DFAT Country Information Report
31 July 2013
1. Purpose and Scope
This country information report has been prepared by the Department of Foreign Affairs and
Trade (DFAT) for protection status determination purposes only. It provides DFAT’s best judgment
and assessment at time of writing and is distinct from Australian Government policy with respect to
the source country.
The report does not represent an exhaustive country overview and has been prepared with
regard to the current caseload for decision makers in Australia.
The report is not intended as the sole basis for decisions and the decision maker is not
precluded from considering other relevant information about the country. The report does not
contain policy guidance for decision makers.
Where DFAT does not refer to a specific source of a report or allegation, this may in some
instances be to protect the source.
2. Background Information
This section provides background and context to the situation in Sri Lanka for the purposes
of the country information report.
From mid-1983, Sri Lanka was afflicted by a serious civil conflict between Government
forces and the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE). The LTTE began a military campaign,
with the main aim of establishing a separate Tamil state, Tamil Eelam, in the north and east. On 18
May 2009, the Government announced its military victory over the LTTE and complete territorial
control over Sri Lanka. Over the course of the conflict hundreds of thousands of people were
displaced and tens of thousands of people were killed.
In May 2010, President Mahinda Rajapaksa appointed a Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation
Commission (LLRC) to investigate events from the failure of the ceasefire agreement in February
2002 to the end of the conflict in May 2009. The LLRC report was tabled in Parliament on 16
December 2011. The Government released a National Action Plan to implement the
recommendations of the LLRC report on 26 July 2012 (the National Action Plan).
Sri Lanka has been growing steadily economically since the end of the civil conflict in 2009.
Its economy is worth approximately US$65 billion and its Gross Domestic Product (GDP) per
capita is approximately US$3134, putting it ahead of most other South Asian countries. There is a
continued imbalance in the distribution of wealth and economic growth in the country. Although
conflict-affected areas in the north and east are recovering, many people in these areas, as well as in
other areas around the country, remain economically vulnerable.
While Sri Lanka reported strong growth in the years after the conflict, this dropped from
approximately eight per cent in 2010 and 2011 to approximately six per cent in 2012 and 2013.
According to the International Monetary Fund, Sri Lanka’s fiscal position is still weak but the
country’s high public debt-to-GDP ratio, at 79 per cent, is falling steadily. Inflation stands at 7.9 per
cent in 2013.
Sri Lanka’s export-oriented policies have shifted from a reliance on agricultural exports to
an increasing emphasis on the services and manufacturing sectors. The services sector accounts for
almost 60 per cent of GDP. Manufacturing, accounting for almost 30 per cent of GDP, is dominated
by the garment industry. The agriculture sector, though decreasing in economic importance,
accounts for approximately 11 per cent of national output and employs more than one-third of the
workforce. The public sector remains large, and the state continues to dominate in the financial,
utilities, health and education sectors.
Sri Lanka’s exports (mainly garments, tea and rubber) contributed US$20.5 billion to the
economy up to July 2013. Sri Lanka imports mainly oil, textiles, machinery and food. Large
numbers of Sri Lankans work abroad and send approximately US$5 billion in remittances to Sri
Lanka each year, the major source of foreign exchange earnings.
Sri Lanka is a Democratic Socialist Republic. The President is directly elected and is Head
of State, Head of Government and Commander-in-Chief of the armed forces. Sri Lanka’s President
Mahinda Rajapaksa was elected to office in November 2005. He was re-elected for a second term in
January 2010 and Parliament passed legislation that same year removing restrictions on Presidential
The Sri Lankan Parliament consists of 225 members, of whom 196 are elected on a district
basis and the rest by proportional representation. The present Parliament was elected at the last
general election held in April 2010. The ruling United People’s Freedom Alliance (UPFA) coalition
Government won 144 seats and the opposition United National Party won 60 seats. Other seats were
divided among the Tamil National Alliance (TNA—which generally contests elections as the
Illankei Tamil Arasu Katchchi), which won 14 seats and the Democratic National Alliance, which
won seven seats. However, currently the UPFA controls 161 seats in Parliament after some
opposition members crossed over to the Government.
The next tier of the Sri Lankan political structure consists of provincial councils governing
the nine provinces and over 300 local councils at the grassroots level. The Northern Provincial
Council has not yet been formed although elections are planned for September 2013. All other
councils are operational and governed by the ruling UPFA. The vast majority of local councils are
also run by the UPFA.
The conflict between the Government and the LTTE ended in May 2009 with the military
defeat of the LTTE. No terrorist attacks have occurred since the end of the conflict.
On 25 August 2011, the Government announced it would not extend the state of emergency,
which had been in place almost constantly since 1971. The state of emergency lapsed on 31 August
2011 with the removal of emergency regulations and new regulations were introduced under the Prevention of Terrorism Act
(PTA). With the removal of the emergency regulations, the police
force (which comes under the authority of the Defence Minister) is responsible for maintaining law
and order within Sri Lanka, including under the PTA.
The security situation in the north and east has greatly improved since the end of the military
conflict. Military and security forces maintain a significant presence in the Northern Province,
including Mannar, Vavuniya, Kilinochchi, Mullaitivu and Jaffna Districts, although the number of
personnel has reduced since the end of the conflict.
The role of the security forces in the north and east, including intelligence operatives,
includes monitoring of anti-Government sentiment, any possible LTTE activity and any form of
civil resistance. Although not officially mandated to do so, in many areas military officers and
personnel take a visible and active role in aspects of civilian life. This includes participating in
community functions, openings of development projects (schools, houses etc.), and undertaking
community work. DFAT assesses that this quasi-official role is increasing rather than decreasing
Incidents of abduction across the country have reduced significantly since the time of the
military conflict and its immediate aftermath, although credible cases continue to be reported. There
have been incidents of kidnapping for ransom as well as incidents of kidnapping that appear to be
politically motivated. No particular group has been the target of these attacks and they do not
appear to be ethnically-based. According to the Sri Lankan police department’s official figures, 985
cases of abductions and kidnappings were recorded as true (i.e. genuine) cases (out of 1012 total
cases recorded) in 2011. Twenty-seven cases resulted in convictions, four cases resulted in
acquittal, 15 cases were ‘otherwise disposed of’, and 75 cases were investigated and recorded as
‘accused unknown’. At the end of 2011, 864 cases were pending investigation or in the courts. For
the first quarter of 2012, 285 cases of abductions and kidnapping were recorded as true cases by the
Incidents of violence, including sexual assault and robbery, can occur with little warning.
