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UK condemns intimidation of civil society activists

The United Kingdom’s (UK) Permanent Representative to the UN Barbara Woodward expressed her country’s condemnation of “any act of intimidation or reprisal, whether online or offline, against individuals and groups who cooperate, seek to cooperate, or have cooperated with the UN.” 

She made this statement at the Interactive Dialogue with the UN Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders which took place on Thursday, October 14.

This comes two weeks after a cluster of human rights organisations issued a statement together calling for an end to “arbitrary arrests, reprisals against human rights defenders and activists advocating for education rights” in Sri Lanka. 

Condemning the growing suppression of opposition voices in the island, prominent human rights groups including the Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch among others, observed the following;

“Sri Lankan authorities have responded to the expression of dissent, protets and the exercise of the rights to freedom of expression and peaceful assembly with arbitrary arrests, intimidation, and a campaign of misinformation aimed at discrediting the work of students, teachers, academics and union activists.”

The statement also expressed its deep concern for the mental and physical health of the human rights activists who have either been forcibly detained in prison or quarantined at a COVID-19 facility by the Rajapaksa government without permission from the courts. 

The UK’s representative to the UN also urged member states in her speech to cooperate with the UN Assistant Secretary General for Human Rights Ilze Brands Kehris. 

Kehris presented the UN’s annual report on reprisals to the Human Rights Council late last month in Geneva which noted that senior government officials in Sri Lanka labelled civil society activists who cooperate with the UN as “traitors”. The report also reiterated the Special Rapporteur's observation on February 2021; 

“a pattern of intensified surveillance and harassment of civil society organizations, human rights defenders and victims appears to have intensified over the past year, including of those who supported the implementation of Human Rights Council resolution 30/1”.

The latest series of reports and statements on Sri Lanka signals an alarming increase in human rights abuses in the island. In addition to the militarisation of the North-East, the traditional Tamil homeland, intimidation and surveillance of civil society activists, stifling of the free press and forcible detention of protesters run rampant. 

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