(Geneva) – The new government in Sri Lanka must prevent, investigate and ensure accountability for attacks against journalists, lawyers and human rights defenders, the International Service for Human Rights said today.
‘The election of a new government in Sri Lanka, bringing to an end the term of the repressive Rajapaksa regime, should also bring an end to the pattern of attacks, disappearances and defamation against lawyers, journalists and other human rights defenders who have stood up for the rule of law and demanded accountability for past and ongoing human rights violations in the country,’ said ISHR Director Phil Lynch.
United Nations experts, such as the High Commissioner for Human Rights and the Human Rights Committee, together with non-governmental organisations such as FORUM-ASIA and ISHR, have repeatedly expressed grave concern at the arbitrary detention and enforced disappearance of human rights defenders in Sri Lanka. In October 2014, for example, the UN Human Rights Committee called on the Sri Lankan government to ‘vigorously investigate all cases of threats and attacks against journalists, lawyers, clergymen, political activists, NGO workers and human rights defenders, hold the perpetrators accountable, and provide effective remedies to victims’. It also expressed grave concern over ‘defamation campaigns against human rights defenders and the blocking of websites’.
In addition to calling on the new government to investigate and ensure accountability for attacks on defenders, ISHR also called on President-elect Maithripala Sirisena to prioritise cooperation with a UN Human Rights Council-mandated international investigation into alleged war crimes and crimes against humanity perpetrated by both the former Sri Lankan Government and the Tamil Tigers. The Human Rights Council is due to consider a report examining the death of an estimated 40,000 civilians in the closing stages of the Sri Lankan civil war in 2009 when it next meets in Geneva in March 2015. Victims, witnesses, journalists, lawyers and others who have sought to submit information to this international inquiry have been subject to surveillance, harassment and other forms of intimidation.
‘In November, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights said that “A wall of fear has been created that has undoubtedly served to deter people from submitting evidence” to the inquiry. The new Sri Lankan Government must dismantle this wall. It should also commit to cooperating fully with the Human Rights Council-mandated investigation and to end intimidation and reprisals who seek to promote justice and accountability through the UN,’ Mr Lynch said.
‘The Rajapaksa regime sought to rule by suppressing dissent, restricting civil society and undermining the rule of law. Ultimately this led to their defeat by an electorate with a thirst for democracy, good governance and fundamental freedoms. There is now an opportunity for the new Sri Lankan government to distinguish itself by committing to respect for freedom of expression, association, assembly and the right to non-discrimination,’ Mr Lynch said.
‘The new government should also distinguish itself by embracing human rights defenders and a vibrant civil society as essential partners in combatting corruption and promoting security and sustainable development. Far from being ‘enemies of the state’, the work of human rights defenders is vital to good governance, accountability and the rule of law,’ Mr Lynch said.