Repression of Dissent in Sri Lanka April – June 2018

Dissent3

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 A Colombo based journalist was summoned for questioning by Police for retweeting a tweet and the summons was withdrawn after it received wide publicity.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.

English: 2018 June English.Repression of Dissent – April – June2018

සිංහල: 2018 June sinhala.Repression of Dissent – April – June2018

தமிழ்: Tamil -Repression of Dissent – April – June 2018

 

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Repression of Dissent in Sri Lanka January – March 2018

dissent 2

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.

English: 2018 March.English. Repression of Dissent in SL in Jan-March2018

සිංහල: 2018 March.Sinhala. Repression of Dissent in SL in Jan-March2018

தமிழ்: 2018 March.Tamil. Repression of Dissent in SL in Jan-March2018

 

 

Repression of Dissent in Sri Lanka: January to December 2017

dissent reports2017 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.

English: 2017 Eng Repression of Dissent in SL in 2017

සිංහල: 2017 Sin Repression of Dissent in SL in 2017

தமிழ்: 2017 Tam Repression of Dissent in SL in 2017

 

 

Gender equality in Sri Lanka in the year 2017

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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) 

National budget

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.

LGBTIQ rights

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[1]. 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.

maithreepala

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[2].  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[3].   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[4]  including women’s rights, LGBTIQ rights, legal reforms on discriminatory laws, and transitional justice[5].

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[6]. In April 2017, the tragic death of a pregnant child bride after she was set on fire by her husband[7] 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[8]. 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[9].  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[10].

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.[11] 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[12].  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[13] 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[14].

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[15].  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[16]. The GoSL however, has made no statement regarding the said reform.

[1] 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/

[2]BBC. January 25, 2017. Homosexuality ‘State should not intervene’ [Sinhala language] http://www.bbc.com/sinhala/world-38744551

[3] 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/

[4]https://tbinternet.ohchr.org/Treaties/CEDAW/Shared%20Documents/LKA/CEDAW_C_LKA_CO_8%20_26056_E.doc

[5] 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.

[6]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

[7] 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/

[8]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/

[9]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

[10]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

[11]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/

[12] International Truth and Justice Project (2017). Joseph Camp http://www.itjpsl.com/assets/ITJP_Joseph_camp_report_FINAL.pdf

[13] http://documents.gov.lk/files/bill/2017/7/213-2017_E.pdf

[14]http://dailynews.lk/2017/07/12/political/121741/increase-women’s-representation-pcs-gazetted

[15]http://www.dailynews.lk/2017/08/23/local/126027/bill-allow-aborting-foetus-two-counts

[16] http://www.dailymirror.lk/article/Changing-abortion-law-Catholic-Church-says-No-135387.html

Transitional Justice in Sri Lanka in the year 2017

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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[1].

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[2].

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[3]. 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[4].

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[5].

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[6]. On the 20th July President Sirisena signed the Office on Missing Persons Act[7].

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[8]. 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[9] 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[10], 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[11].  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[12].

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[13] 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[14]. Crimes are hardly reported to the Police due to stigma and the fear of reprisals[15].

[1] http://groundviews.org/2017/07/15/full-statement-by-ben-emmerson-un-special-rapporteur-on-human-rights-and-counter-terrorism-at-the-conclusion-of-his-official-visit/

[2] http://groundviews.org/2017/07/15/full-statement-by-ben-emmerson-un-special-rapporteur-on-human-rights-and-counter-terrorism-at-the-conclusion-of-his-official-visit/

[3] https://www.hrw.org/news/2017/07/13/sri-lankas-difficulty-truth

[4] http://srilankabrief.org/wp-content/uploads/2017/03/A_HRC_34_-report-sri-Lanka.pdf

[5] https://www.ictj.org/news/sri-lanka-justice-not-fulfilled

[6] http://www.dailymirror.lk/article/OMP-Amendment-Bill-passed-unanimously-in-House-131402.html

[7]http://dailynews.lk/2017/07/20/local/122698/president-signs-office-missing-persons-act

