Human security

Sri Lankan security forces urged to exercise restraint

Sri Lanka

Civil society has documented numerous human rights abuses by the government against protesters

Soldiers board an armored vehicle near a checkpoint in Colombo on May 11. Sri Lankan police have been ordered to go on the offensive and use live ammunition to stop the riots after another night of sporadic arson attacks. (Photo: AFP)

Posted: May 13, 2022 06:13 GMT

Updated: May 13, 2022 at 06:16 GMT

CIVICUS, the global civil society alliance, has urged Sri Lankan security forces to refrain from using excessive force and prevent further deaths and injuries amid growing violence around the protests and to ensure a safe and conducive space for peaceful protesters to voice their concerns.

Anti-government protests calling for the resignation of President Gotabaya Rajapaksa began in early March due to the deteriorating economy. Civil society has documented numerous human rights abuses by the government against protesters, including the use of a state of emergency to curb demonstrations and arbitrary arrests of protesters, restrictions on access to the internet and social media, and violence against journalists covering protests.

On May 6, under the pretext of maintaining public order, the government imposed a new state of emergency, deployed the army and imposed a nationwide curfew.

According to reports, at least eight people have died and more than 200 people have been injured since May 9. Some were injured by pro-government mobs, while others were injured when police fired tear gas into the crowd. Cases of looting of public property and attacks on the homes of politicians have also been reported. In order to suppress the demonstrations, the security forces were ordered to shoot on sight the offenders.

“The government must immediately send clear instructions to the security forces to avoid excessive use of force. In the event of acts of violence, the police must ensure that those who demonstrate peacefully can continue to do so and not use acts of violence as a pretext to restrict or impede the exercise of civil liberties,” said Josef Benedict , Asia CIVICUS Pacific Researcher.

“We are also concerned about reports that the government used excessive force, including tear gas, against student protesters from the Inter-University Federation of Students outside the parliament building on May 5. At least 12 protesters were arrested.

The rights body has documented how the Rajapaksa administration has waged an assault on civic space and basic freedoms since the president took power more than two years ago.

“Security forces must guarantee the rights to freedom of expression and assembly of protesters. Once the situation has calmed down, the authorities must carry out independent and impartial investigations into the violence and prosecute those responsible, including the police.

As a party to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, the Sri Lankan government has a duty to respect, protect and fulfill the fundamental freedoms enshrined in the treaty. This includes the right to freedom of expression and peaceful assembly. Any use of force should be the minimum necessary, targeted at specific individuals and proportionate to the threat posed.

CIVICUS has also urged the government to immediately lift the state of emergency which imposes restrictions on protests. International law strictly regulates attempts by governments to suspend or derogate from human rights for emergency reasons. Derogatory measures may only be taken to the extent necessary to deal with a specific threat to the life of the nation.

The rights body has documented how the Rajapaksa administration has waged an assault on civic space and basic freedoms since the president took power more than two years ago.

This includes banning all demonstrations under the guise of Covid-19, arbitrary arrests of peaceful protesters and activists using the draconian Prevention of Terrorism Act, as well as the criminalization of dissidents. In March, the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, Michelle Bachelet, also reported to the Human Rights Council that “the government’s response to criticism has tightened democratic and civic space.”

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