Sri Lanka: Submission to the UN Universal Periodic Review by NfR, FMM & INFORM on Human Rights Defenders, Freedom of Assembly, Freedom of Association and Dissent in Sri Lanka

Read the PDF hereNfR Sri Lanka joint UPR submission Sri Lanka Nov 2012 ,Defenders, Freedom of Assembly, Freedom of Association and Dissent

Networking for Rights in Sri Lanka (NfR)

INFORM Human Rights Documentation Centre, Sri Lanka

Free Media Movement, Sri Lanka (FMM)

 

 

NGO Submission

Universal Periodic Review – second cycle onSri Lanka

(14th UPR Working Group – Oct / Nov. 2012)

April 23, 2012

 

Human Rights Defenders, Freedom of Assembly, Freedom of Association and Dissent in Sri Lanka

 Submitted by:

 Networking for Rights in Sri Lanka,

C/o 18953,

Shermanway,#5,

Reseda,CA91335,USA

NfR.SriLanka@gmail.com;

http://www.nfrsrilanka.org/

 For Further information please contact:

Sunanda Deshapriya at   sunandadeshapriya@gmail.com

Sunila Abeysekera  at  sunilasj2011@gmail.com

 In cooperation with:

 Free Media Movement, C/o No 96,Kirula Road,Colombo 05,Sri Lanka, 

fmmsrilanka@gmail.com and

 INFORM Human Rights Documentation Center, 237/22, Vijaya Kumaratunga Mawatha, Colombo 5, Sri Lanka, informcolombo@gmail.com

 For further information, please contact:

NfR.SriLanka@gmail.com, fmmsrilanka@gmail.com and informcolombo@gmail.com

 Human Rights Defenders, Freedom of Assembly, Freedom of Association and Dissent in Sri Lanka

                                                       May 2008 – March 2012

  1. A.     Background
  2. The period from May 2008 to May 2009 saw the escalation of the war between the Government of Sri Lanka (GoSL) and the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), and the military defeat of the LTTE in May 2009. The final phase of the war witnessed intense fighting between Government forces and the LTTE. Thousands of civilians fleeing the fighting were killed or injured inside Government designated ‘safe zones’. Those who entered Government controlled territory were detained in camps controlled by the military and many were arrested and detained. Many of those who surrendered to the military in May 2009 have not been seen or heard from since despite complaints, appeals and campaigns by relatives and rights groups. The exact number of fatalities during the final phase of the war is highly disputed. The actions of the GoSL have been called into question by the international community regarding its treatment of civilians during this final phase of the war and its adherence to international human rights and humanitarian law.

 

  1. Almost three years since the end of the war, Sri Lankais yet to move into a post-conflict phase. The restrictions on human rights and fundamental freedoms that were in place during the war in the name of ‘national security’ are largely unchanged.  Although the Emergency Regulations (ER) were lifted in August 2011, several of its provisions were introduced into the draconian Prevention of Terrorism Act 1979. As the repeal of ER took place one month before a meeting of the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC), this act was viewed as a move to detract international pressure by many.[1]

 

  1. Following the presidential elections in January 2010 Sri Lankawitnessed a wave of political persecution of opposition leaders, activists and independent journalists including state media workers.  The period leading up to and immediately following the election was characterised by violence;[2] the censoring/blocking of independent media websites;[3] the restriction of and threats to journalists;[4] and disappearances.[5]  General Sarath Fonseka, former commander of the Sri Lanka Army (SLA) who contested as the Common Opposition Candidate was arrested several months after the election, and  charged  and convicted of numerous crimes in military and civilian courts.

 

  1. The period of May 2008 to March 2012 was characterised by the continued suppression of dissent in all forms in Sri Lanka (SL).  Those defending human rights, documenting violations and expressing dissent in any form, both nationally and locally were targeted as traitors and terrorists and worked under constant threat of violent reprisals. Many were forced into hiding and to seek protection outsideSri Lankadue to threats and surveillance. Activists mobilising people at the community level against human rights violations also faced serious threats. During this period, the Government has systematically sought to restrict and suppress the fundamental freedoms of assembly, association and expression guaranteed under the Constitution.

