With the declaration, on 13 July 2022, of a State of Emergency being announced, the Sri Lankan Security Forces and other authorities should respect the rights of protesters, Human Rights Watch (HRW) stated yesterday (14)

 Issuing a statement on the current developments in Sri Lanka, HRW emphasised that all Security Forces need to uphold fundamental principles on the use of force and act in accordance with fundamental human rights.

Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe called the protesters a “fascist threat” and said he had imposed a state of emergency and curfew to regain control of public buildings and “bring the situation back to normal.” The emergency regulations, which provide the security forces and other authority’s special powers, have not been published. While international law permits the suspension of certain rights during an emergency, protections against torture, excessive use of force, and other fundamental rights can never be violated, the HRW added.

Prime Minister Wickremesinghe, as acting President, declared the emergency as well as a curfew in the Western Province, which includes the capital, Colombo, after the departing President, Gotabaya Rajapaksa, fled the country following months of an unprecedented political and economic crisis. 

 “Emergency regulations cannot be used to ban all protests or to allow the security forces to use excessive force against protesters,” Meenakshi Ganguly, South Asia Director at Human Rights Watch, said. 

“Past emergencies in Sri Lanka raise grave concerns that the Military and Police will use the new declaration to abuse activists and others protesting against the government,” she noted.

“Wickremesinghe announced that a committee consisting the Chief of Defence Staff, Army, Navy, and Air Force Commanders, and the Inspector General of Police had been appointed to “restore order,” and given broad authority to act independently.

“Armed military personnel and helicopters were deployed at several locations in Colombo on 13 July, as protesters overran some offices, including the government broadcasting station and the Prime Minister’s office, and there were clashes outside parliament. Police used teargas in some places to contain the protests. In recent weeks security personnel have used excessive force against protesters, as well as against people in line to buy fuel.

“Sri Lanka’s international partners should urgently call upon the Sri Lankan authorities to respect human rights in resolving the political and economic crisis. They should also press the Sri Lankan authorities to investigate and prosecute official corruption, which has contributed to the crisis and should freeze assets held abroad if they are suspected to have been obtained from corruption in Sri Lanka,” it added.

The HRW also emphasised that the UN leadership should communicate to the Sri Lankan Government and Military as soon as possible that abuses against protesters are unacceptable and will result in the suspension of Sri Lanka’s UN peacekeeping role. “The IMF should tell Wickremesinghe that a stable government with public legitimacy is required to carry out a programme that addresses both the immediate needs of Sri Lankans and the root causes of the economic crisis.”