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    Diplomats Voice Concern as Sri Lanka Imposes Emergency to Scuttle Protests

    GovernanceFinance and EconomyDiplomats Voice Concern as Sri Lanka Imposes Emergency to...
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    Diplomats Voice Concern as Sri Lanka Imposes Emergency to Scuttle Protests

    Given the disturbing human rights track record of the Sri Lankan government, especially under the Rajapaksa family, there is concern among those watching the human rights situation in the island nation.

    Sarah Hulton, the British High Commissioner to Colombo, yesterday voiced her concern over reports of the use of force against journalists and protesters, and the emergency laws imposed in Sri Lanka as protestors filled the streets.

    “A citizen’s right to protest peacefully is an essential part of democracy,” she said.

    The United Stated Ambassador for Colombo, Julie Chung, too spoke up, saying that Sri Lankans have a right to protest peacefully. That right is essential for democratic expression, she said.

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    “I am watching the situation closely, and hope the coming days bring restraint from all sides, as well as much needed economic stability and relief for those suffering,” she said after the Rajapaksa government declared emergency late on Friday.

    The American voice is important also because President Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s citizenship has been a political hot potato ever since he contested the elections to the country’s highest office in November 2019. His opponents point to his American citizenship. His family still holds US citizenship. His brother and Finance Minister Basil Rajapaksa and his family are also US citizens.

    Sri Lankans have been protesting against an economic crisis triggered by accelerated printing of money over two years to enforce low interest rates.

    But the emergency and the 36-hour curfew imposed late Friday after people thronged the roads leading to the presidential palace has brought the country under the lens. The emergency and a ban on gatherings have been announced ahead of a planned nation-wide protests.

    Holger Seubert, the German Ambassador to Sri Lanka too supported the demonstrators and questioned the state of emergency.

    “It’s the emergency that brings them to the streets,” he tweeted.

    Hanaa Singer-Hamdy, the UN Resident Coordinator in Sri Lanka spoke of the developments being monitored and that the world body was “concerned by reports of violence in Sri Lanka”.

    Human Rights

    Given the disturbing human rights track record of the Sri Lankan government, especially under the Rajapaksa family, there is concern among those watching the human rights situation in the island nation.

    The European Union delegation in Colombo too raised its concern about the state of emergency.

    “EU strongly urges Sri Lankan authorities to safeguard democratic rights of all citizens, including right to free assembly and dissent, which has to be peaceful,” a tweet from the EU delegation’s official twitter handle read.

    The outspokenness of the diplomatic corps follows a year-long litany by the United Nations Human Rights Council (OHCHR) that has been pressing Colombo to repeal its tough, decades-old anti-terrorism laws, the Prevention of Terrorism Act (PTA).

    It has been argued that the government has used the anti-terrorism laws to quell criticism, suppress dissent and stifle minorities.

    The UN rights chief has already started evidence gathering on the past rights abuses.

    The demands have led to some actions to water down the laws, especially because the EU had tied this with further cooperation – which Sri Lanka needs in big measure ever since the country’s economy has been in the doldrums. For instance, repealing the PTA has been a condition the EU has put forth to renew its annually over US$ 500 million worth trade concession.

    Human Rights defenders too are concerned over the use of undue force by Sri Lankan authorities. Its SouthAsia Regional Director, Yamini Mishra, said, “The Sri Lankan authorities must not use unnecessary or excessive force to disperse protesters who are suffering the consequences of an economic crisis that is spiraling out of control.  Even in instances where protests turn violent, law enforcement officers must only use force where absolutely necessary and it must be strictly proportionate to the situation.

    In the meanwhile, people have staged isolated protests in some area despite the ban on gatherings despite the curfew and over 600 arrested for breaching curfew laws. Many have come out on the roads to demand food or cooking gas, especially as shops are shut due to curfew.

    Some people put up black flags at their houses and street to express their displeasure to the government.

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