US releases 2014 Human Rights Report on Sri Lanka

Human rights & democracyUS Secretary of State John Kerry submitted the 2014 Country Reports on Human Rights Practices (commonly known as the Human Rights Reports) to the US Congress on 25 June , 2015. A  70 page report on the Human Rights Sri Lanka has been released  by Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor of the US State Department.

The major human rights problems reported over the year were: attacks on, and harassment of, civil society activists, journalists, and persons viewed as sympathizers of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) by individuals allegedly tied to the government; involuntary disappearances, arbitrary arrest and detention, torture, abuse of detainees, rape, and other forms of sexual and gender based violence committed by police and security forces; and widespread impunity for a broad range of human rights abuses.

Involuntary disappearances and unlawful killings continued to diminish in comparison with the immediate postwar period. Nevertheless, harassment, threats, and attacks by pro government loyalists against media institutions, nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), and critics of the government were prevalent, contributing to widespread fear and self censorship by journalists and diminished democratic activity due to the general failure to prosecute perpetrators.

Other serious human rights problems included unlawful killings by security forces and government-allied paramilitary groups, often in predominantly Tamil areas; poor prison conditions; and lack of due process. Defendants often faced lengthy pretrial detention, and an enormous backlog of cases hindered the justice system. Denial of a fair public trial remained a problem, as did continued coordinated moves by the government to undermine the independence of the judiciary.

The government infringed on citizens’ privacy rights. There were restrictions on freedom of speech, press, peaceful assembly, association, and movement. Authorities harassed journalists critical of the government, and the government controlled most major media outlets. The government censored some news websites.

Citizens generally were able to travel almost anywhere on the island, although there continued to be police and military checkpoints in the north, and de facto high-security zones and other areas remained off-limits. Neglect of the rights of internally displaced persons (IDPs) was a serious problem, and IDPs were not always free to choose where to resettle.

The president exercised his constitutional authority to maintain control of appointments to previously independent public institutions that oversee the judiciary, police, and human rights issues. Lack of government transparency and widespread government corruption were serious concerns.

Sexual violence and discrimination against women were problems, as was abuse of children and trafficking in persons. Discrimination against persons with disabilities and against the ethnic Tamil minority continued, and a disproportionate number of the victims of human rights abuses were Tamils. Discrimination and attacks against religious minorities, especially Muslims and evangelical Christians, continued to increase. Discrimination against persons based on sexual orientation continued. Limits on workers’ rights and child labor also remained problems.

Government officials and others tied to the ruling coalition enjoyed a high degree of impunity. The government prosecuted a very small number of government and military officials implicated in human rights abuses and had yet to hold anyone accountable for alleged violations of international humanitarian law and international human rights law that occurred during the conflict that ended in 2009.

Individuals suspected of association with pro government paramilitary groups committed killings, kidnappings, assaults, and intimidation of civilians. There were persistent reports of close, ground-level ties between paramilitary groups and government security forces The Buddhist group Bodu Bala Sena (BBS) was responsible for numerous abuses. BBS extremists attacked and assaulted civilians and members of religious minorities and burned their property. Riots started by the BBS resulted in at least three deaths.

A large number of the President Rajapaksa’s other relatives, including his son, also served in important political and diplomatic positions. Independent observers generally characterized the presidential, parliamentary, and local elections as problematic. The 2010 elections were fraught with election law abuses by all major parties, especially the governing coalition’s use of state resources for its own advantage. Authorities maintained effective control over the security forces.

The 70 page report on Sri Lanka comments under the the following areas.

Section 1. Respect for the Integrity of the Person, Including Freedom from:

a. Arbitrary or Unlawful Deprivation of Life.

b. Disappearances

c. Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading Treatment or Punishment

d. Arbitrary Arrest or Detention

e. Denial of Fair Public Trial

f. Arbitrary Interference with Privacy, Family, Home, or Correspondence

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Speech and Press

b. Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and Association

c. Freedom of Religion

d. Freedom of Movement, Internally Displaced Persons, Protection of Refugees, and Stateless Persons.

Section 3. Respect for Political Rights: The Right of Citizens to Change Their Government.

Section 4. Corruption and Lack of Transparency in Government.

Section 5. Governmental Attitude Regarding International and Nongovernmental Investigation of Alleged Violations of Human Rights.

Section 6. Discrimination, Societal Abuses, and Trafficking in Persons.

Section 7. Worker Rights.

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