Sri Lanka: Human Rights Organizations call on Sri Lanka to ensure safety of two HRDs: Nimalka Fernando and Sunanda Deshapriva
April 18, 2017, 5:25 am

Ms. Nimalka Fernando and Mr. Sunanda Deshapriya participated in the UNHRC 34th session in March 2017 where the resolution entitled “Promoting reconciliation, accountability and human rights in Sri Lanka (A/HRC/34/1)” was adopted by consensus with the co-sponsorship of the Government of Sri Lanka. It decided to request the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) to continue its assessment on progress on the implementation of the Office’s recommendations and other relevant processes related to truth, justice, accountability, reconciliation and human rights in Sri Lanka for next two years.

Since the adoption of the resolution on 23rd March, the two human rights defenders have been subject to smear campaigns. After the UNHRC session, a public campaign was launched on Facebook which brands Ms. Fernando and Mr. Deshapriya as traitors. Their pictures were placed next to the image of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam’s flag with texts calling them “white tigers”. Such stigmatization would pose them to a risk for attack, intimidation and harassment.

On 27th March, a protest was organised by the Women for Justice (WFJ) Organization on the street of Ms. Fernando’s residence. The demonstrators condemned her that she is lying to the United Nations and working for foreign money.

Those personal attacks by alleged non-State actors raise serious concerns on the safety of the human rights defenders who rightfully engaged with the UNHRC. Since 30th March, a number of Sri Lankan human rights defenders including Ms. Fernando and Mr. Deshapriya have been named by certain individuals in Sri Lankan media. They are labelled as “foreign-funded NGOs working against the country”.

The reprisals against the two human rights defenders were reactions to the new UNHRC resolution on Sri Lanka. The perpetrators claimed that the two are responsible for the Council’s decision to extend the OHCHR’s monitoring on the country. Yet in fact, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein clearly recommended the UNHRC “to continue its close engagement with the Government of Sri Lanka and to monitor developments in the country”, based on his office’s independent and comprehensive assessment of the country’s progress on the transitional justice process. At the same time, he drew attention to the continuing incidents of harassment of human rights defenders, the use of hate speech and aggressive hate campaigns against groups and individuals in Sri Lanka.

The recent two attacks are clear examples of reprisals against human rights defenders who cooperate with the UN human rights system. In 2015, the Government of Sri Lanka demonstrated its commitment by co-sponsoring the UNHRC resolution 30/1 to address all attacks against human rights defenders, hold perpetrators accountable and prevent future attacks. However, we regret that the Government failed to investigate the previous incidents n against human rights defenders including Ms. Fernando’s case in 2013. It left the culture of impunity unaddressed which facilitated the recent attacks against Ms. Fernando and Mr. Deshapriya.