21 May, 2024

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Sri Lankan Law Enforcement Officials Must Be Held Accountable For Abuses During Protests: Amnesty International

Sri Lankan law enforcement officials engaged in the violent repression of protests must be held accountable for committing widespread human rights violations, said Amnesty International in a new investigative report released today.

The report, ‘Ready to suppress any protest’ Sri Lanka: Unlawful use of weapons during protests’, analyses the use of force during policing of 30 protests that took place in Sri Lanka between March 2022 and June 2023. Amnesty International’s research shows a pattern in the unlawful use of tear gas and water cannon and the misuse of batons by Sri Lankan law enforcement officials with video evidence revealing that in at least 17 protests – more than half of those analysed – the conduct of law enforcement officials fell well short of international law and standards on the use of force.

“From the outset, the Sri Lankan police approached the 2022-23 protests assuming that they would be unlawful and violent and that they would need to use force to repress them. The police failed to recognize that people have the right to peacefully protest, and that the authorities have a duty to facilitate and protect protests. Instead, they targeted, chased, and beat largely peaceful protesters,” said Smriti Singh, Amnesty International’s Regional Director for South Asia.

During 2022 and 2023, Sri Lankans called for accountability for the prolonged economic crisis, corruption and human rights violations, in large-scale protests and an occupy movement known as the Aragalaya in Colombo and other cities across Sri Lanka. Amnesty International has documented unlawful use of force against largely peaceful protests that continue to date, including in 2024.

Meanwhile, in the Northern and Eastern provinces of the country, security forces and intelligence agencies regularly carry out surveillance, intimidation, harassment, and obstruction of largely peaceful protests that have continued to take place since 2017 by the relatives of people forcibly disappeared during the internal armed conflict in Sri Lanka.

During its investigation, Amnesty International conducted 39 qualitative interviews and an open-source investigation into 95 verified videos gathered on social media of 30 protests, predominantly from Colombo, Battaramulla, Kelaniya, Jaffna and Galle. In March 2024, Amnesty International wrote to the Sri Lanka Police outlining the allegations in this report and requesting an official response but had not received a reply at the time of publication.

 Unlawful use of Tear gas, water cannons and batons:

“Tear gas was used in an inhumane way”

The police followed a pattern of using large quantities of tear gas against peaceful or largely peaceful protesters repeatedly in the same area without giving them an adequate opportunity to disperse, and without making any reasonable effort to limit risk of injury. Videos verified by Amnesty International also show the combined use of water cannon and tear gas by police against largely peaceful protestors in 2023 without giving them sufficient time and opportunity to disperse, in breach of international law and standards as well as best practices. This was documented in various protests and most prominently on the peaceful protest of 3 February 2023 in Colombo.

Thilina, a journalist and protester, told Amnesty International that police also used batons against them. He said: “After they used water cannon and tear gas on us, they pursued us and beat us as we were dispersing. I was hit with a baton on my back.”

Police fired tear gas grenades from behind the protesters while the protesters were trying to disperse, in breach of international human rights standards.  They also repeatedly failed to take adequate precautionary measures when using tear gas, and fired into areas that had no clear exit such as near schools and on the street. This unnecessarily exposed children and bystanders to the effects of chemical irritants. Amnesty International analysed at least three videos which showed children rubbing their eyes, coughing, and experiencing discomfort.

 Upeksha*, a protester, told Amnesty International: “Police used tear gas until people could not breathe. We went into a temple and used the utensils and water to wash the children’s eyes.”

“Water cannons were suddenly fired… there were constant jets”

The police used water cannon at close range against peaceful or largely peaceful protesters and in situations where protesters posed no threat to police officers and were attempting to disperse. Police also fired water cannon directly at a media correspondent reporting live from a protest in Colombo in June 2023, despite clear and visible signs of cameras and other media equipment. In the north of the country, police used water cannon against a largely peaceful protest by family members of the disappeared.

Devika*, whose husband was forcibly disappeared 15 years ago after the end of the internal armed conflict, told Amnesty International: “The jet was directed at my face, and I was hit badly in the eye. My eye swelled and I blacked out.”

Lack of investigation and accountability:

“It was as if they were punishing protesters”

Despite widespread human rights violations by law enforcement agencies and security forces, not a single police officer or member of the army has been prosecuted or convicted for the unlawful use of force during protests in 2022 and 2023. This lack of accountability exists within the context of a wider culture of impunity, where police and military personnel have rarely been held accountable for human rights violations; it also emboldens law enforcement officials to continue violently suppressing protests.

