Human rights in Sri Lanka

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Coat of arms of Sri Lanka, showing a lion holding a sword in its right forepaw surrounded by a ring made from blue lotus petals which is placed on top of a grain vase sprouting rice grains to encircle it. A Dharmacakra is on the top while a sun and moon are at the bottom on each side of the vase.
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Major human rights groups such as Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch,[1] as well as the United States Department of State[1] and the European Union,[2] have expressed concern about the state of human rights in Sri Lanka. British colonial rulers,[3] the government of Sri Lanka and the separatist Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) are accused of violating human rights. Amnesty International stated in 2003 that there was a considerable improvement in the human rights situation attributed to the peaceful context of a ceasefire and peace talks between the government and the LTTE. In their 2006 report, however, Amnesty International stated that "escalating political killings, child recruitment, abductions and armed clashes created a climate of fear in the east, spreading to the north by the end of the year," while also outlining concerns with violence against women, the death penalty, and "numerous reports of torture in police custody."[4] Although Sri Lanka has not officially practiced the death penalty since 1976,[5] well-documented cases of state-sponsored 'disappearances' and murders[6] by non-partisan humanitarian organizations, notably Human Rights Watch, contradict official statements. In 2012, the UK charity Freedom from Torture reported that it had received 233 referrals of torture survivors from Sri Lanka for clinical treatment or other services provided by the charity.[7]


Sri Lanka was embroiled in a civil war for more than two decades. More than 64,000 people have been killed and more than one million have been displaced since 1983. In July 1983, the most savage anti-minority pogrom in Sri Lanka's history, known as the Black July riots, erupted. Government appointed commission's estimates put the death toll at nearly 1,000.,[8] mostly minority Sri Lankan Tamils.[9] died or 'disappeared'. At least 150,000 Tamils fled the island. Another major event was the repression of a revolution in the South of Sri Lanka by government forces.Up to 60,000 Sinhalese people including many students died as a result of this insurgency led by the factions of the Marxist JVP.

Abuses by the government[edit]


The Eastern province of Sri Lanka was taken over by Sri Lankan Forces after heavy fighting in 1990. Even after government forces moved in early 1990 large number of disappearance and extrajudicial execution were continued. By October 1990, 3,000 people were estimated to have been killed or to have disappeared in Amparai district. Further Many of the disappeared people were believed to have been killed as a result of extrajudicial execution. Likewise in Batticaloa another 1,500 people were reported to have disappeared.[10] The LTTE terrorists continued to kill innocent people in the Eastern Province. They killed Muslims gathered in two mosques, for Friday prayers. Also more than 700 unarmed policemen were murdered, cold blood. A bus full of Buddhist monks were killed at Aranthalawa. However, the true perpetrators of the disappearances are yet to be determined, with the Sri Lankan government and the rebels both accusing each other.


The European Union also condemned Sri Lankan security forces in the year 2000 concerning human rights, after fighting displaced 12,000 civilians.[11]

The US State Department stated that "The civilian authorities generally maintained effective control of the security forces, although some members of the security forces committed serious human right abuses".[12]

During President Mahinda Rajapaksa's reign White vans started to be associated with abductions and disappearances both during and after the war. Most disappearances of various critics ,journalist and others who had disputes with members of the Rajapaksa government as well as kidnapping for ransom has been associated with the "White vans" which were believed to be operated by Military personnel.[13]

Shooting of Tamil media workers[edit]

Sahathevan Nilakshan, also spelt Sahadevan Nilakshan was a minority Sri Lankan Tamil student journalist and the head of the Chaalaram magazine. Sahadevan was shot dead inside his house during nighttime curfew in an area heavily guarded by the Sri Lankan Army.[14] Sahadevan was part of a series of killing of Tamil media workers particularly those seen supporting the Tamil nationalist cause as Chaalaram magazine for which he worked was linked to the Federation of Jaffna District Students was seen supporting Tamil nationalism. It was seen as part of the intimidation of Tamil media.[15][16]


People who were previously in, or who assisted, the Tamil Tigers have alleged that the government has been continuing to torture them after the formal end of hostilities. Human Rights Watch has said that 62 cases of sexual violence have been documented since the end of the civil war, though the government says that there have only been 5. Similarly, the government asserts that these are isolated cases, while those making the allegations believe that this is a part of an organized government campaign. One specific link to a formal government program investigated by the BBC found numerous people who say they were tortured at government rehabilitation camps, run for suspected former rebels. Several of those involved have medical documentation of torture along with documentation of having attended these programmes. Two UN reports have stated that the programme does not met international standards and that there was a possibility of torture occurring. The government claimed to the BBC that they did not agree with the claims, and asserted that those anonymous people making the reports may have been paid by the Tamil Tigers or tortured by the Tigers themselves.[17]