Policing in remote areas is often hampered by a lack of resources and poor infrastructure.
Sri Lanka has a population of approximately 20.2 million citizens (2012 census). Sri
Lanka’s Department of Census and Statistics has reported an average population growth rate of one
per cent per annum when comparing population in 2012 to population numbers in 1981 (the last
whole-of-island census). Sri Lanka is characterised by high levels of literacy (91 per cent) and life
expectancy (75 years) and a low rate of infant mortality (14 per 1,000 live births), figures
comparable to those of developed countries.
Approximately 29 per cent of the population lives in the Western Province (composed of the
districts of Colombo, Gampaha and Kalutara) where Sri Lanka’s commercial capital, Colombo, and
political capital, Sri Jayawardenapura are located. Approximately five per cent of Sri Lankans
reside in the Northern Province and 7.6 per cent in the Eastern Province.
Sri Lanka is a multi-ethnic society consisting of Sinhalese, Tamil (Sri Lankan and Indian
origin), Sri Lanka Moor, Burgher, Malay, Sri Lanka Chetty and Bharatha. Ethnic groups can be
identified by their language, religion or race.
Sinhalese are the largest ethnic grouping in Sri Lanka. According to the 2012 census, 74.9
per cent of the population are Sinhalese. Sinhalese are distinguished primarily by their language
(Sinhala). The majority are Buddhists.
Sri Lanka Tamils are the next largest ethnic group, representing 11.2 per cent of the
population. Sri Lanka Tamils are characterised by their language, Tamil. The majority of Sri Lanka
Tamils are Hindus. According to the 2012 Census, 43 per cent of Sri Lanka Tamils reside in the
Northern Province, where they constitute approximately 93 per cent of the residents. Just over a
quarter of Sri Lanka Tamils reside in the Eastern Province and 14.8 per cent in the Western
Province (which includes the district Colombo).
In addition to Sri Lanka Tamils, Indian Tamils represent 4.2 per cent of the Sri Lankan
population. Indian Tamils are sometimes known as ‘Hill-country Tamils’ or ‘Up-country Tamils’.
Fifty-seven per cent live in the Central Province.
The third largest ethnic group are Sri Lanka Moors who represent 9.3 per cent of the
population. Sri Lanka Moors speak Tamil and are generally Muslim. The majority of Sri Lanka
Moors live in the Eastern Province.
Four major religions are practiced in Sri Lanka: Buddhism; Hinduism; Islam; and
Christianity (mainly Roman Catholicism). According to the 2012 census, 70.2 per cent of the
population are Buddhist, 12.6 per cent Hindu, 9.7 per cent Muslim, 6.1 per cent Roman Catholic
and 1.3 per cent other Christian denominations, with less than 10,000 from other religions.
Buddhists generally follow the Theravada tradition. The majority of Muslims are Sunnis, although
there is a small number of Shia, including members of the Bohra community.
Buddhists are concentrated in the southern, central and eastern areas of Sri Lanka. The
Northern Province is predominately Hindu. Muslims are predominately located in the Eastern,
Western and North-Western Provinces. Christians are concentrated in the Western and North-
Human Rights Overview
Although Sri Lanka is a party to all the major human rights conventions, the international
community continues to express concerns about the failure to uphold basic freedoms, including
freedom of association and freedom of expression. While less pronounced than during the civil
conflict, there continue to be credible reports of instances of arrest and detention without charge, as
well as reports of enforced disappearances and abductions, and intimidation and harassment of the
media and members of civil society.
The Government has made concrete progress on some post-conflict issues, including
resettlement of internally displaced persons, demining and demilitarisation. The Government has
focused on large-scale economic development, including in areas which directly affect the poorer
elements of society (health, sanitation, water supply, schools, infrastructure, micro-economic
The Government has also made efforts to address issues arising from the conflict,
particularly its end-phase in 2009, including commissioning the Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation
Commission (LLRC) report, launching the National Action Plan to implement the
recommendations of the LLRC, and launching a National Action Plan for the Protection and
Promotion of Human Rights (2011–2016). However, while there has been movement in certain
areas, there has been limited concrete progress on genuine measures to improve reconciliation.
Australia was one of 41 co-sponsors of the resolution on Sri Lanka adopted by the UN
Human Rights Council on 21 March 2013. At Sri Lanka’s 2012 Universal Periodic Review at the
UN Human rights Council, Australia recommended that Sri Lanka:
take action to reduce and eliminate all cases of abductions and disappearances;
take action to reduce and eliminate all cases of abuse, torture or mistreatment by police and
security forces; and
take action to facilitate greater participation by citizens and civil society in helping to
implement human rights action plans.
The national human rights body, the Sri Lanka Human Rights Commission (SLHRC), is
charged with protecting and promoting human rights in law, policy and practice. In October 2007,
the International Coordinating Committee of National Human Rights Institutions Sub-Committee
on Accreditation decided to change the SLHRC’s accreditation from Status A (compliance with the Principles Relating to the Status of National Institutions
(the Paris Principles) to Status B (observer
status—not fully in compliance with the Paris Principles or insufficient information provided to
make a determination). At the time, the Sub-Committee on Accreditation noted that:
the appointment of the Governing Body in 2006 was done without the recommendation of the
Constitutional Council prescribed in the Constitution;
measures to ensure the independent character and political objectivity of the Governing Body
were not taken; and
the SLHRC had failed to issue annual reports on human rights as required by the Paris
While Sri Lanka is a party to the UN Convention to Eliminate All Forms of Discrimination
against Women and espouses strong protection for women’s rights, on-going issues of gender-based
violence demonstrate a need for stronger institutional protection.
