Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Sri Lanka: Briefing exposes how activists brave retaliation before UN human rights session

Source: Amnesty

The Sri Lankan government’s targeting of critics persists at alarming levels, with more surveillance and harassment reported ahead of next month’s UN Human Rights Council (HRC) session, Amnesty International said in a new briefing today.

Suppressing calls for justice examines the Sri Lankan authorities’ intolerance of dissent and its attacks on critics over the past six months, either directly or through proxies that range from security forces to supporters of Buddhist-nationalist groups and even immigration officials.

“The pattern of harassment, surveillance and attacks against those opposing the Sri Lankan authorities is deeply disturbing and shows no sign of letting up,” said Polly Truscott, Amnesty International’s Deputy Asia- Pacific Director.

“Repression usually intensifies whenever Sri Lanka’s human rights situation is in focus internationally, something we are already seeing ahead of the UN Human Rights Council next month.”

Since the end to the protracted armed conflict with the Tamil Tigers (LTTE) in 2009, the government under Mahinda Rajapaksa has led a crackdown on those it perceives to be opposing them.

Opposition politicians, human rights activists, journalists, lawyers, trade unionists and many others have been harassed, threatened, violently attacked or even killed by the government, its supporters or security forces.

This trend has grown even more stark during high-profile international events putting the spotlight on Sri Lanka’s human rights situation.

The run-up to the HRC in March, when a vote is expected on a resolution calling for an international investigation into alleged war crimes in Sri Lanka, has been no exception.

As the briefing shows, Amnesty International has continued to receive credible reports of activists facing surveillance and harassment

“The climate of fear is very real in Sri Lanka. Many people are too afraid to speak out. But Sri Lanka also has some very brave activists, who continue to be vocal despite facing retaliation,” said Polly Truscott.

“Some even dare to attend international meetings that could actually lead to an improved human rights situation. The UN should make every effort to ensure that they are protected.”

The visit by UN human rights chief Navi Pillay to Sri Lanka in August 2013, and the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting in Colombo (CHOGM) three months later both saw human rights defenders being harassed and threatened.

Past UN HRC sessions in 2012 and 2013 where Sri Lanka’s human rights record was discussed saw the same disturbing pattern.

The government has reserved particular ire for those calling for an international investigation into alleged war crimes during the armed conflict, when the UN estimates that more than 40,000 people were killed during the bloody final months alone.

Activists demanding an end to enforced disappearances by security forces have received threatening phone calls and visits, and on several occasions police stood idly by as mobs attacked peaceful protests for accountability.

“Sri Lanka is doing whatever it can to avoid accountability for the alleged horrific violations by its security forces during the armed conflict,” said Polly Truscott.

“We urge UN member states to use the HRC to agree a strong resolution establishing an independent international investigation into alleged war crimes. And it is equally crucial that the world does not lose sight of the still very troubling assault on dissent in Sri Lanka today.”

The briefing documents how healing and justice are being denied as Sri Lanka’s political leadership wages an intense assault against critics and exploits religious tensions leading to attacks minorities. They have launched threats and smear campaigns against human rights defenders, minority opposition politicians, and international visitors who advocate human rights accountability in Sri Lanka.

Sri Lanka is also increasing its use of immigration to silence dissent. Authorities have deported several foreigners participating in human rights-related meetings, and used immigrations officials to put pressure on others, including foreign media and visiting activists and politicians.