Student protestors attacked by police in Sri Lanka

Student protestors attacked by police in Sri Lanka
Yellow red and blue pepsi bottle, Manoj Dharmarathne © Unsplash, 2020


Aysu Amaha Öztürk

Sri Lanka and Human Rights Researcher 

Global Human Rights Defence

In 2022, Sri Lanka had month-long protests against the government, as a result of the mismanagement of the economy in the country as well as human rights violations. These protests led to the resignation of the president at the time, Gotabaya Rajapaksa (“Tear gas, water cannon fired”, 2023). More than a year later, many are still held without charges. 

On June 6, hundreds of students gathered in Colombo, to protest the government on the release of the people who were arrested last year (“Tear gas, water cannon fired”, 2023). Students were immediately faced with tear gas canisters and water cannons. Students stated that this kind of treatment from the government will not stop them, as they were aware of the power they have as the student community in Sri Lankan politics. Journalists nearby were also hit by the force that the police were employing against the protestors. 

Sri Lanka ratified the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) in 1980 (“Ratification Status of Sri Lanka, 2023). Article 21 of the ICCPR gives the right to peaceful assembly. If protestors do not act violently and follow the law, the authorities do not have the right to stop them. However, in this instance, the authorities not only tried to stop the protestors but did this through force as they used water and tear gas to disperse them. Furthermore, interfering with a protest against the government also amounts to the violation of freedom of expression. Freedom of expression is also a right that is inscribed in ICCPR, thus Sri Lanka is obliged to abide by it. 

Protesting is a fundamental right in a democratic society. Freedom of assembly is closely related to freedom of expression as demonstrations are the collective public manifestations of freedom of expression; they are a place where persons can prioritise their own agenda and further share this with each other (Euro-Mediterranean Human Rights Network, 2013). Sri Lanka must immediately cease their actions interfering with the freedom of assembly and expression as it is their obligation to protect these rights. 

Sources and further reading:

Tear gas, water cannon fired on protesting Sri Lankan students. (2023, June 7). Aljazeera.

Euro-Mediterranean Human Rights Network, Regional Study: The Right to Freedom of Assembly in the Euro-Mediterranean Region. EUROMED Rights. 

Human Rights Bodies. Ratification Status for Sri Lanka. United Nations Human Rights Treaty Bodies Database.