UN human rights chief, Human Rights Watch condemn violence in Sri Lanka

PTI | Newyork | Updated: 11-05-2022 15:58 IST | Created: 11-05-2022 15:58 IST
UN human rights chief, Human Rights Watch condemn violence in Sri Lanka

UN human rights chief Michelle Bachelet has condemned the escalation of violence in Sri Lanka and called for a thorough and transparent probe into the attacks on peaceful anti-government protestors and members of the ruling party.

UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Bachelet called on the authorities in Sri Lanka to prevent further violence and urged restraint and meaningful dialogue to address the grievances of the population amid the severe economic crisis in the country.

“I am deeply troubled by the escalation of violence in Sri Lanka after supporters of the Prime Minister attacked peaceful protestors in Colombo yesterday 9 May and the subsequent mob violence against members of the ruling party,” she said on Tuesday.

Clashes broke out in Sri Lanka on Monday after government supporters attacked peaceful anti-government protest sites in Colombo and elsewhere, killing at least 8 people and leaving over 200 others injured in the violence.

“I condemn all violence and call on the authorities to independently, thoroughly and transparently investigate all attacks that have occurred. It is crucial to ensure that those found responsible, including those inciting or organising violence, are held to account,” Bachelet said in a statement in Geneva.

She also called on the authorities to prevent further violence and to protect the right to peaceful assembly.

“Authorities, including military personnel deployed in support of security forces, should exercise restraint in policing the situation and ensure that measures adopted in the context of the state of emergency comply with international human rights norms and are not used to stifle dissent or hinder peaceful protest,” she said.

The State has a responsibility to ensure the right to life and to exercise due diligence to protect the lives of individuals against violence by private individuals or entities, the statement said.

The severe economic crisis has made daily life a struggle for most Sri Lankans. It has also highlighted grievances, which require national dialogue and deeper structural reforms, Bachelet said.

“I urge the Sri Lankan Government to engage in meaningful dialogue with all parts of society to find a pathway forward and address the socio-economic challenges people, especially vulnerable and marginalised groups, are facing. I call on the Government to address the broader political and systemic root causes that have long perpetuated discrimination and undermined human rights,” she said.

Bachelet said the UN Human Rights Office will continue to closely watch and report on the situation in the country.

She expressed hope that Sri Lanka would find a peaceful solution to the current crisis to alleviate people’s suffering, strengthen democracy and human rights, and prevent further violence.

Meanwhile, the Human Rights Watch has also condemned the “partisan response” to peaceful anti-government protests in Sri Lanka, demanding that the security forces fully respect the right to peaceful assembly and those responsible for violence be held to account.

The New York-based organisation asserted that foreign governments and international institutions, including the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the World Bank that are offering economic assistance to Sri Lanka, should insist that the government led by President Gotabaya Rajapaksa respect fundamental freedoms.

“Partisan response to peaceful, anti-govt protests in #SriLanka, with violence incited by ruling party leaders. Instead of addressing the economic crisis and failure to uphold rights as protesters demanded, the government of President Gotabaya Rajapaksa predictably chose to be divisive, South Asia director of Human Rights Watch Meenakshi Ganguly said in a tweet.

She said the attack on peaceful protesters by the Sri Lankan government supporters has sparked a “dangerous escalation” and increased the risk of further deadly violence and other abuses.

“It is vitally important for the security forces to fully respect the right to peaceful assembly, and for those responsible for the violence to be held to account,” she was quoted as saying in a statement issued by the Human Rights Watch (HRW) on Tuesday.

Concerned governments and international institutions, including the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and World Bank, which are offering assistance to address the country’s economic crisis, should insist that the government respect fundamental freedoms, Human Rights Watch said.

Hundreds of people identifying themselves as supporters of Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa arrived in Colombo on Monday and advanced to the Galle Face Green, where protesters calling for the resignation of the government had been peacefully camped for several weeks.

Witness accounts and video footage show government supporters attacking the protesters with clubs and other weapons and setting fire to tents. Hours later the president’s elder brother Mahinda Rajapaksa resigned as the prime minister.

Sri Lanka’s worst economic crisis has provoked widespread protests calling for political reform and the resignation of President Gotabaya Rajapaksa. On April 1, President Rajapaksa imposed a state of emergency, lifting it five days later. The government reimposed a state of emergency on May 6 after police fired teargas and arrested students protesting near parliament, which was adjourned until May 17.

Although the protests have been overwhelmingly peaceful, the police fatally shot a protester on April 19, and on several occasions have used teargas and water cannons against protesters. The authorities have made numerous arrests and repeatedly imposed curfews.

The Human Rights Commission of Sri Lanka and the Bar Association, as well as foreign diplomats, have condemned the attack on protesters and called for an impartial investigation.

The government should uphold the right to peaceful protest, ensure that the security force's response to public disorder is proportionate and reject excessive force, and promptly investigate and appropriately prosecute acts of violence, the HRW statement said.

Sri Lanka has a poor record under successive administrations of investigating and prosecuting countless grave violations of human rights, it said.

During a previous government between 2005 and 2010, Gotabaya Rajapaksa and his brother Mahinda Rajapaksa, as well as other senior figures in the current administration, were implicated in the killing and enforced disappearance of journalists and political activists, and in numerous war crimes during the civil war that ended in May 2009, it said.

“In recent weeks, thousands of Sri Lankans have peacefully protested against corruption and called for accountable governance and respect for human rights,” Ganguly said. “Pro-government supporters have responded to those calls with violence, which those in authority need to stop,” she said.

(This story has not been edited by Devdiscourse staff and is auto-generated from a syndicated feed.)

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