Comprehensive security sector reform yet to take place?

A report submitted by the Special Rapporteur on the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and of association, Clément Nyaletsossi Voule, to the Forty-fourth session UN Human Rights Council to be held from 15 June–3 July 2020, following his visit to Sri Lanka from 18 to 26 July 2019, notes that, although a decade has passed since the end of the protracted and deadly armed conflict, a real and comprehensive security sector reform has yet to take place, with areas in the north and east parts of the country remaining heavily militarized. As a result, the surveillance structure in the country, especially in the north and east, has remained in place, acting largely independently of governmental direction.

He visited Colombo, Jaffna, Keppapilavu and Trincomalee, Negombo, Galle and Matara. He met the governors of the Northern and Southern Provinces and a wide range of civil society actors and human rights defenders working on land, environmental, educational, labour and women’s rights, and on transitional justice etc. In his report, he presents his observations on the progress and main challenges in the exercise of the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and of association in the country. He also provides recommendations to overcome these challenges.

Following the Easter bombing attacks in April 2019, this surveillance has allegedly increased The Special Rapporteur states that he is seriously concerned about the numerous reports of surveillance that he received from civil society during his visit, including surveillance in online spaces such as social media platforms.

Following the Easter bombing attacks in April 2019, this surveillance has allegedly increased The Special Rapporteur states that he is seriously concerned about the numerous reports of surveillance that he received from civil society during his visit, including surveillance in online spaces such as social media platforms.

A recurring theme that the Special Rapporteur had during his visit was the systematic discrimination faced by ethnic and religious minorities. This discrimination comes in many forms, including the use of vilifying language by high-level officials; the lack of parity regarding the application of laws; police inaction; smear campaigns through the media; and hate speech, both online and offline and that following the Easter bombing attacks, there was a sudden upsurge of online violence, and disinformation spread quickly, both online and offline.

The Special Rapporteur reports that National security and emergency legislation presents a significant barrier to the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and of association for a number of reasons. While national security is a permissible basis for restrictions on these rights, and while Sri Lanka has legitimate reasons to react to threats against its national security, the concern is that such legislation may be overbroad and used frivolously, without due consideration for the proportionality of its use.

Although discussions regarding a transitional justice accountability mechanism have taken place, disputes over, inter alia, the presence of international judges on such a mechanism have paralysed the process. The end result is that few perpetrators have ever been held accountable for atrocities committed during the armed conflict, and faith in the national justice system has been eroded.

In his conclusions the Special Rapporteur states that while Sri Lanka has made valuable democratic strides in the last five years, a prevailing apprehension exists among civil society, who fear there could be rollbacks on these gains in the future. Sri Lankans fear the dismantling or undermining of fragile yet important institutions that safeguard their democratic rights, and a shift back to media restrictions, governmental opacity and a climate that requires self censorship.

The Special Rapporteur recommends that the Government ratify and implement the Second Optional Protocol to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, Undertake a review of the Constitution with a view to extending the fundamental rights, Consider repealing article 16 of the Constitution, Ensure non-discriminatory application of legislation across communities, including ethnic, religious, LGBTQI+ and other groups, Complete its review and repeal of the Prevention of Terrorism Act, Implement comprehensive security sector reform and demilitarization, in line with the country’s transitional justice commitments, Refrain from using national security legislation, to criminalize protesters, etc. etc..

The Special Rapporteur calls upon the United Nations, other international organizations and other stakeholders to, Monitor the implementation of the recommendations contained in the present report.

Read complete report from here:

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