 

  1. Freedom of Assembly: The government has employed the police and the military to suppress, often violently, protests by trade unions, activists and citizens groups against regressive/repressive Government policies. On 30th May 2011, one worker was killed and over two hundred injured when police used live ammunition and tear gas to suppress a protest by Free Trade Zone (FTZ) workers against Government’s Private Pension Scheme.  In August 2011 Police used tear gas to disperse crowds who were throwing stones at a protest in Pottuvil.  There were reports of a protestor being shot and killed by security forces. Members of the SLA shot at demonstrators at a navy base on in Kinniya 15th August 2011, injuring two. In August 2011, police and military cracked down violently against civilians protesting against ‘grease devil attacks’ in the North and East of Sri Lanka.[6] On 15th February 2012 fisherman Anton Fernando was shot dead by police at a protest in Chilaw over a rise in petrol prices.

 

  1. Freedom of Association: post war – the NGO Secretariat which registers NGOs and regulates their activities has been brought under the Ministry of Defense (MoD). In June 2011 the Community Trust Fund (CTF) a development NGO based in Puttalam, was taken over by the MoD without a clear reason or justification for the move. The Managing Trustee of CTF, Mr. Pattani Razeek, was abducted in February 2010 and his body was recovered in July 2011. Local activists and family members have accused a prominent Government Minister of influencing the police inquiry into his abduction and killing. Official records indicate that the same minister was responsible for a petition which lead to the inquiry and takeover of CTF by the MoD. Apart from CTF many NGOs particularly at the local level are often visited by intelligence officers who question staff about their work and funding causing fear and insecurity among NGO staff.

 

  1. Freedom of Expression: There has been little progress on many of those recommendations made in UPR 2008 and the human rights situation in Sri Lanka remains bleak and lack of impartial and speedy investigations into killings, abductions, assaults, threats and hate campaigns on journalists and media workers remains a grave threat to freedom of expression in Sri Lanka.

 

 

  1. B.     KEY TRENDS IN SUPPRESSING DISSENT

Killings

  1. On 20th September 2008, torture victim and complainant in a bribery case, Sugath Nishantha Fernando was shot dead in Negombo. Mr. Fernando had suffered previous threats, attacks and torture by the Negombo police following a bribery complaint and a fundamental rights case against torture by officers of the Negombo police station. Mr. Fernando’s wife and children and the lawyer representing his case faced threats and attacks following his killing and his family were forced to seek protection abroad[7].

 

  1. Lasantha Wickrematunge, editor of the Sunday Leader Newspaper , was shot to death by armed men on motorcycles on 8th January 2009 on his way to work. Wickramatunge was a known critic of the Government and was being sued by the Secretary to the Ministry of Defence and brother of the President, Gotabaya Rajapaksa. Wickrematunge had been very vocal in criticising the government’s military response to the LTTE and the human rights violations perpetrated against SL citizens.[8]

 

  1. On 31st December 2010 an activist who had campaigned against environmental damage due to sand excavation in Jaffna was shot dead[9]

 

  1. In May 2011, the police attacked workers protesting against the government’s proposed pension bill, including inside the factories where they worked. Police opened fire on thousands of workers who were protesting, with some 250 being admitted to hospital. One person, Roshen Chanaka Ratnasekera, was killed. He was shot in the leg and was reportedly kept for two hours at the police station without treatment even though he was bleeding profusely, before being taken to the hospital where he succumbed to his injuries.

 

  1. In September 2011, Perumal Sivakumara a well known civil rights activist from the Puttalam District died after being tortured in public by officers attached to the Special Task Force of the Sri Lanka Police. [10]

 

  1. On 11th February 2010, Pattani Razeek, the Managing Trustee of CTF was abducted and his body was found on 28th July 2011. No action was taken against the main suspect in his abduction and murder, Shahadbeen Nowshaadh, until over a year following the abduction and Police had identified him as the chief suspect. Local activists and family members believe that the failure to arrest the suspect was due to the intervention of Minister Rishad Bathiudeen, the current Minister of Trade & Commerce. Nowshaadh and another suspect were arrested in July 2011 and Mr. Razeek’s body was found a few weeks later based on information given by the two men to the police.  Razeek’s family and those campaigning for justice in his case have been threatened and harassed on several occasions[11]

.

