Sri Lanka is a constitutional, multiparty republic with a freely elected government. Rejecting the re-election bid of Mahinda Rajapaksa, in January voters elected President Maithripala Sirisena to a five-year term. Parliament, elected in August, shares constitutional power with the president. The EU Election Observation Mission characterized the August parliamentary elections as the “most peaceful and efficiently conducted elections in the country’s recent history.” Although polling was free and fair, the former Rajapaksa government utilized state resources for its own advantage during the presidential election campaign. Civilian authorities maintained effective control over the security forces.
In steps designed to enhance national unity following years of civil war, on August 29, the government closed the Omanthai military checkpoint, which previously divided government-held territory from former Liberation Tiger of Tamil Eelam (LTTE)-controlled territory. In March the government adopted the constitution’s 19th amendment, which limits the powers of the presidency and begins a process of restoring the independence of government commissions. In September the government cosponsored a resolution on human rights at the UN Human Rights Council and welcomed visits by the UN special rapporteur on transitional justice, the UN Working Group on Enforced and Involuntary Disappearances, and the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) Office of Legal Affairs team. The president established the Office of National Unity and Reconciliation to play a key role in the government’s reconciliation efforts. Following the August parliamentary elections, the government established the Ministry of National Dialogue to further advance the government’s reconciliation initiatives. In September the Cabinet approved the issuance of “certificates of absence” for persons reported missing in lieu of a death certificate to enable family members to access government benefits. In December the government signed the International Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearances. In November the government removed the ban on eight Tamil diaspora organizations and 267 individuals on the previous government’s watch list.
The major human rights problems reported during the year included harassment of civil society activists, journalists, and persons viewed as sympathizers of the banned terrorist group the LTTE as well as arbitrary arrest and detention, torture, rape, and other forms of sexual and gender-based violence committed by police and security forces.
Other serious human rights problems included severe prison overcrowding and lack of due process. Neglect of the rights of internally displaced persons (IDPs) remained a problem, as was physical and sexual abuse of women and children and trafficking in persons. Discrimination against persons based on sexual orientation continued. Limits on workers’ rights and child labor also remained problems.
Widespread impunity continued for the crimes committed during the armed conflict and other crimes committed following the end of the conflict, particularly for cases of torture, sexual violence, corruption, and human rights abuses. The government arrested and detained a number of military, police, and other officials implicated in old and new cases that included the killing of parliamentarians and the abduction and suspected killings of journalists and private citizens.