Sri Lanka is a constitutional, multiparty democratic republic with a freely elected government. Presidential elections were held in 2019, and Gotabaya Rajapaksa won the presidency. He appointed former president Mahinda Rajapaksa, his brother, as prime minister. In 2020 Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa led the Sri Lankan People’s Freedom Alliance and small allied parties to secure a two-thirds supermajority, winning 150 of 225 seats in parliamentary elections. COVID-19 travel restrictions prevented international observers and limited domestic election observation. Domestic observers described the election as peaceful, technically well managed, and safe considering the COVID-19 pandemic but noted that unregulated campaign spending, abuse of state resources, and media bias affected the level playing field.
The Sri Lanka Police are responsible for maintaining internal security and are under the Ministry of Public Security, formed in November 2020. The military, under the Ministry of Defense (the president holds the defense portfolio), may be called upon to handle specifically delineated domestic security responsibilities, but generally without arrest authority. The 11,000-member paramilitary Special Task Force, a police entity that reports to the inspector general of police (IGP), coordinates internal security operations with the military. Civilian officials maintained control over the security forces. There were credible reports that members of the security forces, primarily the police, committed numerous abuses.
Parliament passed the 20th Amendment to the constitution in October 2020. Opposition political leaders and civil society groups widely criticized the amendment for its broad expansion of executive authority that activists said would undermine the independence of the judiciary and independent state institutions, such as the Human Rights Commission and the Election Commission, by granting the president sole authority to make appointments to these bodies with parliament afforded only a consultative role.
Significant human rights issues included credible reports of: unlawful and arbitrary killings, including extrajudicial killings; torture and cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment by the government; harsh and life-threatening prison conditions; arbitrary arrest and detention; politically motivated reprisals against individuals in other countries; serious problems with the independence of the judiciary; arbitrary and unlawful interference with privacy; restrictions on free expression and media, including violence and threats of violence against journalists, unjustified arrests and prosecutions of journalists, and censorship; restrictions on internet freedom; interference with the freedom of peaceful assembly and freedom of association, including overly restrictive laws on the organization, funding, or operation of nongovernmental organizations and civil society organizations; restrictions on freedom of movement; serious government corruption; serious government restrictions on or harassment of domestic and international human rights organizations; lack of investigation of and accountability for gender-based violence, including but not limited to domestic and intimate partner violence and sexual violence; trafficking in persons; crimes involving violence targeting members of national, racial, and ethnic minority groups; crimes involving violence or threats of violence targeting lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, and intersex persons; existence or use of laws criminalizing consensual same-sex sexual conduct between adults, even if the laws were not enforced; and restrictions on workers’ freedom of association.
The government took minimal steps to identify, investigate, prosecute, and punish officials who committed human rights abuses or corruption, and there was impunity for both.