government elections.
Reforms to law on termination of pregnancy
In August 2017, addressing a press conference held at the Health Education Bureau in Colombo, Consultant Community Physician Dr. Kapila Jayaratne stated that a bill will be brought to Parliament to expand the grounds for termination of pregnancy to include pregnancy resulting from rape and fetal abnormalities. It was stated that Cabinet approval has been received for this proposal. Two days later, the Catholic Bishops Conference of Sri Lanka issued a statement strongly disapproving the move to legalize abortion on the two grounds. The GoSL however, has made no statement regarding the said reform.
 Sri Lanka Brief. 4th February, 2017. Sri Lanka- National HR Action Plan 2016-2021: Inclusive Nature and Integrity of the process questioned http://srilankabrief.org/2017/02/sri-lanka-national-hr-action-plan-2016-2021-inclusive-nature-and-integrity-of-the-process-questioned/
 Lanka C News. Many suffer by not legalizing homosexuality. If animals do it, why can’t do it? [Sinhala language] https://lankacnews.com/%E0%B7%83%E0%B6%B8%E0%B6%BD%E0%B7%92%E0%B6%82%E0%B6%9C%E0%B7%92%E0%B6%9A%E0%B6%AD%E0%B7%8A%E0%B7%80%E0%B6%BA-%E0%B6%B1%E0%B7%93%E0%B6%AD%E0%B7%92%E0%B6%9C%E0%B6%AD-%E0%B6%B1%E0%B7%9C%E0%B6%9A%E0%B7%92/
 The committee made number of recommendations in the areas of legal status of the convention, legal framework for prohibition of discrimination against women, discriminatory laws, access to justice, women’s involvement in transitional justice mechanisms, national machinery for the advancement of women, stereotypes and gender-based violence against women, trafficking and exploitation of prostitution, women’s participation in political and public life and in decision-making, employment, health, women heads of households, migrant women, rural women and militarization of land etc.
Goonesekere, Savitri; Amarasuriya, Harini. 2013. Emerging Concerns and Case Studies on Child Marriage in Sri Lanka. Unicef. Colombo. https://www.unicef.org/srilanka/Final_Uploaded_report_compress.pdf
 Colombo Telegraph. May 21, 2017. Tortured Sri Lankan Muslim Child Marriage Victim Dies, Police Soft-Pedals Capture Of Murderous Husband https://www.colombotelegraph.com/index.php/tortured-sri-lankan-muslim-child-marriage-victim-dies-police-soft-pedals-capture-of-murderous-husband/
Colombo Telegraph. February 7, 2017 Justice Marsoof Commission Finalizing Recommendations For MMDA Amendment https://www.colombotelegraph.com/index.php/justice-marsoof-commission-finalizing-recommendations-for-mmda-amendment/
Daily News. March 22, 2017. MMDA does not need reforms: ACJU Chairman http://dailynews.lk/2017/03/22/local/111190/mmda-does-not-need-reforms-acju-chairman
The Women and Media Collective (Feb 2017). Shadow Report submitted for the 66th Session of the CEDAW Committee available at http://womenandmedia.org/wp-content/uploads/2017/02/SHADOW-REPORT-TO-CEDAW-ALL-ISSUES.pdf
SL Guardian. November 27,2017. Sri Lanka: Muslim women against ‘Shariah’ threatened https://www.slguardian.org/2016/11/sri-lanka-muslim-women-against-shariah-threatened/
 International Truth and Justice Project (2017). Joseph Camp http://www.itjpsl.com/assets/ITJP_Joseph_camp_report_FINAL.pdf
Relatives of the disappeared launched a demonstration to expedite the process of setting up an Office on Missing Persons in Colombo in this file photo. (photo, ucanews, Quintus Colombage, Colombo Sri Lanka )
Government of Sri Lanka (GoSL) in its commitment for transitional justice (TJ) put forward a transitional justice process which included four crucial mechanisms: a commission on truth, justice, reconciliation and non-recurrence; an office on missing persons; an office on reparations; and a judicial mechanism with a special counsel. In the year that ended, there have been several developments that call in to question the Government’s commitment to transitional justice.
