For press freedom by Sunanda Deshapriya
MFSL note o8 July 2010
MFSL has learned that the Government of Sri Lanka has terminated the visas of two senior staff members of the Non Violence Peace Force (NP). Both of them, the country director Tiffany Easthom and senior staff member Ali Palh were first asked to leave by July 1. Following an appeal by NVBF asking for adequate time to hand over their duties, they were given an extension of seven days and will have to leave the country by July 8, 2010.
The visas and work permits of both staff members were valid until September 2010. No reasons were given for the sudden decision to terminate their visas.
The Non Violent Peace Force has been active in several Districts of Sri Lanka including in the north and east since 2003. Their mandate is to provide in-country protection including accompaniment for human rights defenders, and also conduct human rights and security training for community activists. In addition, in Sri Lanka, the NVPF has worked with state agencies, conducting human rights training for the Sri Lankan military and partnering with the National Human Rights Commission of Sri Lanka.
In the recent past NVPF has provided in-country protection for a number of human rights defenders and media persons facing threats to their safety and security, including in some high profile cases. MFSL fears that this arbitrary action of the immigration authorities could be linked to the role played by NVPF in providing protection and assistance for human rights defenders under threat.
MFSL deeply regrets the decision of the government to expel two international human rights defenders at a time when Sri Lanka needs to move towards more democratic governance. This decision will undoubtedly have an impact on the future work of NVPF in Sri Lanka. MFSL also sees this action by the government as the most recent in a series of steps taken to make living and working in Sri Lanka extremely difficult for members of the expatriate community who have over many years demonstrated their commitment to human rights and social justice issues in Sri Lanka. MFSL hopes that this action will not adversely affect the valuable work that members of the NVPF have been doing in Sri Lanka.
MFSL is of the firm opinion that the human rights situation in Sri Lanka continues to call for support and assistance, and that the situation of human rights defenders including journalists is still a priority concern. It is in this context that MFSL regrets the decision of the government of Sri Lanka to terminate the visas of senior staff of the Non Violence Peace Force in Sri Lanka.