The Sri Lankan state is responsible under international law to investigate effectively, impartially, and in a timely manner, any allegation or reasonable suspicion of human rights violations by law enforcement officials. If the investigations find sufficient credible evidence, those suspected of criminal responsibility must be brought to justice in fair trials before ordinary civilian courts. This applies to those with responsibility at all levels, including senior officers.

“The brute force approach to policing of protests does not comply with international law and standards and restricts the right to freedom of peaceful assembly in Sri Lanka which is guaranteed under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), to which Sri Lanka is a state party. The authorities must therefore urgently investigate all credible allegations of unlawful use of force by police during the 2022-23 protests as a failure to do so would in itself be a violation of human rights,” said Smriti Singh.

*Names changed to protect identity.

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Latest comments

  • 18
    32

    External forces removed GR in order to bring in a person who will go along with USA & India. Once that was achieved, the outsiders DO NOT worry about the civilians plight… poverty ,hunger, denial of human rights etc

    • 42
      11

      Hello Naman:

      So you have made up your mind that allegations of Gotabaya Rajapaksa, Mahinda Yapa Abeywardana and Maithripala Sirisena (?) are well founded?

    • 40
      0

      Naman, Leaders robbing what belongs for benefit of all citizens brought hunger, poverty and denial to all the citizens as never before in our history, beginning from missing tsunami funds. A never before seen aragalaya from whole country appeared on Galle Face Green finally ending in the resignation of GR. In addition, there was an attack on aragalaya humans near Temple trees. Shiranthi family was taken east for safety by helicopter. Blaming external forces will not help until the robbing of the country funds stop and we get back to where we were giving citizens some decent living conditions by whoever comes into the future government.

      • 34
        0

        correct David

      • 8
        0

        davidthegood

        “Leaders robbing what belongs for benefit of all citizens brought hunger, poverty and denial to all the citizens as never before in our history, beginning from missing tsunami funds.”

        Forget the leaders for a minute, don’t we have able CEOs who can run large corporations, state owned enterprises, ….. efficiently like smart patriots Gnamasara, Wimal Weerawansa, Tilvin Silva, Vijitha Herath, Udaya Gamanpilla, Namal baby, Sunil Handunnetti , ….. Ananda Nayake Thero, Muruththettuwe Ananda Thero, ………
        PS
        The current Chief Executive Officer of SriLankan Airlines Richard Nuttall is a foreigner and white.

    • 39
      0

      Hello Naman,
      Can you give us all a detailed explanation of what “external forces” were involved? If you have any real evidence (other than Internet conspiracy theories) please share it with us. GR was out of his depth, the economic crisis was beyond his ken, they had no dollars to buy fuel, gas or fertiliser so in desperation he became an “Organic Pioneer”.
      We all know the resulting consequences.
      Best regards

      • 38
        10

        LankaScot

        “Can you give us all a detailed explanation of what “external forces” were involved?”

        Only a few days ago Wimal Sangili Karuppan Weerawansa explained the intricacies of International Relation, boycott Google, KFC, McDonalds, ….. and the might of Russia. He believes if Russia can we can.

        The entire interview is about 1 hour and 10 minutes. In case if you decide to waste your precious time please go ahead and make your day.
        At times very funny.
        He is one of the popular leaders whom voters adore like their hero.
        By the way he says Namal is a political baby.

        • 37
          11

          LankaScot

          In case if you decide to waste your precious time please go ahead and make your day:
          https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Vkfn6OcwB30&t=3s

      • 37
        10

        LS,
        Gota’s brother MR was even more of a pioneer. He claimed Sri Lanka was the first country in the world to ban Internet porn. Fat chance.
        https://lirneasia.net/2008/08/sri-lanka-pornography-regulatory-commission/
        I can picture the regulators at their screens working hard (?) day and night searching for websites to ban…

        • 40
          1

          Native and OC, according to Kavinda Jeyawardena of SJB, has lodged a complaint with CID, accusing Aiyo Sira with his family has fled the country to Thailand, just like he did before Easter Mayhem. Apparently few days ago Kavinda with Mano lodged complaint that , Aiyo is aware of the Master Minds. (racist minds ). Rajapaksas warned all their lackeys not to make any comment or support anyone without their permission ( Prassana ????) . Comedy Times.

          • 11
            0

            Today’s news ” testicles of a young person was removed at the Anuradhapura general hospital, after he was brutally assaulted by the police. He alleged that 6 officers from Medawachchiya assaulted him for not stopping at a traffic check point.

            • 10
              0

              chiv

              “He alleged that 6 officers from Medawachchiya assaulted him for not stopping at a traffic check point.”

              This is the rule not the exception.
              Dehumanisation of person is part and partial of police and armed forces culture, irrespective of race, religion, region, ….

              NPP/JVP leadership believes under its socialist/communist “rule” every aspect of citizen-state transaction would be hunky dory.