After president Mahinda Rajapaksa was ousted from power investigations into the disappearances were launched by the new government which revealed a secret unit within the Sri Lankan Navy that was responsible for several disappearances.In March 2015, three navy personnel and a former police officer were arrested in relation to the killing of parliamentarian Nadarajah Raviraj in 2006 and in August 2015, police also announced that they had arrested several military personnel in relation to the disappearance of journalist and cartoonist Prageeth Eknaligoda.[18][19]

On 2015 October 11, Former Eastern Province Chief Minister Sivanesathurai Chandrakanthan alias Pillayan of the former paramilitary group TMVP was arrested by the Criminal Investigation Department in connection with the killing of former TNA parliamentarian Joseph Pararajasingham who was shot dead on December 25, 2005 in Batticaloa.[20] He was allowed to be detained till 4 November for further questioning[21]

Abuses by the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE)[edit]

The Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam have repeatedly been accused of attacks on civilians during their separatist guerrilla campaign. The US State Department reported several human rights abuses in 2005, but it specifically states that there were no confirmed reports of politically motivated killings by the government. The report states that, "they [LTTE] continued to control large sections of the north and east and engaged in politically motivated killings, disappearances, torture, arbitrary arrest and detention, denial of fair public trial, arbitrary interference with privacy, denial of freedom of speech, press, of assembly and association, and the recruitment of child soldiers". The report further accused the LTTE of extrajudicial killings in the North and East.[22]

The LTTE committed massacres in the Northern and Eastern provinces of Sri Lanka. The number of civilians massacred in a single incident were as high as 144 (Anuradhapura massacre). Some of the major attacks resulting in civilian deaths include the Kebithigollewa massacre, the Gonagala massacre (54 dead), the Dehiwala train bombing (56 dead),[23] the Palliyagodella massacre (109 dead) and the bombing of Sri Lanka's Central Bank (102 dead). Further a Claymore antipersonnel mine attack by the LTTE on June 15, 2006 on a bus carrying 140 civilians killed 68 people including 15 children, and injured 60 others.[24]

Tamil Tigers were also credited by FBI for the invention of suicide bra and suicide belt.[25] Most of the targets of suicide attacks were made on civilians rather than the government forces.

Abuses by other groups[edit]

The TamilEela Makkal Viduthalai Pulikal (TMVP), an armed organization led by Colonel Karuna, was accused by many human rights and non-governmental organizations of recruiting children, torture, assassinations and engaging in extortion in its war against the LTTE.[26][27][28] The TMVP was also involved in kidnappings for ransom of wealthy, predominantly Tamil, businessmen to raise money in Colombo and other towns. Some businessmen were killed because their family could not pay the ransom.[29][30][31][32]


The legacy of alleged human rights abuses continued to affect Sri Lanka after the end of the war. For example, the biennial Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting was held in Sri Lanka in 2013. The prime ministers of India, Canada, and Mauritius refused to attend due to concerns about Sri Lanka's human rights record, including "ongoing allegations of abuse of opposition politicians and journalists".[33]

2014 anti-Muslim riots in Sri Lanka[edit]

The 2014 anti-Muslim riots in Sri Lanka were religious and ethnic riots in June 2014 in south-western Sri Lanka. Muslims and their property were attacked by Sinhalese Buddhists in the towns of Aluthgama, Beruwala and Dharga Town in Kalutara District. At least four people were killed and 80 injured.[34] Hundreds were made homeless following attacks on homes, shops, factories, mosques and a nursery.[35] 10,000 people (8,000 Muslims and 2,000 Sinhalese) were displaced by the riots.[36] The riots followed rallies by Bodu Bala Sena (BBS), a hard line Buddhist group.[37] The BBS was widely blamed for inciting the riots but it has denied responsibility.[38][39][40] The mainstream media in Sri Lanka censored news about the riots following orders from the Sri Lankan government.[41]

Moderate Buddhist monk Watareka Vijitha, who had been critical of the BBS, was abducted and assaulted in the Bandaragama area on 19 June 2014.[42][43] Vijitha had been forcibly circumcised.[44][45]

Schools in the riot affected re-opened on 23 June 2014.[46][47] Sporadic attacks against Muslim targets continued in the days after the riots.[48]

See also[edit]

References and further reading[edit]

