AMNESTY INTERNATIONAL: RELEASE TO THE PRESS
Sri Lanka’s government must refrain from using the military to quell protests.
In response to a new order empowering armed forces to maintain law and order in Colombo, Amnesty International stated today that the Sri Lankan government should not issue a blanket order authorizing the use of force during the declared state of emergency and should refrain from using the armed forces to police protests.
“The recent escalation of the authorities’ response to protests by calling in the military, opening fire on protestors, and using excessive tear gas, which resulted in the death of one person yesterday, is deeply concerning,” said Yamini Mishra, Amnesty International’s regional director for South Asia.
On the morning of 13 July 2022, thousands of protestors in Colombo began marching toward the office of the Prime Minister and the Parliament. After a heated confrontation, protesters breached the gates and seized the office of the prime minister.
Amnesty International staff present at the protest site confirmed that law enforcement officers fired teargas at protesters, including children and journalists, some of whom were observed coughing and sputtering as they escaped the plumes.
Dozens of protesters were reported injured, and one died. Helicopters flew low over Galle Face, where a rolling peaceful protest site had been established three months prior in response to the country’s prolonged economic crisis. Later that day, at a second protest near the Parliament, more than eighty people were reported injured and hospitalized.
Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe stated in a televised address at 3 p.m. that he had ordered the military to “do whatever it takes to restore order.” The army issued a press release on 14 July 2022 warning that they will use force to restore law and order in the country.
Even in times of emergency, any blanket order authorizing the use of force by the armed forces is problematic. Since they are trained to fight against enemies and not to protect and control civilians, the military should not be involved in policing public assemblies.
Amnesty International urges law enforcement agencies to exercise restraint to prevent additional serious injuries and deaths. They may only use the minimum amount of force required to bring a situation under control when it is strictly necessary and proportional.
Even when a portion of a protest becomes violent, law enforcement must evaluate the situation on a case-by-case basis, using force only when absolutely necessary and only against violent protesters. It must be strictly proportional to the situation faced by law enforcement, meaning that authorities must not cause more harm than they intend to prevent.
Yamini Mishra stated, “At a time when the country is facing a dire economic crisis and the scale of protests is growing, authorities must make comprehensive efforts to de-escalate the situation and focus resources on ensuring that people have access to essential goods and services, in accordance with international human rights law and standards.”