Disappearances

  1. On 7th May 2009, Stephen Sunthararaj, an HRD  working at the Centre for Human Rights and Development (CHRD) was abducted while returning home following his release from detention that day. Mr. Sunthararaj who is a former Government Child Rights Officer had faced threats following his report on the Allaipiddy Massacre, an incident in Jaffna in which several civilians including two infants were killed, in which he incriminated para-military groups in the area, as well as certain elements of the military. He was arrested in February 2009 on terrorism charges and was released following a fundamental rights petition to the Supreme Court  seeking his release. There has been no information regarding the whereabouts of Mr Sunthararaj to date.[12]

 

  1. On 24th January 2010, journalist and cartoonist Prageeth Ekneligoda disappeared, two days before the Presidential election.  Mr. Ekneligoda was a journalist at Lanka-e-News, an independent web portal in Sri Lanka. There has been no information regarding his whereabouts to-date. His family and those campaigning for justice in his case have faced intimidation, surveillance and his wife was labelled a ‘traitor’ after speaking out about his disappearance at the 19th session of the UNHRC.[13] Presenting to the UN Committee Against Torture (UNCAT) in November 2011, the Attorney General Mohan Pieris stated that Ekneligoda has merely sought asylum abroad.[14]

 

  1. In a recent spate of disappearances and abductions, political activists and HRDs Lalith KumarWeeraraj and KuganMuruganandan, disappeared in Jaffnaon 9th December 2011 while preparing for a human rights day event in Jaffna the following day. Mr. Lalith Weeraraj worked extensively in the North against disappearances and arbitrary detention and had suffered repeated threats, attacks including a previous abduction due to his work. To date there is no information regarding their fate or whereabouts. [15]   Family members and those campaigning in their case have faced threats, intimidation and surveillance.

 

  1. Overall families of the disappeared and their supporters who have campaigned extensively for information regarding their whereabouts, including those who surrendered to the military upon entering Government territory in May 2009, have faced threats, intimidation and surveillance and live under constant fear of reprisals or arrest.

 

Abductions and assault

  1. Poddala Jayantha, a senior journalist at ‘Dinamina’, the state-owned Associated Newspapers of Ceylon Limited (ANCL) newspaper, and leading press freedom activist, was abducted on 1st of June 2009 by men in a white van. Jayantha had been highly critical of the government, particularly of the suppression of media freedoms. Jayantha was beaten with iron rods and metal poles, had acid poured on him, had three fingers crushed and his ankle and leg broken. He was released the next day and spent nearly a month in hospital. He was unable to walk for an additional six months.

 

  1. In February 2012, a bribery complainant from Hatton who had complained against corruption by the Hatton police, was abducted and severely beaten before being released the following day. He was abducted and beaten previously in January 2011 and has lived in hiding ever since.

 

  1. Political activists Premakumar Gunaratnam and DimithuAttygalle were abducted on 6th April 2012. Both are members of the Frontline Socialist Party (FSP), a breakaway group of the opposition party, JanathaVimukthiPeramuna(JVP). The GoSL originally denied any knowledge of the two and argued that there was no evidence that Gunaratnam was even in the country. Following pressure from the Australian government, as Gunaratnam is an Australian citizen, both activists were released on 10th April 2012 in different locations and Gunaratnam was summarily deported to Australia. In a statement made by Gunaratnam following his abduction, he stated “I have no doubt that if I didn’t have the Australian Government’s support, I would have been… I can confirm I was abducted by the Sri Lankan Government forces, blindfolded me and tortured.”[16]Attygalle claimed she was manacled and struck by her captives once.

 

Arrests

  1. The government has increasingly used arrest and legal persecution as a means of suppressing HRD activity. Several activists and HRDs have been arrested and detained on false charges under Emergency Regulations. Following the repeal of ER, local HRDs fear arrest under the draconian Prevention of Terrorism Act under which a person can be detained under a detention order for up to 18 months without charge and without being produced before a Magistrate.

 

  1. Shantha Fernando, Executive Secretary of the Commission for Justice and Peace –National Christian Conference, was arrested by the Terrorism Investigation Department (TID) at the airport on 27th March 2009. Fernando is accused of possessing literature and a CD containing anti-government information. The recovered items are said to be documents on the humanitarian crisis in Vanni, downloaded from the internet. Fernando was held without charge under Emergency Regulations. In August, the TID informed the Magistrate that Fernando had made a voluntary confession to the TID over his involvement in the alleged crimes. The lawyer for Fernando submitted that he had made the confession under pressure byTID officers who assured him that he would be released on bail following a confession. Fernando was released on bail on 11thNovember 2009, but the case against him continues.

 

  1. On 28th November 2010, Aruna Roshantha and Marcus Fernando, two fisheries rights activists protesting against the Governments’ proposed sea plane project in Negombo were arrested and accused of conspiring against the Government and attempting to incite people to overthrow the government. Mr. Roshantha who is the Fisheries Union President and Mr. Marcus had distributed leaflets against the sea plan project at a protest in Negombo the previous day. Their case is still pending.

