ECONOMYNEXT- Sri Lanka is using emergency laws implemented after the Easter Sunday bombings to oppress minorities and deny the right to peaceful assembly, the UN Special Rapporteur who visited the country in July said.
"The proclamation of the State of Emergency brings into operation the Public Security Ordinance, which gives the President the power to make emergency regulations, which can override any law, other than the constitution," Clément Nyaletsossi Voulé said.
"These regulations appear to have further limited the right to peaceful assembly," he said.
On May 18, a rememberance ceremony for those who had disappeared during the war held at the Thirukkovil Manikka Pillayar temple in Ampara was disrupted by the Army, which had destroyed banners and decorations and threatened to arrest and detain families of the disappeared, Voulé said.
Police were also found to have restricted people from gathering for a special prayer event at the Vinayagar Temple at the Kanniya Hot Springs in Trincomalee, he said.
In another instance, people from over 100 families who had conducted a 792 day protest in front of an army camp in Keppapilavu demanding the return of their land which the army had occupied were relocated.
He said that the government’s efforts to release land back to civilians must happen sooner.
"It is of utmost importance that land restitution happens promptly, and that peaceful protests of those still waiting be allowed to take place with no restrictions," he said.
"Oftentimes, this land has constituted the only source of livelihood for affected families, and its loss places these women and men in a vulnerable position, frequently having to work as daily labourers, while keeping up their protest so that their demands are not neglected or forgotten."
Protests have also been broken up using disproportionate force such as tear gas and water guns, he said.
Police had also taken injunctions to stop protests due to public nuisance and disturbances which are not equal to unlawful assembly under the penal code, Voulé said.
"While court orders are a legitimate judicial act, I am concerned that they may be used too routinely in this way and in a biased manner, without thorough review of all elements that may make the protest violent and therefore unlawful," he said.
Following the Easter Sunday attacks, surveillance on minorities have increased as well, Voulé said.
"Surveillance seems to be particularly prevalent in the North and East of the country and seems to have increased following the Easter Sunday attacks, even though the areas affected have little to no connection with the attacks or the perpetrators."
"I am very concerned at the numerous accounts I received of surveillance, including online surveillance, used to monitor the activities of the civil society sector and intimidate those protesting peacefully for their demands to be heard."
"Whether people demand the return of their lands, information on their disappeared family members, better living and working conditions, all seem to undergo some low but regular level of surveillance which includes questioning, intimidating phone calls and taking of photos and videos."
"This type of surveillance can inhibit the workings of civil society organisations and dissuade people from joining in demonstrations."
Voulé said that there are concerns over how the information gathered will be used in the future.
Surveillance and continued strong militance presence in former war zones point towards the lack of accountability for the human rights violations committed during the war and contribute to frustrations, resentment and disenfranchisement, felt by the communities in those areas which remain mistrustful of any state institution, he said.
"While this surveillance may not be a State-led policy, the State has the responsibility to take the necessary steps so that civil society can freely carry out their legitimate work without surveillance or intimidation."
Voulé also said that hate speech targeting minorities have increased after the Easter Sunday attacks.
He said that although the ICCPR Act of 2007 is in force to criminalise such acts, but highly publicised instances of hate speech within the majority community have remained largely unpunished