Release of Khulumani Associate and Human Rights defender Ruki Fernando in Sri Lanka

Release of Khulumani Associate and Human Rights defender Ruki Fernando in Sri Lanka Photo by Pat Roque/AP, courtesy The Guardian

Khulumani Support Group welcomes the release of Mr Ruki Fernando along with Father Praveen Mahesan after their arrest last Sunday, 16 March 2014 on charges under the draconian Prevention of Terrorism Act (PTA) in Sri Lanka. Khulumani was the beneficiary of Mr Fernando's vast experience as a human rights defender in his own country over 6 months during 2013.

Khulumani notes that the PTA was enacted as a short-term measure of the Sri Lankan government in 1979 and has never been repealed despite its violation of founding principles of the country's Constitution.

These violations include detention without charge for extended periods of time at irregular places of detention, the broad denial of detainees’ rights, admissibility of confessions in judicial proceedings subject only to the most tenuous of safeguards, the shifting of the evidential burden of proof to the defendant, and disproportionate penalties. The unchecked detention powers, special trial procedures and absence of meaningful judicial review in the PTA facilitate arbitrary and capricious official conduct, including torture.

Ruki has been a longtime activist for human rights and reconciliation in Sri Lanka. In his public lecture at St Augustine's College in Johannesburg on 17 July 2013, entitled 

Sri Lanka - Human Rights, Reconciliation and the International Community, 

Ruki explained that it had been four years since the three decade long war in Sri Lanka concluded in a “blood bath”, with the government defeating the rebels. Discrimination and harassment of minorities which led to the "blood bath" are yet to be addressed, after more than a hundred thousand people have died and more than a million have been internally displaced and have become refugees. The UN Human Rights Council has passed two resolutions calling for measures towards reconciliation and accountability, but government has rejected them. Ethnic groups in Sri Lanka remain polarized and the government has become dictatorial, cracking down on any form of criticism.

Khulumani expresses its concern that Mr Fernando and Fr Mahesan have become the latest victims in the continuing crackdown of the Sri Lankan government in spite of resolutions of the United Nations calling on the Sri Lankan government to fulfill its legal obligations toward justice and accountability, and to expeditiously provide a comprehensive action plan to implement the recommendations of its Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission and also to address alleged violations of international law.

Despite the promise made by Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapaksa to UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon on 22 March 2012 to address violations of international humanitarian and human rights law, there has been no action on the part of the Sri Lankan government to date.

In March 2013 The Elders wrote to Sri Lankan president Rajapaksa, Unfortunately, too little has happened since the end of war in Sri Lanka. Lasting reconciliation; upholding the rule of law; protection of human rights: it is difficult to feel positive about any of these essential objectives today. The impeachment in January of the Supreme Court’s Chief Justice, Shirani Bandaranayake, was a particularly disturbing sign that the authorities do not plan to tolerate dissent or disagreement. …There has, furthermore, been almost no meaningful action to implement the LLRC’s recommendations ….There needs to be an independent and credible international investigation into alleged violations of human rights perpetrated by the Sri Lankan Armed Forces, the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam and other rebel factions in the final months of the civil war …

Khulumani extends its concern and solidarity to the people of Sri Lanka as they struggle for an end to state-sponsored violence and human rights abuses and the introduction of respect for the rule of law and the protection of the human rights of all the country's citizens.

The BBC recorded an interview with Mr Fernando shortly after his release. Please see below.

Video of Ruki Fernando’s interview with the BBC

Posted: 22 Mar 2014 01:05 AM PDT

The recent arrest of human rights activists Ruki Fernando and Father Praveen Mahesan under Sri Lanka’s draconian PTA law resulted in widespread condemnation within Sri Lanka and from the international community. As we noted in a previous article, “this is happening when deliberations at the Human Rights Council on Sri Lanka are taking place, demonstrating the regime’s scant regard for international opinion and scrutiny.”

After their release from custody, BBC World News interviewed Ruki Fernando on 19th March. As noted by the BBC’s Charles Haviland following Ruki’s interview,

(1) Ruki Fernando tells BBC "our 3 hrs of questioning @ K'nochchi was v harsh, bad language, threatening. About 15 questioners…" #lka #hrc

— Charles Haviland (@cfhaviland) March 19, 2014

(2) Ruki Fernando: in Colombo we were questioned separately by 1-3 ppl, intensive/probing but polite. No physical abuse @ any time #lka #hrc

— Charles Haviland (@cfhaviland) March 19, 2014

Though broadcast internationally, the interview never made it to the BBC’s website, explained perhaps by the relatively poor video quality of Ruki’s Skype connection. A day after it was broadcast, Ruki Fernando and Father Praveen Mahesan were slapped with a fresh gag order, preventing them from speaking with any media or foreign party. The computers, SIM cards and tablets of both were also impounded. Both individuals now need permission from the courts to go abroad until investigations are complete.

Ruki’s interview with BBC World News on 19th March is thus the only video currently available around the circumstances leading to his arrest, the nature of the TID’s interrogations and his treatment in custody. Under the gag order by the courts, no media or foreign party, for the foreseeable future, will be able to speak with Ruki or Fr. Praveen, or if they do, report publicly on it. The BBC’s video is a vital record in this context, not just of Ruki’s arrest, but of the larger framework of human rights abuse in post-war Sri Lanka, where with near complete impunity, those seeking to hold government and the military accountable find themselves the subjects of hate, hurt and harm.

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