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UN Secretary General slams Sri Lanka’s intimidation of human rights activists

File photograph: UN Secretary General António Guterres.

The United Nations Secretary General António Guterres raised concerns over the Sri Lankan government’s intimidation of human rights activists, including those that had travelled to the UN Human Rights Council earlier this year, labelling any such activities “absolutely unacceptable”.

The report, which examined several states around the world, said Guterres received a “large number of reports of incidents of intimidation and reprisals against individuals or groups seeking to cooperate or having cooperated with the United Nations”.

“As I have repeatedly underlined, this is absolutely unacceptable, and I welcome the support of the General Assembly, Human Rights Council and Security Council, among other intergovernmental bodies, on this issue,” the report added. “Allegations of reprisals and intimidation reinforced the assertion that I made in my last report that repeated incidents can signal patterns. In this context, I remain concerned about the deteriorating environment for those engaging with the United Nations.”

With regards to Sri Lanka, the report said that “in February 2020, the High Commissioner noted that Sri Lankans who had travelled to attend sessions of the Human Rights Council had been questioned about their trips”.

“In March 2020, several participants at the Council’s session reported having been questioned before and after travel, and surveilled during Council sessions and NGO side events,” the report added.

“OHCHR received continued allegations of surveillance of civil society organizations, human rights defenders and families of victims of violations, including repeated visits by police and intelligence services, questioning organizations about, inter alia, their staff and activities related to the UN,” it continued. 

The report comes as Tamil journalists and human rights activists, including families of the disappeared, have come under increasing intimidation from Sri Lankan security forces. In recent months, several activists have faced harassment and even arrests.

The Sri Lankan government hit back at the UN report, stating that “the Government has already publicly refuted these allegations” and claimed "the Security Forces and intelligence agencies are not engaged in monitoring any specific group of people in the country".

“We believe that, for any country compromising its national security interests amidst looming sophistication of strategies of radical and extreme elements world around, is bound to face regrettable consequences” added Colombo. “Hence, the GoSL requests all parties to be mindful of that ground reality in this context.”

See the full text of the UN report here.

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