The U.N. human rights office is urging the Sri Lankan government to engage in peaceful dialogue, not violence, to quell rising discontent over the country’s economic crisis.
Tensions have been rising since Sri Lanka announced a state of emergency and other restrictions a few days ago. The action was taken to rein in mass gatherings of people protesting the country’s worst economic crisis in decades.
U.N. human rights spokeswoman Liz Throssell said there are worrying signs that the government is losing patience with the largely peaceful demonstrations taking place across the country. She said people are demanding action to stem the rising cost of living, shortages of fuel and other essential commodities.
“We have seen brutality in the past and I understand that there were a number of arrests, dozens of arrests. Fifty or so people were detained in response to one of the protests. And there was, as I said, reports of excessive and unwarranted police violence against protesters,” she said.
Throssell said there is concern that the state of emergency will be used to stifle dissent and peoples’ right to freedom of expression and assembly. She said using emergency powers to prevent people from expressing grievances through peaceful protests would violate international human rights law.
She said United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet previously has voiced concern about repressive measures taken by the government in response to criticism of its policies.
“As the high commissioner noted in her recent report to the Human Rights Council in February, the drift towards militarization and the weakening of institutional checks and balances in Sri Lanka have affected the state’s ability to effectively tackle the economic crisis and ensure the realization of the economic, social, and cultural rights of all people in Sri Lanka,” said the spokeswoman.
Throssell said the high commissioner believes meaningful dialogue between the government and political and civic critics would offer solutions to the economic and political crisis facing the country. She adds the human rights office will be closely watching developments.