United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, Michelle Bachelet yesterday (10) condemned the violence that erupted on 9 May and urged authorities to conduct independent, comprehensive, and transparent investigations into all attacks.
“It is critical that those proven culpable, especially those inciting or organising violence, face justice,” she said.
She expressed her deep concern about the escalation of violence in Sri Lanka and urged authorities, including military personnel deployed in support of Police Officers, to exercise restraint in policing the situation and ensure that measures adopted in the context of the state of emergency comply with international human rights norms and are not used to stifle dissent or hinder peaceful protest.
She also raised concerns over the supporters of the former Prime Minister attacking peaceful protestors in Colombo on 9 May and the subsequent mob violence against members of the ruling party.
She called on the authorities in Sri Lanka to prevent further violence and urged restraint and meaningful dialogue to address the grievances of the population amid the severe economic crisis in the country.
Seven people have died during the incidents – including a Member of Parliament and two local officials, over 250 were injured, and the properties of others were destroyed by arson throughout the country, she said.
The High Commissioner also called on the authorities to prevent further violence and to protect the right to peaceful assembly.
The State has a responsibility to ensure the right to life and to exercise due diligence to protect the lives of individuals against violence by private individuals or entities.
The severe economic crisis has made daily life a struggle for most Sri Lankans. It has also highlighted grievances, which require national dialogue and deeper structural reforms, Bachelet said. It has brought together people from various ethnicities and religions to demand greater transparency, accountability and participation in democratic life.
“I urge the Sri Lankan Government to engage in meaningful dialogue with all parts of society to find a pathway forward and address the socio-economic challenges people, especially vulnerable and marginalised groups, are facing. I call on the Government to address the broader political and systemic root causes that have long perpetuated discrimination and undermined human rights.”
Bachelet further said her office will continue to closely watch and report on the situation in the country. She expressed hope that Sri Lanka would find a peaceful solution to the current crisis to alleviate people’s suffering, strengthen democracy and human rights, and prevent further violence.
Meanwhile, Human Rights Watch (HRW) condemned the clashes and the attacks on the peaceful anti-government protest sites in Colombo. “The Government should uphold the right to peaceful protest, ensure that the Security Forces’ response to public disorder is proportionate and rejects excessive force, and promptly investigate and appropriately prosecute acts of violence.
Witness accounts and video footage show government supporters attacking the protesters with clubs and other weapons and setting fire to tents. Hours later, Mahinda Rajapaksa resigned as Prime Minister.
“The attack on peaceful protesters by Sri Lankan government supporters has sparked a dangerous escalation, increasing the risk of further deadly violence and other abuses,” said Meenakshi Ganguly, South Asia Director at Human Rights Watch. “It is vitally important for the Security Forces to fully respect the right to peaceful assembly, and for those responsible for the violence to be held to account.”
Kasumi Ranasinghe Arachchige, a protester who was at Galle Face Green when the attack occurred, said Police Officers at the scene, who had access to a water cannon truck, “retreated” when government supporters attacked protesters with clubs and sticks. “They [government supporters] started destroying everything,” she said, describing damage to tents and other facilities, including temporary showers and a small library. “It seemed as if they knew what and who to look for.”
It was noted that over 150 people have been injured and at least five killed in different incidents, including the attack on Galle Face, and the Government has imposed a nationwide curfew. The Human Rights Commission of Sri Lanka and the Bar Association, as well as foreign diplomats, condemned the attack on protesters and called for an impartial investigation.