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    Protests a Basic Human Right, UN Experts Tell Sri Lanka

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    Protests a Basic Human Right, UN Experts Tell Sri Lanka

    The experts called on the authorities to engage in constructive and open dialogue with the Sri Lankan people, saying that “peaceful protests and voices of legitimate dissent should not be met with unnecessary and excessive use of force by authorities.”

    A group of five UN human rights special rapporteurs and independent experts today urged the Sri Lankan Government to guarantee the fundamental rights of peaceful assembly and of expression during peaceful protests, amid the country’s severe economic crisis.

    “We are gravely concerned by the recent proclamation of a state of emergency as well as the order that blocked access to social media platforms,” they said.

    “These measures seem aimed at discouraging or preventing peaceful protests in the wake of the worsening economic crisis and the lack of access to fuel, electricity, medicines and essential food items.

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    A foreign exchange scarcity has stoked an economic crisis, coupled with rising inflation, shortages of fuel and essential goods, and prolonged power cuts.

    It has aggravated an already dire situation over access to food and health causing difficulties for millions of persons living in poverty and for persons with serious medical conditions to access medicines or hospitals.

    Security forces fired teargas and water cannon to disperse thousands of Sri Lankans who took to the streets in protest, demanding the president’s resignation over his handling of the crisis.

    Nearly 50 people were injured, including several journalists, and there were more than 50 arrests.

    “We condemn the excessive use of teargas and water cannon to disperse protesters, as well as the recent block of social media platforms,” the experts said, urging the Sri Lankan Government to allow students, human rights defenders and others to protest and to freely share their political views and express their discontent, both online and offline.

    Need open dialogue

    The compounded impact of foreign debt, corruption and the COVID-19 crisis, has affected the country’s economy. Experts called on the government to ensure that all human rights be respected and protected.

    Thousands of people have since joined the daily protests, calling for political and economic reforms. The government imposed nationwide curfews from 2 to 4 April, arresting over 600 people found in violation of the curfew. On 2 April, the president declared a nationwide public state of emergency, that has since been revoked, empowering him to override most laws with the exception of the constitution, while the government blocked access to several social media platforms. Access to these platforms was later restored.

    The experts called on the authorities to engage in constructive and open dialogue with the Sri Lankan people, saying that “peaceful protests and voices of legitimate dissent should not be met with unnecessary and excessive use of force by authorities.”

     

    Image: UNSPLASH / Alex Azabache; Streets of Colombo, Sri Lanka.

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