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Sri Lanka: UN Experts deeply concerned at suppression of criticism and unabated impunity

9 February 2009

GENEVA – Ten independent UN Experts* on Monday expressed their deep concern at the deteriorating human rights situation in Sri Lanka, particularly the shrinking space for critical voices and the fear of reprisals against victims and witnesses which – together with a lack of effective investigations and prosecutions – has led to unabated impunity for human rights violations.

The UN Experts also unreservedly condemned this morning’s suicide attack, allegedly by a female Tamil Tiger, which reportedly killed 28 and injured about 90 civilians and soldiers in Mullaitivu district in north-east Sri Lanka.

Speaking of the general human rights situation in the country, Ms. Margaret Sekaggya, the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders, said “A climate of fear and intimidation reigns over those defending human rights, especially over journalists and lawyers.” The safety of defenders has worsened considerably over the past year, most significantly following denunciations of human rights abuses committed by parties to the conflict, of corruption by state officials and of impunity. Serious and fatal aggression against journalists and the media are now a common occurrence as witnessed in the killing of the journalist Lasantha Wickremetunga and recent attacks on major media outlets.

The fighting in the North of the country has resulted in hundreds of thousands of civilians being internally displaced and trapped. The UN Experts share the deep concern of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights over the rapidly deteriorating conditions facing those civilians and the significant number of civilian casualties. They also deplore the restrictions on humanitarian access to conflict areas which exacerbate the ongoing serious violations of the most basic economic and social rights.

Notwithstanding the severity of the abuses in areas of conflict, the Experts wish to highlight that the problem is deeper and more endemic. The conflict deflects attention from the impunity which has been allowed to go unabated throughout Sri Lanka. The fear of reprisals against victims and witnesses, together with a lack of effective investigations and prosecutions, has led to a circle of impunity that must be broken. The Experts continue to receive disturbing reports of torture, extra-judicial killings and enforced disappearances throughout the country.

The UN Experts strongly urge the Government of Sri Lanka to immediately take measures to ensure that effective remedial action can be pursued in support of the victims of human rights abuses and their families. They also highlight that thorough reforms of the general system of governance are needed to prevent the reoccurrence of further serious human rights violations. The Experts call for an immediate end to impunity and to refrain from any reprisals. To strengthen the rule of law and to help ensure the safety and protection of the human rights of all persons in Sri Lanka, they continue to extend their offer of assistance to the Government.

* The Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders, Ms. Margaret Sekaggya; the Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of the right to freedom of opinion and expression, Mr. Frank La Rue; the Chairperson of the Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances, Mr. Santiago Corcuera Cabezut; the Chairperson of the Working Group on Arbitrary Detention, Ms. Manuela Carmena Castrillo; the Special Rapporteur on the right of everyone to the enjoyment of the highest attainable standard of physical and mental health, Mr. Anand Grover; the Special Rapporteur on the independence of judges and lawyers, Mr. Leandro Despouy; the Special Rapporteur on the right to food, Mr. Olivier de Schutter; the Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions, Mr. Philip Alston; the Special Rapporteur on torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment, Mr. Manfred Nowak; and the Special Rapporteur on adequate housing as a component of the right to an adequate standard of living, and on the right to non-discrimination in this context Ms. Raquel Rolnik.

For further information or interviews, call: + 41 22 9179151, or email: ototh@ohchr.org.