Report on Attacks against Journalists in Sri Lanka

From February 22 to March 23, 2021, Sri Lanka’s human rights record will be reviewed by the United Nations Human Rights Council in its 46th Regular Session.  The session comes at a critical point for accountability in Sri Lanka. For over a decade, impunity for atrocity crimes has prevailed. Meanwhile, violence against journalists and government critics has surged since Gotabaya Rajapaksa returned to power in November 2019. In January 2021, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights issued urgent recommendations for the international community to take action to address ongoing accountability failures in order to prevent future violations.

Prior to the Council session, CJA, with input from the Committee to Protect Journalists released a report documenting one facet of the Sri Lankan government’s systematic and deadly campaign to silence journalists, repress freedom of expression, and perpetuate impunity. While Gotabaya Rajapaksa was Secretary of Defense from 2005 to 2015, dozens of journalists were killed, tortured, abducted, or disappeared, including The Sunday Leader editor Lasantha Wickrematunge, journalist Keith Noyahr, journalist Upali Tennakoon, and political cartoonist Prageeth Eknaligoda. These four attacks have been linked to a Sri Lankan military intelligence division known as the Tripoli Platoon, under the command of then-Secretary Gotabaya Rajapaksa, as well as a team of special operatives that used white vans to kidnap and murder journalists. For over a decade, the UN has called for accountability and the Government of Sri Lanka has promised to take action. However, those accused of orchestrating these attacks remain in power, including Gotabaya Rajapaksa, who is now president. Since his return to power, individuals investigating attacks on journalists in Sri Lanka have been arrested or forced to flee the country. Journalists are once more forced to choose between exile and self-censorship. Attacks on journalists are on the rise. CJA’s and CPJ’s report details the Tripoli Platoon’s attacks and the Sri Lankan government’s efforts to frustrate accountability.

In the first week of its 46th Session, the Human Rights Council is scheduled to hold an Interactive Dialogue on the High Commissioner’s Report on Sri Lanka. Among the High Commissioner’s recommendations to the Human Rights Council is enhanced monitoring of the human rights situation in Sri Lanka, the creation of an independent mechanism to collect and preserve evidence to support future accountability processes, and prioritized support to civil society initiatives aimed at supporting victims and their families.

Read our full report or our executive summary.