3. Refugee Convention Claims
The Sri Lankan Constitution provides that “no citizen shall be discriminated against on the
grounds of race, religion, language, caste, sex, political opinion, place of birth or any such
grounds”. Sri Lankan citizens can seek relief or redress should this fundamental right be infringed
or about to be infringed by the authorities by lodging a fundamental rights petition with the
Ethnicity is highly politicised in Sri Lanka with parties representing the interests of Sinhala
Buddhist nationalists, Muslims and Tamils. Since its independence in 1948, Sri Lanka has
experienced tensions between the majority Sinhalese Sri Lankans and the minority Tamil
population. Sinhalese perceived the Tamils as having received preferential treatment under British
The growing dominance of Sinhala nationalist politics contributed to the implementation of
successive policies designed to assist Sinhalese, particularly in the areas of education and
employment. Past policies meant that many Tamils felt discriminated against and faced barriers to
education and employment.
DFAT assesses that today there are no official laws or policies that discriminate against Sri
Lankans (including Tamils) on the basis of their ethnicity, including in relation to access to
education, employment or access to housing. DFAT further assesses that there is no government-
sanctioned discrimination in the implementation of laws and policies.
However, in practice, the Northern Province (as an area formerly controlled by the LTTE) is
more heavily militarised than the rest of the country. Activities such as public gatherings are
generally monitored by the police or military. While the population of the Northern Province is
predominantly Tamil, this monitoring would apply to any persons who live in the province. Such
monitoring does not apply to Tamils who live in other parts of Sri Lanka.
People in the conflict-affected north and east may receive fewer opportunities to access
education and employment, but this is due to the effects of the conflict (e.g displacement, loss of
housing and livelihoods, interruption to education) as well as general economic conditions, and not
as a result of discrimination on the basis of ethnicity. Similarly, many people living in conflict-
affected areas remain economically vulnerable, but this is due to the challenges of post-conflict
recovery and lack of opportunities in these regions, and not to discrimination on the basis of
ethnicity. Ultimately, a person’s ability to gain employment is based on their education and skills
(including language skills) and employment opportunities in the local area.
In various parts of Sri Lanka, different ethnic groups live in close proximity. For example,
Sinhalese, Tamils, Muslims (or Moors) and Burghers live and work alongside each other in
Colombo and the Eastern Province. DFAT assesses that incidents of ethnic tension or
discrimination among communities is rare (although attacks against religious places of worship
occur—see Religion, below).
In 1956 the Sinhala Only Official Languages Act
was introduced, making Sinhala Sri
Lanka’s only official language. A Constitutional amendment in 1987 saw Tamil become the second
official language. According to the Constitution and the Government’s ‘Trilingual Policy’, all
people have the right to communicate in Sinhala, Tamil or English in all parts of Sri Lanka. The
Ministry of National Languages and Social Integration is responsible for implementation of the
Trilingual Policy and all public servants employed after 1 July 2007 must obtain proficiency in a
second national language (i.e. either Sinhala or Tamil) within seven years of employment, or they
will not receive annual salary increments.
DFAT assesses that there are no official laws or policies that discriminate on the basis of
language and that there is no Government-sanctioned discrimination in the implementation of laws
In practice, there remain challenges in implementing the Trilingual Policy and there is a
shortage of Sinhala–Tamil interpreters across the country. In November 2012, the Ministry of
National Languages and Social Integration established a phone hotline for the public to report
violations of the Trilingual Policy. The Official Languages Commission (OLC) has advised that
common complaints have been about noticeboards, letterheads, medicine prescriptions, bus name-
boards and some Government circulars not being written in the three languages.
In practice, DFAT assesses that Tamil speakers who speak no other language can face
difficulties in Sri Lanka, including in the Tamil-dominated Northern Province. For example, Tamils
can sometimes have difficulty communicating with the police, military and other government
authorities as there is a shortage of Tamil speakers in these institutions. The OLC has received
complaints about the lack of Tamil-speaking police officers, though these are decreasing (probably
due to Tamil-language training programs provided to police officers).
DFAT assesses that these practical difficulties are not due to discrimination as such, but are
the result of the disruption to civilian life caused by the conflict and previous discriminatory
language policies. The Sri Lankan Government is aware of these practical problems, and is
attempting to resolve the issue through implementation of the Trilingual Policy.
The Sri Lankan Constitution guarantees freedom of religion and belief while giving
Buddhism a “foremost place”. Attacking places of worship or religious objects is punishable with a
fine and/or a maximum of two years imprisonment. Acts intending to insult religion are punishable
by a fine and/or a maximum of one year imprisonment.
There is a strong place for religions other than Buddhism in public life. Prominent Buddhist,
Hindu, Muslim and Christian leaders are invited to all national functions, although only Buddhist
rituals are performed at most events. Government dignitaries host and attend important events for
different religions and Sri Lanka recognises religious holidays for all four religions.
School students are able to study their choice of Buddhist, Hindu, Muslim and Christian
religions in most public and private schools, depending on the availability of teachers. There are
also state-run schools for Hindu and Muslim students.
DFAT assesses there is very little official discrimination on the basis of religion. There are
no official laws or policies that discriminate on the basis of religion and no government-sanctioned
implementation of these laws and policies. However, credible NGOs have reported that in the north,
the application of legal rights to religious worship appears to depend on local relationships between
religious groups, local communities, government officials and security forces. Such reports are
isolated in nature and DFAT has no additional information.
A rise in religious tension was observed in mid- to late-2012 and in 2013 to date. In a 2013
report, the Centre of Policy Alternatives (CPA) listed 65 cases of attacks on places of worship
throughout the country between May 2009 and January 2013. The majority of cases reported by
CPA were against non-traditional Christian churches. There were also a number of attacks on
Muslim places of worship. The majority of incidents, where perpetrators were identified, were
instances of Sinhala Buddhist attacks on other religious places of worship. Charges were laid in
Late 2012 and early 2013 also saw a rise in anti-Muslim sentiment in Sri Lanka. There were
a number of incidents of verbal and physical attacks on Muslims and Muslim businesses.
Political opinion (actual or imputed)
Sri Lanka has a diverse political landscape, with 64 registered political parties. Democratic
elections have been held on a regular basis since independence in 1948. Elections have not been
marred by large-scale violence or rigging but cannot always be described as entirely free and fair.
The Northern Province has been centrally controlled since the end of the civil conflict.
President Rajapaksa has announced that the first Northern Provincial Council election will be held
in September 2013, although an exact date has not yet been nominated.
DFAT assesses that there are no official laws and policies that discriminate on the basis of
political opinion nor is there systemic discrimination against particular individuals or groups.
