The Human Truth Foundation

Human Rights and Freedom in Sri Lanka

By Vexen Crabtree 2019

#buddhism #human_rights #international_law #islam #politics #sri_lanka #sri_lanka_human_rights

Sri Lanka
Democratic Socialist Republic of Sri Lanka

[Country Profile Page]
StatusIndependent State
Social and Moral Index58th best
Life Expectancy76.40yrs (2017)2

Sri Lanka is very poor at ensuring human rights and freedom compared to the rest of the world, and it has cultural issues when it comes to tolerance and equality. Sri Lanka does better than average in speed of uptake of HR treaties3 and in commentary in Human Rights Watch reports4. But that's it. Sri Lanka has problems. It does worse than average for opposing gender inequality5, its nominal commitment to Human Rights6, supporting personal, civil & economic freedoms7, LGBT equality8 and in freethought9. And finally, it sits amongst the bottom 20 when it comes to supporting press freedom10. "Sri Lankan police were not held accountable for routine torture and ill-treatment in custody", except for a few high-profile cases11 where the government bowed to international pressure. Over the last several decades, a class of Buddhist extremists have been targeting Muslims and other religious minorities in an attempt to cleanse Sri Lanka of non-Buddhist influences11 - the government has not been firm enough in protecting them nor in prosecuting offenders.

1. Sri Lanka's Human Rights, Equality & Tolerance

#equality #gender_equality #human_rights #morals #politics #prejudice #tolerance

Compared to Asia (2020)12
Pos.Lower is better
Avg Rank12
1Hong Kong24.3
21=Sri Lanka94.8
24Timor-Leste (E. Timor)98.6
Asia Avg99.9
Human Rights, Equality & Tolerance (2020)12
Pos.Lower is better
Avg Rank12
107=Sri Lanka94.8
World Avg87.9

The best countries in the world at ensuring human rights, fostering equality and promoting tolerance, are Sweden, Norway and Denmark13. These countries are displaying the best traits that humanity has to offer. The worst countries are The Solomon Islands, Somalia and Tuvalu13.

The data sets used to calculate points for each country are statistics on commentary in Human Rights Watch reports, its nominal commitment to Human Rights, speed of uptake of HR treaties, supporting personal, civil & economic freedoms, supporting press freedom, eliminating modern slavery, opposing gender inequality, the rate of gender bias (from 7 indicators), the year from which women could participate in democracy, its success in fighting anti-semitic prejudice, LGBT equality and freethought. The regions with the best average results per country are Scandinavia, Baltic States and Europe13, whereas the worst are Melanesia, Micronesia and Australasia13.

For more, see:

Amnesty International's 2023-23 summary on human rights in Sri Lanka stated:

The government intensified its crackdown on dissent as thousands of people protested against the dire economic situation. The rights to freedom of expression and peaceful assembly came under fierce attack by law enforcement agencies, which at times used unlawful force leading to deaths and injuries. Protesters were arbitrarily arrested, detained using draconian counterterrorism legislation, and ill-treated in custody. Serious human rights violations committed during the internal armed conflict remained unaddressed. Families of people forcibly disappeared continued to seek truth and justice. Amendments to the Prevention of Terrorism Act failed to address key human rights concerns, and Muslims and Tamils continued to be targeted under the Act.

"The State of the World's Human Rights 2022/23" by Amnesty International (2023)14

Sri Lanka had pledged to the United Nations' Human Rights Council to work on reconciliation between factions after the 26-year civil war with Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) and on accountability for past actions, but, by 2017 progress had stalled11.

2. Human Rights & Tolerance

2.1. Human Rights Watch Comments


Human Rights Watch Comments
Higher is better4
54=Sri Lanka-2
54=S. Africa-2
Asia Avg-5.0
World Avg-1.9
Sri Lanka is positioned 49th in the world with regard to commentary in Human Rights Watch reports.

