The government of Sri Lanka continued to tighten its grip on power in 2012. Significant human rights violations took place during the year and the government made little meaningful effort toward reconciliation with the Tamil minority community. The president exercised authority under the 18th Amendment to the Constitution to maintain control of appointments to previously independent public institutions that oversee the judiciary, police, and human rights protection. Denial of fair public trial remained a problem and during the year the government took steps to impeach the chief justice of the Supreme Court. At year’s end, the Appellate Court was preparing to hear arguments on the Constitutionality of Parliamentary oversight of the judicial branch. Persons allegedly tied to the government attacked and harassed civil society actors, journalists, and persons viewed as Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam sympathizers. Involuntary disappearances continued and the government did not account for thousands who disappeared in prior years. Widespread impunity for a broad range of human rights abuses, particularly involving police torture, attacks on media institutions and the judiciary, and sexual violence remained a serious problem. Security forces and government-allied paramilitary groups committed unlawful killings in predominantly Tamil areas. Discrimination against the ethnic Tamil minority continued, and a disproportionate number of victims of human rights violations were Tamils.
Sri Lanka is a constitutional, multiparty republic. President Mahinda Rajapaksa, who was reelected to a second six-year term in January 2010, and the parliament, which was elected in April 2010, share constitutional power. The government is dominated by the president’s family; two of the president’s brothers hold key executive branch posts as defense secretary and minister of economic development, while a third brother is the speaker of parliament. A large number of other relatives, including the president’s son, also serve in important political or diplomatic positions. Independent observers generally characterized the presidential, parliamentary, and local elections as problematic. Elections were fraught with violations of the election law by all major parties and were influenced by the governing coalition’s use of state resources. Civilian authorities maintained effective control over the security forces.
The major human rights problems were attacks on and harassment of civil society activists, persons viewed as Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) sympathizers, and journalists by persons allegedly tied to the government, creating an environment of fear and self-censorship; involuntary disappearances as well as a lack of accountability for thousands who disappeared in previous years; and widespread impunity for a broad range of human rights abuses, particularly involving police torture, and attacks on media institutions and the judiciary.
Other serious human rights problems included unlawful killings by security forces and government-allied paramilitary groups, often in predominantly Tamil areas; torture and abuse of detainees by police and security forces; poor prison conditions; and arbitrary arrest and detention by authorities. Lengthy pretrial detention was a problem. Denial of fair public trial remained a problem, and during the year there were coordinated moves by the government to undermine the independence of the judiciary. The government infringed on citizens’ privacy rights. There were restrictions on freedom of speech, press, assembly, association, and movement. While citizens generally were able to travel almost anywhere in the island, there continued to be police and military checkpoints in the north, and de facto high-security zones and other areas remained off limits to citizens. Authorities harassed journalists critical of the government and self-censorship was widespread. The president exercised authority under the 18th amendment to maintain control of appointments to previously independent public institutions that oversee the judiciary, police, and human rights. Lack of government transparency was a serious problem. Violence and discrimination against women were problems, as were abuse of children and trafficking in persons. Discrimination against persons with disabilities and against the ethnic Tamil minority continued, and a disproportionate number of victims of human rights violations were Tamils. Discrimination against persons based on their sexual orientation and against persons with HIV/AIDS were problems. Limits on workers’ rights and child labor remained problems.
The government prosecuted a very small number of officials implicated in human rights abuses but had yet to hold anyone accountable for alleged violations of international humanitarian law and international human rights law that occurred during the conflict that ended in 2009.
During the year unknown actors suspected of association with progovernment paramilitary groups committed killings, kidnappings, assaults, and intimidation of civilians. There were persistent reports of close, ground-level ties between paramilitary groups and government security forces.