[8]http://sacls.org/images/publications/bulletins/SACLS_BULLETIN_-_JULY_2017.pdf

[9] http://www.cpalanka.org/press-release-importance-of-adhering-to-the-constitutional-and-legal-framework-in-the-establishment-and-operationalizing-of-the-office-on-missing-persons-omp/

[10] https://www.hrw.org/news/2017/05/18/sri-lanka-anti-terror-bill-revives-concerns-abuse

[11] http://www.dailymirror.lk/article/Enforced-disappearance-bill-not-taken-up-in-Parliament-132282.html

[12] https://www.theapolitical.in/south-asia/sri-lanka-high-ranking-navy-official-arrested-enforced-disappearances

[13] https://www.crisisgroup.org/asia/south-asia/sri-lanka/289-sri-lankas-conflict-affected-women-dealing-legacy-war

[14] http://www.tamilguardian.com/content/tamil-women-marginalised-sri-lanka’s-transitional-justice-process-icg

[15] https://www.crisisgroup.org/asia/south-asia/sri-lanka/289-sri-lankas-conflict-affected-women-dealing-legacy-war

Sri Lanka Joint Submission to the UN Universal Periodic Review by INFORM and Civicus

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

Human Rights Situation in Sri Lanka: August 17, 2015 – August 17, 2016

Download full Report here Human Rights in SL – one year after parliamentary elections-INFORM-18Aug2016

Executive Summary

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.

Repression of Dissent in Sri Lanka: 1st July – 30th September 2015

Repression of Dissent in Sri Lanka: 1st July – 30th September 2015 

Summary:

The three month period was marked by two significant events – the Parliamentary elections held on 17th August and the events related to Sri Lanka at the 30th session of the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva in September – October 2015.

 

At the elections, the defeat of former President Rajapakse and his allies was re-established when the United National Party led alliance swept into power.  This was widely recognised as stepping stone to more democratic form of governance in the coming years.

 

The Centre for Monitoring Election Violence (CMEV) which INFORM is also part of, reported 856 election violence related incidents including 146 major incidents with 4 murders. At General elections held in 2010, total number of incidents reported was 414 incidents with 232 major incidents of election violence. The number of incidents reported is increased, though the major incidents of violence have been reduced. This context also needs to be recognized with the dynamics of a post-war society, where nationalist, racist ideologies were popularized with the censorship and sponsorship of the state under the previous regime. Though the regime has been changed, many of the politicians joined the hands with new national government.

 

The attention the shifted to Geneva – where the report of the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) and the OHCHR Investigation on Sri Lanka (OISL) were released on 16th September, after having been deferred from March 2015, at the request of the new Sri Lankan government. The OHCHR and OISL reports highlighted widespread and systemic abuses by both parties to the conflict, continuing violations in 2015, widespread impunity and emphasized that despite positive changes in 2015, the Sri Lankan criminal justice system was incapable of ensuring accountability. Thus, a Special Hybrid Court with participation of international judges, prosecutors, lawyers and investigators was amongst the recommendations that was highlighted. A consensus resolution was adopted by the Human Rights Council, which the Sri Lankan government also co-sponsored. The resolution’s tone appeared to appease the new Sri Lankan government and didn’t give the same emphasis to serious allegations highlighted in the OHCHR – OISL reports. But the resolution contained some significant commitments by the Sri Lankan government towards human rights protection, even though the key OHCHR recommendation of establishment of a Special Hybrid Court was left in ambiguity.

 

As has been the trend, incidents of repression of dissent continued to be reported, especially from the Northern part of the country. But the number of incidents and the intensity was much less than in 2014 and years before. The period also saw some significant breakthroughs and arrests in relation to disappearance of journalist and cartoonist Prageeth Ekneligoda, with several military personnel being arrested. However, there was no progress in investigations, prosecutions and convictions for most cases of repression of dissent in last few years.

