In their annual report, Freedom House has maintained that Sri Lanka is only “partly free” as they highlighted systemic discrimination against Tamils, violent threats from Sri Lanka’s security forces and Sinhala Buddhist extremists, forced Sinhalisation and land grabs, as well as a litany of further abuses.
According to Freedom House, Tamils have reported “systematic discrimination in areas including government employment, university education, and access to justice. The report supports this statement highlighting language laws and naturalization procedures Tamils have been subject to. These include unjust detentions under the draconian Prevention of Terrorism Act (PTA); land grabs and military occupations; and forced Sinhalisation.
The report also notes that Tamils and religious minorities are “vulnerable to violence and mistreatment by security forces and Sinhalese Buddhist extremists”.
Freedom House highlights how Sri Lanka’s “Buddhist clergy often pressure governments to pursue certain policies” and that the “Rajapaksa government appears willing to do so, especially when it comes to expanding Buddhist influence in the northeast, which is populated largely by members of various ethnic and religious minority groups”.
They also flag that the established Presidential Task Force for Archaeological Heritage Management in the Eastern Province has “prevented farmers from accessing their fields”.
Surveillance and intimidation
Freedom House notes the continued “state officials’ harassment of civil society activists working on human rights issues in the north and east has deterred open discussion of such subjects among ordinary citizens”.
They further highlight that “demonstrations on sensitive topics like security laws and impunity for forced disappearances are suspected to be subject to surveillance”. This has also been extended to surveillance of places of worship as Freedom House notes:
“Since Gotabaya Rajapaksa was elected, some Christian places of worship in Northern Province have had military personnel stationed nearby, and pastors have claimed that intelligence agents appear to be monitoring certain religious services”.
The report notes muted coverage of corruption and an unwillingness to criticise the military. “Journalists covering human rights violations against members of religious and ethnic minority groups often face harassment, including from the authorities”, Freedom House reports. They highlight the “harassment of Dharisha Bastians, who has covered a number of human rights cases and who has had her equipment seized and her private records leaked”.
The report goes on to note that at universities “most students and faculty feel pressure to avoid discussing alleged war crimes, human rights for marginalized groups, Islamophobia, or extremist activities by Buddhist clergy”.
The report also remarks that numerous “military personnel accused of committing war crimes during the civil war have received prominent positions in the new government, while others remain in senior military posts”.
Reporting on the issue of human trafficking they note that “prosecutions and measures to identify and protect victims remain inadequate”, with “complicity among public officials” remaining a serious problem.
They further note with respect to tea plantation workers that
“While most of the mainly Tamil workers on tea plantations are unionized, employers routinely violate their rights. Migrant workers recruited in Sri Lanka are often exposed to exploitative labour conditions abroad”.
LGBT and gender-based violence
Freedom House also sheds light on issues faced by the LGBT community noting,
“LGBT+ people face societal discrimination, occasional instances of violence, and some official harassment. A rarely enforced article of the penal code prescribes up to 10 years in prison for same-sex sexual activity”.
The report also notes that “sexual harassment and employment discrimination against women is common, as are discriminatory legal provisions”.
Read the full report here