Sri Lanka: Obstacles to the freedom of association, assembly and expression

Urgent Appeal

LKA 002 / 0714 / OBS 064
Obstacles to freedom
of association and expression
Sri Lanka
July 9, 2014

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 situation:

The Observatory has received worrying information from reliable sources about obstacles to the freedom of association, assembly and expression in Sri Lanka.

According to the information received, on July 1, 2014, the National Secretariat for Non-Governmental Organisations (NGOs), which operates under the Ministry of Defence and Urban Development, issued a warning with immediate effect to all NGOs in the country, aiming to prevent so-called “unauthorised activities”. According to the National Secretariat, such activities include “press conferences, workshops, training for journalists, and dissemination of press releases which is beyond [the NGOs’] mandate”.

The Observatory recalls that the right to freedom of association, assembly and expression, including the right to carry out human rights activities such as conferences, workshops, trainings or issuing press releases, is a fundamental and universal right enshrined in numerous international treaties and standards, especially Article 22 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR). While this right may be restricted by the Government, especially for purposes of transparency and good governance, any restrictions must always be “prescribed by law”, “necessary in a democratic society”, and respect the primacy of the general interest and the principle of proportionality (Article 22.2 of ICCPR and case-law of the United Nations Human Rights Committee). It should be emphasised that freedom shall remain the rule, while restrictions should always be an exception admissible under the above-mentioned conditions.

The Observatory is concerned by these attempts by the Sri Lankan Government to curtail the freedom of association, assembly, and expression of human rights defenders , which seem to be aimed at undermining the legitimacy of their peaceful activities. The Observatory recalls that Sri Lankan authorities have the responsibility to ensure the protection of human rights in general and of rights related to freedoms of expression, assembly and association in particular.

Accordingly, the Observatory calls upon the authorities of Sri Lanka to withdraw the above-mentioned notice immediately and to put an immediate end to the harassment against all human rights defenders and NGOs in the country, in conformity with international human rights standards.

Action requested:

Please write to the authorities in Sri Lanka, urging them to:

i. Publicly withdraw the above-mentioned notice from the National Secretariat for NGOs, and affirm the legitimacy of the work of human rights defenders and organisations in Sri Lanka;

ii. Ensure in all circumstances that all human rights defenders and NGOs in Sri Lanka are able to carry out their legitimate activities without any hindrance or fear of reprisals;

iii. 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, especially regarding the following Articles:
 Article 1: 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 5 (a): For the purpose of promoting and protecting human rights and fundamental freedoms, everyone has the right, individually and in association with others, at the national and international levels (a) To meet or assemble peacefully;
 Article 12.2: the State shall take all necessary measures to ensure the protection by the competent authorities of everyone, individually and 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 his or her rights [...];

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


· 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:
· 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:
· Mr. Sarath Palitha Fernando, Attorney General, Attorney General’s Department. Colombo 12, Sri Lanka. Fax: (+94) 11 2 436421.
· Justice Priyantha R.P. Perera, Chairman, Human Rights Commission of Sri Lanka. No: 165 Kynsey Road, Borella, Colombo 8, Sri Lanka. Fax: (+94) 11 2 694924. Email:
· H.E. Mr. Ravinatha P. Aryasinha, Ambassador, Permanent Mission of Sri Lanka to the United Nations in Geneva, 56 rue de Moillebeau, 1211 Geneva 19. Switzerland. Fax: +41 22 73 49 084. E-mail:

Please also write to the diplomatic missions or embassies of Sri Lanka in your respective country.

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