The United Nations has expressed serious concerns regarding two bills currently under consideration in the Sri Lankan Parliament: the revised Anti-Terrorism Bill and the Online Safety Bill. These bills grant authorities extensive powers and could impose restrictions on human rights that do not align with international human rights law.
The Anti-Terrorism Bill aims to replace the Prevention of Terrorism Act, a long-standing concern for UN human rights mechanisms. Although some positive changes have been made, such as the removal of the death penalty as a possible punishment, significant concerns persist.
It is likely that restrictions on freedom of expression and peaceful assembly will fail to meet the requirements of necessity and proportionality. The Bill still maintains an overly broad definition of terrorism and grants extensive powers to the police and military, potentially leading to inadequate judicial oversight.
Issues also arise from the imposition of curfews, restriction orders, and the designation of prohibited places, all of which grant the executive branch extensive powers without sufficient checks and balances.
Regarding the Online Safety Bill, it is believed that the legislation will significantly regulate and restrict online communication, even by the general public.
It provides authorities with unfettered discretion to label and restrict expressions they disagree with as “false statements.” Many sections of the bill contain vaguely defined terms and definitions of offenses, leaving room for arbitrary and subjective interpretation.
This could potentially criminalize various forms of legitimate expression, creating a chilling effect on freedom of expression.
The UN Human Rights Office has called on the Sri Lankan Government to engage in meaningful consultations with civil society and UN independent experts and to make substantial revisions to the draft laws to ensure compliance with Sri Lanka’s international human rights obligations.