English: Repression of Dissent in Sri Lanka by INFORM – July-Sept 2015-English (24Oct2015)

සිංහල: Repression of Dissent in Sri Lanka by INFORM – July-Sept2015-Sinhala (24Oct2015)

தமிழ்: Repression of Dissent in Sri Lanka by INFORM – July-Sept 2015-Tamil (24Oct2015)

Repression of Dissent in Sri Lanka: 1-30 June 2015

Repression of Dissent in Sri Lanka: 01-30 June 2015

Summary:

Few incidents of repression of dissent continued to be reported across Sri Lanka in June 2015, with most being reported from the North and East.

In Jaffna, journalists invited for a meeting to discuss resettlement were ejected from the meeting venue. Villagers protesting against the building up of a Buddhist Temple by the military in the Mullaitivu district were arrested and detained for several hours. Surveillance and intimidations related to freedom of assembly was reported from Batticaloa and the East. Organizers, participants and supporters of protests against sexual violence against women and children were subjected to intimidations before, during and after the protests.

The Terrorist Investigation Department (TID) and Attorney General’s department continued to refuse to close the investigation against INFORM’s Human Rights Advisor, Ruki Fernando. They have also refused to remove the gag order and return his confiscated communication equipment, though the 15 month old travel restriction against him was lifted on 30th June.

Even though the intensity and number of incidents related to repression of dissent appear to have reduced in June 2015 compared to previous years, the continuing reports of such incidents and impunity related to old incidents is worrisome.

English: Repression of Dissent in Sri Lanka-01-30June2015-English(13Aug2015)

සිංහල: Repression of Dissent in Sri Lanka-01-30June2015-Sinhala(13Aug2015)

தமிழ்: Repression of Dissent in Sri Lanka-01-30June2015-Tamil(13Aug2015)

Repression of Dissent in Sri Lanka: 20 April – 31 May 2015

Repression of Dissent in Sri Lanka: 20 April – 31 May 2015 (post-100 days of the new Presidency)

Summary:

Incidents related to repression of dissent continued to be reported under the Sirisena Presidency, despite a general feeling of having more freedom than under the Rajapakse presidency.

In mid May 2015, Police obtained court orders to prevent remembrance events for Tamils killed during the war. Police also interrogated organizers, participants and media at some events, compelled organizers to change venue, and subjected remembrance events to heavy surveillance. Bus owners had also been intimidated not to transport people to such events. Earlier in May, a Northern Provincial Council member was summoned by Police to be questioned in relation to an allegation he had lighted lamps to remember the LTTE in November 2014.

Journalists were arrested and summoned for interrogation, assaulted by a local politician and prevented from covering a meeting related to water contamination. Two academics were assaulted during a May Day rally in Colombo and the Vice Chancellor of the Jaffna University had refused to grant permission to a discussion of a book by an award winning human rights defender and academic, on issues related to the war in Sri Lanka. In India, a film based on the life of slain LTTE TV presenter was banned.

Police used tear gas and water cannons to disperse protesters in two locations. In Jaffna, hundreds of protesters were arrested as protests against rape and murder of teenaged school girl turned violent. Local activists told INFORM that several of those arrested were those not involved in the violence. Police also obtained at least two court orders prohibiting protests in relation this incident. A senior Police officer used abusive language against an elderly woman who was protesting peacefully and trying to engage in a dialog with the police. The same officer also threatened a person who was taking a video of the incident. The Deputy Minister of Justice told media that new laws would be brought in to restrict protests to certain areas only.

A driver of a three wheeler (taxi) who transported a loudspeaker for a protest by university students was arrested and two university students involved in a protest were also reported arrested. A Magistrate also issued summons on 27 politicians aligned to the previous President, for engaging in a protest outside the Commission to Investigate Allegations of Bribery or Corruption.

English: https://ihrdc.files.wordpress.com/2015/06/repression-of-dissent-in-sri-lanka-20april-31may2015-english23jun2015.pdf

සිංහල: https://ihrdc.files.wordpress.com/2015/06/repression-of-dissent-in-sri-lanka-20april-31may2015-sinhala-23june2015.pdf

தமிழ்: https://ihrdc.files.wordpress.com/2015/06/repression-of-dissent-in-sri-lanka-20april-31may2015-tamil23june2015.pdf