17 October 2016


In an article published a few days, human rights activist Shreen Saroor notes the incidence of harassment and physical abuse of victims who have campaigned for accountability and human rights in the North and East. Incidents of this type erode victims’ confidence in the process and ought to be taken seriously.

Equally disturbing is the level of formal and informal surveillance that persists in some parts of the Northern and Eastern Provinces, especially in the Mullaitivu district. Community groups and human rights activists report systematic surveillance of all their activities, and continued harassment of those involved in human rights related work. SACLS staff have experienced harassment, intimidation and informal surveillance first-hand. We have discovered attempts to secretly record workshops in which victims participated. On one occasion an SACLS staff member was threatened by men in civilian clothing claiming to be working for ‘intelligence’ and told to leave the area immediately. Incidents of this type are common place. As a result, the sense of fear is still very palpable throughout the region. In this context, even minor incidents trigger intense anxiety within the community.

Although surveillance does not necessarily lead to systematic acts of physical violence, it creates social tensions and breeds resentment within communities, and towards those outside. It further prevents those most affected from participating in the Transitional Justice project. Therefore, ending this culture of fear arising out of pervasive surveillance and intimidatory tactics undertaken by the military must be considered a priority. It will require clear instructions to the security apparatus, the adoption of laws and guidelines to regulate intelligence and surveillance activities, and a system of accountability to punish those who fail to comply with prescribed guidelines. In addition, other pressing agenda items including the repeal of the PTA and revisions to the Victim and Witness Protection Act must be expedited.

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