Sri Lanka try to constrain civil society engagement with the international community

A number of civil society organisations and individuals have come out in support of human rights lawyer and advocate, Ambika Satkunanathan after the Foreign Ministry criticised her over comments she had made to the EU Parliament’s Sub-Committee on Human Rights, the Daily mirror reported.

In a joint statement, 161 individuals and 47 organisations/networks/trade unionists said they consider the targeting of outspoken members of civil society by a Government institution using dangerous insinuations to be a form of intimidation aimed at stifling dissent and freedom of expression.

“Statements such as this by the Foreign Ministry, we believe, aim to constrain civil society engagement as an independent interlocutor with the international community on democracy and rights issues, standing up for the rights and protection of affected communities and individuals,” the joint statement said.

In her submission to the EU, Ms. Satkunanathan made a critical assessment of the human rights situation in Sri Lanka and its international and national obligations to its citizens, and provided recommendations to European Union member states.

“Rather than engage substantively with the issues raised, the Sri Lankan Government instead chose to cast aspersions on an individual with an unimpeachable record of principled research, advocacy and public service for the improvement of human rights in Sri Lanka. The attempt by the Foreign Ministry to draw an analogy between the independent advocacy of a Tamil activist and researcher with the claims of the LTTE is both unwarranted, mischievous and chilling,” the joint statement said.

Issuing a statement earlier, the Foreign Ministry noted with concern what it claimed were numerous misleading statements contained in the testimony of Ambika Satkunanathan, during an exchange of views on the situation of human and labour rights in Sri Lanka at the European Parliament’s Subcommittee on Human Rights on January 27, 2022.

“We note with deep concern the continuing incidents of harassment of victim-survivors, human rights activists, media workers and civil society organisations by state actors. Creating an enabling environment for civil society will require more than mere assertions that civil society is treated as a partner, and the shifting of the NGO Secretariat to a new Ministry,” civil society organisations and individuals said.

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