UN human rights office urges Sri Lanka to diffuse tensions amid economic crisis
© WikiMedia (Thushari Pahalage)
UN human rights office urges Sri Lanka to diffuse tensions amid economic crisis

The UN Human Rights Office (OHCHR) Tuesday urged Sri Lankan authorities to find a solution to the country’s economic and political challenges in a press release following Sri Lanka’s state of emergency declaration.

Sri Lanka, which is enduring its most painful economic downturn since its independence from Britain in 1948, declared a state of emergency in response to protests outside the Prime Minister’s home on Thursday. The imposition of the emergency was followed by a nationwide curfew, a social media blackout and reports of police clashing with protestors.

The economic downturn was sparked by a foreign exchange crisis, with the government unable to pay for imports of food, fuel, medicine and other necessities. Lanka IOC, the largest fuel retailer in Sri Lanka, reportedly raised gas prices by nearly 20 percent on Saturday following a 25 percent increase in gas prices only two weeks ago. The increase in gas prices has followed a recent depreciation in the value of the Sri Lankan rupee, which fell by 30 percent against the US dollar in March. The COVID-19 pandemic has worsened the economic downturn, causing a large decline in tourism revenue, the nation’s third largest source of income.

In addition to shortages of necessities, a rising cost of living and power cuts, the Sri Lankan President’s Cabinet of Ministers Monday resigned en masse in response to calls to do so from both the public and the Sri Lankan Parliament. President Rajapaksa has refused to resign. The resignations will likely squash any efforts from the President to extend the state of emergency, which is due to expire Thursday unless ratified by a Parliamentary vote.

The OHCHR believes a “drift towards militarization and the weakening of institutional checks and balances” has weakened the state’s ability to respond to the crisis. The office reminded Sir Lankan authorities that “measures related to states of emergency should be limited to the extent strictly required by the situation.” Despite this, Sri Lanka’s military has warned of “tough action against violent protestors.”

The UN Human Rights office reports that it is “closely watching developments” and hopes that the government will engage in “immediate, inclusive, and meaningful dialogue” to find a solution for the pressing challenges Sri Lanka faces.