Latest Update: 31 March 2013
FCO Minister Alistair Burt visited Sri Lanka from 31 January – 2 February. He met key political figures, NGOs and international organisations during engagements in Colombo and the north of the country. Delivering a lecture in Colombo, the Minister raised concerns about recent developments in Sri Lanka and called on the government to uphold human rights and the rule of law and to implement the Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission (LLRC) report in full. He also said that the UK looked towards Sri Lanka, as host of the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting, to demonstrate its commitment to Commonwealth values.
In January the Sri Lankan President ratified the dismissal of Chief Justice Shirani Bandaranayake, who was impeached by Parliament in December. Ms. Bandaranaike and opposition members of the panel walked out of the Parliamentary Select Committee before proceedings concluded, alleging an unfair and highly politicised process. The Sri Lankan Supreme Court ruled that the process was unconstitutional and a number of domestic and international actors also expressed concerns. The UK raised concerns about freedom of expression, the impeachment of the Chief Justice and the rejection of recommendations relating to the independence of the judiciary during the adoption of Sri Lanka’s Universal Periodic Review.
In February the International Crisis Group expressed concern that attacks on the judiciary and political dissent had “accelerated Sri Lanka’s authoritarian turn” and were “a threat to long-term stability and peace”. The report also noted with concern the upsurge in attacks by extremist Buddhists on Muslim religious sites and businesses in recent months. There were a number of attacks on Christian and Muslim religious establishments and Muslim-owned businesses by extremist groups. Physical attacks on mosques, anti-Muslim public rallies and processions were accompanied by calls to boycott Muslim business establishments, a halt to issuing halal certificates and offensive campaigns on social media.
On 5 January a local councillor was shot down by unidentified gunmen in a Colombo suburb. Suspects arrested in connection to the murder were linked to a government Minister. On 3 March there was a further allegation of an enforced disappearance, when Jaffna newspapers reported the disappearance of a 39 year old man who had previously been abducted in 2006. Campaigners have blamed previous abductions on paramilitary groups and security forces. Two Jaffna University students detained following student protests in November 2012 were released in January. Reports from the former conflict zone indicated that over 45 ex-combatants linked to the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) before the final stages of the war were arrested in the north and east. A few have been released, but the majority remain in detention.
A military court of inquiry appointed to investigate allegations against the military over their conduct during the war completed its report in January. The three-page summary said that the Army took every precaution to avoid civilian casualties but recommended that military operations be re-evaluated to minimize or eliminate collateral damage in future. The final report was not made public.
In the last three months there were a number of incidents involving the media. On 15 February British-Sri Lankan journalist Faraz Shauketaly survived an assassination attempt by unidentified gunmen at his residence. Two days later a BBC crew reporting on a Buddhist extremist rally were threatened by a mob. The team were placed under “citizen’s arrest” and temporarily detained. Tamil newspaper delivery staff in Jaffna were attacked on three separate occasions. On 26 March the BBC World Service suspended retransmission of its Tamil language broadcasts by the Sri Lankan Broadcasting Corporation citing “targeted interference” following censoring of programmes.
On 5 March police prevented hundreds of family members of the disappeared in Vavuniya from travelling to Colombo to stage a protest and hand over a petition to the UN calling for information about missing relatives and international interventions to seek justice.
International focus on Sri Lanka also continued during the quarter. On 15 March the United Nations Human Rights Council (UN HRC) adopted Sri Lanka’s second Universal Periodic Review report. On 21 March the UN HRC adopted by 25 votes to 13 with eight abstentions a resolution calling on the Sri Lankan Government to promote accountability and reconciliation and encouraging the government to cooperate with the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights and special procedures mandate holders. The UK co-sponsored the US-led resolution, which builds on the text of a 2012 resolution.