The Bar Human Rights Committee of England and Wales (‘BHRC’) will host a virtual panel event on Wednesday 19 October 2022 to spotlight serious concerns about human rights violations and the rule of law in Sri Lanka. This event is the second in BHRC’s Diminishing Democracy series and follows a panel on rule of law in India held in September 2021.
BHRC has previously expressed grave concerns at the deteriorating human rights situation in Sri Lanka, drawing attention to the heightened environment of human rights violations currently taking place in Sri Lanka under President Wickremasinghe which require urgent and immediate solution. Since at least March 2022, Sri Lanka has been mired by political and economic upheaval. An intense cost of living crisis and shortages of essential goods including food and fuel, which arose due to serious economic mismanagement by the Gotabhaya R government and saw Sri Lanka default on its debt payments, leading to a popular uprising calling for wholesale changes in the government and protesting the economic mismanagement and lack of executive accountability. In April 2022, the Bar Association of Sri Lanka (BASL) called for immediate constitutional amendment and referred to the “lack of meaningful Parliamentary oversight over the Executive especially after the enactment of the 20th amendment to the Constitution, allegations of lack of accountability and transparency and the perception of the existence of rampant corruption have led to the present political unrest”.
UN experts have urged the Sri Lankan government to guarantee the fundamental rights of peaceful assembly and expression during peaceful protests by thousands of people. President Wickremasinghe’s extension of the State of Emergency, the imposition of a curfew, and granting of broad, discretionary powers to the security forces and the military were all denounced by the UN Human Rights office as permitting the detention of protesters and the search of private property without due process or judicial oversight. Although recently lifted, emergency regulations imposed severe penalties including life imprisonment for offences such as causing ‘mischief’. It is being widely and credibly reported that Sri Lankan authorities continue to use the controversial and discredited Prevention of Terrorism Act (PTA), which permits detention without charge for up to one year, to chill dissent and detain protesters in violation of international law.
In this session, which will be chaired by BHRC Vice-Chair Aswini Weereratne KC, BHRC welcomes leading lawyers and civil society representatives from Sri Lanka – Upul Jayasuriya PC, Dr Deepika Udagama, and Ambika Satkunanathan – together to discuss:
- The importance of the rule of law in Sri Lanka and of the obligations of Sri Lanka under international law (including the illegality of the Prevention of Terrorism Act under international law);
- Sri Lanka’s international obligations as a party to the ICCPR not only to respect and protect the rights to freedom of assembly and expression but also to actively promote and facilitate their exercise;
- The need for protection for lawyers, judges, journalists and all those involved in recording and reporting on these developments in Sri Lanka;
- The current economic crisis which is aggravating widespread violations of economic, social and cultural rights protected by the ICESCR;
- The need to reprise the 19th amendment of the Constitution and end the unchecked powers of the presidency, to repeal the draconian PTA against peaceful protesters, and release all protesters who are held under the PTA;
- The role of the IMF in ensuring that fundamental human rights protection and the rule of law lie at the core of funding agreements struck with Sri Lanka; and
- Ensuring that parliamentary elections are held and arranged and / or monitored by international bodies to restore confidence in parliamentary democracy.
Registration for this panel event is now open at: https://us06web.zoom.us/webinar/register/WN_ShYx0LyTSh-bjc5cA37asQ