              A state that has been built on inhuman values, barbarity, ….. cannot be tamed over night or at all instead NPP/JVP will be tamed and they will become part and partial of the state structure.

              Eventually as well as historically Anura may replace Polpot.

            • 8
              0

              Chiv,
              There also seems to be something not quite straightforward about that Air Force guy shot dead by the police in Horana.

              • 1
                0

                OC , I too feel the same. The whole episode dosen’t make any sense. Reportedly the guy committed a serious crime but no action taken until he was found dead, shot by the police.

    • 4
      0

      I do not rule out external players in any regime change. But let us look at the reality.
      Who persuaded GR to take a string of stupid decisions?
      Fertilizer ban?
      Tax concessions when a financial crisis was impending?
      Denial of burial rights of COVID dead?
      Etc. etc.
      When someone is consistently suicidal, does it need a killer to destroy him?

  • 23
    12

    Why is Law Enforcement held responsible for actions during protests?

    Has the International Amnesty forgotten the Supreme Court verdict on an Acting IGP – Deshabandu and two others who were declared convicted for violation of HR in the case filed against them for the INHUMAN treatment while in custody? All three, including the present IGP, were convicted for violating HR stipulated in the Constitution and were ordered to pay compensation on their funds amounting to Rs. 2 million. The State was ordered to pay Rs. 100,000.00 Instead of this CONVICTION, CONVICT Deshabandu Thennakone was appointed by the President, recommended by the Minister in charge of Police.

    Shouldn’t they be first taken to task for such a serious violation of the provisions of the Constitution? Why is Amnesty International warroy on these minor issues?

    • 17
      33

      Douglas – You robbed my thoughts. First and foremost the first citizen, the President should be held accountable. Organisations like Amnesty International always politicise things. They only go after the small fry not the bigger sharks. Shame on them.

    • 37
      11

      Hello Douglas:

      I think that the expectations you’ve expressed are best suited for the UN Human Rights office and not so much for AI.

      Amnesty International runs on private donations and has done a good job of investigating the occurrences. This AI report is no less important than the issue with the appointment of the new IGP.

      The UN HR high commissioner has raised issue with the appointment of Deshabandhu Tennakoon as the new Inspector General of Police in the latest update on Sri Lanka:
      https://www.ohchr.org/en/statements-and-speeches/2024/03/high-commissioner-presents-updates-human-rights-colombia-guatemala

      What will any of this do for us? Probably nothing until a suitable government is formed. When will that happen?!

    • 39
      13

      “Shouldn’t they be first taken to task for such a serious violation of the provisions of the Constitution? Why is Amnesty International warroy on these minor issues?”
      Yes. You are right that it is the president who appointed not only IGP but also many murderers and criminals as his cabinet. We should not forget it is the same president who appointed the Governor General of the Central Bank who robbed the Central Bank. It is the same President who illegally chased away the former destroyers of the country bring back to this country and paying billions for catering them. IMF now protecting all criminals.

      • 39
        10

        Amnesty International is concerned with crimes like torture, the taking of prisoners of conscience and violations of some human rights, not with violations of internal constitutional matters which are for the local courts. These offences are crimes under international law. Local murders and local bribery are crimes under our domestic laws to be dealt with by our courts. There is no statute of limitations regarding international crimes. The offenders can be dealt with even after 30 or 40 years except that some of our offenders will die of natural causes before then. If not the law, karma will catch up with them (unless Sinhala Buddhism has a different formula regarding karma like the Mahavamsa about Dutugemunu killing Tamils).

      • 30
        0

        “…the same president who appointed the Governor General of the Central Bank who robbed the Central Bank.”
        You mean one whose surname starts in C?
        Then, that was another president.

        • 1
          1

          It’s not C. It is AM

          • 2
            0

            So it is not C!

            • 3
              0

              Ajith,
              Still not the same President.

  • 35
    10

    Police and Prison Custody Killings and Police and Armed Forces killings should be independently investigated. To meet this end, a separate civilian organization must be formed. A retired judge should head this, and other members of this group should be those with knowledge of criminal investigation. This group should have the power to file a legal action if the murder is found to be illegal.

    Police should not be allowed to investigate police killings.

    • 0
      0

      Hello Buddhist1,
      Do you really think that any Sri Lankan Government will allow Independent Investigations. With the UN Security Council Veto even the United Nations is unable to conduct an investigation in Sri Lanka. My question is who can legally establish this group and how can you ensure its independence and constitution from Government interference?
      Best regards

      • 0
        0

        NONE!!??

  • 17
    2

    What cruel people to do these things to innocent protesters. What will be Amnesty International’s next step?

