Sri Lanka: Human rights at risk as violence surges ahead of presidential election

Amidst a surge in election-related harassment and violence ahead of the 8 January presidential poll, Sri Lankan authorities must ensure that people’s right to political participation is respected, Amnesty International said.

“The growing harassment and violence against those campaigning in the coming elections is deeply troubling – the authorities have a responsibility to ensure that all people in Sri Lanka can exercise their rights to political participation and freedom of expression without facing threats or violence, and that on election day they can vote without fear,” said David Griffiths, Amnesty International’s Deputy Asia Pacific Director.

“Reports of a potential organized plan to obstruct voters on election day – allegedly orchestrated by the government through the military – is also a matter of grave concern.”

Campaigning for the presidential elections has been marked by intimidation and violence, targeting mainly opposition supporters. In some of the latest incidents on 5 January 2015, three opposition activists were shot and wounded by unidentified gunmen in the southern town of Kahawatte, while two prominent civil society activists found severed heads of dogs outside their homes.

As of 6 January, the independent Centre for Monitoring Election Violence had recorded at least 237 “major incidents” during the campaigning period, including dozens of cases of assaults, intimidation or damage to property. Opposition leaders have also accused the government of planning to use the military to block people from voting in several regions across the country.

Human rights agenda

Ahead of the election, Amnesty International has published a human rights agenda outlining seven key issues the next administration should prioritise. These include the repeal of the 18th constitutional amendment and the repressive Prevention of Terrorism Act; removing restrictions on freedom of expression and association; and ending attacks on religious minorities. 

“More than five years after the conflict’s end, human rights violations are still endemic in Sri Lanka. The new administration should make a priority of tackling entrenched concerns – the elections are a chance that must not be missed to turn the corner on human rights,” said David Griffiths.

Note to editors

The full human rights agenda is available here: http://www.amnesty.org/en/library/asset/ASA37/015/2014/en/d2b2ba0b-c413-…

Amnesty International spokespeople are available from London on the Sri Lankan elections. Possible talking points include:

Election-related violence and harassmentRepealing abusive laws, including the 18th constitutional amendment and the Prevention of Terrorism ActRestrictions on free speechDiscrimination against ethnic and religious minoritiesThe justice system and rule of lawJustice for past human rights violations

To arrange an interview, please contact: Olof Blomqvist, Asia Pacific Press Officer, [email protected], + 44 (0) 20 7413 587, +44 (0) 790 4397 956

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