The UN Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of human rights and fundamental freedoms while countering terrorism, Mr. Ben Emmerson, visited Sri Lanka from 10th to 14th July 2017. The Special Rapporteur noted that the progress in achieving the key goals set out in the Resolution 30/1 for promoting reconciliation, accountability and human rights in Sri Lanka is not only slow, but seems to have ground to a virtual halt. It was further noted that none of the measures so far adopted to fulfil Sri Lanka’s transitional justice commitments are adequate to ensure real progress, and there is little evidence that perpetrators of war crimes committed by members of the Sri Lankan armed forces are being brought to justice.
The Special Rapporteur was given a personal assurance by the Prime Minister that once the current process of counter-terrorism reform had been completed, the Government would pass legislation paving the way for a Truth and Reconciliation Commission to be established, and set up an Office of the Special Prosecutor to bring criminal charges against those involved in the most serious atrocities committed on both sides of the conflict.
Final report of the Consultation Task Force
The Consultation Task Force on Reconciliation Mechanisms ended their consultations in August 2016. The Zonal Task Force Members who conducted consultations on the ground expressed that it was a difficult process, with little support or outreach from the Government. On January 03, 2017, the task force presented its final report to former President Chandrika Kumaratunga, Chairperson of the Office for National Unity and Reconciliation.
The main recommendations contained in the report included the establishment of a hybrid court with a majority of national judges and at least one international judge per bench, and with no temporal jurisdictional limitation; and the prohibition of amnesties for war crimes and crimes against humanity, or for gross human rights violations and abuses, such as torture, enforced disappearance and rape. The task force called for the restitution of land held by the military, the publication of the list of all detainees and detention centres, the repeal of the Prevention of Terrorism Act (PTA) and the immediate release of persons held under the Act without charges.
The task force recommended a countrywide response to disappearances, financial and symbolic reparations, a constitutional and political settlement, and attention to psychosocial needs. Several months later, action is yet to be taken along these recommendations.
In the North, there a profound sense of desperation among the wives and mothers of the disappeared. Though the period immediately after the release of the report revived hopes as the victims felt they were being listened to for the first time, the absence of concrete action has replaced hope with impatience, frustration and the belief that nothing is going to happen.
Office on Missing Persons
Sri Lanka introduced the bill to establish the Office on Missing Persons (OMP) in May 2016 and the bill was gazetted the same month. In June 2017, the Bill was presented to the Parliament by the Prime Minister and was passed unanimously. On the 20th July President Sirisena signed the Office on Missing Persons Act.
However, in terms of the Gazette, the President has only assigned the OMP to the Ministry of National Integration and Reconciliation. For the OMP Act to truly come into operation, the Minister in charge of the OMP must specify a ‘date of operation’ by way of an order published in another Gazette. On 24th July, the Centre for Policy Alternatives issued a Press Release expressing concern over the constitutional validity of the President’s forthcoming specification of the OMP’s date of operation as the assigning of the OMP to a Ministry which is currently under the purview of the President may not comply with the the provisions of the Constitution on allocating subjects and functions to Ministers.
Counter Terrorism Act
On May 03, 2017, the Cabinet approved the third draft of the Counter Terrorism Act (CTA). This bill falls far short of the Government’s pledges to the UN Human Rights Council to end the abusive practice of detention without charge and observe international best practices.
While the bill improves upon the draconian Prevention of Terrorism Act (PTA), it would still permit many human rights abuses. Of particular concern are the bill’s broad and vague definitions of terrorist acts which could be interpreted to include peaceful political activity or protest, enabling arrests without warrants, possibility of detaining a suspect without charge up to 12 months and absence of bail except for exceptional reasons.
No date is set for the Parliament to vote on the bill.
Enforced Disappearance Bill
In December 2015, GoSL ratified the International Convention for the Protection of All persons from Enforced Disappearances and pledged to give effect to the Convention by passing appropriate domestic legislation. The Enforced Disappearance Bill that was drafted accordingly was scheduled to be taken up in the Parliament for debate on the July 05, 2017. However, following heavy protests against the bill from different groups in the country including the Mahanayake Theras who head the main Buddhist sects, the tabling of the Bill was postponed indefinitely. Ironically, within a week, Sri Lankan Police arrested a high ranking Navy officer in connection with the disappearance of 11 Tamil youths who had been abducted in Colombo and surrounding areas in 2008 and 2009.
Women in TJ Process
There are reports of over 90,000 widows in the North-East, not including wives of the disappeared, and insecurity remains rampant. The war widows have been compelled to become heads of household and primary income earners, leaving behind traditional domestic roles in a highly patriarchal society regulated by rigid cultural and social practices, and made insecure by the continued presence of the Sinhalese military.