  1. ^ Sri Lanka
  2. ^ The EU's relations with Sri Lanka - Overview[dead link]
  3. ^ Keerthisinghe, Lakshman I. (2013). "The British duplicity in protecting human rights in Sri Lanka". Daily Mirror. Retrieved 2013-10-21. 
  4. ^ 2006 Annual Report for Sri Lanka, Amnesty International USA, retrieved 2009-02-12 
  5. ^ Ste's Site - Death penalty in Sri Lanka[dead link]
  6. ^ Recurring Nightmare: State Responsibility for "Disappearances" and Abductions in Sri Lanka
  7. ^ "Sri Lanka - Out of the Silence". Retrieved 6 March 2015. 
  8. ^ "President Kumaratunga's speech on the 21st Anniversary of 'Black July'". Retrieved 6 March 2015. 
  9. ^ Amnesty International Canada || News Release
  10. ^ "Human Rights Reports - Amnesty International USA". Retrieved 6 March 2015. 
  11. ^ "Sri Lanka rapped over human rights". BBC News. April 3, 2000. Retrieved May 4, 2010. 
  12. ^ Line 5
  13. ^ "Demands for inquiry into Sri Lanka 'white van' abductions". Retrieved 2015-09-30. 
  14. ^ "Sahadevan Nilakshan". Retrieved 6 March 2015. 
  15. ^ "Intimidation of Tamil media". Retrieved 6 March 2015. 
  16. ^ IFJ calls for end to brutal targeting of Lankan media[dead link]
  17. ^ Harrison, Francis (9 November 2013). "'Tamils still being raped and tortured' in Sri Lanka". BBC. Retrieved 9 November 2013. 
  18. ^ "Video: Secret Navy unit probed". Retrieved 2015-09-30. 
  19. ^ "SL judicial system isn’t equipped to probe war crimes: Zeid". Retrieved 2015-09-30. 
  20. ^ "Pillayan arrested over Pararajasingham killing". 
  21. ^ "Pillayan to be detained till November 4 | Daily News Online : Sri Lanka's National News". Retrieved 2015-10-14. 
  22. ^ "Sri Lanka". U.S. Department of State. Retrieved 6 March 2015. 
  23. ^ Timeline of the Tamil conflict, BBC News, September 4, 2000 
  24. ^ United States Condemns Terrorist Attack on Sri Lankan Bus, US State Department 
  25. ^ "FBI — Taming the Tamil Tigers". FBI. Retrieved 6 March 2015. 
  26. ^ "Sri Lanka", Human Rights Watch, August 9, 2007 
  27. ^ "Complicit in Crime: State Collusion in Abductions and Child Recruitment by the Karuna Group", Human Rights Watch 19, January 2007 
  28. ^ "Sri Lanka: Armed groups infiltrating refugee camps", Amnesty International, August 9, 2007 [dead link]
  29. ^ "Impunity reigns", Human Rights Watch (1(C)), August 9, 2007 
  30. ^ "Sri Lanka: Karuna Group Abducts Children for Combat - Human Rights Watch". Retrieved 6 March 2015. 
  31. ^ "Sri Lanka: Letter to Pope Benedict XVI on the Situation In Sri Lanka - Human Rights Watch". Retrieved 6 March 2015. 
  32. ^ Thomson Reuters Foundation. "Thomson Reuters Foundation". Retrieved 6 March 2015. 
  33. ^ Paramaguru, Kharunya (15 November 2013). "Controversy Over Sri Lanka’s Human Rights Record Overshadows Commonwealth Summit Read more: Sri Lanka Human Rights Questioned at Commonwealth Meeting". Time (magazine)Time. Retrieved 15 November 2013. 
  34. ^ Colombage, Dinouk (17 June 2014). "n Pictures: Sri Lanka hit by religious riots". Al Jazeera. 
  35. ^ "Sri Lankan riots spark international concern". Gulf Times. Agence France-Presse. 16 June 2014. 
  36. ^ Karunarathne, Waruni (22 June 2014). "The Human Tragedy Of Aluthgama". The Sunday Leader. 
  37. ^ "Religious Riots Kill 3 Muslims in Sri Lanka". Voice of America. 16 June 2014. 
  38. ^ Athas, Iqbal; Hume, Tim (20 June 2014). "Fear, shock among Sri Lankan Muslims in aftermath of Buddhist mob violence". CNN. 
  39. ^ "Sri Lanka police hit back after media flak over deadly riots". The Times of India. Agence France-Presse. 22 June 2014. 
  40. ^ "Muslim businesses stay shut in Colombo after ethnic riots". Oman Tribune. Agence France-Presse. 19 June 2014. 
  41. ^ "Sectarian violence in south declared off-limits for media". Reporters Without Borders. 17 June 2014. 
  42. ^ "Sri Lanka moderate monk critical of anti-Muslim violence beaten". BBC News. 19 June 2014. 
  43. ^ "Ven. Watareka Vijitha thera assaulted". The Daily Mirror (Sri Lanka). 19 June 2014. 
  44. ^ Indrakumar, Menaka (22 June 2014). "Abductors forcibly circumcise Vijitha Thera". Ceylon Today. 
  45. ^ "Abductors attempt to circumcise the Sri Lankan Buddhist monk who tried to build inter faith harmony". Colombo Page. 19 June 2014. 
  46. ^ "Aluthgama, Beruwala area schools to reopen on Monday". The Sunday Times (Sri Lanka). 21 June 2014. 
  47. ^ "Schools in Aluthgama and Beruwala re-opens on Monday". Ceylon Today. 21 June 2014. 
  48. ^ "Sri Lanka charges moderate monk critical of anti-Muslim violence". BBC News. 25 June 2014. 

External links[edit]