Annual Report: Sri Lanka 2013

May 23, 2013

Annual Report: Sri Lanka 2013

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  • On 15 April, Chandrasiri Dassanayake, a witness in a human rights case filed with the Supreme Court against the Officer-in-Charge of Wadduwa Police Station, died in custody there. Police claimed they arrested him for cannabis possession and that he fell sick in his cell and was admitted to hospital. The victim's son reported seeing his father lying on the floor of the cell bleeding and said Chandrasiri Dassanayake told him he had been beaten by police. The death led to local protests and the Officer-in-Charge, a sergeant and two other police constables were transferred to other police stations, but no further action was taken.
  • Thirty Tamil prisoners were assaulted and two died of injuries inflicted by STF members who reportedly beat them in retaliation for a prison uprising in Vavuniya in June.
  • Twenty-seven inmates died in a clash between prisoners and STF members at Welikada prison on 9 November. Results of an official inquiry into allegations that some prisoners were extrajudicially executed were not made public.

Lack of accountability

The UN Human Rights Council adopted resolution 19/2 in March, calling on Sri Lanka to implement the LLRC's human rights recommendations and address accountability for alleged violations of international law. The government's Plan of Action on the LLRC recommendations, unveiled in July, failed to commit to new or independent investigations, and relied on the military and police – implicated in serious violations of human rights and humanitarian law – to police themselves. Sri Lanka's human rights record was assessed under the UN Universal Periodic Review in November; Sri Lanka maintained that it did not need independent investigations into alleged human rights violations and past crimes under international law despite concerns raised by UN members.

A report by the UN Secretary-General's Internal Review Panel on UN Action in Sri Lanka, released on 14 November, acknowledged the UN's failure to protect civilians during the country's armed conflict.

Human rights defenders

Government officials and state-owned media lashed out at human rights defenders who attended the UN Human Rights Council session in March, calling them traitors. The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights and the President of the Human Rights Council denounced Sri Lanka's threats and called for an investigation. On 23 March, Sri Lanka's Public Relations Minister threatened physical harm against journalists and human rights defenders, and claimed responsibility for a violent attack in 2010 on a journalist who then went into exile. The Health Minister accused the Catholic organization Caritas of conspiring to undermine the government.

Freedom of expression – journalists

Journalists continued to come under pressure for their reporting.

  • On 5 July, Secretary of Defence Gotabaya Rajapaksa threatened Sunday Leader journalist Frederica Jansz with death when she attempted to interview him about an alleged abuse of power. In September, the newspaper's new owner fired her and she left the country.
  • Journalist Shantha Wijesooriya of the news website Lanka X News told police that assailants he believed to be members of the security forces attempted to abduct him on 5 July. A week earlier police had raided the office where he worked.
  • In September, journalist Nirmala Kannangara and a photographer were surrounded and threatened by army personnel when they tried to report on the relocation of displaced people from Manik Farm.

Justice system

On 7 October, armed assailants assaulted Manjula Thilakaratne, a senior high court judge and Secretary to Sri Lanka's Judicial Services Commission (JSC), and attempted to drag him from his car. On 18 September, he had issued a statement on behalf of the JSC complaining of attempts to interfere with the independence of the judiciary and particularly with the JSC through threats and intimidation.

In December, Parliament initiated impeachment proceedings against Chief Justice Shirani Bandaranayake. The UN Special Rapporteur on the independence of judges and lawyers criticized the impeachment process as “extremely politicized,” and lacking due process and fair trial guarantees.