UK expresses concern

British FlagExpressing concern over rights violations in the North and East, the British Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO), in its update dated 16 October 2014, of the Country of Concern Corporate report on Sri Lanka, highlighted clamp downs on freedom of religion and expression, impunity for sexual violence and the intimidation of journalists on the island.

Latest Update: 30 September 2014

The human rights situation in Sri Lanka remains largely unchanged from the previous quarter.

Reports of communal violence between Buddhists and Muslims have decreased since serious clashes in June in the Kalutara district, yet tensions remain. The President pledged to investigate the June violence, but no prosecutions have yet taken place. The Government Analyst’s report on alleged arson attacks during the riot has also not been made public.

Sporadic reports of Muslim and Evangelical Christian places of worship being targeted continued, for example with disruption of services and threats and verbal abuse. According to the National Christian Evangelical Alliance of Sri Lanka, on 31 August, the Pastor of a church in Batticaloa, his family members and a parishioner were assaulted by masked men with improvised weapons. On 14 September, unidentified persons allegedly hurled a bomb at the Hairiya Jumma Mosque in Dambulla, although no serious damage was caused. Local groups led by monks have previously called for its demolition. A centuries old mosque in Trincomalee was allegedly demolished in August by the military. The UN Secretary General raised concerns over religious violence with President Rajapaksa in September.

Freedom of expression continues to be restricted in Sri Lanka. On 1 July, the Ministry of Defence and Urban Development instructed NGOs not to train journalists, hold press conferences or issue press releases unless specifically agreed, noting that such activities “exceeded their mandate”. There were also instructions to NGOs receiving foreign funding to seek government approval, and to disclose information about funding regularly. The EU expressed concerns over efforts to “restrict legitimate public activities” of civil society and NGOs.

In separate incidents in July, a leading political analyst and a film maker were subject to threats and harassment, while a journalist was interrogated by law enforcement over his reporting of the Aluthgama riot and his work with Al Jazeera. The President of the Bar Association faced intimidation following a number of outspoken comments, including being followed by unidentified persons on 15 July. NGOs involved in journalist training have been targeted. On 26 July, a mob stormed the Sri Lanka Press Institute disrupting a journalism training programme. A day earlier a group of journalists, travelling to Colombo for the training, were allegedly obstructed by Sri Lankan security forces. A member of the Free Media Movement received death threats after he noted his intention to hold a press conference regarding the obstructions. On 4 August, a group of monks stormed and disrupted a private session between civil society and representatives of families of the disappeared. Diplomats were present at the meeting. We strongly condemned the incident alongside other EU countries.

Concerns remain over the situation in the north and east. Two young girls (aged 9 and 11) from Jaffna were allegedly gang raped for 11 days by Sri Lankan Navy personnel; the court case continues. On 25 July, journalists covering court proceedings were allegedly threatened and evicted from the court room by intelligence personnel. In Jaffna, similar threats were allegedly made to journalists on 11 July when they attempted to document the survey of private land to be appropriated by the Sri Lankan Navy. On 3 September, a Catholic priest was questioned by intelligence personnel over poetry he wrote about the war. The spokesman of the Ceylon Teachers’ Union noted that three principals from northern schools were questioned by the Terrorism Investigations Department (TID) over their role in distributing the poetry. Meanwhile, the Chief Minister of the Northern Province alleged that he was spied on by members of the intelligence service.

The UK welcomed the presentation of the Assistance to and Protection of Victims of Crime and Witnesses Bill to Parliament on 10 September. Four court cases raising objections to the Bill are currently pending in the Supreme Court. Concerns over detention issues remain. There were further reports of questionable deaths in custody and of deaths of suspects shot by police while allegedly attempting to flee.

Uva Provincial Council elections were held on 20 September. Local monitors recorded over 300 reports of campaign violence, including three serious incidents on election day. The Mayor of Bandarawela and an Eastern Provincial Council member were hospitalised following separate assaults. The Mayor was allegedly assaulted inside a police station. Violence continued after the poll. Local election monitor PAFFREL did not consider the election free and fair, pointing to the violence, large-scale abuse of state property, and use of public servants in election propaganda activities.

On 15 July, the Sri Lankan President mandated the Presidential Commission to Inquire into Complaints regarding Missing Persons (the Commission on Missing Persons) to investigate and report on some accountability issues raised in the Lessons Learned and Reconciliation Commission report. An International Advisory Council was also established to advise the Commission.

On 19 August, President Rajapaksa announced that UN Human Rights Council (UNHRC) mandated investigators would not be allowed to visit Sri Lanka. The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (UNHCHR) presented an oral update to the UNHRC on 22 September. He regretted the Sri Lankan government’s rejection of the UNHRC resolution and decision not to cooperate with the investigation of the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights. He noted an international investigation did not relieve Sri Lanka of its obligations to conduct its own investigations, nor did the existence of domestic initiatives prevent an international investigation moving forward. The UNHCHR has also raised concerns over “threats currently being leveled against the human rights community in Sri Lanka, as well as prospective victims and witnesses”, and deplored ”recent incitement and violence against the country’s Muslim and Christian minorities”. The UK has called on Sri Lanka to engage with the investigation, and expressed concern about threats and intimidation against those wanting to give evidence to the investigation.

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