International Crisis Group (ICG) in a report released in July 2017 stated that the “repercussions of war are clearly visible in Tamil society in the north and the east: rates of alcoholism, drug use, suicide, domestic and societal violence have increased significantly over the past eight years”. “All the women interviewed for this report were suffering from trauma,” it added.
Military occupation of land, destruction and debt have left many women with little. Economic insecurity is on the rise with limited job opportunities available. Sexual exploitation and violence continue while justice for sexual and gender-based violence is rare. Crimes are hardly reported to the Police due to stigma and the fear of reprisals.
Civicus and Inform jointly made a written submission on Sri Lanka to the UN Universal Periodic Review (UPR) 28th Session of the UPR Working Group on 30th of March, 2017, mainly focusing on the issues faced by Human Rights defenders in Sri Lanka.
Download the joint submission here. UPR 2017 – Sri Lanka – Joint Submission on HRDs – INFORM and CIVICUS
Download full Report here Human Rights in SL – one year after parliamentary elections-INFORM-18Aug2016
The parliamentary elections of August 2015 brought into power a coalition government between the Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP) and the United National Party (UNP), the two major political parties that had ruled Sri Lanka since independence from the British in 1948. This elections reaffirmed the leader of the UNP as the Prime Minister, to work with the leader of the SLFP who had been elected as President in January 2015. The alliance also receives the support of major political parties representing ethnic minorities, the Sri Lanka Muslim Congress (SLMC) and the Tamil National Alliance (TNA), despite the TNA leader being the Opposition Leader. A faction of the SLFP and some smaller parties, calling themselves “Joint Opposition”, remain loyal to defeated former President Rajapakse and opposed to the ruling alliance. But despite street protests and vocal outbursts over media, their strength in parliament appears to be less than 50 out of 225, way below the required strength to oppose even constitutional changes which requires two thirds majority.
This political configuration, and ruling alliance’s links to progressive intellectuals, artists, clergy, lawyers, journalists, trade unions and activists, as well as international goodwill, has opened up unprecedented possibilities for radical reforms towards ethnic and religious reconciliation, rights, democratization and sustainable development. But after one year, despite significant gains, hopes are going down.
A major boost towards a culture of rights came about when independent appointments were made to the Human Rights Commission of Sri Lanka (HRCSL) and other independent statutory bodies through the Constitutional Council, based on the 19th amendment to the constitution enacted in April 2015. The newly appointed Commissioners of the HRCSL were quick to assert their independence, taking public positions on issues such as death penalty, those detained under the Prevention of Terrorism Act (PTA), hate speech and freedom of expression etc. The HRCSL also stepped up detention visits and got the President and top Police officers to march on the streets against torture. However, the HRCSL has a long way to go, with complainants still not receiving adequate responses in a timely manner, with a challenges such as huge backlog of cases, delays in appointments to key positions, incompetency and state centric approach of some staff.
A very important initiative during the period was the launch of public consultation process to seek ideas for a new constitution. The Public Representation Committee (PRC) appointed to lead the process went to all the districts and received rich body of oral and written submissions, dealing with variety of issues. The PRC have made public their report in all three languages, including their own observations and recommendations. However, the process had not penetrated to many rural villages and the reports remains practically inaccessible to most people. While the government doesn’t appear to be doing much public outreach to carry forward the important work done by the PRC, new expert committees are now assisting the Constituent Assembly (the parliament) to take the process forward, but behind closed doors. One of the PRC members have contributed an article about his experiences and observations.
The rights discourse was largely dominated by government’s commitment towards transitional justice, a relatively new word in Sri Lanka. These largely dealt with war related rights abuses and ongoing violations, including militarization of civilian activities, war crimes, crimes against humanity etc. Government’s promises, progress made so far, ongoing violations that are of concern are looked at in more detail in a specific article on transitional justice. Overall, it appears that the transitional justice process is limping forward, amidst opposition of the Rajapaksa loyalists and skepticism of some Tamil politicians and activists, without much political commitment and public outreach from the President and the Prime Minister.
Disappearances is one of the issues on which there had been significant developments, such as the ratification of the International Convention against Enforced Disappearances, the visit of the UN Working Group on Enforced and Involuntary Disappearances and most importantly, the passing of an Act of Parliament to set up an Office of Missing Persons (OMP). However, secrecy in which the OMP bill was drafted and rushed through, the weaknesses and ambiguities of the draft Bill, extremely slow phase disappearances cases are dealt with in Sri Lankan courts and reports of ongoing abductions and disappearances have dampened the promises of truth and justice for families of disappeared.
