27 March 2012

Sri Lanka: Smear campaign against Ms. Sunila Abeysekara, Ms. Nimalka Fernando, Dr. Paikiasothy Saravanamuttu and Mr. Sunanda Deshapriya

LKA 002 / 0312 / OBS 028

Smear campaign / Threats / Fear for the physical integrity / Reprisals following cooperation with UN human rights bodies

Sri Lanka

March 27, 2012


The Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders, a joint programme of the World Organisation Against Torture (OMCT) and the International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH), requests your urgent intervention in the following situation in Sri Lanka.

Brief description of the information:

The Observatory has been informed by reliable sources about the smear campaign in the State media against Ms. Sunila Abeysekara, Ms. Nimalka Fernando, Dr. Paikiasothy Saravanamuttu and Mr. Sunanda Deshapriya, human rights defenders who are actively engaged in the fight against impunity for past and present human rights violations in Sri Lanka [1], following their participation in the 19th session of the United Nations Human Rights Council in Geneva, Switzerland.

According to the information received, in the past weeks, a smear campaign has intensified in the State media in Sri Lanka against Ms. Sunila Abeysekara, Ms. Nimalka Fernando, Dr. Paikiasothy Saravanamuttu and Mr. Sunanda Deshapriya, at a time when a resolution on “promoting reconciliation and accountability in Sri Lanka” was tabled at the UN Human Rights Council.

In particular, Rupavahini, the State television channel, the Independent Television Network (ITN) and the Lake House group of newspapers, all of which are under direct State control, used the photographs of the defenders, portrayed them as supporters of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Elam (LTTE) and accused them of receiving money from the Tamil Diaspora and of working against the interests of the country to obtain “dollars” [2]. These harassments have made them vulnerable to physical attacks.

Yet, what appears as the Government of Sri Lanka’s strategy to resist the resolution on Sri Lanka was rather counter-productive, as the resolution was finally adopted on March 22, 2012, after much focus was drawn on the attacks and acts of intimidation of Sri Lankan human rights defenders. In particular, on March 23, 2012, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights expressed her concern about the “unprecedented and totally unacceptable level of threats, harassment and intimidation directed at Sri Lankan activists who had travelled to Geneva to engage in the debate, including by members of the 71-member official Sri Lankan government delegation”, and “warn[ed] that there must be no reprisals against Sri Lankan human rights defenders in the aftermath of yesterday’s adoption by the Human Rights Council of a resolution on Sri Lanka” [3].

Furthermore, on March 23, 2012, speaking at a protest against the UN resolution on Sri Lanka, Minister of Public Relations Mervyn Silva named Dr. Paikiasothy Saravanamuttu, Dr. Nimalka Fernando and Mr. Sunanda Deshapriya as “traitors” to their country, and threatened to “break their limbs” in public if they were to dare to set foot in the country. Similarly, Media Minister Keheliya Rambukwella reportedly said to the State run Dinamina newspaper that human rights defenders present in Geneva “betrayed the motherland for dollars after enjoying free education and health services,” and that “they are worse than the foreign elements”, adding that “there is no need whatsoever to fall down on knees before the international community” [4].

The Observatory expresses its deepest concern about the threats and smear campaign against Ms. Sunila Abeysekara, Ms. Nimalka Fernando, Dr. Paikiasothy Saravanamuttu and Mr. Sunanda Deshapriya, which seem to merely aim at undermining the legitimacy of their peaceful activities, and calls upon the authorities of Sri Lanka to guarantee in all circumstances their physical and psychological integrity.

Actions requested:

Please write to the authorities of Sri Lanka urging them to:

i. Guarantee in all circumstances the physical and psychological integrity of Ms. Sunila Abeysekara, Ms. Nimalka Fernando, Dr. Paikiasothy Saravanamuttu and Mr. Sunanda Deshapriya, as well as of all human rights defenders in Sri Lanka;

ii. Order an immediate, thorough, effective and impartial investigation into the above-mentioned events, the result of which must be made public, in order to identify all those responsible, bring them before a civil competent and impartial tribunal and apply to them the penal sanctions provided by the law;

iii. Repeal the above-mentioned slandering statements formulated by high Sri Lankan officials and publicly affirm the legitimacy of the work of human rights defenders;

iv. Put an end to all acts harassment against Ms. Sunila Abeysekara, Ms. Nimalka Fernando, Dr. Paikiasothy Saravanamuttu and Mr. Sunanda Deshapriya as well as against all human rights defenders in Sri Lanka and ensure in all circumstances that they are able to carry out their peaceful activities without hindrances;

v. Conform with the provisions of the UN Declaration on Human Rights Defenders, adopted by the General Assembly of the United Nations on December 9, 1998, in particular :