However, the space for dissent in Sri Lanka is shrinking. Those with anti-Government views are
often described as ‘LTTE or terrorist sympathisers’ who ‘want to destroy Sri Lanka’. Anti-
Government protests are also sometimes disrupted by the police or pursuant to court orders.
Opposition political parties engaging in activities in the north, particularly the Tamil National
Alliance, may be subject to harassment and monitoring.
Political representation of minorities, including ethnic and religious minorities
Sri Lanka has no legal or other restrictions barring minorities from participating in politics
on the same basis as any other citizen. There are 27 Tamils and 18 Muslims in Sri Lanka’s
Parliament (which is made up of 225 members). There are two Tamil and five Muslim Ministers in
the current Cabinet. Two Tamils and two Muslims serve as Deputy Ministers in the current
Since 1989, no party has been able to claim a majority in Parliament in its own right,
meaning that groups such as Buddhist monks, ethnic and religious minorities and other groups such
as plantation sector workers often influence the political landscape and policy decisions. President
Rajapaksa presides over a diverse coalition, consisting of more than a dozen political parties
including Muslim, Tamil and Buddhist parties.
Banned political parties or groups
There are currently no banned political parties in Sri Lanka. However, under the Prevention
of Terrorism Act
(PTA) certain actions by political parties or groups can be restricted. According to
the PTA, any person who “causes or intends to cause commission of acts of violence or religious,
racial or communal disharmony…” can be sentenced to a maximum of five years imprisonment.
During the civil conflict, more Tamils were detained under the PTA and emergency
regulations than any other ethnic group. This was largely due to LTTE members and supporters
almost all being Tamil. However, there were also likely instances of discrimination in the
application of these laws. There are no published statistics on the numbers or ethnicity of those
arrested under the PTA (although credible anecdotal reports indicate that numbers are far smaller
since the conflict).
Attacks or restrictions on Government opponents, critics and civil society activists
The Sri Lankan Constitution guarantees freedom of speech and expression, freedom of
peaceful assembly and freedom of association. Political parties in Sri Lanka are largely free to
operate as they wish. This applies to representatives, office holders, members and general
supporters or volunteers, including people putting up fliers or handing out leaflets. There is no
evidence to suggest this differs between Sinhalese, Tamil, Muslim or other representatives, office
holders, members, supporters or volunteers of the various parties.
There are no widespread or systematic attacks against opposition political activities.
However, attacks against specific individuals are frequently reported by credible sources. Violent
confrontations between members of the same coalitions or same parties (including the ruling party)
are also reported.
Credible allegations regularly surface about Government/military monitoring and disruption
of political activities by opposition Tamil political parties in the north and east. The Government
and the military deny such allegations. DFAT is aware of a number of incidents and allegations.
Some Tamil militant groups, such as the Eelam People’s Democratic Party (EPDP) and
Tamil Makkal Viduthalai Pulikal, switched their allegiance to the Government during the conflict
and play a key role supporting the Government in the north and east. While such parties state that
they have renounced paramilitary activities, DFAT is aware of allegations that paramilitary groups
continue to be active in the north and east, although largely involved in criminal activity. These
allegations are difficult to verify.
Protests are common in Colombo and cover a variety of causes. Opposition political parties
and groups and ordinary citizens are known to protest. Lawful anti-Government protests are not
prevented, although police interventions to disperse protests are common. Tear gas attacks and
baton charges are frequently used to break up protests if the police judge the situation is becoming
hostile. DFAT is aware of a number of incidents of violence during protests.
Groups of interest
A large majority of former LTTE cadres surrendered to the military in the final days of the
conflict and were sent to Government-run ‘rehabilitation’ programs. The rehabilitation programs
focus on education and training. Adult males are given training in welding, masonry, plumbing,
driving, tailoring, wiring, language skills, computer skills and livelihood opportunities such as
vegetable cultivation. Females are given training in cookery, beauty therapy, tailoring, language and
computer skills. The rehabilitation program also includes sporting, aesthetic and spiritual
development aspects. Former child soldiers have been tutored for Ordinary Level and Advanced
The Commissioner-General of Rehabilitation told media in May 2013 that at the end of the
conflict 12,165 LTTE militants were interned at 24 rehabilitation centres located across Sri Lanka.
According to the Commissioner-General, as at June 2013, 11,600 persons had undergone
rehabilitation and been released into society.
In addition to those who surrendered, LTTE cadres—or suspected cadres—were arrested
during the conflict pursuant to the Emergency Regulations (repealed in 2011) and the Prevention of
(PTA). Those arrested were presented to a magistrate and detained pending formal
charges. Some suspects were detained for years in prisons and military-run detention centres while
cases were being examined.
When a detainee’s case is brought to court, the police may recommend rehabilitation for
selected cases, on the advice of the Attorney-General. Such recommendations are usually only
given when a detainee is identified as having a low level of involvement with the LTTE. However,
senior cadres have also gone through the rehabilitation process (some senior cadres have been given
prison sentences followed by rehabilitation).
According to the Commissioner-General, as at 21 May 2013, 340 ex-combatants (including
18 females) remain in rehabilitation under court orders. Only three rehabilitation centres remain
functioning, in Vavuniya, Welikanda and Kandakadu.
Experiences following rehabilitation
The vast majority of former LTTE cadres who have undergone rehabilitation have returned
to their home villages to lead normal lives. In 2010, the Commissioner-General announced that the
Government would provide a loan scheme for ex-combatants and internally displaced persons who
require assistance to commence livelihood activities. DFAT is not aware of any claims that the
scheme has not been implemented fairly.
However, there are credible reports about monitoring, harassment and intimidation of those
who have undergone rehabilitation by local authorities. Those released after rehabilitation are
generally required to report to the nearest police station or military camp. Monitoring is ad hoc,
varies from district to district and often depends on the background of the individual (i.e. nature of
involvement in the LTTE or suspicions held by military officials). According to some ex-
combatants, they report every week (especially when first returning to their homes), others report on
a monthly basis, others do not have to report but receive irregular visits at home and still others
have no contact at all with local police or military.
Persons subject to such monitoring are concerned it might limit their ability to travel outside
their own villages for work. Families may be questioned if returnees fail to ‘register’ or are found to
have left the village when officials visit to check on them. Monitoring has a negative impact on
these persons within in their communities, as they are often suspected of being military informants.
