Whilst the Government of Sri Lanka welcome tourists, Bollywood stars and investors – any who are willing to be bystanders and turn a blind eye to what is happening – one group the Govt remain deeply frightened about and angry towards are international NGOs (INGOs).

No surprisingly, many INGOs have adapted by greater and greater levels of self-censorship. So the few who speak out and the fewer act on human rights abuses are even more obvious targets.

The latest target are members of the Non Violence Peace Force who accompany Sri Lankans who are at risk from government and para-militaries.

The world continues to turn a blind eye to this; including Hillary Clinton who just two weeks ago delivered a landmark speech in Krakow on democracy and human rights. Whilst the Secretary of State referenced a broad swathe of examples of rights infringements, some perpetrated by allies of the US, she made not one reference to the excesses of the Rajapaksa government.

This, despite the fact that few countries match the descriptions leveled by Clinton as closely as Sri Lanka. In these countries, she said, the “walls are closing in” on rights organisations and NGOs. She hailed the role of civil society organisations in hastening the fall of tyranny in Eastern Europe and, in reference to the Middle East, warned that “too many governments in the region still resort to intimidation, questionable legal practices, restrictions on NGO registration, efforts to silence bloggers.” She went on to highlight the value of cross-border NGOs, noting with pride that “foreign NGOs are active inside the United States”, adding: “We welcome these groups in the belief that they make our nation stronger and deepen relationships between America and the rest of the world.” She concluded that: “For the United States, supporting civil society groups is a critical part of our work to advance democracy.” But both in this speech and in her dealings with the Sri Lankan government, Clinton gravely undermined the credibility of her message by failing to walk the walk.

Sri Lanka is a tailor-made opportunity for the US government to demonstrate the extent of its commitment to strong, independent, cross-border civil society organisations.Her omission and the silence of most INGOs who work in Sri Lanka is complicity. Some say to speak out is unrealistic. But the true reality is that this silence and self-censorship encourages greater and greater abuse and bullying.

A Press Release from mediafreedominsrilanka forwarded by the Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC)

SRI LANKA: Termination of visa’s of Non Violence Peace Force

MEDIAFREEDOMINSRILANKA Freedom of Expression news from Sri Lanka MFSL note 08 July 2010

MFSL has learned that the Government of Sri Lanka has terminated the visas of two senior staff members of the Non Violence Peace Force (NP). Both of them, the country director Tiffany Easthom and senior staff member Ali Palh were first asked to leave by July 1. Following an appeal by NVBF asking for adequate time to hand over their duties, they were given an extension of seven days and will have to leave the country by July 8, 2010.

The visas and work permits of both staff members were valid until September 2010. No reasons were given for the sudden decision to terminate their visas. The Non Violent Peace Force has been active in several Districts of Sri Lanka including in the north and east since 2003. Their mandate is to provide in-country protection including accompaniment for human rights defenders, and also conduct human rights and security training for community activists. In addition, in Sri Lanka, the NVPF has worked with state agencies, conducting human rights training for the Sri Lankan military and partnering with the National Human Rights Commission of Sri Lanka. In the recent past NVPF has provided in-country protection for a number of human rights defenders and media persons facing threats to their safety and security, including in some high profile cases.

MFSL fears that this arbitrary action of the immigration authorities could be linked to the role played by NVPF in providing protection and assistance for human rights defenders under threat. MFSL deeply regrets the decision of the government to expel two international human rights defenders at a time when Sri Lanka needs to move towards more democratic governance. This decision will undoubtedly have an impact on the future work of NVPF in Sri Lanka. MFSL also sees this action by the government as the most recent in a series of steps taken to make living and working in Sri Lanka extremely difficult for members of the expatriate community who have over many years demonstrated their commitment to human rights and social justice issues in Sri Lanka.

MFSL hopes that this action will not adversely affect the valuable work that members of the NVPF have been doing in Sri Lanka. MFSL is of the firm opinion that the human rights situation in Sri Lanka continues to call for support and assistance, and that the situation of human rights defenders including journalists is still a priority concern. It is in this context that MFSL regrets the decision of the government of Sri Lanka to terminate the visas of senior staff of the Non Violence Peace Force in Sri Lanka. mediafreedominsrilanka ; by a group of journalists working voluntarily. [email protected]

# # # About AHRC: The Asian Human Rights Commission is a regional non-governmental organisation monitoring and lobbying human rights issues in Asia. The Hong Kong-based group was founded in 1984.