Demand Justice in Sri Lanka Reaches 1 Million Supporters

manjhunath, Amnesty International India
31 October 2012 5:08 pm

By Nikhil Eapen, Researcher, Amnesty International India

In August, Amnesty India launched its first major campaign in India. In just a day, more than 50,000 people from all over India called or sent an SMS to us to show their support and solidarity for the victims of injustice in Sri Lanka. Tomorrow, 1 November, marks the start of Sri Lanka’s review before the United Nations’ Human Rights Council, as it conducts its Universal Periodic Review. Today, the campaign has more than 1 million supporters. Our first campaign: “Demand Justice in Sri Lanka,” has raised more activism than we could have anticipated, showing that human rights is indeed a boiling issue in India. And this is just the start.

Continue reading for a picture of what life looks like for many Sri Lankan citizens, especially if they choose to criticize the government.

The people of Sri Lanka are still reeling from the trauma of a conflict they can’t forget. The consistent negligence and stubbornness of the Sri Lankan government in dealing with its critics and dissidents is shameful. Peaceful critics are labelled as terrorists, journalists are abducted, and dissidence is suppressed with an iron hand.

In Sri Lanka, in one of the more dangerous places to ever pick up a pen or camera, Lasantha Wickramatunga decided to become a journalist.. As an ardent critic of the Sri Lankan government and its policies, Lasantha knew his life was in danger.

In the months leading up to his death, Lasantha wrote an essay predicting his death at the hands of the government. Lasantha vividly described the dangers that journalists face every day and the government’s brazen disregard for human rights.

He was murdered on his way to work on 8 January 2009 by unidentified men. The essay was published on the 11 January.

It has been three years and nine months since Lasantha’s death and little has changed for journalists. Disappearances, threats, and censorship continue. Fifty-six journalists disappeared between October 2011 and March 2012 alone, according to a study conducted by Groundviews (a citizen journalism website in Sri Lanka), and reported in The Economist in April.

Journalists are not the only Sri Lankan citizens still under threat. A member of the judiciary was also recently attacked as a result of criticizing the Sri Lankan government.

On 7 October, Secretary of the Judicial Service Commission, Manjula Tillekeratne, was assaulted in broad daylight weeks after he said that “efforts” were being made to destroy the freedom of the judiciary and the rule and law, according to a press release written by Tillekeratne, and referred to in The Economist.

The situation is dire in Sri Lanka, and the international community is concerned.

On 1 November, Sri Lanka’s efforts to address repeated human rights violations will be reviewed at the United Nations Human Rights Council’s Universal Periodic Review in Geneva, Switzerland.

For Sri Lanka, this is another opportunity to bemoan Western interference in its affairs, and to accuse Western governments and foreign human rights groups of attempting to derail the country. For India, it is an opportunity to demonstrate its commitment to the Sri Lankan people and much needed leadership in foreign policy within the region.

In March this year, the UN Human Rights Council adopted a resolution urging Sri Lanka to investigate alleged human rights abuses committed during the conflict with the Liberation Tigers for Tamil Eelam. India, in a rare show of non-abstention, voted for the resolution. But had it not been for the Ministers of Parliament’s from Tamil Nadu and a key United Progressive Alliance member disrupting Parliament, India may have never voted.

Countries have the responsibility to represent the views of its people, and in the past two months, the Indian community has made its voice heard.

Our campaign received the support of more than one million people. Sri Lanka is obviously an issue that lies close to the hearts of the Indian people, and especially those from Tamil Nadu. If the Indian people feel such an obligation to the people of Sri Lanka, why doesn’t their government? The government reflects the people, and so in this instance, the Indian government should give serious credence the Amnesty International campaign and its supporters, and follow its recommendations as it crafts its foreign policy approach to Sri Lanka.

A nation cannot advance without tending to its wounds from the past – the victims of injustice deserve reparation and rehabilitation, the perpetrators punished, and the institutions which are designed to ensure justice, strengthened.

As the Indian delegation travels to Geneva to facilitate the UPR, the delegates should remember their responsibility to the people of Sri Lanka, and their responsibility to represent, and listen to, the people of India.