 

  1. Many other HRDs were also arrested and detained during this period.[17] On several occasions, HRDs leaving the country and arriving back in the country after overseas visits, were questioned at the airport and at least on one occasion, was also tortured during questioning. Most of these HRDs have opted not to complaint due to severe warning received by interrogators and fear of reprisals and lack of confidence in any protection and justice through existing domestic mechanisms.

 

  1. Calls were made by the Buddhist nationalist party Jathika Hela Urumaya (JHU), for the Bishop of Mannar, Rt. Rev. Dr. Rayappu Joseph, to be arrested and prosecuted after he and thirty priests sent a letter to the UNHRC urging international intervention in the human rights situation in SL in March 2012.

                       

Intimidation and threats

 

  1. Dharmasiri Lankapeli, activist with the Federation of Media Employees Trade Unions, has been the target of threats and smear campaigns and was forced to spend several months in hiding in 2009 and 2010. The state-owned newspaper company, the ANCL his employer, has accused Lankapeli of supporting the LTTE and branded him a traitor.   In a television program and in newspaper articles, by the state-owned media, on the ‘Black January’ protests organised by media freedom groups in January , 2012, Lankapeli was singled out and accused of links to the LTTE.[18]

 

  1. J.C. Weliamuna, a prominent human rights lawyer and former Executive Director of Transparency International Sri Lanka (TISL), has received numerous threats and been the subject of attack on many occasions. On 27th September 2008 two grenades were thrown at his house. Only one exploded and no one was injured, although the house sustained damage. Weliamuna lived in close proximity to a police station, an army camp and a checkpoint roadblock, yet no suspicious activity was reported. Weliamuna has been involved in many fundamental rights cases (FRC) with the Supreme Court, and this attack was thought to be in retaliation for his legal representation of clients in human rights cases where the MoD was implicated.[19] There has been no credible investigation of the incident, yet a government report released appeared to insinuate that Weliamuna was responsible for the attack in an attempt to garner public support.[20]

 

  1. Mano Ganesan, Member of Parliament, HRD and the founder of the Civil Monitoring Commission on Extra-Judicial Killings and Disappearances (CMC), was interrogated for six hours on 26th August 2008 by the TID regarding the peace delegation visits he undertook to Killinochchi on the request of the then president during the Ceasefire Agreement (CFA) period in 2002 and 2004. The TID wished to know if he had developed any links with the LTTE while he was there.

 

  1. There have been instances following the war in which any who attempt to hold commemorative events for those Tamils killed in the war have been subjected to threats. In Vanni, an army officer threatened to shoot a parish priest and drag him behind his jeep because the priest was organising prayer services for those killed in the war. Another priest was prevented from celebrating a holy mass organised for the same reason. A priest in the north who was trying to build a monument for those civilians killed was warned by the army to stop building it.

 

  1. 30.  In November 2011, the premises of Companions on a Journey (CJ), an NGO working on HIV/AIDS prevention, was searched by police and those present were questioned for several hours and intimidated. Prior to this incident, the group were attacked in a Sinhala newspaper, and accused of promoting homosexuality under the guise of HIV/AIDS prevention. The NGO has ceased to function as a result of these threats and harassment.

 

  1. 31.  In February-March 2012, well known HRD and fisheries rights activist, Mr. Herman Kumara and his organization NAFSO faced threats, intimidation and surveillance following a protests by local fisherman against fuel price increases by the Government. TID officers have questioned Mr. Kumara’s colleagues, partners, NAFSO staff and his neighbours regarding his work and whereabouts[21].

 

  1. 32.  In December 2011, a group of political activists and HRDs travelling to Jaffna to attend a protest to mark international human rights day were stopped in Jaffna by police and prevented from attending the protest[22].

 

  1. 33.  In March 2012, a legal clinic in Jaffna was attacked by unidentified groups and organizers in Jaffna and lawyers conducting the clinic have faced intimidation and surveillance following the incident.

