COLOMBO: Authorities in Sri Lanka are clamping down on the activities of civil society groups, who accuse the government of trying to discourage survivors of the country’s civil war from giving evidence to a UN war crimes investigation.
Accusations of atrocities have been rife since the end in May 2009 of conflict between ethnic Tamil separatist rebels and government forces that killed more than 100,000 people. Tens of thousands are unaccounted for.
In March, the UN Human Rights Council voted to investigate accusations of abuses during the 26-year-long war, saying President Mahinda Rajapaksa had failed to investigate properly.
The vote has angered the government, which says it will not cooperate or grant visas to UN investigators. Without access, UN may have to rely on sources such as human rights groups, diplomats and journalists for crucial information, analysts say.
The defence ministry has banned activist groups and non-governmental organisations from holding news conferences, issuing news releases and holding workshops for journalists.
Mobs have disrupted or forced the cancellation of a series of meetings and events held by charities in recent months, and analysts say the crowds disrupting such meetings sometimes have government backing.
“These mobs have the approval of the government,” said Kusal Perera, a government critic and director of the Centre for Social Democracy. “Stopping the war crimes evidence is the immediate motive.” Government spokesman Keheliya Rambukwella denied the accusations, saying the authorities needed to be vigilant about activities carried out “in the name of democracy.”
On Monday, a mob of about 50 people broke into a Catholic church in Colombo, the capital, where families who lost touch with relatives during the war were recounting their experiences to diplomats and activists.
Witnesses said the crowd, including Buddhist monks, accused Tamils of plotting against the government by providing information to Westerners in exchange for money.
Representatives of the US, British, Switzerland, and German embassies were at the meeting, which was quickly shut down by the police, who said they could not guarantee the safety of participants. The US embassy issued a statement on Monday urging the government to enforce the rule of law and let citizens exercise their basic human rights, including freedom of speech and freedom of assembly.