Human Rights Watch comments concentrate mostly on negative issues, however, they also make positive comments for those countries that engage in human rights defence around the world, or who make improvements at home. By adding up positive and negative comments (including double-points for negatives that involve large scales and crimes against humanity), the Social and Moral Index turns HRW commentary into quantified values. Some countries may be unfairly penalized because HRW have not examined them, and, some countries "get away" with abuses if they manage to hide it, or if it goes unnoticed - a negative point has been given for those countries in which HRW specifically state that access to investigators has been barred. The points were limited to a minimum of -10 because there are some points at which things are so bad, with abuses affecting so many, it is difficult to be more specific about the depths of the issues.

2.2. Nominal Commitment to HR


Nominal Commitment to HR
Higher is better6
2=Costa Rica23
126=Sri Lanka13
126=Congo, (Brazzaville)13
126=Ivory Coast13
Asia Avg12.7
World Avg15.1
Sri Lanka is positioned 125th in the world in terms of its nominal commitment to Human Rights.

There are many international agreements on human rights, and, many mechanisms by which countries can be brought to account for their actions. Together, these have been the biggest historical movement in the fight against oppression and inhumanity. Or, putting it another way: these are rejected mostly by those who wish to oppress inhumanely. None of them are perfect and many people object to various components and wordings, but, no-one has come up with, and enforced, better methods of controlling the occasional desires that states and peoples have of causing angst for other states and peoples in a violent, unjust or inhumane way. Points are awarded for the number of human rights agreements ratified by the country, plus the acceptance of the petition mechanisms for disputes. The maximum possible score in 2009 was 24.

2.3. HR Treaties Lag

#human_rights #international_law #micronesia #politics #small_islands

HR Treaties Lag
Lower is better3
Avg Yrs/Treaty3
42El Salvador6.80
44Sri Lanka6.91
Asia Avg10.97
World Avg10.02
Sri Lanka comes 44th in the world in terms of speed of uptake of HR treaties.

Human Rights (HR) Treaties Lag is a count of how long it took each country to sign each of 11 key HR treaties. From the date of the first signatory of each treaty, all other countries have one point added to their score for each day they delayed in signing. Results are presented as average time in years to sign each one. The lower a country's score, the more enthusiastically it has taken on international Human Rights Treaties - which are, of course, minimal standards of good governance. The slowest are the countries of Micronesia, Melanesia, Australasia and Polynesia all lagged by over 12 years per treaty. The best regions are The Americas, Scandinavia and the Mediterranean.

For more, see:

2.4. Personal, Civil & Economic Freedom

#freedom #politics

Personal, Civil & Economic Freedom
Lower is better7
1Hong Kong1
3New Zealand3
130Sri Lanka130
133Sierra Leone133
Asia Avg94.6
World Avg79.7
Sri Lanka is 130th in the world with regard to supporting personal, civil & economic freedoms.

The Human Freedom Index published by the Fraser Institute is...

... a broad measure of human freedom, understood as the absence of coercive constraint. It uses 79 distinct indicators of personal and economic freedom in the following areas: Rule of Law, Security and Safety, Movement, Religion, Association, Assembly, and Civil Society, Expression, Relationships, Size of Government, Legal System and Property Rights, Access to Sound Money, Freedom to Trade Internationally, Regulation of Credit, Labor, and Business. [...]

The highest levels of freedom are in Western Europe, Northern Europe, and North America (Canada and the United States. The lowest levels are in the Middle East and North Africa, South Asia, and sub-Saharan Africa. [...]

Countries in the top quartile of freedom enjoy a significant higher per capita income ($37,147) [compared with] the least-free quartile [at] $8,700). The HFI finds a strong correlation between human freedom and democracy.

"The Human Freedom Index" by The Fraser Institute (2016)15

2.5. Press Freedom

#democracy #freedom #Freedom_of_Speech #Good_Governance #mass_media #politics #UK

Press Freedom
Lower is better10
161Sri Lanka5659
162Saudi Arabia5688
165Equatorial Guinea6720
Asia Avg4378
World Avg3249
Sri Lanka comes 18th-worst in the world in terms of supporting press freedom.