 

Death threats

  1. On 20th August 2009, the Executive Director of the Centre for Policy Alternatives (CPA), Dr. Paikiasothy Saravanamuttu received an anonymous death threat written in English, posted to his residence. The letter threatened to kill Dr. Saravanamuttu because Sri Lanka risked been deprived of the European Union’s GSP Plus trade benefits later that year due to information supplied by Dr. Saravanamuttu to Ms. Benita Ferrero-Waldner, the EU’s Commissioner for External Relations.[23] In 2010, Dr. Saravanamuttu’s name was placed at the top of an alleged “hit list” that was made public, along with the then Executive Director of Transparency International Sri Lanka and prominent human rights lawyer, Mr. J. C. Weliamuna.[24]

 

Questioning and Surveillance

  1. Many HRDs across the country have been subjected to questioning and surveillance. In the aftermath of the resolution on Sri Lankaat the 19th session of the UN Human Rights Council, several NGO staff had been questioned in the North by state intelligence officials, including several women’s organizations. On several occasions, female staff members have been visited at home by male intelligence officers. Many other HRDs and political activists critical of the government have been subjected to questioning.[25]

 

Reprisals for working with the United Nations (UN) including labelling of human rights defenders as ‘terrorists’ and ‘traitors’

 

  1. Nonviolent Peaceforce Sri Lanka (NPSL), an international NGO, had organised training for local HRDs on the UN complaints mechanism in the North and East of Sri Lanka. Later on in 2010, senior NPSL staff, including its country director Tiffany Eastham and HRDs project coordinator Ali Palh had their visas cancelled by the GoSL and were compelled to leave at short notice.[26]The successor to the HRD project,[27]as well as another senior expatriate staff member,[28] was also forced to leave prematurely. On 3rdOctober 2010, the Divaina newspaper disclosed details of the training conducted by NPSL with thirteen HRDs from Mannar and Vavuniya. On 22nd October 2010, the Sunday Island Online carried a follow up article stating that the military intelligence were investigating thirteen HRDs who were accused of submitting false complaints regarding human rights violations against Tamil civilians in the North to the UN. On 2nd January 2011, the Sunday Divaina Newspaper carried a further article in which it named the thirteen HRDs in question. An HRD in the North who was named in the article has faced threats, intimidation and torture and accused of documenting cases of disappearance and detention and submitting information to international organizations.

 

  1. Journalists and HRDs who document and report on continuing rights abuses, particularly on enforced disappearances and killings in the North, are often labelled as ‘terrorists’ in the media and subjected to serious threats and intimidations.  HRDs involved in international advocacy, particularly lobbying in Genevahave also been labelled as “traitors”. On 1st April 2009 an article titled ‘Sri Lanka slams “pro-LTTE” countries’, quoted the then Human Rights Minister Mahinda Samarasinghe (who presently serves as Special Envoy of the President on Human Rights) describing a recent UN summit in Geneva as “a desperate attempt to throw a lifeline to the few remaining LTTE leaders.”[29]

 

  1. On 26th January 2012, an article in Dinamina quoted Minister Keheliya Rambukwella, who stated that exiled media personnel who lobby in Geneva are traitors to the country and are bringing the country to disrepute.[30] The attacks intensified during the advocacy at the 19th session of the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva from February 27 to March 23, 2012. On 14th March 2012, the state-owned newspaper the Daily News,  in an article titled ‘Pakiasothy, Sunila and Nimalka working with LTTE rump’, alleged that these HRDs “continue to work with the LTTE terrorist rump and betray Sri Lanka in Geneva.”[31] From  14th to 16th March 2012 a daily news item on the state  television station, ITN, clearly alleged that the named HRDs are aligned with the LTTE and that they are traitors and degenerates. They also showed photos of selected HRDs.[32] On 17th

 

  1. C.     KEY DOMESTIC INSTITUTIONS
  2. The domestic institutions and mechanisms put in place to purportedly protect the rights of Sri Lankan citizens have been woefully ineffective in this respect, both in preventing the abuses themselves and holding those responsible accountable.

 

The National Human Rights Commission (NHRC)

  1. The NHRC has continually failed in its mandate to protect and promote human rights through inaction or insufficient action on its part in instances of blatant rights violations, particularly in relation to HRDs. On the 12th of April 2012 following information that two missing HRDs, LalithWeeraraj and KuganMuruganandan, were being held in a particular police station in Colombo rather than conducting a surprise inspection, the NHRC chose to call the police station in question to confirm the report. A visit by NHRC staff members took place the following morning but not surprisingly, the two men were not there.

