The protection of basic human rights in Sri Lanka is once again at a turning point. Since his election in 2019, President Gotabaya Rajapaksa and his government have waged a campaign of fear and intimidation against human rights activists, journalists, lawyers, and other perceived challengers. The administration has pursued policies hostile to ethnic and religious minorities and repressed those seeking justice for abuses committed during the country’s 26-year civil war that ended in 2009. Fundamental democratic freedoms and fragile post-war reconciliation are in danger.
This report details how the Gotabaya Rajapaksa government is blocking investigations into some emblematic cases of serious violations, documents ongoing repression of minority groups, and highlights the intimidation of activists and family members of victims seeking accountability. The government has withdrawn from a 2015 consensus resolution (known as resolution 30/1) of the United Nations Human Rights Council that sought to ensure justice and end impunity; and has claimed an end to the “era of betraying war heroes” and “allowing foreign forces to interfere in the internal affairs of the country.”
The secessionist insurgency of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) led to serious human rights abuses by both sides and claimed over 100,000 lives. This report finds that, notwithstanding the Sri Lankan government’s claims to be committed to a domestic justice process—despite many that have failed in the past—several police investigations into human rights violations that had made modest progress since 2015 have since been derailed under Rajapaksa’s presidency. On March 26, 2020, President Rajapaksa even pardoned Sgt. Sunil Ratnayake, one of very few members of the Sri Lankan security forces ever convicted of human rights violations. At the same time, several officials facing serious allegations of wartime abuses have been appointed to senior government positions.