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Government failed to engage on human rights and transitional justice: Sri Lanka Civil Society Platform

  • Civil Society Platform complains of poor co-operation by State  

BY Pamodi Waravita

The Sri Lanka Civil Society Platform, in a statement made in connection with the 48th United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) Regular Session, said that since November 2019, the Government of Sri Lanka (GoSL) has failed to engage constructively and collectively with the civil society on human rights and transitional justice issues. 

“In recent months we have witnessed an alarmingly shrinking civic space in Sri Lanka. This is against the backdrop of the National Secretariat for Non-Governmental Organisations (NGO Secretariat), being once again brought under the purview of the Defence Ministry in December 2019, and steps being taken to draft legislation to reportedly curb the activities of civil society organisations (CSOs). Additionally, since December 2019, State officials at the District and divisional levels have brought into effect cumbersome, informal and arbitrary rules CSOs have to abide by in order to obtain approval for and to implement their projects.”

Furthermore, they claimed that during recent meetings with NGOs at the District level, officers of the NGO Secretariat have been abusive and disrespectful when addressing personnel from CSOs. They also raised concerns over the Cabinet of Ministers decision to replace the Voluntary Social Service Organisations (Registration and Supervision) Act, No. 31 of 1980 as amended (VSSO Act). 

“Cabinet Ministers continue to use the term NGOs in a hostile manner, perpetuating the anti-NGO culture reminiscent of the repressive era when NGOs faced intimidation and threats both from the State and unidentified entities.”

The Platform added that increasing authoritarianism and militarisation in Sri Lanka has eroded the civic space and undermined the protection of human rights.

“Increasing authoritarianism and militarisation, including of the Covid-19 response and the culture of impunity have eroded the civic space and undermined the protection of human rights. The re-imposition of a state of emergency on the pretext of addressing food distribution is an additional concern. Resorting to the promulgation of Emergency Regulations in an arbitrary manner further concentrates unrestrained power in the hands of the Executive and is not conducive to democratic, inclusive and transparent decision making regarding the public good. It creates an environment in which the human rights of citizens can be further curtailed and even violated,” the statement said.