Time to Put the Spotlight on Sri Lanka

Human Rights Activist in Sri Lanka

Sri Lankan human rights activists demanding the release of all alleged political prisoners stage a protest in Colombo on July 10, 2012. (Ishara S.KODIKARA/AFP/GettyImages)

Sri Lanka’s human rights record doesn’t get much international attention these days. But that’s going to change on November 1 in Geneva, when the U.N. Human Rights Council examines Sri Lanka’s record as part of the Council’s “Universal Periodic Review” (UPR) procedure.

Sri Lanka has a lot to account for, especially its continuing use of security laws against peaceful, outspoken critics, including journalists. Hundreds are being detained with no charge or trial. Many detainees have been tortured while in custody, and some have even been killed. No one has been held accountable for these crimes; impunity reigns.

We have a chance on Nov. 1 to expose Sri Lanka’s shameful practices of arbitrary detention, but we need your help. SEE THE REST OF THIS POST

Time to End Arbitrary Detention in Sri Lanka

Sri Lankan policemen stand guard over prison

Sri Lankan policemen stand guard outside the main prison in Colombo (Ishara S.KODIKARA/AFP/Getty Images)

Right now, hundreds of people are languishing in detention in Sri Lanka.  They haven’t been convicted of any crime; indeed, they haven’t even been charged with any crime.  Their detentions violate international law.  Many of them are tortured while in custody.  Some detainees have been killed.

More than three years after the end of Sri Lanka’s brutal civil war, security laws enacted to combat armed opposition groups continue to be used against outspoken, peaceful critics, including journalists, and others.

No one has been held accountable for these crimes. Impunity for human rights violations is the norm in Sri Lanka.


Death threats for two Sri Lankan journalists

Freedom of expression is again under assault in Sri Lanka.  On October 22, two editors at the Sunday Leader (a Sri Lankan newspaper), Frederica Jansz and Munza Mushataq, received identical death threats in the mail, handwritten in red ink.  Ms. Jansz is the editor-in-chief and Ms. Mushataq is the news editor.  The threats relate to coverage by the paper of a video which allegedly showed Sri Lankan soldiers executing Tamil prisoners.

The paper’s founder and former editor-in-chief, Lasantha Wickrematunge, was killed last January after receiving a similar death threat three weeks earlier.  No one has yet been prosecuted for his murder.

Last month, Dileesha Abeysundera, who works for the Sinhala-language edition of the Sunday Leader, was threatened.  The newspaper has suffered numerous serious attacks on its staff and offices in the past. 

Over the past three years, numerous journalists have been detained in Sri Lanka while others have fled the country.  At least 14 media workers have been killed.  Investigations haven’t resulted in  prosecutions.  For more on this issue, see the AI report, “Sri Lanka:  Silencing dissent.”

Amnesty International has issued an urgent action appeal calling on the Sri Lankan government to ensure the safety of Frederica Jansz and Munza Mushataq, and to investigate the death threats received by them and the attacks on other Sri Lankan journalists and media workers.  Please take action in response to our appeal and write to President Mahinda Rajapaksa (email:  [email protected]).   Thanks for your help.

Sri Lankan journalist at risk

I heard some very disturbing news last night.  Dileesha Abeysundera, a Sri Lankan journalist and media rights activist, is in danger.  Several unidentified people traveling in white vans tried to break into her compound in Colombo (Sri Lanka’s capital city) at 11:45 P.M. on Sept. 28.  While they didn’t succeed and Dileesha wasn’t harmed, I’m very worried for her.   The use of white vans was particularly chilling; they’ve been used in many abductions and enforced disappearances in Sri Lanka since 2006. 

Dileesha had organized a meeting on Sept. 28 calling for the abolition of the Press Council Act, a law which restricts freedom of expression in Sri Lanka by prohibiting publication of materials relating to economic policy, government documents and other topics.  The Sri Lankan government has repeatedly defended the Act.  It’s thought that she was threatened that evening because of her work in organizing the meeting that day.

Over 14 media workers have been killed since 2006 with no one brought to justice in any of these cases.  For more information on how freedom of expression has been under attack in Sri Lanka, please see our report, “Sri Lanka:  Silencing dissent.”

Please write to President Mahinda Rajapaksa in Sri Lanka and ask him to ensure Dileesha’s safety and to investigate the attempted intimidation of her.  Please also ask him to investigate the attacks, including killings, of other Sri Lankan journalists and media workers.  His address is:  Presidential Secretariat, Colombo 1, Sri Lanka; email:  [email protected].  Thanks for your consideration.

Sri Lankan doctors at risk of torture

Amnesty International today issued an urgent action appeal on the five Sri Lankan doctors currently being held by the government under emergency regulations.  We are concerned that they are at risk of torture or other ill-treatment.  The doctors had provided medical services to civilians trapped in the war zone, during the last stages of the war earlier this year between the government and the opposition Tamil Tigers.  Before they were detained by the government on May 15, the doctors had provided eyewitness accounts to the media of the suffering experienced by the trapped civilians.  On July 8, while still under detention, the doctors appeared at a press conference organized by the government and retracted their earlier reports.  AI is concerned about how genuine their later statments were.  The doctors remain in detention without charge.

Amnesty is calling on the Sri Lankan government to release the doctors immediately, unless they are to be promptly charged with a recognizable criminal offense.  Please join our appeal and write the government on their behalf.  Write to:  President Mahinda Rajapaksa, Presidential Secretariat, Colombo 1, Sri Lanka; email:  [email protected].

U.N. calls for pause in Sri Lankan fighting

Yesterday, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon called for a temporary pause in the fighting in Sri Lanka between the government forces and the opposition Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), in order to allow humanitarian aid into the war zone to reach the trapped civilians there.  The Secretary-General also urged the LTTE to allow civilians to leave the area and to stop forced recruitment.

Today, the Sri Lankan government announced that President Rajapaksa had invited the Secretary-General to visit Sri Lanka to see for himself the situation of civilians displaced by the fighting.  It’s unclear whether Ban would be allowed to visit the war zone, though President Rajapaksa  apparently did say that Ban’s visit would permit him to be able to make a better assessment of the conditions faced by the civilians still being held by the LTTE in the war zone.  The Sri Lankan government still won’t permit a U.N. humanitarian mission to enter the conflict area despite an earlier agreement with the Secretary-General to do so.

I hope the Secretary-General takes up the President’s offer, goes to Sri Lanka and is able to visit all parts of the country in safety, including the war zone.  I also hope President Rajapaksa responds positively to the Secretary-General’s request and orders a temporary pause in the fighting to allow aid into the war zone.  I also hope the LTTE responds to the Secretary-General, allows civilians to leave the war zone and releases all child soldiers and other forced recruits.  I try to live in hope; it’s better than the alternative.