UK notes improvements but has concerns

The human rights situation in Sri Lanka improved during the first half of 2015, although some concerns remain, a British Foreign Office report said.

The Foreign Office report on human rights said that following the election of President Maithripala Sirisena in January and the appointment of a new government, Sri Lanka took a number of positive steps to address human rights and democracy concerns, including establishing new institutions and undertaking legal reforms.

Freedom of expression improved, with exiled journalists invited to return to the country and a number of banned websites unblocked. The democratic space has opened up with travel bans on foreign nationals visiting the north lifted, and the NGO Secretariat moved from the Ministry of Defence to the Ministry of Policy Planning and Economic Affairs. Local contacts in the north and east noted a significant reduction in surveillance by security forces with increased space for journalists and civil society activism.

london-union-jack_650x488_61431326306However, the report said that challenges remained, including those related to high levels of militarisation, such as military involvement in civilian life, and the continued occupation of land by the armed forces. There were also concerns over women’s security as well as reports of journalists being intimidated.

There has been no progress on investigations into widespread disappearances that occurred during the conflict, including those of missing ex-combatants (who allegedly surrendered to Sri Lankan security forces). Tamil activists and politicians continued to allege the existence of secret detention centres, which authorities have denied.

Violence targeting Muslims and Evangelical Christians reduced significantly during the first two months of 2015 but increased since, although to a much lower level than in previous years. Sporadic incidents continued however, including mob attacks targeting places of worship. Although court cases continue, no one has yet been held to account for past violence including the Aluthgama riots in June last year. A Special Presidential Task Force on Reconciliation, appointed on 5 February, was tasked, among other things, with promoting inter-ethnic harmony.

Concerns remain over torture and extrajudicial killings. Policemen involved in two incidents of custodial deaths in Suriyavewa and Thalawakele were suspended (pending investigation). At least three other policemen were also suspended following two separate deaths of suspects in custody at the Ja-ela and Dummalasuriya police stations on 4 and 16 March respectively. NGOs also raised concerns over the discovery of dismembered bodies showing signs of torture in several areas around the country in March. (Colombo Gazette)