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Sri Lanka’s Constitutional crisis signals backslide on rights

Though Sri Lanka (near the top of the 3rd quartile) has shown strong advances in recent years – including sitting as the second-biggest Advancer in XpA over the three- and five-year time periods – in 2018, its leadership threw the country into crisis, posing a threat to the gains of recent years.

In October, President Maithripala Sirisena dismissed the Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe and replaced him with Mahinda Rajapaksa, a former President linked to widespread human rights abuses. Sirisena then dissolved parliament and called for new elections. There were protests and lawsuits against the decision.

The crisis seemingly ended with the reinstatement of Wickremesinghe, after key interventions from the country’s Supreme Court – but it unleashed repression that took a serious toll on communicators and HRDs, including an increased military presence (with diminished accountability) and defamation campaigns against dissenters (painted as Western agents).

Arrests under the regressive Prevention of Terrorism Act resumed during the crisis and surveillance and disruptions of human rights groups’ public meetings began to take place.[1]

The crisis slowed progress on ensuring truth and justice for the rights violations perpetrated during the 27-year-long civil war between the separatist Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam and government forces.[2]


[1] Front Line Defenders, Global Analysis 2018, 7 January 2019, available at

[2] Human Rights Watch, World Report 2019, p543, available at