South Asians for Human Rights (SAHR), a regional network of human rights defenders, deliberates on the ever delayed justice for the slain and disappeared journalists in Sri Lanka.
The thirteenth death anniversary of Lasantha Wickrematunge, the slain journalist falls on 8 January 2022. Prageeth Ekneligoda, the journalist and cartoonist, was disappeared 11 years ago on 24 January 2010. Individuals linked to the military are alleged perpetrators for both these crimes. During the conflict period journalists of Tamil ethnicity were severely targeted. However, so far no justice has been awarded within the judicial process to them or any other journalist killed or disappeared in Sri Lanka since 2005 to 2014, with the country only further strengthening the trends of impunity.
The month of January is commemorated as Black January in Sri Lanka for the numerous repressive actions taken place against freedom of expression particularly against media personnel and journalists in the recent past. Between 2006 and 2012, 37 incidents entailing assassinations, a plot to assassinate, an enforced disappearance, arrests, interrogations, assaults, incidents of torture, threats, discrediting through public statements, raids on journalists’ houses and media institutions, withdrawing the license to a broadcaster, the closure of newspapers and arson attacks have been recorded with no justice being served. There also has been an increasing pattern of violence against journalists since the present government took over in 2019.
As a consequence of the prevailing impunity and ineffective judicial processes within the country families and friends of the victims have not been able to achieve justice, gain an appropriate closure for the loss of their loved ones, or redress. They are compelled to look for alternative means to achieve these.
In this context, SAHR whole heartedly welcomes the Peoples’ Tribunal on the murder of journalists organised by Free Press Unlimited (FPU), the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), and Reporters without Borders (RSF) in The Hague to hear cases from Mexico, Syria and Sri Lanka. The tribunal is focusing on three slain journalists: Lasantha Wickrematunge in Sri Lanka, Nabil Al-Sharbaji in Syria and Miguel Ángel López Velasco in Mexico. SAHR strongly hopes that this process will be successful in achieving its goals of holding states accountable for violations of international law by building public awareness and generating a legitimate evidence record, and emphasizing the important role in empowering victims and recording their stories, especially at a time when justice and accountability are delayed in Sri Lanka.
SAHR is concerned about the safety of the Sri Lankan witnesses and victim families who have been called before the tribunal and calls upon the Government to ensure their safety.
Further, SAHR urges the government of Sri Lanka to protect the rights and freedoms enshrined in the constitution of the people in Sri Lanka and adhere to the international obligations as a state party against witnesses to this significant global event. It also calls upon the government to expedite the judicial processes with due process and transparency in order for the families and friends of the victims to receive justice; and they are able to gain a proper closure to their agonised experience of losing a loved one.
On behalf of the members of the South Asians for Human Rights,
Dr. Radhika Coomaraswamy
Dr. Roshmi Goswami