Human Lives Human Rights: The security forces in Sri Lanka carried out a pre-dawn attack on the peaceful protesters in central Colombo.
Protestors were beaten and assaulted. The area was blocked, preventing access to media, lawyers and activists. According to reports, more than 50 were injured and 9 people have been arrested.
Rights groups say that it is shameful that the new government resorted to such violent tactics within hours of coming to power.
President Ranil Wickremesinghe, who took office on July 21, should immediately order the security forces to cease all unlawful use of force against protesters, release everyone arbitrarily detained, and investigate and appropriately prosecute those responsible for abuses.
Foreign governments and multilateral agencies that have sought to address Sri Lanka’s economic crisis should emphasize to the new government that respect for human rights is critical for economic recovery.
The protesters have a right to demonstrate peacefully. Excessive use of force, intimidation and unlawful arrests seem to be an endlessly repetitive pattern in which the Sri Lankan authorities respond to dissent and peaceful assembly.
These repressive actions clearly do not meet Sri Lanka’s obligations under international human rights law including with regard to people’s freedom of expression.
At around 01:00 local time (19:30 GMT Thursday), the military and police armed with riot gear violently descended on the protest camps, indiscriminately beating and assaulting everyone and everything in their way, dismantling the tents in which protestors had been sleeping for over three months.
All access points to the protest site were blocked ahead of the raid. Eyewitness accounts and media reports say that the military attacked many protesters, especially those trying to film the developments. Soldiers broke apart ‘one tent after the other’ in the stretch leading to Presidential Secretariat and dismantled the protest site.
An eyewitness interviewed early morning of Friday at the attack site recounted, “There were about 200-300 demonstrators at that time, I would say. Suddenly (the forces) came out from (behind) the barricades and totally destroyed and broke down the tents. There were enough police and military to swamp the area. The police and especially the army beat up peaceful protesters.”
“(The military) did these acts in anger. We saw some of the demonstrators engaged in (the protest) had brought their guitars. We saw them take those and smash it on iron fences. We saw them beat up people… The crackdown was brutal.” Video footage shared by media also show unarmed individuals/protesters being assaulted by security forces.
Since the beginning of 2022, Sri Lanka has experienced an escalating economic crisis and the government has defaulted on its foreign loans. The United Nations warned that 5.7 million people “require immediate humanitarian assistance.” With many Sri Lankans experiencing extreme shortages of essentials including food and fuel, peaceful protests began in March.
Justice and accountability from the Sri Lankan authorities is the need of the hour as Sri Lanka looks towards stability ahead of an IMF bailout to address the economic crisis.
Amidst appeals to the international community to assist Sri Lanka, rights groups call on the authorities to take action immediately to protect the rights of those peacefully protesting at GotaGoGama in Colombo and in other places in Sri Lanka. The charges against all the protesters must be dropped as they were detained solely for peacefully exercising their human rights.