International Bar Association condemns death threats to Sri Lankan lawyer cum human rights activist

(August 28, 2009 Lanka Polity) The International Bar Association’s Human Rights Institute (IBAHRI) has condemned the death threat made to one of Sri Lanka’s leading human rights activists Mr Paikiasothy Saravanamuttu, the Executive Director of the Colombo-based think tank Centre for Policy Alternatives (CPA).Concerned by this serious threat to Mr Saravanamuttu’s personal safety,the IBAHRI has today written to the Sri Lanka authorities urging them to protect his fundamental rights and physical security, and to conduct a full investigation into the anonymous death threat received by Mr Saravanamuttu at his home on 20 August 2009.

The IBAHRI says it understands that the threat comes under a belief that Mr. Saravanamuttu divulged information to the EU Commissioner for External Relations which could cause the European Union to suspend the Generalized System of Preferences (GSP) Plus; preferential trading benefits to Sri Lanka due to expire in October. The death threat apparently stated ‘come October and Sri Lanka is denied GSP Plus you WILL be killed…’

However, the IBAHRI notes from a 21 August news release on the CPA’s website that it has ‘consistently argued that the GSP Plus benefits MUST be renewed, and that Sri Lanka should use the opportunity to also strengthen its human rights protection framework by complying with international law.’

The IBAHRI May 2009 report 'Justice in Retreat: A report on the independence of the legal profession and the rule of law in Sri
Lanka' concluded that there was a pattern of intimidation routinely expressed against members of civil society, including journalists, academics and NGO workers who are perceived to be critical of the Government or its policies, particularly with respect to the conflict with the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE).

‘The IBAHRI fact-finding delegation to Sri Lanka in March found that the lack of prompt and effective investigations into threats and attacks against members of civil society has fostered a sense of impunity surrounding these incidents and has created a chilling effect on freedom of expression in Sri Lanka,’ said Alex Wilks, IBAHRI Programme Lawyer and member of the delegation. *‘It is a matter of great concern that members of civil society continue to receive such threats, despite the end of the conflict. Mr Saravanamuttu and the CPA have a right to lobby and campaign on rule of law issues without fearing for their lives.’

‘The rights to freedom of expression and security of the person are well-established in international law and are of fundamental importance to a free civil society,’ stated Justice Richard Goldstone, Co-Chair of the IBAHRI. ‘We call on the Sri Lankan authorities to show that such insidious threats against free speech cannot be tolerated by ensuring there is a swift investigation and that steps are taken to protect Mr Saravanamuttu and other members of the CPA.’

The death threat made to Mr Saravanamuttu follows a number of reports of similar threats made to leading members of civil society. Such threats to prominent human rights activists endanger the fragile freedom of expression in Sri Lanka.


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