Sri Lanka Human Rights
Human Rights Concerns
On November 22, 2023, Juwariya Mohideen, a Sri Lankan human rights activist, was named one of the winners of Amnesty International USA’s Ginetta Sagan Award for 2023. See the link below for more information.
Since early 2022, Sri Lanka has faced a catastrophic economic crisis with severe shortages in essential medicines, food and cooking gas. Thousands protested government mismanagement of the economy. In response, the government has used unlawful force against protesters and attempted to stifle dissent through arbitrary arrests, detention and torture. Following massive protests on July 9, 2022, President Gotabaya Rajapaksa resigned and was replaced by President Ranil Wickremesinghe. The government subsequently arrested over 140 protesters and protest organizers, routinely ignoring due process and using the draconian Prevention of Terrorism Act (PTA) to detain three protesters. The PTA has been used in the past to target minorities, journalists and dissenting voices. Amnesty International USA launched a campaign in early 2023 to protect the right to protest in Sri Lanka, specifically calling on the Sri Lankan government to repeal the PTA. Click on the link above to go to the campaign landing page, with more information and several online actions. Please read the campaign materials, take the online actions and share them widely.
On March 22, 2023, the Sri Lankan government published the draft Anti-Terrorism Act (ATA), which is proposed to replace the PTA. The bill does not comply with international standards. Offenses under the ATA are not precisely defined but are broad, vague and subjective. The ATA retains provisions to enable prolonged detention (up to one year) without charge or trial. It facilitates torture, especially in a context that is rife with allegations of torture in custody. It gives the military arrest and detention powers that should only be provided to the police. It retains unchecked powers of the executive without sufficient judicial oversight. A revised draft of the ATA was released by the government on Sept. 15. While it made some improvements to the earlier draft, the revised draft still does not meet international standards. The ATA must not be enacted in its current (revised) form; it must be substantially further revised or dropped.
The situation of human rights in Sri Lanka needs to be understood in the context of its recent history. Over the past 40 years, two separate internal armed conflicts resulted in war crimes and human rights abuses being committed by both sides in both conflicts. In the vast majority of cases, no one has been held accountable for these crimes. Apart from these armed conflicts, torture of detainees in custody is widespread and systemic. Up to 100,000 enforced disappearances have been reported, both in connection with the conflicts and in their aftermath. While no executions have been carried out in Sri Lanka since 1976, the death penalty remains on the books. Use of the PTA has facilitated arbitrary detention and torture. Buddhist extremists in the Sinhalese majority community have attacked Christian and Muslim minorities in recent years, causing some deaths and extensive property damage, with the security forces standing by or on occasion being complicit in some attacks. The Easter Sunday bombings in April 2019 saw the emergence in Sri Lanka for the first time of violence by members of a local Islamist group against members of the Christian minority and foreign tourists.
In the late 1980s, the People’s Liberation Front, a Sinhalese chauvinist group (known by their initials in Sinhala as the JVP), carried out an armed insurrection against the government. The conflict saw targeted and indiscriminate killings of civilians, thousands of enforced disappearances of suspected JVP supporters, and arbitrary detentions and torture. The insurrection ended with a government victory in 1990.
During 1983 – 2009, Sri Lanka was wracked by a civil war between the security forces (who are mostly Sinhalese) and the armed Tamil opposition group, the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), who were seeking an independent state for the Tamil minority in the north and east of the island. The war ended in May 2009, with a government military victory over the LTTE. A war crimes investigation by the Office of the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights found in 2015 that both government forces and the LTTE had committed war crimes, crimes against humanity and other human rights violations. One emblematic case of war crimes committed by the security forces is the murder of five Tamil students by the security forces in 2006 in the northeastern town of Trincomalee; see below for more information on the students (known as the “Trinco Five”).
Since 2009, cases of torture have continued to be reported, with no one being held responsible. Journalists, activists and human rights defenders have been attacked. At least 14 media workers have been the victims of unlawful killings since the beginning of 2006; one has allegedly disappeared in the custody of the security forces (see below for more information on the case of Prageeth Eknaligoda), while others have been tortured and arbitrarily detained.
The United States should include Sri Lanka in an inter-agency atrocity prevention board review to create a set of policy recommendations that will prevent a return to grave human rights abuses in Sri Lanka. U.S. officials must reiterate to the Sri Lankan government the importance of upholding human rights, including by repealing the PTA and by attending court hearings in key cases such as the Trinco Five students and Prageeth Eknaligoda. Congress should speak out about the need for PTA repeal and should substantially increase civil society assistance for Sri Lankan human rights groups that are working on truth and reconciliation issues and protecting human rights defenders.
For the 16th anniversary on Jan. 2, 2022 of the killing of the Trinco Five students, some AIUSA activists created a 1:31 video about their case. A link to the video is given below.
For the 12th anniversary on Jan. 24, 2022 of the enforced disappearance of journalist Prageeth Eknaligoda, activists from Amnesty International USA and Amnesty International Aotearoa New Zealand created two short videos about his case. Links to both videos follow below.
Please see the links below for all the actions. Thanks for any help you can give on these actions.
Global: Misuse of Tear Gas Killing and Injuring Protesters Worldwide – Updated Interactive Website
May 29, 2023 – Irán
Widespread Protests in Sri Lanka Highlight Unified Opposition to Anti-Terrorism Act
May 2, 2023
Sri Lanka: Biden Must Respond to Dangerous Anti-Terrorism Act
April 14, 2023
Minister in Sri Lanka Accused of Holding Tamil Prisoners at Gunpoint Must Face Investigation
September 15, 2021 – Accountability for Torture
As COVID-19 spreads in South Asia, fears rise for people at higher risk
March 26, 2020 – Coronavirus
Ban on face-veil risks stigmatizing Muslim women in Sri Lanka
April 30, 2019 – freedom of religion
Sri Lanka: Attacks another grim reminder of the need to tackle hate
April 22, 2019 – asylum seekers
Hope flickers as justice still proves elusive in Sri Lanka
January 25, 2019 – disapperances
Shots fired amid attempt to illegally push Sri Lankan Tamil asylum seekers back out to sea in Indonesia
June 17, 2016 – Indonesia
Indonesia must allow stranded Sri Lankan Tamil asylum seekers to disembark
June 15, 2016 – Indonesia
Written Statement to the Human Rights Council on Sri Lanka
June 1, 2016
Amnesty International’s Annual State of the World Report Slams Governments, Including the U.S., for Global Assault on Freedoms
February 22, 2016