Annual Report: Sri Lanka 2011

Report
May 28, 2011

Annual Report: Sri Lanka 2011

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Head of state and government: Mahinda Rajapaksa
Death penalty: abolitionist in practice
Population: 20.4 million
Life expectancy: 74.4 years
Under-5 mortality (m/f): 21/18 per 1,000
Adult literacy: 90.6 per cent

 

The Sri Lankan government failed to effectively address impunity for past human rights violations, and continued to subject people to enforced disappearances and torture and other ill-treatment. The authorities imposed severe restrictions on freedom of expression, assembly and association. Thousands of Tamil people suspected of ties with the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) remained detained without charge. Both sides in the conflict that ended in May 2009 have been accused of war crimes; Amnesty International called for an independent international investigation.

Background

President Mahinda Rajapaksa was elected to a second term in January in the first peace time election in 26 years. His main opponent, former Army Chief of Staff Sarath Fonseka, was arrested after the election and charged with engaging in politics while in military service and corrupt arms procurement, for which he received a 30-month prison sentence in September. Sarath Fonseka also faced criminal charges, including that he made false accusations in a local newspaper that Sri Lanka's Defence Secretary had ordered the killing of surrendered LTTE members in May 2009. Journalists and trade unionists suspected of supporting the opposition were victims of a post-election crackdown.

In March, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon announced plans to establish a Panel of Experts to advise him on accountability issues in Sri Lanka. President Rajapaksa protested against the announcement and appointed an ad hoc Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission (LLRC) to examine the failure of the 2002 ceasefire, but its terms of reference made no mention of seeking accountability for violations of human rights or humanitarian law. Sri Lanka lost its preferential access to the EU market in August because it failed to respond to a set of conditions laid down by the European Commission to address shortcomings in its implementation of three UN human rights conventions.

The outcome of the April parliamentary elections, subsequent cabinet appointments, and new legislation consolidated power in the immediate Rajapaksa family, which controlled five key ministries and more than 90 state institutions. A Constitutional amendment in September removed the two-term limit on the presidency and gave the President direct control of appointments to institutions important to human rights protection, including the National Police Commission, the Human Rights Commission and the Judicial Services Commission.

The authorities continued to deny access to human rights organizations and other independent observers to visit the country to conduct research. In October, Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch and the International Crisis Group declined an invitation to testify before the LLRC, noting its severe shortcomings, including the Commission's inadequate mandate, insufficient guarantees of independence, and lack of witness protection.

Internally displaced people

About 20,000 of some 300,000 people who were displaced by armed conflict in 2009 remained in government displacement camps in the north; shelters and health facilities continued to deteriorate. Sri Lanka's Defence Ministry continued to control humanitarian access to these camps and to places of resettlement. Many families who left the camps still lived in unsettled conditions and continued to depend on food aid. Tens of thousands remained with host families and some 1,400 remained at transit sites.

Violations by government-allied armed groups

Armed Tamil groups aligned with the government continued to operate in Sri Lanka and commit abuses and violations, including attacks on critics, abductions for ransom, enforced disappearances and killings.