MCC Should Withhold Funding from Sri Lankan Government
The serious human rights abuses and excessive restrictions on freedom of speech and association by the government of Sri Lanka merit the country’s removal from a list of eligible recipients for Millennium Challenge Account (MCA) assistance, Freedom House said today.
In 2004, Sri Lanka met eligibility requirements for funding from the MCC. However, the peace accord between the government of Sri Lanka and the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) has become increasingly meaningless as the rebels initiated a slow slide back into civil war during 2006, and the actions of the government in response have violated basic human rights.
While condemning the brutal conduct of the war by the LTTE, Freedom House is deeply troubled by the actions of the government which has imposed restrictions on freedom of expression, harassed nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) that question government policy, and committed serious ongoing human rights abuses.
“These abuses by the Sri Lankan government merit a suspension of MCC eligibility status,” said Freedom House’s Executive Director, Jennifer Windsor. “The Sri Lankan government’s involvement in extrajudicial killings and disappearances, as well as the crackdown on speech and association, are simply not compatible with the MCC’s underlying criteria of ‘ruling justly,’ and until these deficiencies are repaired, the country should not be considered,” said Ms. Windsor. “Democratic governments have a responsibility -- even in the midst of conflict -- to respect and protect fundamental individual freedoms.”
Media freedom was a main casualty of Sri Lanka’s slide into war in 2006. Increasing numbers of journalists, particularly Tamils, have been targeted, and media outlets face censorship and other restrictions. Although freedom of expression is provided for in the constitution, a growing number of laws and regulations limit this right, and official rhetoric towards journalists and media outlets perceived to be critical has become more unfriendly.
Human rights abuses linked to Sri Lankan government forces have increased over the past year. Human rights organizations have reported an increase in extrajudicial killings and disappearances by security forces and armed groups supported by the government. In an especially chilling example, 17 local staff for an international humanitarian group were killed execution-style, allegedly by government forces. Despite assurances by top officials to investigate the actions of Sri Lankan security forces, no serious inquiry has taken place. While the independent National Human Rights Commission is empowered to investigate human rights abuses, it has suffered from insufficient authority and resources.
In addition, human rights and social welfare NGOs throughout the country have faced greater threats and harassment from authorities. These include assaults on NGO gatherings and a proposed parliamentary investigation into their activities, and have focused in particular on those groups unwilling to immediately support the official line.
Sri Lanka ranks as Partly Free in the 2007 edition of Freedom in the World, Freedom House’s survey of political rights and civil liberties. The country’s political rights and civil liberties declined this year because of heightened political intimidation by the LTTE, increased harassment of the media, and higher levels of violence directed at members of the Tamil ethnic minority by both sides in the conflict.
The MCC is a division of the U.S. government that examines economic and governance indicators for each country before awarding aid. Freedom House assessments of political rights and civil liberties are included in the MCC’s analysis.
Freedom House, an independent non-governmental organization that supports the expansion of freedom in the world, has monitored political rights and civil liberties in Sri Lanka since 1972.
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Freedom House is an independent watchdog organization that supports democratic change, monitors the status of freedom around the world, and advocates for democracy and human rights.