About Human Rights & Media in Sri Lanka

WALKinLANKA, Steps to pure inspirations

The Sri Lanka Broadcasting Corporation (formerly Radio Ceylon) is the oldest-running radio station in Asia, established in 1923 by Edward Harper just three years after broadcasting began in Europe. The station broadcasts services in Sinhalese, Tamil, English and Hindi. Since the 1980s, a large number of private radio stations have also been introduced. Broadcast television was introduced to the country in 1979 when the Independent Television Network was launched. Initially all Television stations were state controlled, but private television networks began broadcasts in 1992. As of 2010, 51 newspapers (30 Sinhala, 10 Tamil, 11 English) are published and 34 TV stations and 52 radio stations are in operation. However, in the recent years, freedom of the press in Sri Lanka has been alleged by media freedom groups to be amongst the poorest in democratic countries. Alleged abuse of a newspaper editor by a senior government minister achieved international notoriety because of the unsolved murder of the editor’s predecessor Lasantha Wickrematunge who had also been a critic of the government and had presaged his own death in a posthumously published article.

Officially, the constitution of Sri Lanka guarantees human rights as ratified by the United Nations. However human rights in Sri Lanka have come under criticism by Amnesty International, Freedom from Torture and Human Rights Watch, as well as the United States Department of State. British colonial rulers, the separatist Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) and the government of Sri Lanka are accused of violating human rights. A report by an advisory panel to the UN secretary-general has accused both the LTTE and the Sri Lankan government of alleged war crimes during final stages of the civil war. Corruption remains a problem in Sri Lanka, and there is currently very little protection for those who stand up against corruption.

The UN Human Rights Council has documented over 12,000 named individuals who have undergone disappearance after detention by security forces in Sri Lanka, the second highest figure in the world since the Working Group came into being in 1980. The Sri Lankan government has confirmed that 6,445 of these are dead. Allegations of human rights abuses have not ended with the close of the ethnic conflict.

UN Human Rights Commissioner Navanethem Pillay visited Sri Lanka in May 2013. After her visit she said, “The war may have ended [in Sri Lanka], but in the meantime democracy has been undermined and the rule of law eroded.” Pillay spoke about the military’s increasing involvement in civilian life and reports of military land grabbing. She also said that while in Sri Lanka she had been allowed to go wherever she wanted but that Sri Lankans who came to meet her were harassed and intimidated by security forces.

In 2012, the UK charity Freedom from Torture reported that it had received 233 referrals of torture survivors from Sri Lanka for clinical treatment or other services provided by the charity. In the same year, Freedom from Torture published Out of the Silence which documents evidence of torture in Sri Lanka and demonstrates that the practice has continued long after the end of the civil war in May 2009.

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