HRW calls for independent and transparent probe into Weliweriya incident

Human Rights Watch (HRW) said last week that the Sri Lankan government should stop issuing misleading information and promptly hold an independent and transparent inquiry into the deaths of protesters at Weliweriya on August 1, 2013.

At least three people were killed and several injured after security forces fired live ammunition at protesters who were demanding access to clean drinking water.

According to news reports, soldiers fired on local residents and Buddhist monks who were demonstrating for clean water on the Colombo-Kandy Road in Weliweriya, Gampaha district, about 25 kilometers from Colombo.

The government of President Mahinda Rajapaksa claims that the soldiers reacted in self-defense against protesters who hurled rocks and petrol bombs and shot at them. The unclear circumstances leading to the deaths and injuries, as well as government statements exonerating the solders involved, highlight the need for an independent inquiry, HRW said in a statement.

Human Rights Watch called on the government to ensure that security forces responding to protests abide by the United Nations Basic Principles on the Use of Force and Firearms by Law Enforcement Officials.

The principles provide that security forces, including military personnel, shall "apply non-violent means before resorting to the use of force and firearms," and that "whenever the lawful use of force and firearms is unavoidable," law enforcement officials use force in proportion to the seriousness of the offense and the legitimate objective to be achieved, and minimize damage and injury, it said.

The intentional lethal use of firearms is only permitted when "strictly unavoidable in order to protect life", the statement noted.

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