 

  1. Following a statement made on 9th November 2011 by then AG Peiris to the UNCAT that journalist Ekneligoda was not in fact missing, but had merely sought refuge overseas, Prageeth’s wife sent a letter to the Chairman of the NHRC on 20th November 2011 requesting that Mr Peiris be made to clarify and provide proof as to his statement. The only action that has taken place is a request sent to Mr Peiris on 27th January 2012 for him to submit an affidavit with regard to his statement. No further information has been provided to Mrs Ekneligoda as to whether this affidavit has been produced.

 

  1. On two separate occasions government Minister Mervyn Silva has made comments which suggest he has been involved with or has knowledge of human rights violations perpetrated against journalists and human rights defenders. In July 2009, following the murder of Wickrematunge Minister Silva stated at a public event that “Lasantha from the Leader went overboard… If this fellow goes against what I say, I will send him to the place I sent Lasantha.”[33] On 23rdMarch 2012 now Public Relations Minister Silva claimed that he “was the one who chased PoddalaJayantha out of this country,”[34] To date, no action has been taken by the NHRC against Minister Silva with regard to these statements.

 

  1. Following the killing of Ratnasekera at the FTZ protests in May 2011 the NHRC conducted an investigation into the incident; A short report has been published, however no detailed report has been provided to Ratnasekera’s family, nor made public.The results of a presidential commission on this incident were presented to President Rajapaksa on 6th August 2011. The report has not led to any substantive action on the part of the president.

 

The Lessons Learned and Reconciliation Commission (LLRC)

  1. The LLRC is the commission initiated by President Rajapaksa in response to calls for international intervention over accusations of severe human rights violations. This report was made public on 16th December 2011, but has failed to have a noticeable impact on the human rights situation in SL. It largely exonerated the government’s actions at the latter end of the war, despite the UN Secretary General’s Panel of Experts finding credible allegations of human rights violations on both the part of the government and the LTTE. Despite specifically condemning ‘white van abductions’ and arbitrary disappearances, as well as stating that “all steps should be taken to prevent… attacks on media personnel,” such incidences continue with no apparent response from the government. Even though the report states that “priority should be given to the investigation, prosecution and disposal of such cases” and “past incidents of such illegal action should be properly investigated,” there has been no instances of prosecutions or convictions for any of the cases listed in this report. In fact, in the period under review, of the seven journalists and HRDs who have been murdered and the four who have disappeared, no prosecutions or convictions have been recorded for any of these cases.­

 

Fundamental Rights Cases with the Supreme Court

  1. Also contributing to the impunity found in SL are the cases of those who bring FRCs to the Supreme Court for violations of their human rights, however find that they have no protection against reprisal. SugathNishantha (September 2008) and Ramasamy Prabakaran (February 2012) were both killed by unknown assailants while their FRs were waiting to be heard by the Supreme Court. Devarathnam Yogendra, (2011-2012) received death threats and has been forced to go into hiding following filing a bribery complaint against a police officer. His FRC is still pending.

 

  1. D.    ROLE OF INTERNATIONAL COMMUNITY
  2. To an increasing extent the international community, in the form of both the UN and delegates of foreign governments, has been obliged to pay greater level of involvement in the events taking place in SL, as the GoSL continually refuses to fulfil its mandate to protect its citizens.

 

The United Nations

  1. The UN’s Human Rights Council has passed two resolutions onSri Lankasince 2008, in 2009 and 2012 respectively. Both resolutions failed to even express concern about the consistent and serious attacks on HRD. Freedom of assembly, association and expression inSri Lanka.

 

  1. The above inaction was despite compelling evidence and consistent expression of concern by the Special Procedures of the Council and the High Commissioner for Human Rights.

 

  1. In its reports covering the period of December 2009 to December 2011 The Special Rapporteur (SR) on the situation of HRDs noted that in the Asia-Pacific region SL had one of the highest number of communications sent regarding threats and abuses against HRDs over the period. The Secretary General’s report on reprisals against those who cooperate with the UN system noted the lower-than-average number of complaints during the reporting period. This was accounted for by noting that threats have often been specifically leveled against those who attempt to utilise the UN complaints systems, stating that “…such a climate persists in this country.” Threats against HRDs and those who participated in the lead-up to the 19th session of the HRC reached such a level that the OHCHR was forced to release a statement stating that “there has been an unprecedented and totally unacceptable level of threats, harassment and intimidation directed at Sri Lankan activists,” and noting that many of the threats “were carried in Sri Lankan state media and Government websites or were filed by journalists who had been officially accredited to the Council session by the Sri Lankan permanent mission.”[35]

 

  1. The UN Resident Coordinator and large and well resourced UN agencies in the country had not taken a prominent role in protecting and supporting HRDs, though on occasions, specific UN agencies had tried to negotiate access for NGOs in war affected areas. The mandate of the Human Rights Advisor to the UN Country Team appears to have been designed in a way that makes it very difficult for the Advisor to get involved in supporting HRDs at risk and promoting and recognizing the role of HRDs inSri Lanka.

