People’s Rights Group (PRG), a rights-based advocacy and lobbying group based in the UK particularly dealing with human rights violations in Sri Lanka, notes with a sense of extreme concern, the dangerous situation developing in Sri Lanka, which has incited nationwide unrest and has led to continuous protests among Sri Lankans fed up with the prolonged crisis. It has resulted in extreme contempt and distrust of the political establishment, which threatens to undermine democracy, legitimacy and human rights.

This emerging situation has particularly produced a crisis of social trust and disappointment especially for the young generation. Institutions are failing, financial systems are collapsing, rulers are plundering and families are becoming fragile. Besides, the cumulative result of lack of a participatory political culture and widening social inequities are obviously making a mockery of the human dignity and basic rights enshrined in the International Charters and the country’s Constitution. Ever since Sri Lanka gained independence, the rulers’ interpretation of ‘the common good’ has conflicted with the wellbeing of the nation. However, the situation became acute particularly during the present regime which came into power using ethno-nationalism and divisive politics.

In the face of this catastrophic economic crisis, instead of human rights being at the heart of discussions on Sri Lanka’s future, it is concerning to note the Government of Sri Lanka has failed to respect human rights including the right to freedom of movement, freedom of expression and peaceful dissent. On the contrary, the State has aimed at frustrating legitimate protests and dissent as well as the exchange of views on matters of public interest. PRG views with much concern that Sri Lanka’s human rights records lacks international credibility despite Sri Lanka’s repeated assurances to fully comply with international human rights standards, including amending the much controversial Prevention of Terrorism Act, as Foreign Minister G L Peiris assured at the recent UNHRC session in Geneva.

The crisis in Sri Lanka is a prime example of the interdependence and interrelatedness between civil/political rights and economic/social/cultural rights. Sri Lanka has an obligation to guarantee economic and social rights of its people, having ratified the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, which include the rights to health, education, social security, adequate food, and an adequate standard of living. Sri Lanka should learn from similar experiences from across the world to avoid serious repercussions, and any austerity measures introduced in Sri Lanka must be based on a human rights assessment.

Amid this dire situation, PRG views with much optimism that the suffering people of the divided nation, deceived by their leaders and constrained by injustice, have chosen for once, to break free from shackles of communal division to come together for another ‘Independence Aragalaya (Struggle)’, to free themselves and their country from neo—colonialism, corruption and mis-management and to protest against unjust political, economic or social conditions. The unfolding tragedy of Sri Lanka, while a matter of grave concern, is also an opportunity to start afresh. It is thus in the interest of the country and its future that the people should not allow this Aragalaya to fizzle out or fail, which may well be the last chance for Sri Lanka to make real political and systemic change.

As experts say, Sri Lanka needs to make decisive improvements in democratic and human rights space if it hopes to re-enter the folds of the civilised world order and ask for global assistance to overcome its economic crisis. Other than the negative shock of Covid-19, all other concerns faced by the country are creations and outcomes of consecutive corrupt governments – with the present regime capping it all – characterised by failure of governance, economic mismanagement, nepotism and failed leadership.

To overcome from this precarious predicament, PRG is of the considered view that the awakened people of Sri Lanka, with the support of the international community should work towards institutionalising democracy, strengthen human rights, denounce corruption and family based rule, institute an effective government with accountability, restore beneficial economic policies and ensure equal treatment for all. Some broader political and systematic root causes that have perpetrated discrimination, and undermined human rights need to be addressed continuously. Time however  is of essence, and PRG calls upon all progressive forces to unite to make use of this historic opportunity to create a forward looking,  inclusive Sri Lanka. As Henry Ford said, ‘Failure is simply the opportunity to begin again, this time more intelligently’.

PRG expresses extreme concern about the worsening economic crisis – 19-06-22