Former female cadres face additional difficulties, including the risk of sexual harassment and
stigmatisation within the community (such as the inability to find a marriage partner or secure
employment). While credible NGOs have reported on these issues, it is very difficult to verify
complaints. The military strongly denies that there is an issue.
Some ex-combatants who completed rehabilitation have been recruited to the Civil Defence
Force (CDF), with about 2000 recruited in late 2012. There has been some criticism of such
recruitment by civil society groups, with credible reports that it is not always voluntary. DFAT
assesses that, while it is unlikely the military is forcing individuals to join the CDF, it is credible
that some individuals may feel pressured into signing up because they fear the consequences of not
doing so. It is, however, difficult to assess the proportion of recruits to whom this applies. Many
recruits would likely also feel compelled to join for economic reasons, as they would be unlikely to
receive better employment opportunities in most areas of the Northern Province.
It is also alleged that persons who have undergone rehabilitation have been asked to take
part in government-initiated activities, such as rallies, in the north. Refusal to do so may result in
harassment and intimidation. It has been reported that the group that attacked a Tamil National
Alliance (TNA) political meeting in Kilinochchi in March 2013 included former LTTE members
who are now employed in the CDF.
Further, DFAT is aware of reports that some of the rehabilitated have been re-arrested. Such
arrests are based on suspicions related to individuals and their activities and have applied to both
high-profile and low-profile ex-cadres. The Government has said that arrests of rehabilitated cadres
are generally made due to additional information unearthed about alleged involvement in terror acts.
Such arrests are not widespread, and generally occur in response to specific information received.
Participation in public life
There are no formal barriers to former LTTE cadres participating in public life, including in
politics and several former LTTE figures may contest elections for the ruling coalition. There have,
however, been allegations that such candidacies would be the result of pressure to create an
alternative to the TNA for Tamil leadership in the north.
The Government remains sensitive to those expressing views that could be considered
sympathetic to the LTTE. In November 2012, Jaffna University students clashed with security
forces during protests on campus. The protests were in response to the military entering the
university to disrupt commemoration of LTTE “Martyr’s Day”. During the protest, security forces
were filmed charging at students with batons and beating them. A number of students were
subsequently detained under the PTA and sent for rehabilitation. All have since been released.
There is no significant evidence of differential treatment for Tamil and Sinhala LTTE
sympathisers, or those who are considered as such.
State-owned media, which follows the Government line, consists of two television stations,
a radio station (with eight channels) and a large newspaper group (publishing newspapers in
English, Sinhala and Tamil). There are many privately owned and operated television and radio
stations, newspapers, magazines and websites
While the Sri Lankan Constitution guarantees freedom of speech, Sri Lanka ranked 162 of
179 countries on the Reporters Without Borders Press Freedom Index 2013. The Government
blocks Internet access to several anti-Government Tamil news web sites. Since 2011, the Ministry
of Mass Media and Information has required all news websites to register with the Government.
There are reports that independent journalists’ phones and emails are monitored, and credible
anecdotal reports suggest that most Sri Lankan journalists and editors practice some form of self-
censorship due to fears of reprisal.
A draft Code of Ethics for the Media was released in May 2013 by the Ministry of Mass
Media and Information, though was withdrawn after considerable media and civil society criticism.
The Government instead suggested a code of ethics for media should emerge from within the
industry. The Press Council of Sri Lanka has a code of practice endorsed by the International
Federation of Journalists.
Four years after the end of the conflict, attacks against independent media organisations and
individual journalists continue (though in greatly reduced numbers). There have not been any
conclusive investigations into past killings or abductions of journalists. A comparatively large
number of Sri Lankan journalists live in exile abroad, with few having returned to Sri Lanka in
Amnesty International estimates that at least 15 Sri Lankan journalists have been killed
since 2006. However, there are no documented cases of killings since the end of the conflict. One
media worker—cartoonist Prageeth Ekneligoda—disappeared in 2010.
DFAT is aware of a number of attacks against the media and instances of concern since the
end of the conflict, including journalists being attacked and threatened, police raiding the offices of
media organisations and offices of media organisations being set on fire.
There is a substantial NGO and civil society sector operating throughout Sri Lanka. NGOs
must register with the National Secretariat for NGOs, which has operated under the Ministry of
Defence since 2010.
NGOs and their staff, especially those working on human rights issues, continue to face
challenges while executing their duties. Sri Lanka’s state-run media regularly accuse NGOs and
civil society activists of being traitors, LTTE sympathisers or supporters or being backed by
‘foreign’ or ‘western’ powers. NGO and civil society workers often report threats (including death
threats) and intimidation. In recent years there have been a small number of reports that NGO
workers in the north have been abducted and subsequently released.
NGO workers often report being detained and questioned by the authorities, having their
offices searched and equipment and documents seized. International NGO staff sometimes face
difficulties obtaining or renewing work visas. NGOs, particularly in the north, sometimes report
difficulties implementing projects relating to sensitive subjects, such as psychosocial counselling,
governance issues and legal aid.
Gender equality is guaranteed in the Constitution and Sri Lanka is a party to the major
international conventions concerning women. Women are considered equal under civil and criminal
law. However, in matters relating to divorce, custody of children and inheritance, the law favours
males. Women’s participation in politics is very low, even compared with other South Asian
Rape and domestic violence are criminalised under the Prevention of Domestic Violence Act
No. 34 of 2005. Marital rape is an offence only in cases where the individuals are legally separated.
Sexual harassment is punishable under Section 345 of the Penal Code (Amendment) Act
No. 22 of
1995 and can carry a maximum five-year prison sentence.
Women for Rights, a women’s rights organisation, has said that Sri Lanka ranks fifth in the
world for domestic violence. Sexual assault and rape are considered to be increasing, though a
majority of cases go unreported due to the social stigma. Domestic violence is also reported to be
high, although again underreported for cultural issues. The Asian Human Rights Commission has
said that most cases reported to authorities result in ‘settlements’, although sentences are sometimes
given in serious cases.
The Sri Lanka Police Service (SLPS) has established 36 SLPS Children and Women Bureau
desks across the country (including in Northern Province) to provide an avenue for the public to
report abuses. The Ministry of Child Development and Women’s Affairs opened the first
Government-run shelter for victims of trafficking in Sri Lanka with the support of the US
Government and IOM in December 2012.
