Sri Lanka: Anatomy of a crackdown

Akila Jayawardana / Nurphoto / Nurphoto via AFP

Paris, 31 January 2023. In a new report, the International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH) documents the relentless repression of the sustained nationwide protests that began in Sri Lanka in early 2022, amid the country’s worst political and economic crisis in decades.

The 60-page report, titled, "Anatomy of a crackdown - The repression of Sri Lanka’s aragalaya protest movement" provides a comprehensive record of the serious and systematic human rights violations committed by the military, police, and pro-government elements against the overwhelmingly peaceful protesters. Authorities also targeted protest observers, including journalists, lawyers, and bystanders.

The protest movement, called aragalaya (“struggle” in Sinhala), was triggered by the government’s protracted economic mismanagement and the growing public discontent over corruption and nepotism. The protests, which initially started in the country’s capital, Colombo, quickly spread across all nine provinces of Sri Lanka. Some protests continued in Colombo in 2023.

"In their crackdown on the aragalaya, Sri Lankan authorities systematically violated international human rights law and standards with complete impunity"

Adilur Rahman Khan, FIDH Secretary-General

"President Wickremesinghe’s recent pledge to use the military and emergency powers to prevent the resurgence of a protest movement should sound alarm bells. It is imperative the international community remains vigilant and presses the government to respect and protect the rights of protesters", said Adilur Rahman Khan.

The most disturbing pattern of violations of the right to freedom of peaceful assembly was the authorities’ frequent use of unnecessary and/or disproportionate force - including live ammunition, teargas, and water cannons - to disperse peaceful assemblies. In addition, police routinely and arbitrarily arrested aragalaya protest organisers and participants and subjected many of them to a systematic campaign of harassment, including judicial harassment, intimidation and surveillance.

Authorities also imposed unnecessary and disproportionate restrictions on assemblies through the use of emergency powers and the abuse of laws, including the draconian Prevention of Terrorism Act (PTA). Amid these violations, members of law enforcement agencies have not been held accountable for abuses they committed against aragalaya protesters.

This report, which has been produced with the support of the Sri Lankan non-governmental organisation Center for Human Rights and Development (CHRD), is based on interviews conducted between August and October 2022 by FIDH with a total of 42 people who were involved in the protest movement.

The report is released ahead of Sri Lanka’s fourth Universal Periodic Review (UPR), which will take place on 1 February 2023 in Geneva, Switzerland. The UPR is a UN-backed peer review of the human rights record of all UN member states. In July 2022, in their joint submission for the UPR, FIDH and CHRD detailed numerous human rights violations, including violations of the right to freedom of peaceful assembly.

Read the report:

Read more