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South African Tamils voice support for human rights activist and ITJP director threatened by Sri Lanka government

File photograph: Yasmin Sooka, executive director of the International Truth and Justice Project.

Around 50 organisations and individuals based in South Africa, including the South African Tamil Federation (SATF) and the Tamil Federation of Gauteng (TFG) have expressed their support for International Truth and Justice Project's (ITJP) executive director, Yasmin Sooka and expressed their “extreme concern and strenuous condemnation” in light of the defamation case against her, in a statement released last week.

The case against Ms. Sooka lodged by the head of the Intelligence Service (SIS) in Sri Lanka, Major-General Suresh Sallay - accused of human rights abuses - alleges that Ms. Sooka and the ITJP made defamatory remarks against him and he is demanding a compensation of one billion Sri Lankan rupees.  

Read more - Sri Lankan intelligence chief takes legal action against ITJP over 'defamation' claim.

The statement insists that the legal threats “ seek to undermine Ms. Sooka’s long standing reputation as a human rights defender and globally recognised justice advocate” and that the threats were “aimed at intimidating Ms. Sooka and preventing the ITJP exposing human rights abuses during the Sri Lankan civil war”.

Ms. Sooka’s decades-long fight for human rights was highlighted and her immense global contribution to transitional justice, reconciliation and reparations were appreciated and used to reinforce her credibility as a human rights defender in the statement.

While being more prominently known in South Africa for her work on the apartheid-era torture and murder cases, Central African Republic’s sexual abuse allegations and her UN Human Rights Council role in South Sudan, she still remains as an important figure in refuting the Sri Lanka’s notorious government impunity and covering of war criminals.

Following on, the statement points out the freedom and protection needed to be given to all human rights advocators;

“We call on attention to the fundamental principles set forth in the Declaration on the Right and Responsibility of Individuals, Groups and Organs of Society to Promote and Protect Universally Recognized Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms, also known as the UN Declaration on Human Rights Defenders. In particular, we would like to refer to articles 1 and 2 of the Declaration which state that everyone has the right to promote and to strive for the protection and realization of human rights and fundamental freedoms at national and international levels and that each State has a prime responsibility and duty to protect, promote and implement all human rights and fundamental freedoms.”

In response to the claims made by Sallay, the statement maintains that the allegations against Ms. Sooka are not only harmful and offensive to her but towards the “the ITJP and the broader human rights community [and] against many victims and survivors associated with her work” whilst suggesting the accusations by Sallay “are in violation of these fundamental international principles and constitutes an attempt by him to distract Ms Sooka and the ITJP from conducting its legitimate human rights activities.”

Read the full statement here.

In addition to the South African organisation and individuals in support, last week around 250 combined individuals and organisations – including Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch – also signed a letter in support of Ms. Sooka.  

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