Since the conclusion of the conflict, the number of female-headed households in the north
and east of the country stands at 40,000, according to research by the Centre for Women and
Development. Such women face many challenges, including lack of permanent housing, lack of
livelihood opportunities, access to health services and lack of physical security for the family.
While the military has been blamed for taking advantage of vulnerable women, NGOs report that
this behaviour is more widespread.
Sexual orientation and gender identity
Same-sex sexual activity is a criminal offence in Sri Lanka. Persons can be given sentences
of up to 10 years imprisonment, although convictions are very rare. NGOs working in this sector
report regular harassment of lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans or intersex (LGBTI) individuals, especially
in rural areas outside Colombo. Such incidents generally go unreported. There are few support
mechanisms for LGBTI individuals in the community except through a small number of NGOs
working in this area. There are a number of high-profile LGBTI individuals, particularly in
Colombo. LGBTI ‘Pride’ events take place annually in the capital without sparking protests or
reaction by the authorities.
The Sri Lankan legal system allows those vulnerable to harm or ill-treatment to seek
protection from the state. The criminal and civil legal system is available to all citizens regardless of
ethnicity. DFAT assesses there is no law or government policy which hinders access to state
protection on the basis of religion or ethnicity.
Sri Lanka’s Courts are located across the country and Tamil-speaking judges are assigned to
courts in majority Tamil-speaking areas. Consistent with Sri Lanka’s Constitution, a person is
presumed innocent until proven guilty and the onus of proof is on the prosecution (except for
offences under the Prevention of Terrorism Act
where the onus is on the person to prove their
innocence). Where the law dictates, judges can use their discretion in determining a sentence
considering the facts of the case (for example, if the person is a multiple offender).
DFAT assesses that the introduction of the 18th Amendment to the Constitution in 2010,
which empowered the President to appoint senior members of the judiciary including the Chief
Justice and the President and Judges of the Court of Appeal, represents significant erosion of the
independence and impartiality of the Sri Lankan judiciary. The Chief Justice was impeached in
January 2013 following a controversial Parliamentary probe into her financial affairs. Domestic
courts judged the impeachment as unlawful and the Sri Lankan legal profession, some opposition
politicians and civil society activists alleged that the impeachment was politically motivated. The
impeachment was evidence of a further deterioration of the independence and impartiality of the Sri
Lankan judiciary. This does not mean, however, that the judiciary does not exercise independence
as a matter of course.
Further, DFAT assesses that there is a lack of effective legal protection for victims of crimes
in Sri Lanka. The Government has been drafting a law on protection and assistance to victims and
witnesses for a number of years. The process has stalled on the issue of compensation. Sri Lanka’s
National Action Plan for the Protection and Promotion of Human Rights recommends the
enactment of the draft law be expedited and the Ministry of Justice has advised the draft is currently
progressing through the legislative drafting process.
DFAT is not aware of any cases over the last few years where persons were denied access to
legal remedies based on ethnicity or religion. Tamils, Sinhalese and Muslims have the same access
to judicial authorities subject to logistical and resource limitations. DFAT is not aware of any
difference in providing protection to low- and high-profile Tamils by the police and military. As is
the case with Sinhalese and Muslim communities, high-profile Tamils may seek to use their
influence to seek favours from politicians and high-ranking Government officials.
Any member of the public can make complaints against ill-treatment by police to senior
officials in the chain of police command. The SLPS has a separate unit to deal with disciplinary
issues of its members. The public also can make complaints directly to the Inspector General of
Police (IGP) through a service called “Tell IGP” available online. The public can also lodge
complaints with the National Police Commission which investigates complaints against individual
police officers or the police force in general. Complaints against military officers can be lodged
with the police. Given the police and military both sit under the Ministry of Defence, this reporting
mechanism cannot be considered fully independent.
In December 2012, Transparency International ranked Sri Lanka 79th out of 176 countries
in its Global Corruption Perception Index. DFAT assesses there has been an increase in law
enforcement activity against bribery in 2013 in comparison to previous years.
According to the 2012 census, 18 per cent of the total population relocated to their current
district after being born in another district. The census reported the top five districts to which people
had internally migrated were Colombo district (593,942), Gampaha (563,363), Kurunegala
(202,826), Anuradhapura (169,421) and Puttalam (140, 690).
DFAT assesses that there are no official restrictions to internal relocation in Sri Lanka. In
2011, the Government agreed to stop the forced registration of residents in Jaffna and Kilinochchi
by the military after a fundamental rights petition was lodged in the Supreme Court. Registration of
Tamils living in the south no longer occurs.
The Government does not place any legal, financial or geographic restrictions on citizens to
inhibit internal relocation. All citizens of Sri Lanka, including Tamils and Muslim Sri Lankans, can
relocate to any part of the country they choose. Generally, anyone arriving to a new locality will
need to register with the local Grama Sevaka (Village Officer) for administrative purposes such as
obtaining documents to confirm place of residence for school admission, employment, election
registration and access to essential services such as water etc. In addition, when a citizen purchases
land or property they must register with the local council for land/property tax purposes.
NGOs that assist with the voluntary return of Sri Lankans have told DFAT that some Tamil
Sri Lankans have chosen to reside in Colombo rather than return to their former place of residence
in the north due to better job prospects in Colombo.
Treatment of Returnees
Sri Lankans are able to re-enter the country on temporary travel documents if they do not
have their passport. However, Sri Lankan citizens exiting Sri Lanka can only do so with a passport
and visa (if required) and are not able to depart on a temporary travel document. If a returnee has
committed an offence under Sri Lankan law, they will be investigated and prosecuted for the
DFAT assesses that Sri Lankans returnees are treated along standard procedures applying to
all Sri Lankans, regardless of their ethnicity and religion. DFAT has not observed any difference in
the way Tamil returnees are treated in comparison to Sinhala or Muslim returnees.
Upon arrival in Sri Lanka, authorised officers check passport/travel document and visa
information against the Department of Immigration and Emigration (DoIE) immigration database.
