14 November 2013: Over 100 activists from 50 countries meeting in Johannesburg during International Civil Society Week are deeply concerned by Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapakshe’s statement at the inauguration of the Commonwealth Peoples Forum in Colombo:
“While diversity of opinion is natural in civil society, it is important that one basic quality should underpin the work and the thinking of all civil society organizations. This quality without doubt should be feeling for one’s motherland and commitment to her well-being. The stature and territorial integrity of the country is the crucial consideration.”
We are concerned at the implied criticism and threat in the statement. We believe it is a sacred patriotic duty for collectives and every individual to draw attention to wrong doing, call for accountability and for governments to support and join in this endeavour, accept dissent and critique, and protect the rights of individuals and collectives who use the rule of law and call upon conscience to right those wrongs.
In this context, we note with concern the ever-shrinking space and threats under which civil society organizations operate within Sri Lanka. In the recent past, individuals associated with civil society organisations in Sri Lanka have been attacked, disappeared and killed. However, the perpetrators of these crimes continue to evade justice.
We note that several ministers in the Sri Lankan government have publically threatened civil society activists and have sought to justify and incite violence against them on the basis that their criticism of the activities of the government is “unpatriotic.” Many civil rights actors presently live under real threat to their lives, livelihoods and ability to associate lawfully with others or assemble peacefully.
In this context we also decry the systematic attack on civil society activists by government owned print and electronic media, which portray activists as “treacherous” and “unpatriotic.” We note that in the lead up to the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM) to be held in Sri Lanka this week these media attacks have become more intense to the point where the general public have, quite shockingly, been encouraged to physically hurt individual activists.
We call upon the Sri Lankan government to respect its international obligations and ensure an enabling environment for civil society organisations.
We call upon the Secretary General of the Commonwealth and member states to seek assurances from the Sri Lankan government that it will protect human rights defenders and bring perpetrators of attacks on them to book.
We call upon the heads of governments of Commonwealth countries to urge the Sri Lankan government to protect and promote civil society – now and after the CHOGM spotlight has left the Sri Lankan stage.
For more information please contact:
Zubair Sayed, CIVICUS, Head of Communication
Email: zubair.saye[email protected]
Landline: +27 11 833 5959 ext 140
Mobile: +27 72 456 3036