The freedom to investigate, publish information, and have access to others' opinion is a fundamental part of today's information-driven world, and is linked with Freedom of Speech and Good Governance. Scores on the Press Freedom Index are calculated according to indicators including pluralism - the degree to which opinions are represented in the media, media independence of authorities, self-censorship, legislation, transparency and the infrastructure that supports news and information, and, the level of violence against journalists which includes lengths of imprisonments. The index "does not take direct account of the kind of political system but it is clear that democracies provide better protection for the freedom to produce and circulate accurate news and information than countries where human rights are flouted". The rankings are used as one of the datasets of the Social and Moral Development Index16

It must be noted that press freedom is not an indicator of press quality and the press itself can be abusive; the UK suffers in particular from a popular brand of nasty reporting that infuses several of its newspapers who are particularly prone to running destructive and often untrue campaigns against victims. The Press Freedom Index notes that "the index should in no way be taken as an indicator of the quality of the media in the countries concerned".

2.6. Slavery

#burundi #eritrea #france #human_rights #indonesia #slavery

Lower is better
% Victims17
37=Sri Lanka0.21
Asia Avg0.79
World Avg0.65
When it comes to eliminating modern slavery, Sri Lanka is positioned 35th in the world.

The taking of slaves has been an unwholesome feature of Human cultures since prehistory18. Private households and national endeavours have frequently been augmented with the use of slaves. The Egyptian and Roman empires both thrived on them for both purposes. Aside from labourers they are often abused sexually by their owners and their owners' friends19. The era of colonialism and the beginnings of globalisation changed nothing: the imprisonment and forced movements of labour continued to destroy many lives except that new justifications were invented based on Christian doctrine and the effort to convert non-Christians. By 1786 over 12 million slaves had been extracted from Africa and sent to colonial labour camps, with a truly atrocious condition of life20. But they were not the only ones to blame; in Africa internal nations such as the Asantes sold and bought tens of thousands of slaves21.

The abolition of the slave trade was a long and slow process. Until a relatively modern time, even philosophers, religious leaders and those concerned with ethics justified, or ignored, the problem of slavery22. The first abolitionists were always the slaves themselves. Their protests and rebellions caused the industry to become too expensive to continue. After that, it was the economic costs of maintain slave colonies that led the British to reject and then oppose the slave trade globally. Finally, the enlightenment-era thinkers of France encouraged moral and ethical thinking including the declaration of the inherent value of human life and human dignity23. A long-overdue wave of compassionate and conscientious movements swept across the West, eliminating public support for slavery, until the industries and churches that supported it had no choice but to back down.

'Modern slavery' includes forced labour (often of the under-age), debt bondage (especially generational), sexual slavery, chattel slavery and other forms of abuse, some of which can be surprisingly difficult to detect, but often target those fleeing from warzones and the vulnerable.24. Some industries (diamond, clothing, coal) from some countries (Burundi25, Eritrea25, Indonesia26) are a particular concern. The Walk Free Foundation, say that in 2016, 40.3 million people were living in modern slavery27.

For more, see:

3. Gender Equality

Sri Lanka has made some steps towards ending gender inequality but much more needs to be done.


3.1. Gender Inequality

#gender #gender_equality #human_rights #misogyny #women

Gender Inequality
Lower is better
85El Salvador0.38
87Sri Lanka0.39
90S. Africa0.39
Asia Avg0.36
World Avg0.36
Sri Lanka comes 87th in the world regarding opposing gender inequality.

The UN Human Development Reports include statistics on gender equality which take into account things like maternal mortality, access to political power (seats in parliament) and differences between male and female education rates. Gender inequality is not a necessary part of early human development. Although a separation of roles is almost universal due to different strengths between the genders, this does not have to mean that women are subdued, and, such patriarchalism is not universal in ancient history. Those cultures and peoples who shed, or never developed, the idea that mankind ought to dominate womankind, are better cultures and peoples than those who, even today, cling violently to those mores.

For more, see:

3.2. Year Women Can Vote

#christianity #gender_equality #human_rights #politics #women

Year Women Can Vote
Lower is better
1New Zealand1893
34S. Africa1930
35=Sri Lanka1931
Asia Avg1907
World Avg1930
Sri Lanka comes 35th in the world regarding the year from which women could participate in democracy.

Women now have equal rights in the vast majority of countries across the world. Although academic literature oftens talks of when a country "grants women the right to vote", this enforces a backwards way of thinking. Women always had the right to vote, however, they were frequently denied that right. The opposition to women's ability to vote in equality with man was most consistently and powerfully opposed by the Catholic Church, other Christian organisations, Islamic authorities and some other religious and secular traditionalists.