 

Foreign representatives

  1. Representatives of some foreign embassies had attempted to support HRDs by regular meetings at the embassies, in HRDs work places and also in neutral venues. They have also visited HRDs and independent journalists who were detained, monitored key court trials and regularly taken up key cases with the Sri Lankan government. Some embassies also collaborated in ensuring the physical safety of HRDs at risk by providing accompaniment and working with HRDs networks to facilitate safe houses. 

 

  1. The Australian High Commission’s intervention was widely seen as a key intervention that helped to secure the release of an abducted leader of a new political party in early April.

 

  1. E.     IMPLEMENTATION OF RECOMMENDATIONS/VOLUNTARY COMMITMENTS FROM THE 2008 UPR
  2. The following are recommendations put forward during the 2008 UPR of SL to do with the issue of dissent that enjoyed the support of the GoSL at the time, along with examples of non-implementation during the period under review:
    1. Strengthen and ensure the independence of the NHRC (this was also put forward as a voluntary commitment of the GoSL).

The downgrading in accreditation of the NHRC from Status A to Status B in 2007 has not been reversed, even though the accreditation was reviewed in March 2009. The change in status was instigated due to the personal appointment of five Commissioners by the president in 2006 and the Commission’s lack of investigation, or discontinuation of investigation, into thousands of disappearances that have taken place in SL.

  1. Cooperate fully with UN and international mechanisms, including special procedures mandate holders.

The SR on the situation of HRDs has two pending requests for an invitation by the GoSL from 2008 and 2010. The SR on the promotion and protection of the rights to freedom of opinion and expression has had a pending request for an invitation since June 2009.

  1. Take measures to protect HRDs and journalists.

There have been seven journalists and HRDs killed and four who have disappeared in the period in question. There have been dozens more who have been attacked or faced threats and harassment. Far from taking measures to protect them, the government has appeared either indifferent to their plight, or supportive of those who have carried out the attacks. When President Rajapaksa was informed of the brutal attack on Mr Jayantha, he merely stated he did not want to become involved in friction between media institutions.[36]On 11th December 2010 Deputy Minister Sarath Kumara Gunaratna, who was accused of attacking two journalists, after denying involvement in the incident, stated “I am happy that even ordinary people of this country are taking their patriotic duty seriously and acting against traitors… People will beat up anyone who betrays this country. That is what I call people’s power.”[37]

  1. Effectively investigate allegations of attacks on journalists, media workers and HRDs, and prosecute those responsible.

As mentioned above, there have been no prosecutions or convictions for any of the cases of killings, disappearances or attacks on HRDs or journalists. No progress has been made in the cases of Mr Wickrematunge, Mr Ekneligoda, Mr Jayantha or Mr Sunthararaj. Even in cases where a suspect has been identified, such as Mr Razeek, little or no action is taken.

  1. Safeguard freedom of expression and freedom of the press.

The blocking of news websites critical of the government, the restrictions placed on the release of information at the end of the war, and the continued censorship of the media by the Media Centre for National Security (MCNS) on the grounds of ‘national security and defence,’ demonstrate that freedom of expression and the press continue to be suppressed.

  1. Adopt legislation designed to ensure the protection of witnesses and victims of abuse.

The GoSL voluntarily committed to the adoption of a Witness and Victim Protection Bill. Such legislation has yet to be implemented.

 

G. RECOMMENDATIONS

        i.            Cease the harassment, threats, attacks and murders of and ensure a safe environment for all HRDs.

 

      ii.            Ensure prompt investigations, arrests, prosecutions and convictions in relation to all attacks and threats to HRDs, including but not limited to those mentioned in this submission

 

    iii.            The President and the Government should publicly condemn and distance themselves from hate campaigns and public threats made against HRDs by any person, including by Government Ministers, politicians and state media and ensure that all such cases are investigated and those responsible held accountable without considering political affiliations.

 


[4] A journalist was threatened when he took a photograph of military personnel changing number plates of a vehicle belonging to a supporter of General Fonseka. He was forced to delete the photo. On 28th January, soldiers roughed up photographers working for foreign news agencies when they tried to attend a news conference given by General Fonseka. Soldiers also prevented journalists from working freely near a hotel being used by General Fonseka the previous day.

