Sri Lanka's assault on dissent

April 30, 2013

Sri Lanka's assault on dissent

International criticism of Sri Lanka's human rights record has intensified with the emergence of credible allegations that senior Sri Lankan officials committed crimes under international law during the latter stages of the conflict. Meanwhile, since 2011, significant popular protests have erupted in Sri Lanka over alleged abuses of official power, the spiralling cost of living, and persistent militarization in areas of the north and east with large Tamil populations. In the four years since the end of the conflict a volatile situation has built up as popular demands for reform are met with continued repression of critical voices and further demands for reform have been met by further repression.

For decades Sri Lanka attempted to justify its heavy-handed treatment of critics in terms of national security, then, as it faced growing challenges to its human rights record internationally, by denying that it was suppressing dissent at all — just as it also denied that its forces were responsible for any of the violations of human rights and humanitarian law many of its critics were trying to expose. Amnesty International believes such denials must be brought to an end; both Sri Lanka, and the international community must ensure that human rights defenders and others raising dissenting voices are protected, and that there is finally accountability for the war-time atrocities Sri Lanka has tried so hard to hide.

Amnesty International continues to call on the Government of Sri Lanka to bring an end to attacks, including harassment, threats, detention and killings, of journalists, lawyers, human rights defenders, civil society activists and others for exercising their right to freedom of expression, and to ensure that all cases of such attacks on individuals, irrespective of the identity of perpetrators or victims, are immediately and credibly investigated.

Amnesty International stresses the urgent need for the UN and the Commonwealth to take further action to ensure that significant progress is made towards holding Sri Lanka genuinely accountable for alleged violations of international human rights and humanitarian law before the UN HRC meets in September 2013 and the Commonwealth Heads of Government meet in November 2013. Such action includes the UN's responsibility, following the 2011 report of the UN Secretary General's Panel of Experts on Accountability in Sri Lanka, to make a start without any further delay, and regardless of any efforts by Sri Lanka itself in this regard, on investigating allegations of crimes under international law committed in the closing months of the conflict. All investigations should be conducted independently and in accordance with international standards and where sufficient admissible evidence is found, should lead to the criminal prosecution of individuals found responsible in full conformity with international standards of fair trial.