“The culture of Impunity is part of our political psyche. When democracy fails the Democratic Institutions crumble and they are unable to function in an independent manner” said Dr. Deepika Udugama, Chairperson of the National Human Rights Commission at a panel discussion on Challenges and Achievements of Fighting Impunity in Sri Lanka at the International Symposium held to Promote Freedom of Expression and the Rule of Law in Asia through ending Impunity for Crimes against Journalists in Colombo on the 4th of December.
Seated from left to right: Nalaka Gunawardena, Thevanayagam Premanath, Sanjana Haththotuwa, Dr Deepika Udagama, Sonali Samarasinghe and Ruwan Gunasekera
The introductory remarks at the event were made by Minister for Finance and Media while the keynote speech was delivered by Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe. Both speeches were given wide publicity through the media the following day but the discussions that followed were confined to the auditorium.
"Challenges and Achievements of Fighting Impunity was the theme of discussion of session two of the day and moderated by Nalaka Gunawardena"
Challenges and Achievements of Fighting Impunity
Challenges and achievements of Fighting Impunity in Sri Lanka was the theme of discussion of session two of the day and moderated by Nalaka Gunawardena a Writer, Journalist and Development Communication Specialist in Sri Lanka. Nalaka’s opening remarks were ‘Journalism is Not a Crime’.
The Panel comprised of Sonali Samarasinghe Wickremathunge, Minister Permanent Mission of Sri Lanka to the United Nations in New York, Dr. Deepika Udugama Chairperson, National Human Rights Commission, Sri Lanka, Thevanayagam Premanth - Editor Uthayan Newspaper, Police Media Spokesman SP Ruwan Gunasekera and Sanjana Haththotuwa - Senior Researcher Centre of Policy Alternatives Sri Lanka.
Police Spokesman SP Gunasekera presented facts and figures on crimes against journalists in the decade prior to 2015 and stated that no crimes had been committed against journalists subsequent to 2015.
The Chairperson of the National Human Rights Commission of Sri Lanka Dr. Deepika Udagama was quick to refute these facts referring to two attacks on journalists that had taken place in the South while editor of the Uthayan Newspaper, Thevanayagam Premanath said that even after 2015 journalists and media institutions were facing harassment and intimidation.
This session may be considered as the most interactive session of the summit with Minister of Law and Order and Southern Development Sagala Rathnayaka requesting the microphone to add on to what the Police spokesman mentioned and assure the audience that investigations on crimes committed against journalists would be prioritized.
Sanjana Haththotuwa reiterated that “Prior to January 8, 2015 we were scraping the barrel of every Press Freedom Index (PFI) in the world. The context in this country was extremely violent and extremely disturbing and it is even not possible now to even reflect on those times and imagine how we endured. Our PFI has improved since then, but, nevertheless, I have greatest suspicion and doubts if these kinds of events held by UNESCO in five star hotels will create any kind of reversal or changes of policy that looks back at the past and robustly has people accountable for what happened in the past or projects into the future and changes policy so that what happened in the past won’t be repeated. So, the optimism shown by Minister Sagala Rathnayaka here today has to be tempered with a dose of reality”.
"The first session was on National protection and Impunity mechanisms in Asia discussed by a panel"
National Protection and Impunity Mechanism in Asia
The first session was on National protection and Impunity mechanisms in Asia discussed by a panel comprising Laxman Datt Pant (Chairperson, Media Action Nepal), Ilias Alami ( Operations Manager Afghan Journalists’ Safety Committee), Angkhana Neelapaijit (Commissioner, National Human Rights Commission Thailand), Fathimath Isha Afeef (Journalist Maldives Independent), Geeta Seshu (Journalist and Member of UNESCO’s Media Freedom Committee India), Owais Aslam Ali (Pakistan Press Foundation moderated by Guy Berger Director on Division on Freedom of Expression and Media Development of UNESCO way forward, including raising awareness and reinforcing capacities. The topic discussed in the session after the evening coffee break was the Way forward, including raising awareness and reinforcing capacities by a panel comprising of Ranga Kalansooriya - Regional Advisor, International Media Support, Banchita Chakma - Commissioner National Human Rights Commission of Bangladesh, Laxmi Murthy - International Federation of Journalist Asia Pacific (IFJ) and Mehdi Benchelah - Senior Project Officer, Division of Freedom of Expression and Media Development UNESCO. The panel was moderated by Jacqui Park - Director International Federation of Journalists.
The recap was by Misako Ito from UNESCO’s Bangkok Office and Al Amin Yusuph from UNESCO’s New Delhi Office moderated by Bambang Harymurthi Editor-in-Chief - Tempo Indonesia. The final remarks were made by Toby Mendel - Executive Director, the Centre for Law
Dr. Deepika Udugama is the Chairperson of the National Human Rights Commission.