Thursday, June 1, 2023

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UN urges the Govt to restraint from using police power to control protests

United Nations Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) has urged Sri Lankan authorities to show restraint in the policing of assemblies and ensure every necessary effort to prevent violence, ahead of what is expected to be a large demonstration in Colombo on Saturday (July 09).

At the same time, the OHCHR appealed to the organisers of the protests and their supporters to engage in peaceful means of protest and not to impede essential medical or humanitarian services.

In its statement, the OHCHR also called on the authorities to give clear instructions to the security forces that human rights defenders and journalists have a right to monitor and report on the demonstrations and therefore should be protected in the exercise of these functions and not obstructed in any way.

It also noted that all Sri Lankans have the right of freedom of expression, peaceful assembly and the right to participate in public affairs, which are particularly important in critical phases of the nation’s life.

Under applicable international law, gatherings can only be dispersed in exceptional cases, with use of force a last resort where absolutely necessary and proportionate, the OHCHR added.

“While we recognise the challenges that the police and armed forces face – including instances of attack on themselves – the Government needs to give strict instructions to the police and armed forces to desist from violence in dealing with the public and to act with utmost restraint.”

The OHCHR stressed that the military, as a general rule, should not be used to police assemblies. Where, in exceptional circumstances, members of the military carry out law enforcement functions they are bound by international norms and standards and must remain fully subordinate to civilian authorities and accountable under civilian law.

“The people of Sri Lanka are already suffering enormously and live in continuing uncertainty of how they can meet their basic needs including access to the right to food, health and education,” the OHCHR said further, adding that the people have a right to peacefully protest to demand a better life and an end to economic and social hardship.

“We also repeat the High Commissioner’s call for open and genuine dialogue to address the root causes of the crisis and grievances of the population.”

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