By the UK Foreign and C’wealth office
The overall human rights (HR) situation in Sri Lanka in 2019 has deteriorated with increased inter-communal tensions, violence against minority groups and intimidation of human rights defenders, a human rights report said.
This was mentioned in the ‘Human Rights and Democracy Report-2019’ which was published by the UK Foreign and Commonwealth Office on July 16.
The report said while Sri Lanka reaffirmed its commitment to post-conflict reconciliation and accountability through its co-sponsorship of UN Human Rights Council Resolution 40/1, delivery on this remained too slow.
“Controversial senior appointments called into question Sri Lanka’s commitment to human rights and reconciliation. Towards the end of 2019, there were reports of increased surveillance and intimidation of civil society groups and human rights defenders,” it said.
It further said, “On Easter Sunday in April, 6 bomb attacks targeted churches and hotels across Sri Lanka. Those who suffered losses during the Easter Sunday attacks were paid compensation. There were reports that, given the scale of the attacks, a large number of people were arrested for alleged involvement in extremism. Although most were released on bail, a number remained on remand. Sri Lanka has a history of using open-ended periods of detention, largely against minority groups.
The aftermath of the attacks saw several incidents of violence against the Muslim community, including riots in which one man was killed and several mosques, homes and businesses were damaged, as well as further reports of intimidation and discrimination against Muslims, refugees, and asylum seekers. In May, the then President, Maithripala Sirisena, ordered the pardon of extremist monk Ven. Galagodaaththe Gnanasara, despite him being found in contempt of court.
In August, President Sirisena appointed Major General Shavendra Silva as the new army commander. The UK and other international partners expressed concern about the appointment given the allegations of serious human rights violations made against the division which Major General Silve had commanded at the end of the civil war.
In November’s presidential elections, former Defence Secretary, Gotabaya Rajapaksa, won 52% of the vote on an 83% turnout. An EU observer mission concluded in its interim report that the 2019 presidential elections were free, fair, and largely trouble free. However, unregulated campaign spending, abuse of state resources, and media bias affected the level playing field.
The media and information environment in the lead-up to the elections was characterised by misinformation, partisan media, and online hate-speech. Some journalists were subjected to searches, interrogation, and intimidation after the elections.
In November, the new government reassigned key police officers who had been investigating alleged human rights violations and abuses, and related crimes. It announced its intention to establish a Special Presidential Commission to investigate the activities of the police. Towards the end of 2019, there were multiple reports of increased surveillance and intimidation of activists, particularly those working on legal and transitional justice issues.”
Quote -- Controversial senior appointments called into question Sri Lanka’s commitment to human rights and reconciliation.