Human Rights and Democracy Report 2015 - Chapter IV: Human Rights Priority Countries - Sri Lanka

Updated 21 July 2016

There was an improvement in the overall human rights situation in Sri Lanka in 2015, although some concerns remain. Reversing the downward trend of recent years, the government of Sri Lanka took positive steps to improve freedom of expression (including the media) and freedom of movement, reduce inter-community tensions, and restore the independence of institutions such as the Human Rights Commission. The government also signalled its willingness to address long-standing allegations of past human rights abuses and violations, co-sponsoring a resolution in the UN Human Rights Council (HRC) in October committing it to reconciliation, accountability and the protection of human rights. In a positive change of approach, the government engaged constructively with the international community, including with the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) and other UN bodies.

In 2015, the UK worked to encourage and support the government’s reform process. The UK lobbied for progress on key issues such as the return of military-occupied land, the lifting of bans on Tamil diaspora organisations, and the release of long-term detainees held without charge under the Prevention of Terrorism Act. The UK was a strong advocate for the OHCHR Investigation on Sri Lanka (OISL) and instrumental in the adoption of the HRC resolution in which the OISL recommendations were reflected. We supported this political effort through targeted funding that supported domestic monitoring efforts and increased participation for parliamentary elections in August. We also worked to improve police standards and police-community relations, and promoted interfaith dialogues across the country.

Some of these positive changes are less apparent in the north and east. Human rights defenders continued to report harassment and surveillance in 2015, a point raised by the UN Working Group on Enforced and Involuntary Disappearances during their visit in November. The OISL report also highlighted a number of human rights concerns that still remain, including continued reports of torture, and sexual and gender-based violence. The UK has urged the government to investigate these and other allegations of human rights violations, and will continue to push for progress in these areas.

In 2016, we expect the positive trajectory to continue. This is a moment of opportunity for Sri Lanka, and the international community has an important role to play. The OHCHR will present its assessment of progress on implementation of its recommendations at the HRC’s 32nd session in June. We will continue to encourage and support Sri Lanka to deliver on its commitments to the HRC, and to make early progress to build wider support for its efforts to address accountability. The Prime Minister has pledged £6.6m over the next three years to continue our support for reconciliation and human rights. Our work with the government of Sri Lanka will aim to continue strengthening democracy and the rule of law, and reform the security sector, sharing UK experience and expertise.