The government had committed to repeal and reform the Prevention of Terrorism Act (PTA), but persons continued to be arrested under the PTA. Human rights defenders who were PTA detainees under the previous government, continued to be subjected to be investigations, restrictions and harassments under this law. There are concerns that new laws introduced may also be repressive towards minorities and government critiques. PTA detainees and their families and activists launched several protests seeking an end to their long years of detention, but despite promises, and release of some, the issue of PTA detainees remains unresolved.
Similarly, there has been limited and slow progress on government’s commitments to release lands occupied by the military to their rightful owners. Whole villages in the Northern Province remains occupied by the military, despite some lands being released within the last 12 months and earlier part of 2015. Serious concerns have also been expressed by fisherfolk and farmers about their traditional livelihoods being disrupted due to tourism and other development projects by military and large hotel chains.
Long standing rights issues still remain largely unaddressed. Rights of persons with disability, migrant workers, workers in the free trade zone and informal sector, Tamils of Indian origin working in tea estates, violence, discrimination and social stigma based on caste, sexuality and gender, violence against women, women’s political participation etc. have not received the same attention that transitional justice related issues had received.
This report looks at abusive contracts which restrict workers’ rights, lack of minimum wages, health issues in relation to workers in the free trade zones, and also rights of Tamils of Indian origin, through the contributions of two activists who have been engaged with these issues for long time.
Homosexuality remains criminalized in Sri Lanka and social stigma also remains. Both social media and mainstream state media had space for both positive and negative comments on rights of persons with different sexual orientations and gender identities. The article on the subject notes that space for discourse on these issues was not available in state media before, and also lauds the initiative of the HRCSL in promoting rights of persons with different gender identities and sexual orientations.
The article on education appreciates the increased scholarship scheme for university students and budgetary allocation for education, while pointing out that it still falls below the expected 6% of the Gross Domestic Product (GDP). There are concerns about continuing politicization and commercialization of education. The government has been accused of dragging it’s feet on ragging of fresher’s by senior university students but it appeared to have ensured that inter-ethnic tensions in some universities were not allowed to flare out of proportion.
The article on economic policies argues that despite four decades of neo-liberal economic policies that had increased inequalities and marginalization, and failing to achieve sustainable and equitable development, the new government is moving in the same direction. The article points out that market liberalization with reducing government support, puts rural agriculture based livelihoods of more than 40% of the country’s population in danger and has a negative impact on food security of the poor. It also notes that loans for large scale infrastructure development projects are increasing the debt to about 100% of the GDP.
The article on environment and agriculture highlights that development projects are being implemented without consideration to the environment, although the negative impact last year is less than during the Rajapaksa rule. It also points out development induced displacement due to the commercialization of land as a commodity and the need for clear policy on agriculture which goes beyond temporary solutions for problems that emerge on and off.
The article looking at religious freedom indicates that attacks, restrictions and intimidation of religious minorities, particularly Muslims and Evangelical Christians, have continued, although on a scale that’s less intense. The article highlights that unlike the Rajapaksa era, there is no explicit government support towards extremist Buddhist groups attacking religious minorities.
Another significant positive development was the belated, but important passing of the Right to Information Act. This is dealt with in detail in one of the chapters.
Despite continuing threats, restrictions and attacks on activists and journalists, the article dealing with freedom of expression, assembly and association indicates an opening up of democratic spaces for dissent and resistance. The situation in the North appears to be more repressive than the rest of the country, particularly through heavy military presence, surveillance by intelligence agencies and reports of continuing abductions, disappearances and arrests under the PTA.
If the benchmark is human rights practice and policy under Rajapaksa rule, it becomes evident that the 12 months since the parliamentary elections has seen significant improvements in the human rights situation, along with important legal and institutional developments towards rights protection. However, the phase of reforms appear to be slow, particularly in addressing impunity for past violations. Continuing violations of human rights, militarization and neo-liberal economic policies are dampening hopes and prospects that were there one year ago. Despite the strength of the broad-based political alliance in power, the government has been reluctant to push through with radical reforms and take actions to win hearts and minds of Tamil population and other marginalized communities through concrete actions.