Sri Lanka: Forced Expulsion of Tamils from Lodges in Colombo

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National Christian Evangelical Alliance of Sri Lanka
Press Release

On 7th June 2007 hundreds of Tamil civilians living in lodges in Wellawatte, Pettah and other areas in Colombo were forcibly evicted and escorted out of the city by military personnel. The shocking move caused panic, outrage and anger. There was heightened fear among those who were being forcibly evicted as they were not told of their destination.

It is a shameful and short sighted act, blatantly in violation of the fundamental right to equality and freedom of movement, guaranteed under Articles 12 and 14 (1) (h) of the Constitution of Sri Lanka.

This move is attributed to the statement made by the Inspector General of Police of Sri Lanka, on the 1st of June, that Tamil people cannot remain in Colombo without a valid reason and that those who cannot provide a “valid reason” for their stay will be provided transport to their places of origin in the North and East of Sri Lanka.

In an operation that commenced in the early hours of the morning, police and army officers visited various lodges in Colombo and forcibly removed 376 Tamil civilians, including 86 women. They were reportedly given less than half an hour to pack all their belongings and board the buses that were parked outside these lodges. The buses took them to Peliyagoda, from where they were sent to Vavuniya, Batticaloa and Trincomalee.

Amidst claims by the Police and the government that this move was to weed out questionable elements and to assist Tamils who have no bona fide reason to remain in Colombo to return to their home towns, it created uproar both locally and internationally with the European Union and the US government criticizing the action. Human Rights Watch called it an “outrageous practice by the government, blatantly discriminatory, and an arbitrary restriction on the freedom of movement”.

This move was challenged by a fundamental rights petition filed in the Sri Lanka Supreme Court by the Centre for Policy Alternatives. In a welcome move, the Supreme Court on 8th June issued an interim order directing the Police chief to stop forced eviction of Tamils in Colombo and to allow Tamil citizens free entry and exit to and from the City of Colombo.

While it is valid that the current security situation demands close surveillance of the city and its environs to prevent terror attacks, it is imperative that the government does not deviate from basic human rights principles in doing so. The events of 7th June are not only derogatory of the Tamil population but also suggest an enforced geographic division based on ethnic lines. Far from guaranteeing security, this manner of action will further polarize the Sinhalese and the Tamil ethnic communities.

We welcome the order of the Supreme Court which reaffirms the principle of equality enshrined in the Constitution of Sri Lanka and call upon the government to ensure equal protection of the law to all citizens.

8th June 2007