    • 2
      0

      rtf, It is not so much what Amnesty International is able to do as to the fact that presidential election is coming and citizens need to use their brains to get a selfless leader.

      • 2
        0

        A selfless leader must ensure the punishment of all those who have inflicted pain on so many so that they could prosper and ensure that such things will happen never again. Amnesty International has, by its mandate, limited concerns-protect prisoners of conscience, prevent torture of such prisoners and others, prevent violations of UN human rights principles, which are later extensions. Amnesty is not concerned with internal political processes. The issue as to our future depends on whether we can get rid of our old culture of electing ethnic chauvinist crooks as our leaders.

      • 2
        1

        David,

        What is the use of talking about elections with some blaming the gamaya masses for their wrong voting, when the whole process is continuously rigged. Politics in a small relatively underdeveloped country like ours is huge business to those who have access to the money of the masses.

        Certain Ambassador/s, for example, create big business in the country they go to. They convince themselves that they doing God’s calling or have elevated Karma when they are help their fellow Lankans.

        They have business start-ups for their relatives and cronies, and support the monetary-till of the incumbent regimes (money that the hardworking Lankan workers always have had to pay back).

        • 2
          1

          That system is far worse now. People are enticed by these ambassadors with exciting job opportunities both inside and out of Sri Lanka. Jobs are being offered on a platter of delights. Difference is, it is only the jobs outside the country that might actually do some taking-off. Sri Lanka does not have the necessary law and people-structure to make ambassador-thought-bubble-startups to work. Amnesty International can look at this and form a more practicable plan than just pointing fingers and talking.

          Without the necessary law and people-infrastructure in place to align with the rest of the developed world, masses can only look at the success stories of the Lankans outside the country and yearn. Only the JVP-NPP can bring some level of rationality and normalcy to the country as they are educated lot who care for our working-masses, and have the know-how of interacting at the intricate levels with the working-class of the country. We pray that they will come about save our Nation. 🙏

  • 3
    0

    AI can protest till the proverbial cows come home but will the govt. take any notice? The buck stops with the President & he should take the Minister of Police, responsible for law & order, to task but will that happen? It’s just a another version of ‘dogs barking while the caravan moves on’

  • 1
    0

    It is easy to make the general statement that everybody who abuses must be held accountable. The question never raised is to whom must the parties engaged in sin accountable to. It is public knowledge that we had an “Executioneering” President. To whom was he held accountable for his actions? One, to salve his conscience, might say he paid his price with a bomb blast engulfing even those responsible for the death of media personnel Richard de Zoysa. The statement accountability is meaningful if there is a rule of decency prevailing and from it emanates the rule of law. The infamous prorogation of the UK parliament, done at the behest of then PM Boris Johnson, now a disgraced politician who had to quit the Parliament, was declared illegal by the UK Supreme Court presided by Baroness Brenda Hale of Richmond because it found PM Boris was using that process to evade the accountability to Parliament. Boris could not romp like our own political devils because the mechanism prevented such escapades. Stoning judges’ residences! No way! You really had it. In short, in the midst of vast majority of God-fearing folks the minority can be held accountable.

    • 0
      0

      Good Sense,
      You are right. Who is to be held accountable, to whom, and for what?
      Is there anybody who has not sinned (as David the Good might ask)? Every political party of any significance has been implicated in horrendous violence, if not in corruption.
      The people themselves should take responsibility, for tacitly endorsing injustice when it was done to others, or indulging in small acts of corruption themselves, and voting for “ape miniha”.
      As to the Supreme Court’s ability, let’s not talk about Sarath Silva and Mohan Pieris.

      • 0
        0

        old codger, It is not the sinning that matters, but the repentance never to do it again and hence receiving forgiveness from God that matters. Such people are called righteous and will do a good and selfless service for the citizens, but unfortunately, very few love that truth. Genuine protests must be allowed in order improve the system

        • 0
          0

          Dear Davidthegood,
          When I used the word sin in my main comment, I meant its miniscule subset of serious violation of the law. True! In religious terms, the admission of sin (confession), the repentance of action and will-power never to do it again makes the former sinner a righteous man. But will that make the former sinner escape the legal punishment for very serious crimes? Making myself clearer if most of the people in each society are determined to be law abiding and enforce the law, the errant have no escape but to account for what they did, as in the case of Boris Johnson. For years, in most of the “Foreign Funded” projects only 20% is utilized and the rest has vanished into thin air. That in my opinion is a serious crime but how about accountability? In the first place the investigators cannot comprehend whether a defalcation took place. The exception that we currently witness is the bogus medicine case of human immunoglobin where apparently some headway takes place. Unfortunately. there is a considerable set of people who say that even if HE has squandered public money we are given asbestos sheets. So What?

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