International concerns raised over Sri Lanka militarizing response to COVID19

Sri Lanka appointing an alleged war criminal in its battle against the coronavirus pandemic raises very serious human rights concerns, warns an international human rights watchdog.

In its latest report on the country’s militarisation of the COVID-19 response, the International Truth and Justice Project (ITJP) has exposed how the president – an ex commander himself- has appointed his former military colleagues including the army commander to key positions while the parliament remains dissolved.

All prevention and management of the COVID-19 virus outbreak and healthcare provisions and other public services are to be managed by the newly formed National Operation Centre under Army Commander Shavendra Silva.

Partners in crime

“Sri Lanka has an alleged war criminal heading its COVID-19 response, who served in the same army regiment as the President, raising questions about transparency, accountability and oversight,” said the ITJP’s Executive Director, Yasmin Sooka, herself under lockdown.

The friendship of Lt Gen Silva and President Gotabaya Rajapaksa goes a long way. ITJP has provided a brief outline which shows that the association was stained with allegations of grave violations.

“Silva was appointed to this powerful COVID-19 role by President Gotabaya Rajapaksa, who was his superior officer in the first battalion of the Gajaba Regiment in Matale during military operations to crush the second Sinhala youth insurgency in 1989 when hundreds disappeared in the area under their control. In 2008-9 when the US Government says Silva was allegedly involved in war crimes, he was receiving orders allegedly directly from Gotabaya Rajapaksa who was then secretary of defence.”

Professionals left out

The ITJP report is accompanied by an infographic that names military men dominating the COVID 19 response, who have allegedly committed war crimes and crimes against humanity. It urges the establishment of “a civilian, non-partisan, independent response committee that has oversight of the Government’s response” and warns of placing security above rights.

“Experienced professionals from the civil service should be in charge of coordinating complex public health and distribution issues, not the Army,” said Yasmin Sooka, “People’s lives are at stake as well as huge amounts of money and supplies that need to be equitably shared. It is essential that the public be allowed to question the response operation without being threatened with arrest. This crisis shouldn’t become an excuse to erode civil liberties yet further.”

The report highlights that Sri Lankan trade unions and media organisations have already raised concerns about security personnel instead of civilians taking charge of the response to the COVID 19 outbreak.




Journalists for Democracy in Sri Lanka

  • JDS is the Sri Lankan partner organization of international media rights group, Reporters Without Borders (RSF). The launching of this website was made possible by the EU’s European Instrument for Democracy and Human Rights (EIDHR), of which Reporters Without Borders is a beneficiary.