( December 9, 2013, Hong Kong/ Colombo, Sri Lanka Guardian) International human rights day is a day for the celebration of human dignity. It is an appropriate date to take stock of what progress, if any, has been made in the promotion and protection of human rights in Sri Lanka.
Unfortunately, there is no progress to record and, instead, what is quite visible is the government's rejection of all responsibility to protect any of the human rights. The government has not made any attempt to discontinue with extrajudicial killings. Instead, a permissiveness for such extrajudicial killings is being demonstrated continuously.
The killing of persons after arrest has occurred many times during the past year, and the last most glaring instance is the killing of four persons under the pretext of taking revenge for the killing of a policeman and his wife. Wide publicity has been given to the killings, and photographs of the officers involved in the operation have also been shown in the media. It is as if they were being portrayed as heroes, heroes who had hunted down four undesirable persons.
There have also been other instances, where only massive campaigns have saved the lives of people arrested for no reason, such as the poet V.I.S. Jeyabalan. The state media has constantly been used to vilify critics of the government, including human rights defenders and journalists.
Torture and ill-treatment continued despite serious criticisms brought against the government on this score. The government has discontinued the operation of the Convention Against Torture Act No. 22 of 1994, by stopping investigations into allegations of torture and ill-treatment. Meanwhile, Chief Justice Mohan Peiris has continuously admonished those who bring cases of fundamental rights violations to Court, advising them to resolve the problem through negotiations instead.
Throughout the year, women's groups campaigned against the widespread practice of rape and sexual harassment. They demanded effective actions to implement the law. However, as the policing system has virtually lost all efficacy in accepting complaints and making investigations, there has been no government response to the demands of the women's rights groups.
The government's direct onslaught on the judiciary has resulted in the people's loss of faith in seeking judicial redress for violations of their rights. The dominant public perception is that the judicial process can be manipulated by those who are politically or otherwise powerful. The most recent report from Transparency International tells of the deteriorating situation relating to corruption. The police and the judiciary are among the two most corrupt institutions in Sri Lanka, as noted by observers.
There was continuous assault on the right to education and health in 2013. Many persons are simply unable to afford the cost of their medicine due to its ever increasing price, a problem that is threatening lives. The attempt to commercialize education was resisted strongly by the university students and their teachers' unions.
As heavy price increases on commodities affect everyone, particularly, the economically disadvantaged, the capacity of many families to educate their children has diminished.
In areas of food and transport, deprivation has increased. Rise in the prices of goods along with decreasing capacities for earning is the trend squeezing Sri Lankans. Among lower-income groups, this has resulted in people being unable to afford their normal meals. The possibilities of malnutrition among the poor have increased.
There is no likelihood of any of these problems being resolved in the coming year as the country is in deep debt, having borrowed from commercial banks for the purpose of paying back loans that have been obtained in previous years.
The existence of countries now revolves around the payment of debts. As increase of production has not come to the rescue in Sri Lanka, the only avenue taken has been to borrow even more. And as borrowing from sources with less interest becomes difficult, the government has taken to borrowing from commercial banks at very high interest rates. The government has not proposed any way out of this vicious cycle in which the living standards of people have to be sacrificed for the payment of debt.
Unable to rule with reasonable response to people's growing demands, the government has resorted to the abuse of power. This abuse has been made possible by the concentration of all power in the hands of the President and the removal of the authority of public institutions. The promotion of human freedom and liberties through public institutions is a norm that has been discarded in Sri Lanka.
The power vacuum created under the circumstances described above has led the government to rely entirely on the military and intelligence services. Sri Lanka is increasingly becoming a place like Myanmar under military rule, where surveillance by intelligence services was the means by which a fear syndrome was entrenched in the country. While Myanmar, in recent years, is struggling to undo its repressive apparatus and return to democracy, Sri Lanka is proceeding in the opposite direction.
Under these conditions, while the entire population is suffering, the section of people who suffer most are the people of the North and the East. They live under virtual grip of the military. The government justifies the heavy military presence as a preventative measure against the re-emergence of organizations similar to the LTTE. People are prevented from talking about the grievances they have suffered during the conflict period by visits from the military or intelligence officers whenever attempts to discuss these matters are made. The government's strategy is designed on the basis of fear that the surfacing of evidence relating to war crimes may have serious consequences for the government in coming months as there is a resolution before the United Nations Human Rights Council to be examined on these very issues.
Among other problems facing the people of the North and East is the problem of land-grabbing, which has been pointed out by representatives of the people in these areas.
All these aspects are dealt with in greater detail in the Asian Human Rights Commission's Report on the State of Human Rights in Sri Lanka, 2013.
The full report is available for download at: http://www.humanrights.asia/resources/hrreport/2013/AHRC-SPR-006-2013.pdf/