Under Sri Lanka’s Immigrants and Emigrants Act
(the I&E Act
), it is an offence to depart other than
via an official port of entry/exit (such as a seaport or airport) and without a passport. A returnee
suspected of involvement in the organisation of irregular migration of people from Sri Lanka can
also be charged with an offence under Section 45C of the I&E Act
for organising or attempting to
organise for another person to leave in contravention of the I&E Act
. The I&E Act
authorised officers to detain and examine any person arriving in or leaving Sri Lanka and to require
the production of any documents by such a person.
Application of the law in practice
Returnees from Australia on charter flights are processed by DoIE, the State Intelligence
Service (SIS) and Airport Criminal Investigations Department (CID). This process involves:
DoIE confirming the returnee’s identity, their nationality and any offences committed under
State Intelligence Service checking the returnee against intelligence databases; and
Airport CID verifying a person’s identity to then determine whether the person has any
outstanding criminal matters.
Returnees are considered to have committed an offence under the I&E Act
if they depart Sri
Lanka irregularly by boat. The CID will commence an investigation into the offence, including
interviewing returnees about their illegal departure from Sri Lanka. Returnees are considered to be
under arrest for the offence during this process in accordance with Sri Lankan law. As part of the
investigation, fingerprints would usually be taken and the person photographed. Deputy Inspector
General of CID has advised that the CID endeavours to complete all processing at the airport as
quickly as possible.
For returnees traveling on temporary travel documents, police undertake an investigative
process to confirm the person is not trying to conceal their identity due to a criminal or terrorist
background. This involves interviewing the returning passenger, contacting the person’s claimed
home suburb or town police, contacting the person’s claimed neighbours and family and checking
Some returnees have been charged with people smuggling offences and other criminal
offences which they allegedly committed before departure. For example, in October 2012, warrants
were issued for the arrest of a group of returnees in regard to robbery of a vessel used to travel to
Australia, causing grievous harm to persons and people smuggling.
For offences committed under the I&E Act
, a prison sentence of up to five years and a fine
of up to 200,000 Sri Lankan Rupees may be applicable. The Attorney-General’s Department
advises that no one to date has been given a custodial sentence for departing Sri Lanka illegally but
fines have been issued to act as a deterrent towards joining boat ventures in the future. The
Department further advises that the Magistrates Court in Colombo has been handing out fines of
around 5,000 Sri Lankan Rupees for persons attempting to depart Sri Lanka irregularly on boats.
However, in Negombo, the magistrate, who handles a large number of these cases, has been
handing out fines up to 50,000 Sri Lankan Rupees to act as a deterrent.
Since November 2012, Sri Lankan irregular maritime arrivals (IMAs) returned from
Australia have been charged under the I&E Act
for offences related to departing Sri Lanka and
remanded in police custody until they are presented to a magistrate at the first available opportunity.
The International Organization for Migration (IOM) has advised DFAT that, from their experience
in delivering post-arrival support for voluntary returnees from Australia, those who have departed
illegally under Sri Lankan law have been arrested by the police at the airport. They have been taken
by the police from the airport and presented at the Negombo Magistrates Court at the first available
opportunity. The returnees have been granted bail on personal surety immediately by the magistrate.
Sometimes returnees then need to wait until a family member comes to court to collect them. IOM
is present with the returnee during this process.
The two main NGOs involved in facilitating voluntary returns have told DFAT that they
have not witnessed any differentiation in treatment by authorities towards returnees from Tamil
Nadu, India, in comparison to other returnees.
Sri Lankan asylum seekers and refugees who return to Sri Lanka through the UN High
Commissioner for Refugees facilitated voluntary repatriation program are processed through DoIE
and SIS on return to Sri Lanka but not CID. This process is the same for all persons returned
regardless of the country from which they are being returned or when they departed Sri Lanka.
In practice, where a returnee is travelling voluntarily on their own passport on a commercial
flight they will not come to the attention of local authorities if they departed Sri Lanka regularly
(legally through the airport/seaport) on the same passport, as they have not committed any offence
under the I&E Act
Sri Lankans use the National Identity Card (NIC) as their primary identification card, though
birth certificates, driver’s licences, and passports are also frequently used. Every Sri Lankan citizen
is required by law to register their identity under the Registration of Persons Act
of 1968 and is
issued a NIC.
Sri Lankans are entitled to apply and obtain identity documents regardless of their ethnicity,
religion, language or geographic location. In the north and east, people have reported delays in
obtaining identity documents due to insufficient numbers of Tamil-speaking officials to service
applicants. People who reside in rural communities have reported difficulties in obtaining identity
documents because of the need to travel to major townships (sometimes several times) to submit
Sri Lankans residing overseas can apply for identity documents from any Sri Lankan
overseas mission. The Sri Lankan Deputy High Commission office in Chennai, Tamil Nadu
provides services for Sri Lankan refugees living in camps to obtain their identity documents and to
Births at hospitals are recorded at the hospital and forwarded to the Divisional Secretariat
for registration, while births taking place at home must be registered through the Grama Niladhari
(Village Officer). After registration a birth certificate is issued. An individual is eligible to obtain a
copy of his/her birth certificate from the divisional secretariat of the area where the certificate was
National Identity Card
The NIC is considered by Government and commercial sectors to be the primary identity
document in Sri Lanka and every citizen is required to hold a NIC by law. All citizens over the age
of 16 are eligible to apply for a NIC and there is presently no renewal period for the card. The NIC
does not specify a race, ethnicity or religion and is issued in Sinhalese, or Sinhalese and Tamil in
some instances (e.g. for Tamils, or for those living in the north and east).
Sri Lanka has several systems of marriage according to religious background and
geographic location. The general law is applied to every citizen except for those who have personal
laws governing their marriage. Marriage certificates issued to Buddhists, Hindus, Christians and
Kandyans are in the same format. The marriage certificates issued to Muslims are slightly different
as they contain details about the dowry given by the groom and details about the nikah
religious marriage ceremony). Under the general law, the dissolution of a marriage is adjudicated by
the District Court. Muslim divorces are adjudicated by the Quazi court.
Document fraud is prevalent in Sri Lanka due in part to the lack of computerised databases
to store information. Government departments continue to keep most records in hard-copy format.
Applicants are able to obtain genuine identity documents by submitting forged supporting
documents. Counterfeit documents are the primary cause of fraud within the NIC, passport and
driver’s licence issuance processes.
