Be mindful of stark reality, Sri Lanka requests UN special rapporteur

ECONOMYNEXT – Sri Lanka has requested the United Nations Special Rapporteur to be mindful of the “stark reality” of “looming sophistication” of strategies employed by radical and extreme elements when making recommendations related to the country’s security sector reforms.

The Government of Sri Lanka (GoSL) made this remark in a formal response to UN Special Rapporteur Clément N Voule at the 44th session of the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) last week.

“Apart from operating routine security networks in the interest of national security, particularly after the devastating Easter Sunday terrorist attacks, the Security Forces and intelligence agencies are not engaged in monitoring any specific group of people in the country. We believe 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. Hence, the GoSL requests the Special Rapporteur to be mindful of that stark reality when making recommendations related to security sector reforms,” the GoSL said.

Sri Lanka’s statement came in the wake of concerns raised by Voule, last week, of an alleged shrinking of civic space in the island ahead of the upcoming parliamentary elections, as well as an allegedly unequal application of the law and heavy militarisation, among other things.

The UN Special Rapporteur had previously visited Sri Lanka in July 2019, upon which he reported “key achievements” with regard to democratisation, good governance, post-conflict reconciliation and transitional justice. However, in a statement last week, Voule noted “rapid” changes that had allegedly taken place since last November’s presidential election and expressed concern for some of the country’s “hard fought gains”.

Referring to concerns raised about alleged harassment of religious minorities, the GoSL said steps will be taken to safeguard persons of all faiths.

“In this respect, an amendment to the Penal Code is under consideration to prevent hate speech and incitement of hatred among communities through mainstream and social media,” it added.

The GoSL also explained certain limitations imposed by the government on the grounds that “a key challenge for democratic, rules-based societies lies in their ability to strike an equitable balance between competing human rights.”

“Therefore, just as the rights to peaceful assembly and association are vital, it is equally important that they are exercised responsibly, in a manner that does not violate the rights of other persons or groups. It is this key consideration, which, in our view, underpins the restrictions on assembly/association in Articles 21 and 22 of the ICCPR, namely, ‘in the interests of national security or public safety, public order (ordre public), the protection of public health or morals or the protection of the rights and freedoms of others’,” it added.

It is this same consideration that forms the basis for limitations to these rights under the Sri Lankan Constitution, the GoSL said, including in the interests of ‘racial or religious harmony’ and ‘national economy’, particularly as a multi-ethnic and multi-religious developing nation.

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With reference to reports of alleged surveillance and intimidation, the GoSL said it would like to “reiterate its invitation” to the parties concerned to make formal complaints to law enforcement authorities or to independent national institutions such as the Human Rights Commission of Sri Lanka or the National Police Commission, so that action can be taken to investigate the alleged incidents.

“The Government remains committed to protecting and promoting civil society space, and ensuring that complaints received on alleged intimidation are investigated and prosecuted,” it added. (Colombo/Jul13/2020)

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