Under Siege: Sri Lanka’s Struggle for Civil Liberties Amidst Economic Turmoil


News by AUN News correspondent
Tuesday, March 12, 2024
AUN News – ISSN: 2949-8090


  • The assessment by UN High Commissioner Volker Türk underscores the grave challenges facing Sri Lanka, where economic mismanagement and governmental repression threaten civil liberties.
  • Despite widespread protests calling for democratic reforms, the government has responded with crackdowns on dissent and the enactment of laws aimed at curbing fundamental rights.
  • Civil liberties, including freedom of expression and assembly, are under severe threat, exacerbating the nation’s economic and political turmoil.
  • Türk calls for international intervention to protect social and economic rights and ensure accountability for past atrocities.
  • The resilience of the Sri Lankan people offers hope amidst the crisis, but urgent action is needed to uphold democratic values and secure a brighter future.


At the UN Human Rights Council meeting in Geneva, Volker Türk, the High Commissioner for Human Rights of the United Nations, gave a grim assessment of Sri Lanka’s ongoing human rights crisis.


Tens of thousands of Sri Lankans demonstrated in the streets in 2022, calling for democratic changes as well as responsibility for corruption and poor economic management. Türk, however, emphasized regression rather than progress, with the government passing or proposing laws that would have a substantial influence on democratic governance, fundamental rights, and freedoms.

Economic Mismanagement and the Repression of Dissent: Poverty Resulting from Economic Mismanagement

Millions of Sri Lankans live in poverty as a result of mismanagement, which has made the country’s bad economic position worse. The economic downturn is having a significant impact on the entire nation, making it difficult for families to make ends meet, turning necessities into luxury items, and putting livelihoods in danger. For many Sri Lankans, the reality remains one of uncertainty and poverty, despite promises of riches.

Government Reaction:

As economic concerns have led to increasing unrest and protests, the administration has opted for repression over dialogue and reform, which is troubling. To quell criticism and hold onto power, the authorities have turned to harsh measures rather than tackling the underlying causes of economic hardship.

Legislative Measures to Restrain Rights: 

The government’s main tactic is to enact or propose a number of laws that are intended to quell dissent and opposition. There is a worrying tendency towards authoritarianism with the passage of laws like the Anti-Terrorism Bill, Electronic Media Broadcasting Authority Bill, Online Safety Act, and Non-Governmental Organization Supervision and Registration Bill. These measures seriously jeopardize democratic values and civil freedoms while ostensibly improving security and administration.

Impact on Civil Liberties: 

These legislative actions have real, significant effects on Sri Lankans’ daily lives and are not just theoretical. These laws threaten the fundamental underpinnings of democracy and civil society by severely curtailing the freedoms of assembly, association, and expression. Speaking up against injustice has become more and more difficult for citizens to do because they fear retaliation and persecution from the government.

A Harmful Loop:

A vicious cycle of social discontent, political repression, and economic misery takes shape. Dissent is suppressed as the government tightens its hold on power, which exacerbates the fundamental issues that sparked protests in the first place. The government’s approach, far from addressing the justifiable worries of its people, had the opposite effect—it has deepened the crisis and undermined public confidence in democratic institutions.

A Call for Accountability and Reform: 

Given these difficulties, accountability and reform are desperately needed. The government needs to respect democratic and human rights values, listen to the opinions of its people, and deal with the underlying reasons for economic mismanagement. Sri Lanka can only expect to come out of this crisis stronger and more resiliently through sincere discourse, inclusivity, and respect for human liberties.

Accountability and Reconciliation: 

Although the civil war in Sri Lanka ended fifteen years ago, serious human rights atrocities are still difficult to hold accountable. Families of individuals who vanished during the conflict have to deal with violence, arrests, intimidation, and surveillance. Even if the administration professes to be seeking reconciliation and the truth, Türk criticized the absence of a reliable process for finding the truth.

Economic Struggles: Turkey praised the government’s attempts to stabilize the economy, but nearly two-thirds of households now live in poverty, as the rate has risen to 27.9 percent.

Global Involvement and Examining: 

The United Nations’ involvement, via Human Rights Council decisions, has been essential in preserving global examination and cultivating optimism for fairness. The “core group” of nations spearheading these resolutions has expressed concerns about legislative trends impacting civic space, human rights, and reconciliation.

Demands for Intervention:

Türk pleaded with creditors and international financial institutions to give Sri Lanka fiscal leeway so that social and economic rights can be protected. But with questions remaining about Sri Lanka’s capacity to bring past wrongs to justice, Türk recommended that UN members use UN-gathered material to bring cases before their own courts.

This evaluation emphasizes the urgent need for coordinated international action to address Sri Lanka’s worsening human rights crisis and ensure accountability for previous atrocities.

Prospects and Difficulties: 

With issues threatening both the country’s democratic foundation and the welfare of its people, Sri Lanka finds itself in a precarious position. But despite all of these difficulties, hope endures. There is hope for a better future because of the tenacity of the Sri Lankan people, as well as pressure and support from across the world.

Proceeding Forward:

Upholding the values of democracy, human rights, and justice falls not only on the government of Sri Lanka but also on the international community as the world watches its battles. It is essential to take proactive measures to hold the Sri Lankan government responsible and rebuild trust in democratic administration, such as applying diplomatic pressure, implementing targeted sanctions, and establishing legal accountability frameworks.

Unity in Action: 

When faced with hardship, unity becomes essential. Governments, groups from civil society, and private citizens must unite in favor of the rights of the Sri Lankan people and work to establish a society based on the values of justice, equality, and respect for human dignity.


The whole community should take note of UN High Commissioner Volker Türk’s sobering opinion. It serves as a reminder of how urgently democracy, accountability, and justice must be upheld while also addressing Sri Lanka’s human rights crisis. Let us show our support for the Sri Lankan people and never stop striving to guarantee that their rights are upheld and their voices are heard while the rest of the world looks on.

This is about human dignity and the future of future generations; it is not just about politics or policy. Now is the moment to take action.

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