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Freedom House report says Sri Lanka worsening

In their latest report on Sri Lanka, Freedom House has declared that Sri Lanka has slid down their scale for accountability, civil liberties, rule of law and transparency.

The “Countries at the Crossroads” report by the NGO, found that Sri Lanka fell down their rankings in all four areas from 2010

Extracts from the report have been reproduced below. See the full report here.

Accountability and Public Voice

"In addition, Tamils in both the national and parliamentary elections experienced problems exercising their right to vote. Many internally displaced Tamils did not have national ID cards, could not obtain them, or could not travel to their home village and were therefore unable to vote. During the war, government security forces used the confiscation of national ID cards as a way to control the travel of Tamils."

"President Rajapakse has increasingly tried to centralize power, especially judicial power in the executive branch, and has refused to obey several related Supreme Court rulings."

"Basil is believed to be the president’s most trusted advisor, while Gotabaya, who was the chief architect of the defeat of the LTTE, is in charge of the nation’s security and intelligence apparatus. He has been accused of allegedly ordering the murder of opposition politicians and journalists as well as Tamil civilians during the war."

Civil Liberties

"The government’s campaign against the LTTE led to a large number of human rights violations. The most serious of these violations ended with the defeat of the LTTE. However, certain kinds of abuse and human rights violations have continued. The Sri Lankan security forces have a long history of torturing and using excessive force against detainees and there has been no decline in the use of torture against LTTE suspects over the last two years. In addition there has been a sharp increase in the “kidnappings” of Tamils.  Human Rights Watch has repeatedly documented the use of torture against Tamil suspects and of Tamils deported from western countries."

"In addition, the security forces routinely target Tamils for extra scrutiny and restrictions on movement. In 2011, the government expanded the number of military stationed in the Tamil regions, especially the Jaffna peninsula. Tamils traveling to Sinhalese areas are routinely required to register with the police. No such registration requirement exists for Sinhalese citizens. In both Jaffna and Batticaloa, police registration of traveling Tamils began in 2011. As part of this registration process, the security forces have been interviewing Tamils in the north and east about their relatives living outside of the country. This effort has included photo registration as well. In a March, 2012 report, the International Crisis Group outlined the extent of the military control of northern Sri Lanka. The report contends that Tamil civilians are subject to registration by the military, intimidation from government controlled Tamil militia and violent suppression of dissent. The report argues that the Sri Lankan military has “become an army of occupation physically and psychologically.”"

"Among other things, the regulations, along with the PTA, allowed the unrestricted arrest and detention of terrorist suspects, powers that were applied disproportionately to Tamils."

"A number of other war era rules and regulations continue to be enforced. For example, some of the strict wartime rules limiting sea fishing along the Jaffna coast have been reinstituted, seriously impacting the income of many Jaffna fishermen. According to some reports, the current restrictions are related to efforts aimed at allowing Sinhalese fishermen to fish in the northern waters. The government has also continued to set up security checkpoints throughout the country. While the number of checkpoints has reduced from wartime levels, Tamils are still harassed at the checkpoints and are sometimes made to pay bribes."

"In a bizarre episode, Tamil civilians were terrorized by an outbreak of “grease devil” attacks in August and September 2011... Almost all of the attacks occurred in the north and east and targeted Tamils and Muslims. Hundreds of attacks were reported. Many of them involved the attacker slashing the victim and fondling women, although there were also at least five deaths reported and hundreds were seriously injured or raped. In a number of cases, the attackers were chased and found safety in army, navy, or police camps or posts. Very few attackers were ever arrested. Almost all of the grease devil arrests were the result of vigilantes chasing the attackers. Theories abounded about the reason for the attacks. Most villagers accused the army for the attacks and a group composed of members of the Tamil National Alliance and members of parliament met with the president over the attacks on September 8, 2011.The attacks stopped after the meeting with the president."

"Another religious issue has been the construction of Buddhist shrines throughout the north and east of the country since the end of the war. These shrines have been built in areas where there has been no historical presence of Buddhists. Most of these shrines were built with the assistance of the military forces stationed in the north and east. Coinciding with the construction of the shrines has been an increased effort to “discover” archeological evidence of the Sinhalese Buddhist nature of these areas, despite the fact that most of the north and east have been populated by Tamil Hindus and Muslims for over a millennium."

Rule of Law

"Under Sri Lankan law, defendants are presumed innocent until proven guilty, have the right to counsel, and are guaranteed a public trial in criminal cases. Nevertheless, due process rights are often denied in practice, particularly for displaced Tamils."

"Another problem has been the seizure, on security grounds, of private land held by Tamils. During the war, large tracts of land in the north and the east were declared “high security zones” (HSZs) and were taken without compensation by the security forces. After the war, the government announced efforts to resolve issues related to wartime seizure of land as HSZs. In September 2011, the government announced that it was going to legally acquire or exchange land it holds in the HSZs. However, in early 2012, the government began an expansion of military bases in the north and, despite the assurances that land would be returned or that owners would be compensated, large tracts of land continue to be held by the security forces."