- its Article 1, which provides that “everyone has the right, individually and in association with others, to promote and to strive for the protection and realisation of human rights and fundamental freedoms at the national and international levels”,

- Article 12(1) that provides “everyone has the right, individually and in association with others, to participate in peaceful activities against violations of human rights and fundamental freedoms”,

- as well as Article 12.2, which provides that “the State shall take all necessary measures to ensure the protection by the competent authorities of everyone, individually or in association with others, against any violence, threats, retaliation, de facto or de jure adverse discrimination, pressure or any other arbitrary action as a consequence of his or her legitimate exercise of the rights referred to in the present Declaration”;

vi. Ensure in all circumstances respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms in accordance with international human rights standards and international instruments ratified by Sri Lanka.

Addresses:

* President Mahinda Rajapakse, Presidential Secretariat, C/- Office of the President, Temple Trees 150, Galle Road, Colombo 3, Sri Lanka, Fax: +94 11 472100 / +94 11 2446657 / +94 11 243 0590, Email: secretary@presidentsoffice.lk / lalith@icta.lk / priu@presidentsoffice.lk / gosl@presidentsl.org

* D.M. Jayaratne, Prime Minister of Sri Lanka, No. 58, Sir Ernest De Silva Mawatha, Colombo 07, Sri Lanka. Fax no: +94 112 575454. Email: slpm@slnet.lk, slpm@pmoffice.gov.lk

* Mr. Keheliya Rambukwella, Minister of Mass Media and Information, 63, Kirulappona Mawatha, Polhengoda, Colombo 05, Sri Lanka. Fax no: +94 11 251 4352. Email: govds@nationalsecurity.lk

* Justice Priyantha R. P. Perera, Chairman, Human Rights Commission of Sri Lanka, 118 Barnes Place, Colombo 7, Sri Lanka. Fax +94 2694924 / +94112696470 / +94112689558, Hotline +94 2689064. Email: sechrc@sltnet.lk

* Her Excellency Ms. Kshenuka Senewiratne, Ambassador, Permanent Mission of Sri Lanka to the United Nations in Geneva, 56 rue De Moillebeau, 5th Floor, 1211 Geneva 19, Switzerland, Fax: + 41-22 734 90 84, E-mail: mission@lankamission.org

* Embassy of Sri Lanka in Brussels, 27 rue Jules Lejeune, 1050 Ixelles, Belgium. Tel: + 32 2 344 53 94/ + 32 2 344 55 85. Fax: + 32 2 344 67 37. Email: secretariat@srilankaembassy.be

Please also write to the diplomatic mission or embassy of Sri Lanka in your respective country.

****

Geneva-Paris, March 27, 2012

Kindly inform us of any action undertaken quoting the code of this appeal in your reply.

The Observatory, an OMCT and FIDH venture, is dedicated to the protection of Human Rights Defenders and aims to offer them concrete support in their time of need.

To contact the Observatory, call the emergency line:

· Email: Appeals@fidh-omct.org

· Tel and fax OMCT: + 41 22 809 49 39 / 41 22 809 49 29

· Tel and fax FIDH: +33 (0) 1 43 55 25 18 / 01 43 55 18 80
Last Update 27 March 2012

Footnotes

[1Ms. Sunila Abeysekara is the Executive Director of INFORM Human Rights Documentation, Ms. Nimalka Fernando is the President of the International Movement against All Forms of Discrimination and Racism (IMADR), Dr. Paikiasothy Saravanamuttu is the Executive Director of the Centre for Policy Alternatives (CPA), and Mr. Sunanda Deshapriya was the Head of the Free Media Movement before going into exile in 2009 and now edits the “Sri Lanka Brief”, a website about human rights in Sri Lanka, and maintains a blog site that gathers information about human rights violations, with a particular focus on freedom of expression.

[2See The Daily News, Pakiasothy, Sunila and Nimalka working with LTTE rump, March 14, 2012, http://www.dailynews.lk/2012/03/14/news11.asp

[3See Office of the High Commissioner on Human Rights (OHCHR), Briefing note on Sri Lanka / human rights defenders, March 23, 2012,

http://www.ohchr.org/EN/NewsEvents/Pages/DisplayNews.aspx?NewsID=12008&LangID=E

[4See Sri Lanka Mirror, Keheliya speaks up, March 24, 2012, http://english.srilankamirror.com/2012/03/keheliya-speaks-up/

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