[5]PrageethEkneligoda, cartoonist and journalist for the pro-opposition website LankaeNews disappeared on 24 January 2010, two days before the election. There has been no news on his whereabouts.

[6]

[17] Pethuru Jesuthasan, a HRD and former officer of Jaffna Human Rights Commission was arrested and detained for two months, as was an intern at the Law & Society Trust, both in 2009. Journalist and human rights defender J.S. Tissainayagam was arrested in March 2008 and held for five months before he was charged (http://transcurrents.com/tc/2009/09/sentenced_journalist_tissainay.html). Another journalist and human rights defender, Mr. K. Wijesinghe, was detained and released in March 2008, but went into exile as he continued to be subjected to surveillance, questioning and intimidation and couldn’t continue his human rights work. Five doctors who reported on civilian deaths during the end of the civil war were detained by the army in May 2009 and accused of aiding the LTTE and denouncing their accounts as ‘terrorist propaganda’. They were subsequently forced to recant their statements (http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2009/jul/08/sri-lanka-doctors-casualty-figures). Jayampathy Bulathsinhala , the owner of a printing house that printed posters opposing the 18th Amendment,  was charged under the Prevention of Terrorism Act in September 2010. His wife, Kumudu Wijeyawardena, and her two younger brothers were also arrested, though later released (http://www.thesundayleader.lk/2010/09/12/printer-detained-under-prevention-of-terrorism-act-for-anti-mahinda-posters/).  Aruna Roshantha and Marcus Fernando, two activists protesting against a sea plane project, were arrested and charged with ‘anti-government behaviour’ (http://www.thesundayleader.lk/2010/11/28/negombo-lagoon-activists-arrested-released/).

 

[25] The eight-hour Colombo Crime Division interrogation of staff of Law & Society Trust & Right to Life Human Rights Centre on 13 July 2008 regarding the contents of a joint leaflet marking the International Day against ‘Disappearances’. The seven-hour Criminal Investigation Department interrogation on 26 August 2008 of Mano Ganesan, prominent human rights defender, opposition parliamentarian and convenor of the multi-party Civil Monitoring Commission. In late 2011, a well known human rights defender from Mannar who wants his name kept confidential was questioned several times by Police and Army separately and on one occasion he was tortured, he has also fled overseas since then. In 2011 a written statement by PAX ROMANA A/HRC/16/NGO/37 states that women human rights defenders who had attended training were questioned about the training by police officers. In March 2012 at least three activists working on land issues were subjected to interrogation by Criminal Investigation Department in Colombo. In November 2011, the office premises of Companions on a Journey, an NGO working on HIV/AIDS prevention was searched by police and those present were questioned for several hours and intimidated. Prior to this incident, the group were attacked in a Sinhala newspaper, and accused of promoting homosexuality under the guise of HIV/AIDS prevention. The NGO has ceased to function as a result of the threats and harassment. In September 2009 human rights activists were questioned by CID regarding a statement they signed condemning death threats sent to the Centre for Policy Alternatives Executive Director Dr. Paikiasothy Saravanamuttu (see http://www.humanrights.asia/news/ahrc-news/AHRC-STM-196-2009/?searchterm=Dr. Paikiasothy Saravanamuttu). In a separate incident, Dr. Saravanamuttu himself had been questioned for several hours by the Criminal Investigation Department. In March 2012 Belgian and French independent filmmakers were questioned regarding their filming in north-western Sri Lanka and had their footage and equipment confiscated (http://english.sina.com/world/2012/0320/450493.html).  In January 2012, the military prevented a meeting of the Socialist Equity Party (SEP) in Jaffna after previously having detained two SEP members who were pasting posters at Gurunagar and demanded details of party members. The same soldiers had followed the party members after their release and organized a physical attack on them. The military has visited the homes of party members to further intimidate them (see http://www.socialequality.lk/content/sri-lanka-sep-open-letter-defence-minister). In June 2009 Chandana Sirimalwatte, editor of the ‘Lanka’ newspaper, and an editor of another Sinhalese daily, were interrogated by officers from the Colombo Crimes Division (CCD), in an attempt to force them to reveal their sources for articles on sensitive subjects (http://www.ifex.org/sri_lanka/2009/06/25/editors_questioned/).

 

[28] See Mediafreedom in Sri Lanka report for August-September 2010.

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