UN urges authorities to ensure every necessary effort to prevent violence during protests

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The United Nations (UN) has urged Sri Lankan authorities to show restraint in the policing of the mass demonstrations scheduled to take place tomorrow (09).

Issuing a statement, Spokesperson for the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Ravina Shamdasan noted that ahead of what is expected to be a large demonstration in Colombo tomorrow, authorities are required to ensure every necessary effort to prevent violence.

Further, the relevant authorities were called upon to give clear instructions to the security forces that human rights defenders and journalists have a right to monitor and report on the demonstrations and therefore should be protected in the exercise of these functions and not obstructed in any way.

Organisers of the protests and their supporters have also, however, been urged to engage in peaceful means of protest and not to impede essential medical or humanitarian services.

“The worsening economic situation has led to increasing tensions in the last weeks. Reports have been received of several confrontations between individuals and members of the police force and the armed forces at fuel stations where thousands of desperate members of the public have queued for hours and sometimes days.

Police have used tear gas and water cannon at times in an unnecessary and disproportionate manner. On occasions, armed forces have also fired live ammunition. All Sri Lankans have the right of freedom of expression, peaceful assembly and the right to participate in public affairs, which are particularly important in critical phases of the nation’s life. Under applicable international law, gatherings can only be dispersed in exceptional cases, with use of force a last resort where absolutely necessary and proportionate.

While we recognise the challenges that the police and armed forces face – including instances of attack on themselves – the Government needs to give strict instructions to the police and armed forces to desist from violence in dealing with the public and to act with utmost restraint.

As a general rule, the military should not be used to police assemblies. Where, in exceptional circumstances, members of the military carry out law enforcement functions they are bound by international norms and standards and must remain fully subordinate to civilian authorities and accountable under civilian law.

The people of Sri Lanka are already suffering enormously and live in continuing uncertainty of how they can meet their basic needs including access to the right to food, health and education. They have a right to peacefully protest to demand a better life and an end to economic and social hardship.

We also repeat the High Commissioner’s call for open and genuine dialogue to address the root causes of the crisis and grievances of the population”, the statement read.