SRI LANKA – Election is over: ensure protection of peoples’ rights now!

(Bangkok, 3 February 2010) The Asian Forum for Human Rights and Development (FORUM-ASIA), a membership-based organisation representing 46 human rights NGOs across Asia, expresses its grave concern over the present political repression and human rights abuse in Sri Lanka in the aftermath of the presidential elections. All political actors in the country must take immediate steps to ensure due process and respect for democratic norms and human rights in Sri Lanka.

On 29 January 2010, the Commissioner of Elections of Sri Lanka declared that incumbent President Mahinda Rajapakse won the election held two days earlier. Observing the conduct of this election, independent election monitoring groups, local and international, agree that acts of election-related violence on the very day were not many. However, they said that the violations of election laws in the pre-election period were of unacceptable levels. In counting process of votes, too, serious allegations were noted in certain counting centres.

Political cartoonist Prageeth Ekneliyagoda has been missing since his abduction on the night before the election. Chandana Sirimalwatte, Editor of the pro-opposition Lanka newspaper, is in custody on unspecified charges and his office has been sealed. Several other journalists, including trade union activists in the state radio and television stations, have been subjected to assault and intimidation. Access to several websites was temporarily blocked by the state Telecommunications Regulatory Commission on and after the election day. The offices of the main opposition candidate Sarath Fonseka have been raided and his office workers and security officers detained.

Violence intensified in the aftermath, mainly intimidation and harassment of the opposition candidate and his supporters, as well as the media. This created fear for political unrest and instability that will extend into and beyond forthcoming parliamentary elections.

FORUM-ASIA is deeply concerned about these reports of human rights violations and abuses. The organisation calls upon the government of Sri Lanka to create immediately an environment that protects the rights of all citizens, specially addressing people of north and east who fear penalization for voting to the opposition. All institutions mandated to safeguard democracy and accountability, including the Constitutional Council, the National Elections Commission, the National Police Commission and the National Human Rights Commission, should be legally constituted as provided in the 17th Amendment to the country’s Constitution.

The President Mahinda Rajapakse must call on his supporters and members of the government to end political intimidation and revenge. Arbitrary arrests and detention, enforced disappearances and torture must end and respect for freedom of expression in Sri Lanka must be respected.

He should also focus on rebuilding  economy, creating a political framework to fulfil the aspirations of all Sri Lankans, including those of minority ethnic and religious communities, especially to those who have been most affected by years of the civil war.