Human Rights NGOs Condemn Sri Lankan Government Attack Against Ambika Satkunanathan, Sri Lanka’s Former Human Rights Commissioner
Sri Lanka and Human Rights Researcher
Global Human Rights Defence
On February 14, 2022, eight non-governmental human rights organisations (human rights NGOs)  issued a joint statement, standing in solidarity with Ambika Satkunanathan, a human rights lawyer and Sri Lanka’s former Human Rights Commissioner (HRW, 2022). On January 27, 2022, Satkunanathan spoke before the European Parliament’s Subcommittee on Human Rights on Sri Lanka’s human rights situation and labour rights in view of the negotiations surrounding the Generalised Scheme of Preferences Plus (GSP+ scheme), a preferential tariff system (Sunday Island, 2022). Consequently, on February 4, 2022, the Foreign Ministry of Sri Lanka rebuked Satkunanathan’s testimony, alleging it was “reminiscent of LTTE [Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam] propaganda that once stoked hatred among communities” and “need[s] to be refuted in the interest of social harmony” (Sunday Island, 2022; Tamil Guardian, 2022).
In their statement, the eight human rights NGOs voiced their “deep concern” over these statements made by the Sri Lankan government, calling and condemning them as an “act of harassment and intimidation” (HRW, 2022; Tamil Guardian, 2022). Furthermore, they asserted that the Sri Lankan Foreign Ministry’s statement contained “numerous false claims in an attempt to disparage and delegitimize a distinguished human rights advocate”, placing Satkunanathan in physical danger of retribution (HRW, 2022). Moreover the NGO’s described the government's statement as showcasing the continuos practice of “falsely equating human rights defenders and human rights advocacy with those pursuing ‘terrorism’”, also under the Prevention of Terrorism Act (PTA) (HRW, 2022; Tamil Guardian, 2022). Additionally, the NGOs urged the European Union to remind the Sri Lankan government to uphold and comply with human rights obligations and that the “government’s treatment of human rights defenders reflects its lack of respect for international human rights law” (HRW, 2022).
 The eight organisations that have signed the statement are Amnesty International, the Asian Forum for Human Rights and Development (Forum-Asia), the International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH) in the framework of the Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders, Front Line Defenders, Human Rights Watch (HRW), the International Commission of Jurists, the International Movement Against All Forms of Discrimination and Racism (IMADR) and the World Organisation Against TOrture (OMCT) in the framework of the Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders (HRW, 2022).
Sources and further reading:
Human Rights Watch (HRW) (2022, February 14). Sri Lanka: Support for Rights Defender. HRW. Retrieved February 15, 2022, from https://www.hrw.org/news/2022/02/14/sri-lanka-support-rights-defender.
Sunday Island (2022, February 06). Foreign Ministry refutes claims made by Ambika Satkunanathan to the European Paliament’s Subcommittee on Human Rights. The Island. Retrieved February 15, 2022, from https://island.lk/foreign-ministry-refutes-claims-made-by-ambika-satkunanathan-to-the-european-parliaments-subcommittee-on-human-rights/.
Tamil Guardian (2022, February 14). Sri Lanka’s targeting of former Human Rights Commissioner ‘amounts to harassment and intimidation’ say human rights groups. Tamil Guardian. Retrieved February 15, 2022, from https://www.tamilguardian.com/content/sri-lanka-s-targeting-former-human-rights-commissioner-amounts-harassment-and-intimidation.