For more, see:

4. Prejudice

4.1. LGBT Equality

#equality #homosexuality #human_rights #ICCPR #intolerance #sexuality #tolerance

Sections 365 and 365A of the penal code are used to penalize and prosecute LGBT folk, and United Nations has specifically pointed out that this needless discrimination ought to end, but the Sri Lankan government rejected the comments11.

LGBT Equality
Higher is better
135=Trinidad & Tobago-10
135=S. Sudan-10
135=Papua New Guinea-10
135=Sri Lanka-10
135=Antigua & Barbuda-10
135=St Vincent & Grenadines-10
135=Myanmar (Burma)-10
Asia Avg-02.1
World Avg12.6
Sri Lanka ranks 133rd in the world with regard to LGBT equality.

Discrimination against Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender (LGBT) folk is rife across the world. Legal restrictions co-exist alongside social stigmatisation and physical violence28. LGBT tolerance and equal rights have been fought for country-by-country across the world, often against tightly entrenched cultural and religious opposition. Adult consensual sexual activity is a Human Right, protected by privacy laws29. Despite this, homosexual activity is outlawed in around 80 countries28. The Social & Moral LGBT Equality Index was created to compare countries and regions, granting points to each country for a variety of factors including how long gay sex has been criminalized and the extent of LGBT legal rights. Graded negative points are given for criminality of homosexuality, unequal ages of consent, legal punishments and for not signing international accords on LGBT tolerance. The signs in many developed countries are positive, and things are gradually improving. Europe is by far the least prejudiced region (Scandinavia in particular being exemplary). The Middle East and then Africa are the least morally developed, where cultural bias goes hand-in-hand with state intolerance, all too often including physical violence.

For more, see:

4.2. Freedom of Thought

#europe #freedom_of_belief #freethought #human_rights #netherlands #religion #religious_tolerance #secularism #the_enlightenment

Freedom of Thought
Lower is better
151=Sri Lanka3.8
Asia Avg3.7
World Avg3.0
Sri Lanka is positioned 149th in the world with regard to freethought.

Freedom of Religion and Freedom of Belief are upheld in Article 18 the United Nation's Universal Declaration of Human Rights30. It affirms that it is a basic human right that all people are free to change their beliefs and religion as they wish31. No countries voted against this (although eight abstained). This right was first recognized clearly in the policies of religious toleration of the Netherlands and elsewhere in Europe in the post-enlightenment era32 of the 19th century. In democratic countries, freedom of belief and religion is now taken for granted33. In 2016 a study found that over 180 countries in the world had come to guarantee freedom of religion and belief34. The best countries at doing so are Taiwan, Belgium and The Netherlands9,35 and the worst: Afghanistan, N. Korea, Pakistan and Saudi Arabia9,36.

Long-term studies have shown that religious violence and persecution both decrease in cultures where religious freedom is guaranteed37. Despite this, there still are many who are strongly against freedom of belief31, including entire cultures and many individual communities of religious believers. Their alternative is that you are not free to believe what you want and they often state that you cannot change religion without being punished (often including the death penalty): this is bemoaned as one of the most dangerous elements of religion38 and "the denial of religious freedoms is inevitably intertwined with the denial of other freedoms"39 and the solution is, everywhere, to allow religious freedom and the freedom of belief.

For more, see:

5. Freedom of Belief and Religion

#buddhism #buddhist_extremism #religion_in_sri_lanka #sri_lanka

Over the past several decades a rechanchivist Buddhist-nationalist movement has taken to extremism and violence in an attempt to curb "pagan" non-Buddhists in Sri Lanka. Religious minorities remain at risk and there are few protections for minorities, although in 2017 on one occasion the government did protect 31 Rohingya Muslim refugees by taking them into custody after threats of violence from Buddhist extremists11. On other occasions in 2017 "flares of violence in Galle and Vavuniya [possibly involved] mobs attacking Muslim homes and businesses"11. Although the extremists are opposed by liberal-minded Buddhist communities, the extremists have widespread ongoing support from Buddhist communities.