The Centre for Policy Alternatives based in Sri Lanka has released a report titled ‘Sri Lanka’s Harassed Civil Society’ and while its’ findings about the instability of civilians’ lives may be widely known already the report stands out because of the specific threats identified.
The first threat is listed as being ‘Harassment and intimidation’ and, basically, it details how the government views the democratic activity of civilians who seek human rights as being evidence of subversive activity. This seems to constitute reason enough for the harassment and intimidation which then ensues. As recent as August 2013 a group of environmental protesters in Weliweriya were shot at. Journalists who exercise freedom of speech live in danger.
The second threat, ‘Interference in CSO (civil society organisations) activies’, is about how civil society activists find it difficult to carry out their work without the express permission of the Presidential Task Force. Various red tape measures exist in an attempt to carry out extensive surveillance of CSO activities. This makes it hard for CSOs to advocate and employ strategies that would deal with infringements of civilian rights. This threat further highlights how recourse to the legal system is not an easily available option because the judiciary is not seen as being independent.
Lastly, the threat of ‘Constraints on CSOs ability to work with international partners’ demonstrates how CSOs can be left with very little financial means because of the country’s mistrust of foreign aid. Accepting foreign aid from some countries is seen as being the equivalent of dancing with the enemy unless the money is given by a country that does not rate human rights as being a concern.
The report concludes by stating that the Commonwealth ought to be raising concerns over these threats given CHOGM’s commitment to human rights: “If the Commonwealth is indeed committed to supporting a vibrant and free civil society as a fundamental value, one of the most obvious positive outcomes from this CHOGM should be a serious commitment by the Sri Lankan Government to improve the enabling environment for civil society.”