4. Complementary Protection Claims
Arbitrary Deprivation of Life
Disappearances, abductions for ransom and extra-judicial killings occurred frequently in Sri
Lanka during the civil conflict, particularly in the north and east. These were attributed to both the
Sri Lankan security forces (or related paramilitary groups) and the LTTE (or other Tamil armed
groups). Some victims were also killed or abducted in relation to business or personal disputes.
According to the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), over 15,000 Sri
Lankans remain missing or unaccounted for since 1990.
DFAT assesses that the number of extra-judicial killings has dropped considerably since the
end of the conflict. Many extra-judicial killings appear to be criminal acts, although others could be
politically motivated. No particular groups appear to be targeted.
There continue to be reports of killings and assaults committed by politicians, including
those associated with the Government. Such attacks are not targeted at any particular group and can
constitute intra or inter party violence (for example, the shoot-out involving government MP
Duminda Silva and Presidential Advisor Bharatha Lakshman Premachandra in 2011, resulting in
the latter’s death).
Enforced or involuntary disappearances
According to a 2012 report by the UN Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary
Disappearances, 5,671 cases of involuntary disappearances remain outstanding in Sri Lanka (while
6,535 cases have been clarified on the basis of information provided by the Government).
DFAT assesses that the number of disappearances has dropped considerably since the end of
the conflict, although there continue to be reports of enforced or involuntary disappearances. No
particular groups are targeted. According to media and human rights reports, 58 people were
abducted or ‘disappeared’ in Sri Lanka between October 2011 and August 2012, an increase over
numbers abducted in the years following the end of the conflict. While reported abductions can
often be linked to drugs and crime, abductions of political activists were also reported.
For example, breakaway JVP political activists Lalith Kumar Weeraraj and Kugan
Muruganandan were abducted in Jaffna in December 2011 and have not been seen since. Tamil
businessman Ramasamy Prabhakaran was abducted in February 2012, two days before a
fundamental rights case challenging his detention and abuse during the conflict that he had filed
against senior police officers was due to be heard by the Supreme Court. He has not been seen
Deaths in custody
Some criminal suspects have died in custody. In some instances, police argued the deaths
were in self-defence. Deaths in custody are generally unrelated and isolated in nature. Disciplinary
and legal actions related to such incidents have been recorded. There have recently been incidents
of prison riots (unrelated incidents in different prisons), resulting in several deaths.
The Prevention of Terrorism Act
(PTA) provides for people to be detained without charge
for a period of up to 18 months, in irregular places of detention (e.g. not police stations, detention
centres or prisons), and allows wide-ranging powers of search and arrest by police officers without
a warrant. However, under the PTA a person detained without charge must be brought before a
magistrate after the first month.
The ICRC is able to register and have access to all persons detained for terrorism offences
under the PTA in connection to the conflict. The ICRC is able to visit persons at their place of arrest
including at prisons, police stations including the Terrorism Investigation Division at police
headquarters, and rehabilitation centres.
Sri Lanka maintains the death penalty for murder and drug trafficking, although it has not
been carried out since 1976. The method of execution in Sri Lanka is hanging. According to Sri
Lanka’s Department of Prisons, 1199 persons were sentenced to death during 2001–2011. Prison
officials have told DFAT that 385 prisoners are currently on death row.
Under the Criminal Procedure Code, all death penalty sentences have to be appealed and the
court will appoint a legal aid lawyer to defend the accused. Presidential ratification is required for a
death penalty to be implemented.
Until 2004, all death sentences were commuted to life imprisonment. However, at this time
then President Kumaratunga seized on the murder of a High Court judge as a pretext to reactivate
implementation of the death penalty. While Sri Lankan courts have handed down the death penalty
for offences committed since 2004, presidential ratification has not been obtained.
In 2012, media coverage of serious sexual assaults and murders sparked calls to implement
the death penalty. However, domestic debate on the reactivation of the death penalty was dampened
after the execution of Sri Lankan maid Rizana Nafeek in Saudi Arabia in January 2013.
Article 11 of the Sri Lankan Constitution, and other laws, prohibit torture and Sri Lanka has
ratified the UN Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or
Punishment. Torture is an offence punishable by imprisonment of no less than seven years and no
more than 10 years.
Victims of torture can complain to the Sri Lanka Human Rights Commission (SLHRC) or
directly to the Supreme Court about violation of their fundamental rights. The SLHRC operates a
24-hour hotline enabling torture complaints to be reported. Disciplinary action can also be taken if
such complaints are made against the police or in prisons.
In practice, there are reports that Sri Lankan citizens of all ethnic groups have been tortured
and/or abused by the Sri Lankan police and security forces. This includes reports of torture resulting
in death. Such allegations come from a wide range of actors, including political activists, suspects
being investigated for criminal offences and civilians detained in all parts of Sri Lanka, including in
relation to suspected LTTE connections.
There is no evidence that all such reports are credible. Few formal reports or complaints are
lodged. While this may be related to problems with complaint and inquiry mechanisms, it means
few reports are proved or disproved. There have been cases where charges have been brought
against police officers for torture, though these are few.
The Sri Lankan National Action Plan for the Protection and Promotion of Human Rights
2011–2016 contains a priority section on ‘Prevention of Torture’. There has been little action taken
to implement the suggested changes in the Plan. However, the Government is taking steps to raise
awareness of basic human rights principles among law enforcement agencies.
Cruel or inhuman treatment or punishment and degrading treatment or
Article 11 of the Sri Lankan Constitution states that “[N]o person shall be subjected to
torture or to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment”. In 2005, Sri Lanka banned the
use of corporal punishment by repealing the Corporal Punishment Act
and omitting the sentence of
whipping from other laws.
The SLHRC has stated that during 2010 and 2011 arrest and detention complaints
significantly dropped. In 2011, the SLHRC began random visits to police stations to check whether
illegal detention or abuse was taking place. It identified the following issues during such visits:
delays in producing suspects to courts
overcrowding of cells
no proper sanitary facilities in cells of certain police stations
assaults in custody
arrests without prior investigations
Reports of Government members engaging in cruel or degrading treatment or punishment
Incidents of students being beaten by teachers, cruel treatment to minors and child abuse
cases are frequently reported to police or other relevant authorities, including the SLHRC. Such
cases are generally promptly followed up by authorities, although this may not always be the case if
suspects have political connections.