Accusing Sri Lanka of intensifying a crackdown on dissent, global rights watchdog Amnesty International on Tuesday asked the Commonwealth not to hold its next summit in Colombo unless the country improves its record of “systematic violations” of human rights.
In a report titled ‘Assault on Dissent’ released on Tuesday, Amnesty reveals how the Mahinda Rajapaksa-led government is promoting an official attitude that equates criticism with treason in a bid to tighten its grip on power.
The Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM) is set to take place in Colombo in November, after which the country will represent the 54-nation grouping as its Chair for the next two years.
“Before November, Commonwealth governments must pressure the Sri Lankan government to address the alarming human rights situation in the country,” said Polly Truscott, Amnesty International’s Deputy Asia Pacific Director.
“The CHOGM meeting must not be allowed to go ahead in Colombo unless the government has demonstrated beforehand that it has stopped systematic violations of human rights,” she added.
Sri Lanka has rejected the allegations, saying that a rehabilitation process is under way after years of conflict.
Last week, the Commonwealth foreign ministers agreed to hold the summit in Colombo despite objections by Canada.
But Amnesty International’s report echoed some of the criticisms. “Violent repression of dissent and the consolidation of political power go hand in hand in Sri Lanka,” said Truscott.
“Pressure on critics tends to intensify around key international events. Examples include recent UN Human Rights Council (HRC) sessions in 2012 and 2013, when the HRC passed resolutions highlighting the need to investigate alleged violations of international law by the Sri Lankan government during the armed conflict,” the report says.
“Participants in UN meetings and Sri Lankan journalists covering the events were repeatedly verbally attacked in Sri Lankan government media outlets, and in some cases physically threatened,” the report claims.
Journalists, the judiciary, human rights activists and opposition politicians are among those who have been targeted in a disturbing pattern of government-sanctioned abuse, often involving the security forces or their proxies, the London-based rights group said in a release.
“In addition to these ongoing violations, the Sri Lankan government has failed — despite repeated promises to do so — to effectively investigate allegations of crimes under international law committed by the LTTE and the army during the armed conflict.”
“It is abundantly clear that Colombo is unwilling and unable to investigate the credible allegations of crimes under international law, including war crimes, during the conflict. What is needed is an independent, impartial and internationally led investigation,” said Truscott.